It's been a hell of a few months. With PCAC's Modern Zoo, Jeff Jahn's The Best Coast, PAM's Biennial, PICA's TBA, and now Core Sample--not to mention the ongoing meta-aesthetic digestif of all the above in The Organ, the City that Works has been working its ass off to prove itself worthy of national and international attention. There's something both pathetic and noble about all this "Hey, look at me!" hoopla. Pathetic because it sometimes smacks of chip-on-shoulder desperation; noble because it reminds us of something we forgot somewhere between the studio, Coffee Time, Dots and the bong in the back room: that the only way to raise the creative bar and elevate a reputation, whether an artist's or a city's, is to aspire and follow through.
Core Sample, the entreaty du jour, is doing plenty of raising. Over an eight-day period, the "temporary consortium" of artists, writers and volunteers will showcase a total of 30 discrete exhibits, installations, performances and screenings, promising enough fat and cud for all of us solipsistic Stumptowners to chew on for at least a few months.
The event (organizers don't like to call it a "festival") grew out of a lunchtime conversation between Oregonian writer Randy Gragg and Clear Cut Press co-founder Matthew Stadler. According to Gragg, the men wanted to document the current moment in art with "a rigor and self-scrutiny that wasn't going to come from the institutions here in town." They also wanted to lure the bigwigs who'll be in Seattle for the opening of Seattle Art Museum's Baja to Vancouver down to Portland to discover, if they didn't already know it, that we're not a bunch of lumberjacks who paint watercolors of Mount Hood on the side. Well, not many of us, anyway.
At first, Gragg and Stadler invited some key local DIY-ers to dinner and suggested they build a show around new works based on a Portland theme. Cheesy was the immediate consensus. "They wanted to do their own work," Gragg told WW, "not to conform to some kind of art assignment." Gradually the idea evolved into something approaching Core Sample's current incarnation, an exploration of "regionalism but not provincialism," which aims to chronicle an extraordinary synergy of under-employed, overeducated and highly creative young artists and the elder generations upon whose shoulders they stand. To preserve this auspicious moment in time, Clear Cut will release a catalog in April with a lead essay by Lawrence Rinder, curator at the Whitney Museum and one of Portland's most vocal and credentialed champions to the wide world beyond, i.e., Manhattan Island.
So what can you expect from the festival's--sorry, the "temporary consortium's"--eight-day run? Here are some highlights:
Red 76 (sans Sam Gould, who can't make it back due to prior commitments in Chicago) is staging a multimedia project called Community Jukebox, which will somehow parlay cell phones, wireless Internet connections, voice-mail services and vending machines into a meditation on communication technology that will prove that "the jingling of keys can be louder than the megaphone."
Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July will offer yet another installment in their Learning to Love You More series, which we pray they will infuse with more edge and less maudlin-masquerading-as-profound mush than in previous outings. (Don't hold your breath; the current entry's goal is "the creation of an article of clothing to be crocheted.")
Curators galore will round up artists to prove their various theses. Robert Gamblin gathers a century's worth of painters to examine the evolution of the Oregon landscape and Portland cityscapes, while Jeff Jahn will survey the interplay between the natural and artificial in our state, in which those elements are blended with especial incongruity. Maria Jensen curates Draw, featuring the likes of Henk Pander, Melody Owen and Laura Ross-Paul. Flush features such up-and-comers as Chandra Bocci, Paige Saez and James Boulton. Nan Curtis reminds us in Later of innovative local DIY-ers who were shaking things up before the current generation of whippersnappers were shaking their rattlers.
Abstraction be damned, Andrea Borsuk focuses on how figurative painting can elucidate the dark themes of violence, sexuality and fantasy. In Second Cycle, Stephanie Snyder and a grab bag of multimedia artists examine our fair city's obsession with thrift stores, vintage clothing, yard sales and recycling, and the paths by which garbage winds up in galleries.
In the realm of performance art, damali ayo continues in her preoccupation with race relations by panhandling for slave reparations. David Eckard will use dirt, clipped grass, scrub brushes, improvised tools and his own body to inscribe perfect circles on a variety of surfaces. Eckard's work is either very powerful or utterly pointless, transgressively original or embarrassingly derivative, depending on what mood you're in when you see it. Pop a Xanax beforehand and you'll love it.
If the Biennial left you thinking there isn't a single film or video artist in a 300-mile radius of the South Park Blocks, Core Sample will rectify your misimpression with works by Steve Doughton, Bill Daniel, Greg Pond, Matt McCormick, Lee Krist, Steve MacDougall, Chris Rhodes, Johnne Eschleman and Philip Cooper.
Independent projects round out the lot, among them James Harrison's meditation on "the mystery and eroticism of the humble two-by-four." Be sure to bring a condom--the splinters can be a bitch. Bruce Conkle indulges his longstanding fascination with Sasquatch by interior-decorating a mock-up mountain chalet for the elusive furry fella.
Charm Bracelet's Brad Adkins and Christopher Buckingham stuff a life-size elephant made of clear vinyl with five years' worth of art-gallery press releases. What does the elephant symbolize? Adkins and Buckingham can't agree, so they decline comment. Finally, M.K. Guth and friends provide a pair of magic red slippers to fatigue-footed Core Samplers; click your heels together three times, say, "There's no place like [evening's next venue]," and they'll whisk you away in a fancy-schmancy art van. Toto, whatever Portland once was, I have a feeling we're not there anymore.
For up-to-date information on venues and times, visit www.coresample.info or see the special insert in this issue of