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VizArts Monthly: Myths and meteorites

For March, Jason N. Le introduces a variety of exhibitions that, from different vantage points, consider how humans make sense of our world. The options range from monsters to machines to meteorites.


In keeping up with my New Year’s resolution to read more (see last month’s VizArts Monthly for context, if needed), my literary attention this month has turned towards Roland Barthes. I’ve made my way through Camera Lucida, a beautiful and haunting reflection on photography and time among many other rhizomatic thoughts, and I have now decided to revisit Mythologies. Truthfully, I read about half of it for a class last year, but this time I’m determined to make my way through its entirety.

Mythologies, published in 1957, is a collection of short chapters that were originally published as a column series in Les Lettres nouvelles, a French literature review publication. In each chapter, Barthes weaves mythologies about certain categories of objects or phenomena, ranging from professional wrestling to astrology to steak frites. Many of them are deeply witty and sarcastic, which often means they come off as utterly hilarious. That is, they precisely reveal the absurd nuances and obsessions of our human lives, and we laugh at them because we aren’t sure if we want to accept that they may be true.

It’s exactly this question of the myth and its functions, the way it destabilizes reality and truth, that sits with me as I look at this month’s VizArts selections. How can we embrace myths to enhance the way we think about the past, the present, reality, and our everyday lives? Jessie Rosa Vala sets the scene for her own cross-temporal and interstellar mythology with Meteorite Mama at Well Well Projects. Managed Retreat by Dawn Stetzel at Paragon Arts Gallery embraces what should have stayed a myth – the disaster of climate change – as an impending future, making devices for survival and resilience. The works of Jean Isamu Nagai and Ash Wyatt for Moon Rabbit at ARTspace Gallery provoke us to take what is front of us and look a little closer, maybe searching for what else might be there.

Work by Maren Hassinger and Senga Nengudi. Image courtesy the artists, Susan Inglett Gallery, NYC,
Sprüth Magers, and Thomas Erben Gallery.

Las Vegas Ikebana
Maren Hassinger and Senga Nengudi
February 15 – May 19
Cooley Gallery
3203 SE Woodstock Blvd., Portland (Thurs – Sun 12pm – 5pm)

Collaboration has been and continues to be crucial for Maren Hassinger and Senga Nengudi, who met in 1977 and have produced an extensive body of time-based works since then. Las Vegas Ikebana, curated by Allie Tepper, is at once an intimate reflection on friendship and an impressive ephemera archive of Hassinger’s and Nengudi’s thoughts and experiments in dance, performance, sculpture, video, and correspondences. Although much of the live programming has already passed, there will be one final performance of See-See Riders on March 23 at 12pm, a new performance choreographed by Nengudi and performed by artists sidony o’neal and keyon gaskin.

Work by Jean Isamu Nagai. Image courtesy ARTspace Gallery.

Moon Rabbit
Jean Isamu Nagai and Ash Wyatt
February 17 – May 10
ARTspace Gallery
380 A Ave, Suite A, Lake Oswego, (Tues – Fri 10am – 5pm)


MYS Oregon to Iberia

“A moon rabbit,” explains curator Morgan Ritter, “is an example of a pareidolia,” most easily explained as perceiving a recognizable image in an otherwise random pattern. In that spirit, Moon Rabbit, an exhibition of abstract works by Jean Isamu Nagai and Ash Wyatt, is a satisfactory exercise in looking closely at shapes and patterns. Nagai’s lusciously textured paintings and Wyatt’s tufted and embroidered fiber-based works both feature repetitive mark-making, allowing the viewer to imagine the trance-like feeling of the artists’ experience.

Image courtesy Littman + White Galleries.

Kitchen: A Love Letter to your Favorite Client and Hair Stylist
Kiara Walls, featuring Mason Biggers and Paola De La Cruz
February 22 – April 5
Littman + White Galleries
1825 SW Broadway, Portland (Mon, Weds, Fri 12pm – 5pm; Tues, Thurs 9am – 5pm)

Part exhibition, part immersive experience, and total homage to a loving cultural genealogy of Black haircare, Kitchen contemplates the relationship between hair and intimacy. Stemming from Kiara Walls’s film of the same name as the exhibition and supplemented with photography by Mason Biggers and a zine by Paola De La Cruz, Kitchen centers on the experiences of Black haircare practitioners and their clients, who refine their craft anywhere from the kitchen sink to the barbershop. Walls takes care to celebrate her local community, notably featuring Dean’s Beauty Salon, the longest-running Black-owned salon in Oregon, and Natural Hair and Extensions, the Pearl District’s first natural hair salon.

Work by Dawn Stetzel. Image courtesy Paragon Arts Gallery.

Managed Retreat
Dawn Stetzel
March 7 – April 13
Paragon Arts Gallery
815 N. Killingsworth St., Portland (Weds – Fri 12pm – 7pm; Sat 12pm – 5pm)

The sculptures of Dawn Stetzel in Managed Retreat are not meant to be static objects. They beg to be activated: Stetzel combines propellers, sails, paddles, and wheels to create Da Vinci-like inventions for traversing the land. But in the inevitable face of climate devastation, Stetzel’s objects fall short: how do we paddle across a dried-up lake? Can a big enough moving blanket be made to migrate our destabilized society to safety? Managed Retreat reckons with the universal crisis of climate change, allowing Stetzel to think through survival with a hint of resilience and, perhaps, a bit of hope. 

Work by Lynne Hobaica. Image courtesy Brumfield Gallery.

Two Headed Driver
Lynne Hobaica and Rickie Barnett
March 9 – May 11
Brumfield Gallery
1033 Marine Dr., Astoria (Weds – Sat 11am – 5pm; Sun 11am – 4pm)

Brumfield Gallery presents the collaborative as well as individual ceramic works of North Carolina-based Lynne Hobaica and Rickie Barnett. The exhibition, titled Two Headed Driver, features an array of mythical and surreal characters that somehow link the past to the present moment– through hazy memories of loved ones, evocations of dreamlike states, or even the presence of ghosts. If things seem familiar, maybe it’s because you’ve seen them before…somewhere, somehow. 


MYS Oregon to Iberia

Image courtesy Industry One.

Let it Be Known
Rob Lewis, barry johnson, Mikey Coleman, Milan Davis, James Bullock, Naomi Likayi, Christine Miller, Nia Musiba, Paola De La Cruz
January 31 – April 5
Industry One Gallery
413 SW 10th Ave., Portland (Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm)

Let It Be Known at Industry One Gallery is a testament to the ongoing and ever-expansive soul of Black creativity across art and culture. Featuring a roster of nine artists working across mediums of painting, sculpture, fiber, and social engagement, the exhibition aims to remind us that recognizing the impact of Black history, art, and culture is not limited to February’s Black History Month but something that should be celebrated and embraced all year long.

Work by Ido Radon. Photo by Mario Gallucci. Image courtesy ILY2.

Ido Radon
February 17 – March 30
925 NW Flanders, Portland (Wed – Sat 11am – 6pm)

The exhibition statement for Ido Radon’s CALIFORNIA at ILY2 recalls lyrics to “California Dreamin’” by The Mamas & The Papas, a hopeful vision of a sunnier place amid winter grey– an image I bet many of us can relate to right now. Yet the cool, literally machinic sculptural work of Radon that integrates computer parts and solar panels reminds us of the unavoidable presence of electronics in the landscape (the idea of Silicon Valley, for example). Radon’s work encourages us to wonder: what if we reconsider this techno landscape as utopia?

Work by Nathaniel Praska. Image courtesy The Arts Center.

Heaven and Earthly Delights
Nathaniel Praska
March 14 – April 27
The Arts Center
700 SW Madison Avenue, Corvallis (Tues – Sat 12pm – 5pm)

There’s a certain anxious vibration that resonates throughout Nathaniel Praska’s work that comes from a place of not knowing rather than fear. Through a series of feverishly scratchy and scribbled paintings and sculptures made from the detritus of the suburban boom, Heaven and Earthly Delights plays up this anxiety of the unknown. This juxtaposition of Praska’s paranoia-laden monstrous figures and construction site offal evokes a nervousness that reflects the precarity of a late-modern, late-capitalist society that feels more and more important to reckon with as the days go by. 

Image courtesy the artist and Well Well Projects.

Meteorite Mama
Jessie Rosa Vala
March 2 – 31
Well Well Projects
8371 N Interstate Ave, #1, Portland (Sat – Sun 12pm – 5pm)


MYS Oregon to Iberia

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to see a chunk of meteorite for yourself at a natural history museum, you may agree that it comes off as both ancient and somehow ultra-futuristic. How can a hunk of ostensibly primary minerals seem so ahead of its time? Taking this tension as a point of departure, Jessie Rosa Vala’s Meteorite Mama questions reality and mythology through an altar-like installation incorporating stoneware, glass pomegranates, and neon light. Along with the exhibition are opportunities to make your own “Meteorite Mama Talisman” on March 9 from 4:30-6pm, or for an immersive evening with a performance by Willow Gibbons and an arrangement workshop with Hilary Horvath on March 30 from 5-7pm.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Headshot of Jason N. Le.

Jason N. Le (they/them) is a Vietnamese American writer, thinker, and curator based in Portland, Oregon. Their academic background lies in art history and critical theory, focused on postwar American art, identity politics, performance theory, and the genealogy of arts criticism. They hold degrees from the Pacific Northwest College of Art and Portland State University, and their other critical arts writing can be found at Art & About PDX.


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