The first big success of this year's Time-Based Art Festival is Portland sound artist Tim DuRoche and Brooklyn video artist Ed Purver's bridge project. Over the weekend, the south side of the Morrison Bridge piers boasted video projections inspired by its surprisingly beautiful hidden spaces, along with a slideshow of the faces of the engineers and others who make the bridges function and keep them safe. The photos were synched to recorded interviews, the abstract projections to sounds of the bridge (created by vehicles rumbling over it, breeze rushing through it, etc.) processed by computer and then all of them played over speakers on the Hawthorne Bridge, whose sidewalks became a viewing/listening platform for hundreds (at least) of Portlanders.
Friends I shared the experience with had varied reactions: it was beautiful; the stories were compelling; the documentary aspects clashed with the abstract beauty of the video and sound; because of ambient noise and the sound design, some stories were hard to discern (especially when spoken in low voices when cars were passing), even when standing right in front of the speakers; it was cool; the video was too small and far away to really see—another example of Portland's usual pattern: great ideas undermined by inadequate resources (champagne taste, tap water budget). I remember having a similar reaction to other big TBA signature projects that were just underpowered for the concept—David Eckard's otherwise impressive Float boat was too small, Rinde Eckert's choir too sparse, and so on.
Nevertheless, The Hidden Life of Bridges ranks as one of the most impressive truly public art projects I've seen in Portland. Everyone I talked to agreed that whatever the technical limitations, they were paying a lot more attention to Portland's bridges, which means the project fulfilled its public art function admirably. The projections were gorgeous, the words often eloquent, the sounds evocative. And how wonderful to have an excuse to gather with good friends—in shorts, at night, in Portland, no less!—and lean on a rail overlooking the Willamette that so defines our community, illuminated by a full moon and refreshed by those warm breezes, and think about what the bridges mean to the city and how amazing it is that, as one of the engineers in the video said, this Model A era technology is used every day to get us where we need to go. The project really engaged the people of Portland with some of its most important public assets. Be sure to check out the impressive website.
SEE IT: PICA's ninth Time-Based Art festival continues through Sept. 18.
Brett Campbell is Willamette Week's classical music editor.