This month, three different shows tackle the same essential theme: the relationships between visual art and architecture. This is addressed most explicitly at the Art Institute of Portland's Centrifuge: An Examination of Art and Architecture. Organized by the curatorial duo known as Chroma (Jennifer Porter and Martha Wallulis), the exhibition homes in on the spatial and psychological interaction between two-dimensional artwork and three-dimensional space. Heather MacKenzie's Umbiliform concretizes this. Two wooden planes hung in a corner are linked by a gnarly, organic web, "breaking the fourth wall" and daring to invade the space between.

Only a few blocks north, in the Wieden & Kennedy lobby, Damien Gilley and Jordan Tull have created an invigorating futuristic environment called RE/ACTIVATE, which functions simultaneously as large-scale sculpture, architecture, interior design and stage set. On First Thursday, dancer Rachel Tess performed throughout the environment to an eerie soundtrack by Thomas Thorson. As Tess moved within Gilley and Tull's wooden rhombuses, orange Plexiglas, and canted fluorescent light bulbs, audience members were compelled to ponder the point at which an aesthetic object in its own right becomes merely a backdrop to human performance.

This question is the crux of Karl Burkheimer's In Site at Disjecta. The installation, which Burkheimer prefers to call a "site-responsive object," is an enormous, sloping wooden scaffold with a round, sunken space toward the middle. Viewers are allowed to walk on it, drink, socialize and hang out in the sunken hole. Viewers are not allowed to skateboard or roller skate on the ramp, although it would serve that purpose well. A series of dance performances have been mounted on the piece, adding to the work's provocation: Under what conditions does an artwork slide from a purely contemplative function into the realms of the utilitarian and the social? There are no definitive answers to such questions, of course. From Marcel Duchamp onward, anyone can call anything whatever they want to; the only relevant issue is how effectively a creative endeavor expresses its creator's aims. All three of these thought-provoking shows dispatch that task with rigor and élan.

GO: Centrifuge at Art Institute of Portland, 1122 NW Davis St., 228-6528. Closes March 31. RE/ACTIVATE In Site at Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Ave., 286-9449. Closes March 26. in the Wieden & Kennedy lobby, 224 NW 13th Ave. Additional dance performances on March 30 and 31. Tickets, $25 or two for $40, at