When Courtney Love catalogued the coinage that fuels the recording industry to a gasping crowd at the 2000 Digital Hollywood conference, she told the world what most artists already knew: America's creative business is a wad of money-grubbing malarkey, execs and accountants on top, artists on the bottom.
DIY in PDX, a new book compiled by Iris Porter, a 24-year-old Oregon College of Art & Craft book arts student, brings together 28 contributions by local artists, writers, musicians and Makers of Things. Each honors the movement that flies in the face of Love's hated "machine."
A movement called "DIY."
DIY--now-trendy acronym for Do It Yourself--means creating art outside the mainstream institutions that typically give artists that leg up to commercial success. Self-made (and usually small) record companies, art galleries, design shops and printing presses give artists the tools to get their stuff out there, without waiting for the nod from the culture at large.
Zines are DIY. Collectives are DIY. Like obscenity, you know it when you see it.
But what is it? An art movement? Political statement? Quilting bee? A bit of all three, actually. And DIY in PDX is mostly an ongoing discussion and how-to manual. You'll hear from Molly Sprenglemeyer, volunteer coordinator for North Portland's SCRAP (School & Community Reuse Action Project) and Portland DIY veteran (she remembers a time when clothes at the Goodwill bins were 49 cents a pound!). You'll get book recommendations from the effervescent Chloe Eudaly, founder of Reading Frenzy (she remembers P-town's '80s book cafes Howling Frog and Umbra Penumbra). You'll read encouragement and advice from countless organizers of craft bazaars, zine symposia and CD compilations (one is even included in the pages of the book). And by book's end, you'll be inspired to bust out the four-track recorder and warble your way to self-sufficient stardom.
In this way, DIY is part of a venerable tradition. We think of historic creative waves like Dada or Futurism as gurgling up from boozy brasseries with an audible rebel yell. Artists penned proclamations of the new rules and denouncements of their detractors. Tristan Tzara, author of the 1918 Dada Manifesto, summed up Dada's crazed commitment this way: "Drunk with energy, we are revenants thrusting the trident into heedless flesh."
While DIY seems a little short on fiery anarchy and intellectual mania (it sometimes comes across as a slouching apology for being an art geek), it does have teeth as an economic critique. And DIY in PDX contributor Eleanor Whitney's statement that "DIY is hopeful" may be its best gift to the larger arts scene: the continued belief that "outsider" art can, does and will thrive--that its plucky independence, its marginality, is actually the sideways heart of culture.
The DIY phenomenon suits a cozy, off-the-beltway town like Portland. The book's artsy contributors praise Portland in unison--the energy, the community spirit, the hospitable vibe. But it'll take stronger stuff than hot glue and a quavering lo-fi soundtrack for DIY to have lasting impact. It will have to grow a bit of a shell, get flinty and activist and confrontational with the forces it seeks to defeat.
In other words--the words of Walt Whitman, a DIY-guy from way back--Portland's DIY-ers should start sounding their barbaric yawp across the rooftops of the universe--not just between Southeast Belmont and Division streets.
compiled by Iris Porter (Tin Can Sound, 110 pages, $15) Edition of 1,000
Available at: Reading Frenzy 921 SW Oak St., 274-1449
Powell's Books 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651
Q is for Choir 2510 SE Clinton St., 235-9678
House Of Style
A trunk show and sale produced by emerging fashion designers in the area will take place at the PDX Fashion Incubator. 408 SW 2nd Ave., Suite 505, 233-6562. 1-5 pm Saturday, 11 am-5 pm Sunday, March 22-23.