Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year, New Work

Happy New Year, everyone! I am making a concerted effort to update more frequently this year. For now, however, I have some serious catching up to do. I have been busily working and have not spend any time sharing my work with the internet world. So, bear with me while I add bunches of new work over the next week or so.

The Art Outsider

Sunday, June 17, 2012

50 Plants

Today I set out on a 5,000 mile journey from Portland to Kentucky and back. I wanted to challenge myself to come up with a "travel sized" project that I could take along with me. In deciding what form the project would take I considered the following:

1. I want the project to fit in with the rest of my work.

2. My recent work relates art to science in some way.

3. Most of my recent works have been collaborations with my spouse or other friends and I want this project to do the same.

4. I will be camping most of the way to and from Kentucky and will be towing along many wilderness guidebooks.

5. Of course, there will be many stops along the way for hikes and picnics, not to mention the quick stops for fuel and food.

6. Each stop will be an opportunity to explore the natural environment whether it be a state park, a friends' house, or a gas station.

7. I want it to be fun. (In general, this one is most important.)

Here is what I came up with:
I will attempt to identify 50 different plant species during this trip. I will leave a calling card at each with information about the plant, my email address, and the address to this blog. The ID cards will be posted next to the plant in small florist "forks" so that they can be found by others. I will welcome corrections (I am an amateur at plant IDs) and other feedback from those who choose to write me about the project.

If you are reading this because you found one of my cards, welcome and thanks for participating in the project!


Here are some images from the project. While I didn't get any responses via email, in some ways I think that could have been even more exciting for anyone who may have found one of these. I intended them for an extremely small audience, perhaps an audience of one, so that it might feel like an exiting discovery. I'm also doing this in some ways for myself. Learning to identify plants is part of a general interest in understanding my surroundings and I intended to use this project as an exercise. I will keep the project going and look for ways to improve the process. Of course, if there are any advances in the process I will post those here too.
Ponderosa Pine - central Oregon - grounds of picnic area
Oregano - Missoula, MT - KOA of Missoula
Spurge - Eastern North Dakota - on the banks of the Missouri River

Monday, June 4, 2012

On My Process-Based Practice

My process looks like...

Thinking – Talking – Seeing – Showing – Pointing – Waking – Walking – Working –  Riding – Running – Writing – Reading – Revealing – Unraveling – Timing – Changing – Processing

I am in the process.          My process is changing.          My change is processing.

By nature, I am selfish and bossy. Or “a leader” as my parents used to say. In choosing a career it seemed natural that I could become a film director. I spent my time striving to be taken seriously, competing for projects. I felt satisfaction when I landed clients or when my work was well-received. I was given agency to make aesthetic and content decisions. But for all the control a director has over projects, ultimately she is producing someone else’s ideas. The satisfaction was externalized. I needed to make work for myself.

My new process is not so much different than my old life of directing. I am still spending much of my time managing schedules, interviewing, editing, and looking for the space where my work can exist. Film deals in collaboration, ownership of ideas, and representation, so I find myself having reiterations of familiar conversations like intellectual deja vu. I see parallels between sorting through a haystack of footage to find the “golden moment” and my new work of weeding through everyday experience looking for meaning. Part of leaving behind a comfortable process, a familiar medium, is taking a leap of faith that I can be successful working in a new way. For me, the shift is mostly one of perspective but the chasm forming between the old and new worlds is growing.

As soon as I let go of needing physical (and sometime very expensive) tools to do my work I felt free. The camera suddenly seemed like a crutch. Wasn’t the interview what I’d always loved about filmmaking? I experiment with methods of dialogue, inquiry, research, education, and intervention as media. The camera only appears briefly as a means of documentation. The central focus is partnering, collaborating, and interacting, from which I derive intellectual resources and project ideas. My process of working emerges slowly, almost revealing itself to me as if it were already there and I just needed to discover it. This feels like the right way for me to work.

I am developing a series of collaborations with close friends, family, and my partner. My artistic intention with these is to share our intellectual resources, generate public interest in an idea, and engineer meaningful experiences for those who participate in the work. But actually, I have an ulterior motive. I make this work because I get to spend time with people I like. By choosing to acknowledge relationships I already have as collaborations, I’m able to spend time cultivating them. We get to see what happens when we blend our respective knowledge to create something together. We experience a process of discovery about each other that makes my work and relationships feel new and interesting. Maybe it’s selfish to use my art as a means for building personal relationships or to use my relationships for art-making. Maybe it’s selfish to be an artist. After all, if I want to hang out with my friends I could do that without an agenda. If I want to educate I could try teaching. If I wanted to do social justice I could try to become a social worker or advocate and work less in the abstract. I’m drawn to make art because the process of authorship is more interesting to me. I find satisfaction though collaborating with my friends and they don’t seem to mind either. In fact, they have started coming to me with ideas sometimes.

My art-making process has helped me to understand collaboration in general. I am learning to distinguish feelings of genuine desire to work together from when things feel forced. This can be a more subtle difference than one would think. It’s like dating or making friends. There are times when you meet someone and the chemistry is weak, or strong, and then there are times when it is just invisible. Easy. Writing about this evolution in my thinking helps me to process the changes I am going through both professionally and personally. It helps me to articulate my work to others and to myself in a clear and simple way. The cyclical nature of observing, thinking, writing, talking, and then repeating it again begins to carry it’s own momentum. Though my work is self-perpetuated I am learning how to feel the direction it is taking me in and to hold back on the natural tendency to just make it work.

There is a myth about relationships that successful ones take “hard work” to keep going. In my experience good relationships actually don’t take hard work. They continue as long as they do without much interference. I don’t mean to say that collaborations (or relationships) can function without attention. More so that if they require much of a struggle maybe they aren’t right for the long term. Thinking of my work in a more holistic way has caused me to approach marriage differently too. I see mine as a good collaboration.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tour as Curatorial Practice

With the annual Open Engagement conference at hand I wanted to share something I have been working on the last month or so. I am blurring the lines between artist and curator through the form of the tour. Like many social practice projects the tour is about "pointing at things." It is about pointing out what is already there but perhaps goes unnoticed because of a lack of knowledge, separation or disassociation from the place or maybe because it is secret or hidden. By using the form of a tour, a form that everyone is familiar with, I can introduce places and information that are all around but that we can't notice because we don't know how. In the process I have been collaborating with several ecologists to organize a series of tours in downtown Portland in which they will lead Open Engagement attendees on a nature walks. I encourage anyone interested to attend, as the conference is free and open to the public. So, come along. Learn about the urban ecological landscape to refine your sense of place. 

Urban Ecology Tours

FRIDAY May 18th 3-4:30pm, Meet in PSU Art Building Lobby
Note: Tours run concurrently

Visit PSU's Grazing Gardens, Environmental Club Native Garden, and Community Garden & Orchard. 
Led by Hanna Davis

Walk the historic PSU Park Blocks to learn about the cultural significance and natural history of trees. 

SATURDAY May 19th 3-4:30pmMeet in PSU Art Building Lobby
Note: Tours run concurrently

Explore the urban landscape to learn about the impact of invasive flora and fauna. 

Experience the urban environment as bird habitat. 
Led by Sara Henderson

Bring cameras, sketchbooks, recording devices, etc. to document your experience. Documentations will be compiled into field guides after the tour. 

All tours run rain or shine!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Make This Better: Useful and Useless Art

After a fruitful meeting with a graduate of the Art and Social Practice program last Sunday, I'm delighted to have a new perspective on the abandoned Nickelwise Market. We discussed the continuum that spans anarchy to ownership and public to private space. Our conversation made its way to architecture and the "soullessness" of new construction, which insinuates that buildings have souls to begin with. We took a walk and "shook hands" with buildings by turning the doorknobs. A small, gestural, act of engagement with the entrance point to a space. It's usually best to approach complex problems from multiple angles, so I'm moving forward simultaneously on metaphysical, graphical, and municipal paths.

Launching into a project about a place one knows little about is a classic sociological, cultural mistake. One shouldn't identify the solution first and then march in with directions. It makes me think of what Alfredo Jaar said during a recent lecture at Blue Sky Gallery about his site specific works. Before he begins a project he must, as he said, "learn the essence of a place." His phrase has echoed in my mind many times since that lecture. This ethos is central to the work of a social practice artist. Our work has more to do with essence, the people, things and activity that make up the composition of the place, than it has to do with us. I got to thinking that perhaps I need to investigate the soul of the Nickelwise building. Introduce myself. Shake its hand. Meet its friends. And foes. I want to collaborate with the building. I can already feel the building taking on a personality. I will have to find a way to connect with it through a medium. Possibly an actual psychic medium. Maybe s/he can tell me if buildings have souls.

Possible ideas include:
  • Design a postcard with an image of Nickelwise Market and text reading something like "Wish you were here." Send it to neighbors and the owners of the building.
  • Invite neighbors to a meeting about the market which will be held in the parking lot. Use structure or signage to bring attention to the meeting.
  • Temporary Graffiti: Use a projector to superimpose images of a thriving business onto the building.
  • Ask neighbors for the history of the building. Install a plaque on/near the building identifying it as a historical place and using the information gathered from neighbors.
  • Write a letter to the owners representing the first person perspective of the building. Ask them why they abandoned "me."
  • Installation a la Broken City Lab:

To balance the metaphorical, I will continue to pursue more direct civic, municipal, and legal opportunities to work toward more responsible land use and active use of space in my neighborhood. The space is governed by laws that don't protect it. In the interest of autonomy or "freedom" for private land owners to do as they wish with their property, there is actually not a legal implication for abandoning a structure that you own. If the owner pays taxes and is breaking no other codes, they may do with it as they wish including if their wish is to do nothing.

It just seems so wrong to let something go to waste. This building represents a microcosm of the conditions that led to the Occupy movement. It somehow makes (financial) sense for someone somewhere to let this place waste away rather than make something productive with it. But we don't know who that person (or people?) is/are or how to contact them in order to make a change. They are somewhere in another state, Texas in this case, so there is no incentive for them to care. It's too easy ignore problems when you don't have to look them in the eyes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I Wish This Was...


...serving the community

...a gathering place

...cared for

This is my wishlist for the property at NE 60th and Halsey (pictured at right). The property has been vacant since long before I moved into the Portland neighborhood of Rose City Park in November of 2009. I asked a nearby business owner why he thought it had remained abandoned for so long he had some ideas. He remembered when the property was once a gas station and suspected that there were gas tanks on the property that needed to be decommissioned before it could change hands. As of yet, this is only anecdotal information but when others overheard us discussing the property they chimed in with theories of their own. "The owner lives in Salem [Oregon]," one said. "I heard he got rich working for the State." I have trouble believing that it would be less expensive to let a building on a heavily travelled road disintegrate than to deal with the gas tanks. Given that I work for a state University, I don't believe that anyone can get rich working for the state. The property tax alone would be many thousands of dollars a year. That is, unless they are delinquent or the property itself is a tax write off or a cover.

I want to be proactive and productive. I want to be a change agent. I want to treat my neighborhood as a sculpture. Here is my proposal. I will document the process of discovery as I work toward a better block for my neighbors and myself. I will begin an investigation about who owns the property, why it is derelict, if my neighbors have plans for it, what they would want to do there. I will research the property's history and attempt to generate interest in reclaiming the space.

I'm working in the spirit of Candy Chang's project, I Wish This Was, in which she gave away stickers to residents of New Orleans, and asked them to write the their vision for abandoned places and then place them directly onto the building. I will take inspiration from her project, but I would like to take the further action of seeing the space through a transformation. It will no doubt be difficult. There will be meetings. There will be hearings. It will be like social sculpture with conceptual granite. But, like I said, I work for the government. I can handle it.

(Image courtesy of

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Learning Without a School

After a visit by conceptual artist Luis Camnitzer this week, I am considering a new set of questions and problems that, before yesterday, I didn't realized existed.

What is the role of a modern art curator? Is an educator a curator and a curator and educator? What is the role of the museum in an art world without objectification? In what ways can we reinvision a more effective system of education? Should art be taught separately from other subjects or integrated? What role can art have outside of the rarified arts community? Mr. Camnitzer addressed all of these in some way, but in doing so, also left me wavering on my own answers.

Camnitzer said that if the artist or educator (he sees these as the same) does his/her job correctly s/he will become obsolete. Meaning that if the role of art is to teach people how to see, think, and learn in a new way, then once the person is effectively changed from the art experience the artist is no longer needed. This position rings true with me but how can we as artists ever complete this task? This philosophy makes art the perfect lifelong pursuit in that it is unrealizable and endlessly challenging. There will be a continuous stream of new, young students and a monumental number of adults whose worldview could use a pair of glasses. Art education is social sculpture (see Beuys) and the materials are reproducing. 

Camnitzer suggests that art be used as a tool for problem solving in all disciplines. He puzzles over why it is taking so long for the rest of the education world to see that art can be used in this way. The most elegant solutions require melding of disciplines. How can we teach young people in such a way that we encourage them not to compartmentalize art as separate from science, or social studies? Among Camnitzer's pedagogical proposals are to dispose of the idea that museums are giant storage units for very expensive objects and start treating them like education centers. His project "The Assignment Book" asks school children to respond to a problem using whatever sort of solutions they like and then visit the museum to see how an artist responded to the same prompt. This puts the student on a level playing field with the artist. In his own words, "...I am trying to bridge the distance between artist and viewer, and start a dialogue and collective research instead of merely communicating by way of a monologue. I would like  to share unresolved and sometimes ridiculous conundrums and questions that hopefully lead to critical inter- and multidisciplinary thinking, and unleash similar but collectively generated stimuli. Not unlike the blog format, answers and suggestions should enter the exhibition space so that the stage is shared with the visitors, leading to deinsitutionalized learning: Learning Without a School. In this I abandon the traditional declarative stance of the artist/teacher. Being accountable for how I deal with the assignments I become an unprotected artist/learner." (source:

So, with this, I find it most appropriate that I begin my blog exploration of contemporary art questioning with this topic. Let's begin a school right here. Right now.