In Shred of Lights, one of Worksound's best ever shows, five artists examine the acts of transcription, documentation and commentary, and their relevance to contemporary life. At the show's First Friday opening, writer/curator/performance artist Lisa Radon staged a live piece titled COPIER: Horizons, which cogently and poignantly distilled the show's themes. During the performance, eight women sat at a long desk, transcribing in longhand Radon's own handwritten transcription of an essay by the late writer and Fluxus artist Dick Higgins. As the scribes scribbled away, desk-mounted microphones picked up and amplified the sounds of their pens on paper, creating a kind of music: a wistfully syncopated song about the dying art of writing by hand. On a desk in the gallery's entryway, sociologist Sammy Shaw laid out working drafts of his research project, which compares and contrasts the art scenes in Portland and Nashville, Tenn., where Shaw studies at Vanderbilt University. Gallery-goers are invited to peruse the drafts, whose gist, we gather from talking to Shaw, is that Portland kicks Nashville's ass.
Dustin Zemel has filled the gallery's east project room with a multi-channel video installation that wickedly satirizes television news and cable talk shows. Fake news segments unfurl across a half-dozen TV monitors, each featuring a histrionic announcer attempting to capture the viewer's attention. As you approach each monitor, an interactive element kicks in—the monitor senses your proximity—and suddenly the anchor stops talking and just grins at you, satisfied to have drawn you in. Meanwhile, the talking heads on the other televisions intensify their own antics, desperate to lure you to their own screens. It's a nerve-wracking, spot-on microcosm of the din of cable TV. As an antidote to these blowhards, painter Michael Endo offers quiet, meditative paintings that depict desolated landscapes, nearly devoid of human habitation. This is a vision of a society that is either pre-technological or postapocalyptic, and in either case far removed from the information overload evoked in Radon's, Shaw's and Zemel's work. Endo paints in a palette of dingy grays and blacks, except in the sinister Grim Reaper fantasia Strega, whose diabolical reds and Pepto-Bismol pinks telegraph a garish menace. Life off the grid might be less than utopic, Endo suggests.
Shred of Lights loses cohesion in Ray Anthony Barrett's mixed-media paintings, which are not clearly related to the show's theme. Despite this, the show manages to navigate diverse media in considering the ways we document and transfer knowledge in an era when pen and paper have yielded to cloud computing and flash drives.
SEE IT: Shred of Lights at Worksound, 820 SE Alder St., worksoundpdx.com. Closes Dec. 28.