500 Boren Ave N, 381-3218
Through June 27.
I am pretty sure that memory is one of art's most abused topics. The word "memory," like so many other loaded words, is assumed by mediocre artists and writers to carry all compulsory tragic weight, but this, of course, is seldom the case. In many cases, work that claims to investigate memory is often just a lazy compilation of unrelated things.
Work about people's memories often fails because the idea of memory is often more interesting than the specifics, which, to have any meaning for a viewer, have to be transformed into something larger than their eventual tragedy (which is always essentially the same: that they are eventually forgotten). This is something that Christian Boltanski, for example, does quite well. A similar transformation is effected in Charm Bracelet's Untitled (Elephant), a vinyl elephant stuffed full of something like five years' worth of shredded art-world ephemera. All of those important moments--the opening nights, the long-awaited reviews, the labored-over images--are both degraded and revered, stuffed in with thousands of other important moments, becoming, in the end, an equivocal object.
(Elephant) is one of six works in Frozen Moments, the new exhibition at Consolidated Works, and the first curated by Dylan Neuwirth. Most of these are works I've seen in other contexts and slightly different forms--and liked a great deal: In addition to the monument from Charm Bracelet (who are the Portland team Brad Adkins and Christopher Buckingham), there's the all-the-letters-of-Exodus project by Lance Wakeling, and a variation of Rob Zverina's Everything A& More installation from a few months ago at Priceless Works.
The work in Frozen Moments is all about the past or the idea of the past, but Neuwirth has also challenged the artists to display the work in a new way. A new installation of an old work, the thinking goes, creates a new context (over and above, I suppose, the context of appearing in a show for which it was not commissioned), with the possibility that whatever the work means in this exhibition is only the most recent in its constant iteration of meanings. This has generally been true of work in theme shows, but here the idea is laid bare. Neuwirth is very hipped on installation and context; exhibitions of his own work, laid out variously in a tattoo parlor, an architect's office, and a warehouse, testify to this. It's a promising line of thought, agreeably complex, but I'm not sure how far it goes. At any rate, if the show feels a bit forced--like Neuwirth has concocted a theme to cover works that don't really share a theme--the works he's chosen are by and large quite good.
(And it's a lucky thing I've seen most of these works before, since at the time of this writing, the show isn't fully installed. Which puts me in the accidental position of writing speculatively about a show that deals with hindsight. You might want to keep this in mind.)
Wakeling's Exodus letters, each cast in plaster, were shown last month, in the Cornish BFA exhibition, in an indiscriminate heap; here, a forklift holds aloft a broken crate, and the letters have spilled out and broken. I like the offhand way Wakeling treats the word of God, if you are inclined to see it that way, or his own hard labor (individually casting 151,286 letters and bits of punctuation is more punishing than you might think) if you are not; this work, like (Elephant), is a perfect conflation of respect and irreverence.
The most literal embodiments of Neuwirth's theme are Buddy Bunting's large wall paintings of car crashes, which have a stately presence and somehow evoke a single violent moment in an ongoing present, and Dan DeZarn's firecrackers exploded in resin, so that the moment of the blast is literally frozen. One suspects that this is the work that the show was built around, so perfectly does it accommodate the theme.
My main objection to this show, which is largely smart and interesting, is that three out of six works (at last count) have, as either a component of the work or an added feature, a video that recounts how the work was made. Each one, taken by itself, seems fine enough, but in the aggregate they undermine the exhibition's premise. They unfreeze the moment. If you are going to take a memory as your subject, it should--no matter how present your object--remain rooted in the past.