But challenging times can inspire powerful and provocative works of art. For decades, the activist artist Leon Golub, who died this summer at age 82, was driven to make paintings that pictured and protested violence and the abuses of power, often saying about his activities: "You're trying in one way or another to make some kind of report."
In this spirit of passionate reportage, I conspired with Willamette Week editors to invite 13 Portland-based artists, designers and performers to create original works inspired by our political climate. They were given no rules or restrictions, and frankly we expected contributions that might be angry or unabashedly nasty.
What we received, instead, is art that is sly, humorous and metaphoric. The work you'll find inside includes a check on the economic consequences of 9/11 by filmmaker Todd Haynes; Sarah Dougher's manic list of the consequences of Measure 36; Arvie Smith's historical roll of the dice; and Harrell Fletcher's seemingly happy-sunny call to action.
In addition, on the cover of this issue, there's Heather Watkins' mapping of a country split into tangled and knotted masses, our speech bubbles silenced or simply waiting to be filled in.
In its entirety, this project reminds us that the artistic and civic responses to any assignment in freedom will always offer surprises. I join all of the contributors in urging you to make your own report with a vote.
Stuart Horodner, former visual arts curator for the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, curated the recent AFFAIR @ the Jupiter Hotel. He teaches at Pacific Northwest College of Art and Portland State University.
Divided, We Think
Currently, my work is concerned with group dynamics, using materials like yarn and thread to make plain the invisible but emotionally present forces at work in social situations. Something seems very wrong to me about our political system when cross-party public discourse takes the form of aggressively not answering the questions posed and instead viciously defending one's own tangle of thoughts and desires.
Heather Watkins is a visual artist and book designer whose works explore language, type and physical matter. Her essay "Typography Lesson" was published in The Organ. She teaches at Lewis & Clark College.
Todd Haynes and Carrie Moore
Carrie Moore materialized this simple tribute to one of Bush's most immoral acts: his ruthless exploitation of 9/11. My very first thought, as the second tower fell: "Bush is so gonna capitalize off of this."
Todd Haynes is a writer and director whose acclaimed films include the 1987 stop-action animation classic Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story; the harrowing story of biochemical fear Safe (1995); and the Douglas Sirk-inspired Far from Heaven (2002), a meditation on 1950s social values, including racial tensions and homosexuality. He created this piece in collaboration with artist Carrie Moore, who studied sculpture at the University of Oklahoma before graduating from the Pacific Northwest College of Art. She was most recently involved with AFFAIR @ the Jupiter Hotel.
Horatio Hung-Yan Law
These "candy portraits" reflect the relationship between the media and our culture of consumption. The candies that make up these images are emblems for the things we crave in our materialistic culture, as we are constantly dazzled by color, glitter, patriotic fervor and political rhetoric. Images have become an addiction but remain two-dimensional and, in some ways, unsatisfying. In looking at the candy pictures, closer isn't always better and sharper isn't necessarily clearer; to see them well, one may have to unfocus or give greater distance. My questions to the viewer are: How much data is needed to recognize a face, how much "distance" is needed to "know" a person, how much information is needed to discern truth?
Horatio Hung-Yan Law is an interdisciplinary artist whose work examines constructions of identity, issues of representation and cultural history. He holds degrees in printmaking, media and natural science, and he teaches at PNCA. His most recent exhibition was at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center.
36 Reasons to Vote No
Sarah Dougher is a musician, writer and educator. She has recorded as a solo artist and with bands including Cadallaca and Cherchez la Femme; she also has taught humanities courses at colleges around the Northwest. Dougher is currently teaching a course on the history of women in rock 'n' roll at Portland State University.
Jo Jackson is a visual artist who helped establish the vibrant San Francisco art scene of the past decade. Her paintings, drawings and installations have been shown at Chicago's Wendy Cooper Gallery and San Francisco's Jack Hanley Gallery. She recently moved to Portland.
I Dream of Escape
Swallow Press started as a collaborative "pony express" that delivered anonymous mail, billboards, posters, slide shows and fantastically shaped cakes. We continue to work on the greatest project of all time--friendship. Today that friendship manifests itself in the form of a conversation. What we would like to tell you most is this: Believe, trust and follow your bleeding heart. Give the finger to war, greed, deception and intolerance. This Nov. 2, vote and vote hard.
Swallow Press (Kristan Kennedy and Topher Sinkinson) is an artist team that has produced billboard and book projects in Portland since 1996. The pair's work, which was included in the 1999 Oregon Biennial, incorporates photography, text and design to create narratives about contemporary life and urban space.
It's a Crapshoot
I'm interested in how stereotypical images of black people have such longevity, as in advertising where we still see Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben on store shelves. The only way to get rid of them is to confront them. Another thing we need to confront is our disenfranchisement, especially now as we prepare to vote. I don't see anyone talking about it. Are our votes going to count? At the moment, it looks like a crap shoot.
Arvie Smith is an artist and educator whose most recent exhibition of paintings was at the Alysia Duckler Gallery. His work, which was included in the 1995 Oregon Biennial, examines various aspects of the African-American experience, including slavery, racism, commerce and entertainment.
Harrell Fletcher and Dana Dart-McLean
Harrell Fletcher is an interdisciplinary artist who has exhibited his work around the world, often collaborating with communities to produce site-specific projects and installations. His work was included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial, and has been exhibited, most recently, at New York's Christine Burgin gallery and San Francisco's Jack Hanley Gallery. He created this piece in collaboration with Dana Dart-McLean, who makes paintings, drawings and videos. Her work was exhibited at Portland's AFFAIR @ the Jupiter Hotel, and she will be showing new work this spring at the Department of Safety in Anacortes, Wash., and the Fresh Up Club in Austin, Texas.
It seems to me that the election is the apotheosis of the marketer's art. Who knows what is true, not true or, indeed, whose truth is it anyway?
Studio Riley (Chris Riley) explores the relationship between business and culture through the disciplines of brand strategy and communications design. Riley worked as head of strategic planning at Wieden & Kennedy for 11 years.
Tad Savinar is a visual artist and writer who has written six plays, including Talk Radio, a collaboration with Eric Bogosian. In recent years he has worked on image and text-based art, urban design and redevelopment projects, as well as commemorative projects like the Oregon Holocaust Memorial and Colorado's Columbine Memorial.
See the Works:
Heather Watkins, Divided, We Think
Horatio Hung-Yan Law, Candy Candidates
Todd Haynes and Carrie Moore, Blank Check
Sarah Dougher, 36 Reasons to Vote No
Jo Jackson, Vote
Swallow Press, I Dream of Escape
Arvie Smith, It's a Crapshoot
Harrell Fletcher and Dana, Untitled
Studio Riley, Truth
Tad Savinar, Untitled