Twinkling above our heads, chandeliers fake heaven's light, illuming court affairs and ballgown dramas. They're otherworldly, a flaunt of human vanity. At least that's how they are popularly perceived. But the Chandelier Project may change all of that.
Begun two years ago by the Bullseye Glass Factory, the residency project gave "hot-shot designers" and "big-firm architects" a chance to express their individuality and to push the design boundaries often set by clients and budgets. Curator Randy Gragg selected chandeliers as a project theme because glass artist Dale Chihuly had done much to remake the form, and because Gragg felt that chandeliers needed some "radical expansions or reinterpretations." He was right. The results, created by Bullseye's glass-blowers from the architects' designs, are not your stock chandeliers, those excrescent lamps that sway over American dinner tables. Instead they are, simply, harmonious sculptures designed to float on air.
The multicolored glass works now displayed in Bullseye's second-floor gallery get chandeliers' ethereal vibe right. James Harrison's The Internal Organs of Louis Daguerre (so named, Harrison says, because he assumes Daguerre's guts would glow) looks like candy hung down as bait by aliens. Stand underneath to see the shapes' bright interiors, which resemble chunks of gelatin. You could almost bite through the tough outsides to the sweet centers.
Stan Boles' Eta Carinae was directly inspired by celestial bodies. He's depicted the image of an exploding star as photographed by the Hubble Telescope. Glass rods shoot from a bursting aneurysm of red and clear glass as if they were showing us the paths of matter and light cast by the explosion. It's a bold piece, such as Fellini might have hung in his dining room, one Gragg describes accurately as "bombastic."
Truthfully, though, the works are too humble to be called chandeliers. No acts of vanity could be committed under DECA's collection of glass tubes suspended like windchimes. Nor is there room for the pretenses of human grandeur under Richard Potestio's Chrysalis, with its uncolored webbed glass wrapped around metal poles. Gragg feels that this eclectic group of designers didn't produce any major trends, and that all struggled with different problems. The only similarity he finds is a Northwest naturalist obsession with light. But he neglects this recurrence of humility. Even Boles' meteoric piece shows reverence for the star, not the stargazer. In fact, many pieces aren't even presumptuous enough to cast light, and are content to have light cast upon them. These glowing sculptures are too beautiful, too stunning for mere ballrooms.
It's interesting to note that the Chandelier Project took longer than expected to complete. As the architects pushed the medium's technical boundaries, they missed deadline after deadline in Bullseye's residency cycle. Four participants dropped out completely when they couldn't balance the project with the demands of Portland's building boom. There aren't plans for another residency, but now that the town is no longer flush with wealth to pay for new buildings, maybe there will be more opportunities like this to stimulate architects' creativity.
Bullseye's Chandelier Project
300 NW 13th Ave., 227-0222. Closes Jan. 12. The works will be auctioned Jan. 12 to benefit the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.