Rock/pop Clubs by Night
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Jazz Clubs by Night
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Jazz Bands in Town
A solitary image, that of crisp green grass blowing in a light breeze, is the review that this review should have been.
It’s true. The most interesting way to present this review would have been to skip out of generating 900 words of text (though Pfeifle asked for 800) and to have shown a half-page image of plain green grass instead. It would have been more than just a seamless response to the spectacle SPACE Gallery produced for the opening of their current show, "Reclaiming Space," by lining a block of Congress Street with sod — and doing it so sensitively that it even hugged the transition from sidewalk to curb to street like the staircase carpeting in a posh hotel. Indeed it would have taken up the show’s call to reclaim space, which is to invent spatial practices that make possible new forms of sociality by replacing text written about an art event with an iteration of the materiality of the event itself.
The gesture was so simple — a whole block of pavement, from sidewalk to sidewalk, covered in plush grass — a green cut across Portland’s primary thoroughfare, an intervention in the vehicular and pedestrian flows of urban space. Of course, that gesture had any number of precedents. These would include Joseph Beuys’s reforestation of Kassel, Germany with his 7000 Oaks, or more recently Aviva Rahmani’s rewritten urban plan of Portland according to the routes of various animals instead of the preferred routes of people and cars. But the gesture’s impact seemed a revelation to everyone there that night. Grass underfoot in the middle of the street. Several musicians surrounding a giant wristwatch and playing an elegiac Denis Nye composition in the middle of the grass, in the middle of the street, after dark. SPACE workers in special fibrous jumpsuits, ready for anything. Because what the goings on were going on on was what was really going on, all that happened on that grassy ground was worth attending to.
Here’s how our night started, me and the couple of people who walked into that strange scenario with me: First we felt that our footsteps stopped making noise, which is more disconcerting than you think it would be when you know that you are in the middle of the street. A few feet away, a stout six-year-old girl clambered up the toile wall of a three-sided trailer that had been made up as a roofless gallery. Inside folks sat and waited for an event to transpire behind a curtain at the far end. Red face exerted and knuckles white, the girl hit the peak, rolled over its edge, and dropped off the other side a good five feet into the middle of Congress Street. On any other night she would have been dodging traffic and picking the asphalt out of her palms, but tonight she hit a thick pad of grass. Goddamn if the wee chubby commando didn’t jump up out of her tuck and roll, scurry past us at a desperate pace, and do it all over again. Absurd, purposive, enlivening.
What would the precedents have been for a critical review consisting of plain green grass? Here it would have to be reproduced as a black-and-white image, of course, though a more experimental version could run as a thin sliver of sod on page 14 of every issue. It would have looked like a monochrome — an all green page — but conceptually it would have acceded to what Fluxus artist George Maciunas called a monomorphism: A singularity of form, consistent with itself and even with its own internal differences over however many iterations. A Steinian generative statement: grass is grass is grass.
Though its wordlessness would have made it seem like it, it would not have been a silent review, like the one that choreographer Paul Taylor earned with his infamous dance Duet. This dance involves two dancers standing silently facing each other for the duration of the performance, and when he staged it in 1957 as part of Seven New Dances he earned the legendary review consisting of a blank page "written" by critic Paul Horst.
Recent developments in art criticism have seen a departure from responding to the art on display at this or that exhibition in favor of taking a hard look at the crowds themselves. How do we look at ourselves as we are in the midst of looking? What do the performative actions of engaging with art tell us about efforts to belong to a certain collective and the consequences of our inclusion in a particular community?
The compelling question that lingers in the wake of that pastoral evening in the middle of the city, and that has a force that the exhibition inside the Space Gallery approximates but not with the same consistency, is this one: Who were we and what was the "we" that we were that evening when the street was green, full of music, and, above all, ours?
Chris Thompson can be reached at email@example.com
Issue Date: September 16 - 22, 2005
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