Through Feb 28
Ghosttown is a mystical project in which a group of Portlanders hope to conjure a shared story (which they call, aggregately, "the city") by inviting others to enter a market of memories, dreams, and stories—as both producers and consumers. It features a "store" where clothing and stories are exchanged; a potluck soup kitchen, stocked by its users; a mishmash of parties where music, movies, and recollections will be shared; a free newspaper that reports on the project; and, most importantly, a name that congeals all of this activity under the rubric of art—this is Ghosttown, a project by the art collective Red76.
As art, Ghosttown falls squarely in the realm of what Nicolas Bourriaud called "relational art," a form that is notoriously difficult to consume. One participates in relational art, giving as much as one takes away. There is little to buy. The materials of this art are common (things like friendship, information, opinions, etc.) and rarely accrue market value. This art eludes critique because we are shy about criticizing the feelings and relationships of others. We don't critique the "everyday" (which is the subject of Ghosttown, Red76 says).
As an economy, Ghosttown pointedly displaces the cool anonymity of money with the intractable intimacy of sharing and giving. Objects that are normally stripped of their histories by the abrasive cleansing actions of money—"I bought it; it's mine now; what do I care where it came from"—now arrive tethered to the long, ropey strands of other people's lives. A pair of infant pants available at the Ghosttown "store" carries a label with a boy's name and the message "I pooped my pants." In what sense are these pants "free"? Only in the sense that one need not give money to take them away.
This is the most interesting fact of Ghosttown: It shows us that the absence of money does not in any sense make things "free." Indeed, the opposite is true: Money frees us from the feelings and needs of others; without it, we are condemned to the burden of other people. In Ghosttown one must sit and talk and listen. Commerce is never easy. You can participate by coming to Portland. The Ghosttown calendar can be viewed at www.red76.com/ghosttownhome.html. MATTHEW STADLER
Stephen Shore: The Biographical Landscape
Presentation House Gallery
Through Jan 15
At 17, the young Stephen Shore was one of Andy Warhol's protégés. This fact is usually mentioned as colorful background about the photographer who went on to become an American master. The Aperture Foundation is currently touring The Biographical Landscape, a full-career survey, through Europe and North America. More than the exhibit's title would suggest, the streets, small towns, and slabs of afternoon sunlight in Shore's pictures share pop art's concern with pure surface. They manifest a stillpoint that, like Andy Warhol's ghostwritten, faux tell-all From A to B and Back Again, is decidedly un-biographical.
American Surfaces, one series in the exhibit, shows us the surface of 1972—unsentimental, stripped down, sexy 1972. With its unsmiling young men in visors and beautiful girls in aviator glasses, 1972 looks a lot like an American Apparel ad. Perhaps the devolution or evolution of these images goes something like this: "Place" becomes "history" and then "history" becomes "fashion." One could call Shore's work absolutely visual visual art. The images do not delve or prod. What they show is the convergence of several vectors—class and history, two among them—present in the backyards, broken cars, and highways of America. And perhaps this is place, usually thought of in terms of essence, seen round from its other side.
The precise geometry of his framing and compositional technique of his early work, shown in the majority here, seems almost to perfect this ragged, rough, and varied country. The light-infused Second Street, Ashland, Wisconsin, July 9, 1973 or El Paso Street, El Paso, Texas, July 5, 1975 were likely originally received as a record of the small and dusty corners of America. Of course, Shore's American reflections fall into a long line that attempt to show us our country—including Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Ed Ruscha—and of course we see entirely different things in them now. One wonders how Shore's work plays in Europe where wide, empty boulevards and Chevron station signs are not familiar enough to seem comforting. These images, which would have one believe that America is largely empty, shabby, and poor (and always flooded with sunlight), in some ways manifest the failure or impoverishment of the country's aspirations.
Shore made an interesting move later in his career. Using an 8 x 10 camera with a nonfixed lens, he sought to "shift the optical center of the lens away from the geometric center of the images" thus shifting the horizon line, the traditional organizer of any landscape, off kilter. The effect is vertiginous or endless, and here, finally, Shore's images look to be approaching pure place. The most striking is the well-known Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California, August 13, 1979, which shows a dramatically curved shoreline and a scattering of mothers, tourists, and children bathing in the blue water and soaking up the sun. If the earlier, geometrical work is Cartesian, as Stephan Schmidt-Wulffen puts it in his catalog essay, this later work approaches the relational, or the social. Of course it is not our "natural" way of seeing, but perhaps this is where Shore makes the leap from reflective surface to visionary. ANNE LESLEY SELCER