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January 13th, 2010 RICHARD SPEER | Visual Arts
 

The Dregs Marylhurst Art Gym

Two artists sift through a dead man’s life.

     
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BELOVED MOTHER AT ART GYM

Most of us know a pack rat or two. The souvenirs of yesteryear that we leave behind for others to disperse and dispose of are the subject of Paul Middendorf and Brandy Cochrane’s affecting collaboration, The Dregs, at the Marylhurst University Art Gym. About two years ago, Cochrane managed an estate sale for a recently deceased septuagenarian named Larry Forsyth. For decades, Forsyth had lived in a North Portland house with his father and mother, both committed pack rats. He continued to live there after they died. Going through the home after Forsyth’s death, Cochrane was struck by the volume of accumulated nostalgia and suggested to Middendorf that they repurpose everything that didn’t sell into the current installation.

Laid out fastidiously on the Art Gym’s floors and walls are Forsyth’s childhood report cards, a lifetime of photos and slides, 154 bars of travel soap, and six jigsaw puzzles themed around the 1980s prime-time drama Dallas. The man had also lovingly preserved 46 of his mother’s hairbrushes, 21 of her aprons, and dozens upon dozens of her nightgowns, corsets, bras and panties. As the artists continued excavating, they discovered gay porn, leather sex harnesses and a mattress with conspicuous brown stains. According to Middendorf, it was only after the death of Forsyth’s mother that he emerged from decades of sexual repression, spending his final decade and a half living out the fantasies he had long held in check.

To underline this, the artists stepped outside of strict documentarian presentation, embroidering the soiled mattress with an image of two men cavorting and covering Forsyth’s favorite chair (in which he is believed to have died) with fabric octopus tentacles sewn together from his mother’s undergarments. This Norman Bates-worthy conceit is the show’s most fascinating: the juxtaposition of the wholesome and lurid components of a human life examined posthumously. We are left with a strange sympathy for this man, who after a lifetime of playing the Good Son was freed by his mother’s death to finally let his freak flag fly. Kink notwithstanding, Middendorf and Cochrane show respect for the deceased, reminding us how complex a thing the human psyche is, how diligently we sweep our bogeymen under the rug and how virile those goblins are when they wriggle out for a last hurrah.


SEE IT: The Dregs at Marylhurst University Art Gym, 17600 Pacific Highway, 636-8141. Closes Feb. 11.
 
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