Avantika Bawa


I have been thinking about Costumes, Reverence, and Forms currently at the Center for Contemporary Art and Culture for the better part of a week. When I first saw the show, I was perplexed. Partially, the reaction can be chalked up to the gallery map provided at the entrance that identified the artist and title for each work. The map was based on a building blueprint with confounding layout features—a hidden staircase, an unseen office, a set of what look like four stove-top burners nowhere to be found. But beyond the map, I felt intimidated by the work, concerned that I just didn’t get it.

But once I made peace with my spatial inadequacies and considered the show further, my initial hesitation faded. So what I want to tell you is what I wish I had known going into gallery and what has helped me move beyond my initial “huh?” reaction.

Tabitha Nikolai’s “Sick Transex Gloria,” part of “Costumes, Reverence, and Forms” at the Center for Contemporary Art and Culture/Photo by Mario Gallucci

The exhibition is a curatorial exchange between CCAC in Portland and Vox Populi in Philadelphia. Vox Populi is an artist-run space and the curatorial group that participated in the exchange included Mark Stockton, Bree Pickering, Chad States, and Suzanne Seesman. CCAC is part of the Pacific Northwest College of Art. The Center’s director, Mack McFarland, and assistant director, Ashley Gibson, were the curators from Portland.

The Portland and Philadelphia curators each generated a list of about 100 artists in their respective cities to give to their counterparts in the other city. The curators then looked through the artists’ websites and culled the field to about 20 artists they wanted to do studio visits with on a visit to the other city. From the “semi-final” group of studio-visit artists, each set of curators selected four artists to be in the show. This all took the better part of a year and involved many conversations between the curators and artists. The “guiding principle” terms—costumes, reverence, and forms—were chosen after the roster of artists had been determined. There was an iteration of the show in Philadelphia in January of 2017 and the show opened in Portland in April.

The curators didn’t select individual works but instead selected the artists whose practices they were most struck by. Both sides were surprised by some of the other’s finalists. The selection of works for the shows was much more fluid and artist-directed. Some of the artists wanted to show newer work than the curators had seen in the studio visits, and others wanted to respond specifically to the exhibition space. While the shows in both locations included all of the same artists, the roster of works included is not identical.

The Vox Populi show had an entry archway that clearly identified which artists were from which city. The CCAC version didn’t indicate this except in the gallery brochure. Portland artists were identified with a small blue arch and Philadelphia artists with a small pink arch. There was no “key” for these symbols though (and I actually just figured it out now, leaving me again feeling a little slow). Marianne Dages, Beth Heinly, Anna Neighbor, and Kristen Neville Taylor are the artists from Philadelphia. Avantika Bawa, Tabitha Nikolai, Jess Perlitz and Ralph Pugay are the artists from Portland.


Portland 2016: The cellular memory of place, Part Two

Avantika Bawa reveals the historic crannies of the Astor Hotel in Astoria, part of Disjecta's 2016 biennial


In order to get to the lobby of the Astor Hotel in Astoria, you must pass through two sets of curtains in the foyer, each one blocking out more of the daylight that pours in through the glass front door. As you walk the foyer, its cinderblock walls painted black, the air becomes still and quiet like a crypt, belying what waits for you on the other side.

The lobby is so dark that the only way to read the exhibition information about Avantika Bawa’s site-specific installation in Disjecta’s Portland2016 biennial is by the glow of your phone. The artist has covered the floor-to-ceiling windows in black plastic, in a way that calls to mind a condemned building. A handful of well-placed theatrical lights illuminate a golden scaffold in the middle of the cavernous space. The structure is probably 20-feet tall, but towering there, gleaming and alone, it feels twice as high.

Avantika Bawa, installation, Astor Hotel, Astoria, Oregon/Jennifer Rabin

Avantika Bawa, installation, Astor Hotel, Astoria, Oregon/Jennifer Rabin

That is all you notice before the sound hits you. It starts off as an intermittent and faraway din—perhaps coming from outside?—and builds to an overwhelming clamor that you feel as much as you hear. Bawa made the recording while the scaffold was being erected, so the audio reflects the noise of construction: the clanging of hammers, the stomping of men in work boots, the reverberation of metal on metal. But it does not sound like a recording. The audio design is so remarkable that you will be convinced that there is a building crew above you in the lobby balcony. Even if you are completely alone in the space, you will not be able to shake the disquieting violent presence that isn’t there.


New arts commissioners, party at the Elevator, more performance!

The Oregon Arts Commission adds a member, illuminating the Oregon City elevator, a(merging), more!

This weekend the Portland art world jumpstarted itself back to life, as hard to imagine as that metaphor may sound. But it did! A lot of the action was on the dance side of things, where Bob Hicks has already written about the Pacific Dance Makers show and Meshi Chavez and company. We also caught POV Dance (report to come), and together they reminded us that these ARE the good old old days in dance in the city. We also talked to the curator of the Art Gym’s “I.M.N.D.N” show of contemporary work by Northwest-based Native American artists and listened in on Vladimir Feltsman at Portland Piano International (last we heard a few tickets remain for tonight’s concert), among other things. Stay tuned!

And yes, a lot of other arts news has started to pile up, too. And to that we turn!


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