December notes: A world apart

Reality and fantasy mingle and pull apart and mingle on a Portland stage and Portland galleries

It is late afternoon on Monday, December 9, and the TriMet bus is packed when you board it. Packed largely with 14 or 15-ish teenagers, cleancut, perhaps from a private or a special school as one or two get off at every other stop for the length of the southbound bus route. The teens jabber back and forth all around you, the whole extent of your ride. Even the busdriver seems infatuated by the joyful atmosphere, telling two jokes. One you don’t catch, but the other goes something like this:

What do you call a cat that you find at the beach at Christmas?

The kids are quick, and call out a couple possibilities. When these die by the wayside, the driver milks the moment a little longer then answers.

Sandy claws.

This answer gets a general laugh and a couple groans, then a chorus of thank-you’s to the busdriver. The kids almost immediately returning to their contrapuntal, back-and-forth jabber, which streams like vapor trails above and around you.

No, I can’t access that site on my phone anymore.

The girl in the seat next to you calls to the boy seated just behind the busdriver. The boy wonders aloud at where the problem is.

My parents changed the password.

She explains.

Set your phone’s clock back to before when they changed it.

He tells her, logically.

I tried.

She says. She’s no idiot.

They blocked that.

The boy nods, pondering.

Talk to Philip. He knows how to get around this.

He advises her.

Which Philip? Philip Teemiter? . . .

And on to other jabber, flying in from some other direction.

The teen world is a world apart from that of their parents. A cozy reality providing a natural-seeming and idyllic sense of belonging.

Laura Berger, “Find Yourself Here”/Image courtesy of Stephanie Chefas Projects

Your mother’s cousin is married to a University of Minnesota professor, Ernest Bormann—a major figure in the fields of Communication Theory and the Theory of Rhetoric (see The Force of Fantasy: Restoring the American Dream). When Sigmund Freud talks about a “fantasy,” he is talking about how the psyche talks to itself. Bormann applies this idea of fantasy instead to cohesive groups of people, who construct between them an effective group-lingua which highlights values and ideas important to them. He describes this group private-language as a symbolic convergence or a fantasy. Everyone on the same wavelength, singing the same tune.

But is this self-assured sense of belonging a luxury everyone shares in?


Flower(s) in Concrete at Fourteen30: Why we write about art

The art most difficult to describe with words and to contextualize by the intellect makes writing about art worthwhile

Recently, I’ve had conversations with writers of other disciplines who’ve questioned the point of writing about art. As an activity in an atmosphere of limited nerves and resources and an overabundance of literature, images, noise, and every reason to seek what’s “fact-based,” it’s not that hard to imagine why some might look askance at this kind of thing. Why not write about ecological ills or politics, human/animal rights, or even celebs for a little entertainment? Otherwise, why not bake some bread (a writer friend of mine likes to suggest that) or whatever.

Why we do what we do is something that ought to be pondered often, or as often as is tolerable. I keep asking myself these questions and, to some relief, I come up with an answer every time I see a show like the group show on view at Fourteen30 Contemporary, Flower(s) in Concrete. The show features works by Léonie Guyer, Wayne Smith, and Lynne Woods Turner and was co-organized by Stephanie Snyder (the director of Reed College’s Cooley Gallery), and Fourteen30’s Jeanine Jablonski.

Installation view of “Flower(s) in Concrete,
art by Léonie Guyer, Wayne Smith, and Lynne Woods Turner/Courtesy of Fourteen30 Contemporary

I write about shows like this because art often has the supreme capacity to change me —my mind, perception, but also my physical state of being. It’s often the subtlest thing —say, the rhythm or sensuousness of shapes in Turner’s work; the repetition of trim lines that evoke great music, in Smith’s; or the symbol you feel you’ve always known but have never seen, can’t place with a single word, in Guyer’s—that has this transformative power. This seems consequential here and now, when complications abound, vex, prohibit.



During a talk at his gallery Fourteen30, I once asked Jesse Sugarmann if failure was something he was exploring in his work. In other words, were his car works in particular, experiments with equal opportunities of success and failure, or even experiments with no determined outcome, for example setting a car up on blocks rev the engine and see what will happen. He responded that failure wasn’t something he was interested in per se, that he worked to make certain outcomes happen.

He say, “one more job oughta get it
One last shot ‘fore we quit it”
One for the road

TBA:11/Jesse Sugarmann “Lido (the pride is back)” from Lisa Radon on Vimeo.


That came to mind yesterday at the 4 PM performance of Sugarmann’s “Lido (The pride is back)” at Washington High School for PICA’s TBA:11 Festival. And this has a lot to do with managing the audience’s expectations because lifting three Chrysler minivans off the ground is pretty spectacular, but when PICA had used the word “flip” to describe the performance, one expects flipping or falling over maybe, but probably not leaning which was the end result. He’s doing the performance twice more today, Sunday, September 11, so flipping may happen at either 4 PM or 7 PM. I can’t help thinking, though, that the promise of a flip and the resulting lean might have been Sugarmann’s intention all along, a metaphor for American car industry’s repeated big promises and not-quite-there delivery not only on product but all of the attendant issues that the US has been dealing with since manufacturing was moved overseas, workers lost family-wage jobs, and cities like Flint and Detroit fell apart. Sugarmann’s expressly referencing Lee Iacocca in this piece. I never knew that Lido was Iacocca’s nickname, but don’t ever say you didn’t learn anything from art. Iacocca’s big personality had a definite “Watch this!” edge to it which makes either a flip or a fail-to-flip outcome pretty apt.

I should say that the whining soundtrack of the electric blowers may be my favorite part of the piece.

I recently wrote this for art ltd. about Sugarmann’s recent Works and Days solo exhibition at Fourteen30 which explains a bit more about the celebration and critique of American car culture that his work addresses in what I think are such smart and subtle ways.

I’m not even going to be annoyed with Sugarmann for getting that Boz Scaggs song stuck in my head (which I apparently…according to…I have been singing incorrectly since I first heard it).

It could be the theme song for the last 30 or so years of the American car industry:

Lido missed the boat
That day he left the shack
But that was all he missed
He ain’t comin’ back.