In 2015, Portland artist and filmmaker Ezekiel Brown had a beautifully simple idea. He asked his friends and family to select a personally meaningful song, record themselves reciting the lyrics and write a "song story"—a description of why the song was meaningful to them, whether it was because of a specific memory or simply a vague feeling. Then, he created short films not based off of the song, but the subject's relationship to it.
The resulting 12 short films that make up the first season of The Lyric Project are beautifully abstract and strange. The spoken recording of "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe" is set to a man dragging a dead body along a beach, while Lauryn Hill's "That Thing" is accompanied by the interior of an empty lighthouse. The project captures something about music as much as contemporary art—our appreciation of a work of art usually grows from an abstract, knee-jerk reaction.
When it comes to pop music, that's something most of us intuitively understand. But many of us feel a pressure to pin down contemporary art with a heady explanation, when often, the art is asking us to react first and think later.
That makes a preview of The Lyric Project's a welcome addition to this First Thursday. Usually, our preview of monthly gallery openings also includes First Friday shows. But since First Friday was last week, we've included an eastside gallery that's holding an intriguing opening reception on Saturday.
Night Lights: Ezekiel Brown
From October to April, Open Signal participates in First Thursday with multimedia exhibits that are open for one just one night instead of a whole month. This time, they're premiering episodes from Brown's unreleased second season of the The Lyric Project. The six episodes that will be screened include films set to lyrics by Fiona Apple and Jeff Buckley. For the new works, Brown made films not just for the audio recordings, but also for each participant's song stories. Regional Arts & Culture Council, 411 NW Park Ave., Suite 101, opensignalpdx.org. 5-7 pm Thursday, Dec. 7.
Some Assembly: A Remediated Exquisite Corpse
Palmarin Merges and Mary Krell's collaborative exhibit is the product of an internet-age version of the game "Telephone." Merges is based in Portland and Krell in England. So for the past year, they've been building upon and altering each other's ideas that were exchanges over weekly Skype sessions. Some of the resulting works are straightforward collages, but others are more subtle, like a blue-toned image of feathery trees that, in a seemingly nonsensical twist, is labeled with the word "earthquake" in giant, bold letters. Blackfish Gallery, 420 NW 9th Ave., blackfish.com. Reception 6-9 pm Thursday, Dec. 7. Exhibit through Dec. 30.
Gingham \ Ensō
In the last few years, Michelle Grabner has become one of the most influential voices and conceptual art’s most influential curators. In 2014, she curated the Whitney Biennial, one of the most prestigious positions a contemporary curator can attain, and she curated Portland’s most recent biennial. Her current project is concerned with the most banal material: burlap and gingham. Instead of letting it fade into some domestic background, she paints the dense, picnic blanket print on burlap canvases that hang on white gallery walls like an expressionist painting. Anne Crumpacker’s series, Ensō, is also concerned with intricacies of the everyday. Crumpacker makes airy, circular wall-hanging sculptures by tying together thin rings of cross-cut bamboo. The sculptures are intricate patterns down to the minuscule air pockets in the inner flesh of each piece of bamboo. They might as well be an illustration of the line from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire that was sampled in the new Blade Runner: “Cells interlinked within cells interlinked within one stem.” UPFOR, 929 NW Flanders St., upforgallery.com. Reception 6-8 pm Thursday, Dec. 7. Exhibit through Jan. 27.
Almost 30 years after she became the first African-American woman to exhibit at the Venice Biennale, Lorna Simpson's photography is still as challenging as it is profoundly simple. So it's deeply exciting that Blue Sky will host a solo exhibit that will include two of Simpson's most iconic works, Wigs and Details. Wigs is a collection of lithographic prints of hair hanging from hooks on walls that looks like illustrations in a field guide. Then there's Details, which is portraits of hands instead of faces—cropped photos of relatives' hands clutching phones, touching flowers or simply hanging by their side with fingers curled. Blue Sky Gallery, 122 NW 8th Ave., bluesky.org. Reception 6-9 pm Thursday, Dec. 7. Exhibit through Dec. 31.
Can you handle me?
Killjoy Collective's group show will include everything from performance art, to sculptures, to paintings and illustrations. That includes Panteha Abareshi's vibrant illustrations of women looking bored as they maim themselves. Loose and brightly colored, the gory portraits are so placidly disturbing, it's hard to look away: a woman letting blood gush from giant holes in her hands into a cup of wine, another who's just removed her tooth with a pair of pliers, all while wearing unaffected expressions. If nothing else, they're beautifully expressionist—it's hard not to react to a drawing of a woman jabbing a knife through her tongue. Killjoy Collective, 222 SE 10th Ave. #102B, killjoypdx.com. 7-9 pm Saturday, Dec. 9. Through Jan. 9 by appointment. Killjoy Collective, 222 SE 10th Ave. #102B, killjoypdx.com. 7-9 pm Saturday, Dec. 9. Through Jan. 9 by appointment.