Photo by Yasue Arai
Khris Soden, Portland Tour of Tilburg, PICA and beyond, Tue., Sept. 9, 6:30 pm
Khris Soden is not Dutch, but he is nonetheless offering a tour of Tilburg, a provincial city in the Netherlands, which he has mapped meticulously and with no small feat of memory onto the streets of Portland. He offers plausible justifications for this specific choice (Tilburg's relative size, along with Holland's political similarity to Portland right down to our permissive stance on the demon weed), but in the end it could have been pieces of almost any city, mapped onto pieces of almost any city, and achieved much the same effect.
The tour itself had the same jaunty-geeky surface character of any school trip or touristy pleasure walk. Soden, as a guide, adopted the obsessive subject-matter competence and apologetic jokiness of your basic hired hand from the local historical society. We all received ring-bound notebooks filled with photographs, should we want to compare the various sites in Portland to their geographical correlates in little Tilburg. This accessory marked us all, of course, as rookies. This was part of the point.
Still the views of Tilburg, and even the entirety of Portland and Tilburg themselves, were largely beside the point. Each city that is not our own also has its anecdotes and still salvageable history, each one its official points of interest and accumulated folksy charms and seedy underbellies and accidents of circumstance, its idiosyncratic claims on our imaginations, its famed and infamous born therein or associated thereto.
What was most important was that the city we saw and the one that was described lined up only as a series of accidents and occasional literary contrivances, so when Soden directed our attention to the building that looked like a white castle, we saw instead a Carl's Jr. He held invisible doors for us, waited behind us as we entered invisible tunnels. Innocent bystanders, overhearing, looked in vain for the giant McDonald's that the residents of Tilburg had plopped right into the square, or for a mixed-Catholic-Protestant church on the walls of the Hilton. One of those newfangled parking validation dispensers operated as a stand-in for a monument. In front of the Powell's, a crowd waiting for a stoplight looked on in confusion as Soden described a 15-foot-tall gyroscopic sculpture as being over 60 feet tall, and a clock.
It's comic, of course. The dissonance between what you see and what you hear is a classic source of humor, as when enterprising CBS newsprogrammers underlaid statements made by denying-Peter U.S. corporate executives with pictures of Guatamalan union organizers whose throats had been cut, and who'd been left to die in the mud. Everybody laughs. Or not, I suppose.
But in this tour, beyond the surface-level comedy, there is also an assonance built between the Tilburg you hear about and don't see, and the Portland you see but don't hear about. Certain parts of Tilburg affix themselves to Portland in memory to create a new, hybrid kind of history that is not at all dishonest, though entirely counterfactual.
But still: as we walked by the red light exchange downtown, a small group of anarcho-punklets asked for some "dollars".
"We only have Euros," shrugged Soden.
"We'll take those, too," said one of the kids.
"I've never seen one," sad another.
Soden continued the tour, pointing out that around the corner, on the upper stories, was a famous punk club called Devil Point. The kids all immediately rounded the corner to see, and, seeing nothing but empty office space, paused, turned, then walked away from all of us, off to somewhere where somebody might have dollars.
Read more diaries from the 2008 TBA Festival here.