Portland2016

Portland 2016: The cellular memory of place, Part Two

Avantika Bawa reveals the historic crannies of the Astor Hotel in Astoria, part of Disjecta's 2016 biennial

By JENNIFER RABIN

In order to get to the lobby of the Astor Hotel in Astoria, you must pass through two sets of curtains in the foyer, each one blocking out more of the daylight that pours in through the glass front door. As you walk the foyer, its cinderblock walls painted black, the air becomes still and quiet like a crypt, belying what waits for you on the other side.

The lobby is so dark that the only way to read the exhibition information about Avantika Bawa’s site-specific installation in Disjecta’s Portland2016 biennial is by the glow of your phone. The artist has covered the floor-to-ceiling windows in black plastic, in a way that calls to mind a condemned building. A handful of well-placed theatrical lights illuminate a golden scaffold in the middle of the cavernous space. The structure is probably 20-feet tall, but towering there, gleaming and alone, it feels twice as high.

Avantika Bawa, installation, Astor Hotel, Astoria, Oregon/Jennifer Rabin

Avantika Bawa, installation, Astor Hotel, Astoria, Oregon/Jennifer Rabin

That is all you notice before the sound hits you. It starts off as an intermittent and faraway din—perhaps coming from outside?—and builds to an overwhelming clamor that you feel as much as you hear. Bawa made the recording while the scaffold was being erected, so the audio reflects the noise of construction: the clanging of hammers, the stomping of men in work boots, the reverberation of metal on metal. But it does not sound like a recording. The audio design is so remarkable that you will be convinced that there is a building crew above you in the lobby balcony. Even if you are completely alone in the space, you will not be able to shake the disquieting violent presence that isn’t there.

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Portland2016: Disjecta goes gigantic

Contemporary art center Disjecta continues its biennial tradition with Portland2016, the most geographically extensive exhibit in Oregon art history

Last Saturday marked the start to Disjecta’s fourth biennial survey of local art, Portland2016, and for the first time in the contemporary art center’s history as a biennial maker, galleries and alternative spaces outside of Portland have been enlisted to host satellite shows. In total, 25 galleries are participating in Portland2016—fifteen located outside Portland—and the exhibit is being billed as the biggest art show to ever occur in the state. The aim is to expose more people to local art, exchange talent between cities, and “activate” new communities.

This time around, interdisciplinary artist, educator, and writer Michelle Grabner took the helm as curator. She comes credentialed with an extensive background in the arts, currently teaching drawing and painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and recently serving as co-curator of the 2014 Whitney Biennial, one of the art world’s most prestigious surveys of contemporary American art.

 

Anya Kivarkis and Mike Bray, installation, University of Oregon White Box, Portland2016/ Photo by Matt Stangel

Anya Kivarkis and Mike Bray, installation, University of Oregon White Box, Portland2016/ Photo by Matt Stangel

Filling 25 galleries with content is no small task, but Grabner rose to the challenge, selecting 34 artists and artist teams from the initial 400+ who applied—dedicating certain sites to single makers and other locations to smartly cherry-picked groups.

Other ArtsWatchers will be chipping in reports on those out-of-town shows. I’ll be talking about the local shows, a few locations at a time. Last Saturday, I hit up the opening reception at Disjecta—and over the following week, University of Oregon’s White Box in Old Town and the c3:initiative in St. Johns.

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