Heidi Schwegler

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.


ArtsWatch Weekly: bellying up to the barre

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

So a terrific dancer walks into a barre and decides to write down what she sees and feels and does. Six years after Gavin Larsen retired from Oregon Ballet Theatre as a principal dancer and mainstay of the company’s halcyon years, dance followers in Portland still marvel at the memory of her energy and grace onstage. She was “a superb, elegantly balanced, dramatically engaged dancer,” as I wrote about her 2009 performance in Josie Moseley’s Hold My Hand at Conduit.

You could pretty much say that about her writing, too: after all, writing is its own form of performance. Larsen has forged a new career as a writer and a teacher since leaving OBT, publishing in publications as diverse as Dance Magazine and The Threepenny Review. She’s contributed to Oregon ArtsWatch, too, training her perceptions on the role of ballet masters in the 20th century, the legacy of the late studio pianist Robert Huffman, and the path to stardom of Northwest Dance Project’s Ching Ching Wong, among other stories.

Gavin Larsen at the barre: everyday ballerina. Photo: Ashby Baldock

Gavin Larsen at the barre: everyday ballerina. Photo: Ashby Baldock

Starting Sunday, Larsen’s writing for ArtsWatch will get more personal. That’s the day we’ll begin publishing Everyday Ballerina: The Shaping of a Dancer, a twelve-part daily series of reminiscences and turning points that pulls back the curtains and gives us inside glimpses of the challenges, uncertainties, and triumphs of the dancers’ life. Just a taste of the style you can look forward to, from Gavin’s recollections of performing in The Rite of Spring: “Some people sweat a lot more than others, and even those who are not heavy sweaters begin to pour and drip as soon as extreme exertion is finished and they are slowly, stealthily, creeping and crawling and oozing their way across the stage to become part of a huge, undulating, slimy mass of dancers twister-ing themselves into the towering pile of limbs we called the Human Monolith.”


Portland2016: The cellular memory of place, Part One

In Disjecta's biennial installations by Heidi Schwegler and Avantika Bawa in Clatskanie and Astoria explore the living traces in old buildings. Part One: Heidi Schwegler


Heidi Schwegler’s exhibition in Disjecta’s Portland2016 Biennial is difficult. You cannot pop in for a moment and expect to take much with you. It requires time to investigate and to understand. But you will be rewarded for your efforts because the more you look, the more you see.

The show doesn’t start when you enter the makeshift gallery, which is housed in the abandoned Hazen Hardware store in Clatskanie. The surrounding area informs the exhibition as much as the work itself, so everything you notice from the moment you turn down the sleepy side street in downtown Clatskanie affects the experience. The restaurant on the corner, with a row of hanging flower baskets out front, boasts a gift shop and video lottery. A sign outside the biker-friendly pub & grill advertises Taco Tuesdays. A defunct Oddfellows lodge across the intersection still bears the I.O.O.F. letters above the door even though it is now home to a craft store. Until it closed in 2014, Hazen Hardware had been in business for 56 years, so it has seen the grand openings and not-so-grand closings in Clatskanie, tracking both the rise and fall of the economy and the variability in what we buy and, therefore, value. It contains the cellular memory of place.

Walk in to Hazen and you will find yourself face-to-face with a gray powder-coated, chain-link cage, about 8-feet square and open at the top. The closed door to the cage lines up with the open door to the store, so you can only take a few steps before captivity confronts you. It’s not immediately clear if the chain-link fencing is one of Schwegler’s pieces or something left in the retail space by the previous owners. Actually, that’s the case with many of the pieces in the show. In Schwegler’s world, the veil between art and life is thin.

Heidi Schwegler, Portland2016 biennial, Hazen Hardware installation/Jennifer Rabin

Heidi Schwegler,”OR (part two)”, Portland 2016 biennial, Hazen Hardware installation/Jennifer Rabin

Searching for something the brain can definitively identify as art, the eye locks onto five plywood pedestals along the left side of the space, each displaying a single object. Art! I am drawn to the nearest sculpture, which is made of two plastic gas station mugs—a red Xtreme Gulp™ and a blue QuikTrip®—each cut in half and joined in the middle by an intentionally sloppy vertical line of white epoxy. It is arresting and immediate, the perfect flag for our declining culture: a cheap red, white, and blue trough from which we can drink with both hands. Moving along to the other pedestals, I notice an overturned garbage bin atop one, and a beach ball atop another, and I flirt with the idea of walking out. I am a die-hard populist when it comes to art, so my eye roll reflex is strong. At first glance, Schwegler’s decontextualized objects make me think it’s going to be another one of those Art shows. Wanting to be proven wrong, I go to Schwegler’s artist statement for clues.


Memories are made for this

Jonathan Berger at Adams & Ollman; "The Emotional Life of Objects" at Bullseye Projects

As soon as I saw an image online of Jonathan Berger’s installation, “A Future Life,” at Adams and Ollman, I wanted to write about the work. More precisely, seeing the plinths, the floor and wall panel were built with small cubes of charcoal, set off a cascade of memories from my young adulthood and family history, and I wanted to tell those stories. The art struck a nerve; and no doubt I was not the only one (nor the only art writer) to be so moved.

Preliminary information about an exhibit will do that for me. It doesn’t happen often, yet a photo, a well-written press release or an intriguing title for an exhibit will not only get me in the door but create the kind of sparks that have me composing sentences on my drive to and from the city. This week it happened twice, the second time was the exhibition title, “The Emotional Life of Objects,” for a group show at Bullseye Projects.

It was 1980. I was in graduate school and had begun hanging out with a new group I had met during summer semester, all younger than me by four or five years and seemingly driven by the complementary mottos, “Fuck art, let’s dance,” and “Make your own party.” While not conducive to my graduate studies, I was nevertheless fairly swept up into their.. .well, let’s just say I enthusiastically attended a lot of dance parties.

One of those parties was billed as a Decadance, and attendees were expected to come wearing either lingerie or underwear. It was held in the basement of a house, whose I don’t remember. Nor do I recall what I wore aside from the handkerchief I always carried to mop sweat at these shindigs. Toward the end of the night I had to blow my nose, only to then find the handkerchief spotted with coal-black wetness.


No, seriously.

Heidi Schwegler’s “Botched Execution” at Marylhurst’s The Art Gym

All of us have heard the stories of scheduled executions in which the condemned did not die in an expeditious manner so additional measures had to be taken to complete the job. In art we talk about the act of creating a work of art as an “execution,” which might lead one to wonder what to expect from Heidi Schwegler in her “Botched Execution” at The Art Gym. What we do find is a well-represented set of mixed media and found object constructions Heidi Schwegler has made during the past 10 years. The title suggests a gallows humor, which comes through in a few of her works, while many other pieces in this show leave a mark —perhaps even a scar— on the viewer.

One of the first pieces one sees upon entering the gallery is Schwegler’s seven-piece photographic series, “My Struggle.” From left to right, we see a headshot of the artist as she is transformed from a slightly distressed state to someone soiled, bloodied, missing a tooth, and in extreme anguish. This portrait of progressive (self)destruction reminds me of people I see on a daily basis at the rural convenience store near my home. There’s the tweakers, their wild gestures an exhibition of self-assurance from inside raging, scabbed heads. Less frequently, and considerably more subdued and cleaned up, are the victims of chronic domestic abuse. If Schwegler intends to portray the state of mind for either, or merely suggest that her individual struggle with some other issue is equally dark, this is a humorless piece indeed. It is only by imagining that she did not actually knock her left lateral incisor out we are allowed some distance.

Further relief for the viewer might be found in the nearby sculpture, “Passing Resemblance II.” Apart from the hands and head, which are silicon replicas of Schwegler’s own in a 1:1 scale, the overall size of this piece is that of large doll. I usually would be disinclined to speak to Schwegler’s real-world small frame, for physical characteristics are often incidental at best to an artist’s output; however, she seems to be using her physique to emphasize the hands and head as a priority for an artist.

Heidi Schwegler, "Passing Resemblance II"/Art Gym

Heidi Schwegler, “Passing Resemblance II”/The Art Gym

It’s a smart piece, and judging from the number of phone photos taken at the opening reception, “Passing Resemblance II” was the popular centerpiece of the exhibit. Quite often I caught three or four people standing around the doll, eyes fixed on it as they conversed. It was not dissimilar to family gatherings in the living room in which the newest child is placed in the middle of the floor for assessment, and as distraction during lulls, even though there isn’t much about this piece that would make one engage in some coochy-coochy-coo.


New Year, New Guide!

MMA at White Box, A group show at Disjecta, and Adam D Miller at Rocks Box Contemporary Fine Art...

The New Year is upon us, and with a new year comes new art! While this post might seem a bit delayed, in fact we were all enjoying the first day of the year on the first Thursday of January, which is why the Portland Art Dealer’s Association postponed their opening receptions to Thursday, the 8th. In addition to few First Thursday galleries I’ve also included shows that open later in the month so we can start off the year with a fresh start. I don’t know about you all, but my new year resolutions include being moved to tears by art more often, like I was when I saw A Winged Victory for the Innocent at Mississippi Studios a few weeks ago. I can’t tell you why I cried, by I can tell you it was cathartic and uplifting, which is why I’ll keep schlepping around to the galleries every month for the rare chance at a similar experience.

First Thursday Galleries:

Wrest_01White BoxThe Quick and The Slow by Evan Larson-Voltz explores the idea of imaginary travel through crafted objects and installation pieces that draw out the viewer’s fragmented sensory responses. Wrest_01 is a video of artist Heidi Schwegler trying to free herself from the defensive holds of Colt Toobs, mixed martial artist and son of famous World Wrestling Entertainer Rowdy Roddy Piper.


Untitled, from the series Inventing My Father by Diana Markosian

Untitled, from the series Inventing My Father by Diana Markosian

Blue Sky – Dima Gavrysh, Inshallah (God-willing), catalogs the impact of the Soviet and American occupations of Afghanistan while he was embedded in the US Army. Diana Markosian, Inventing My Father, reconstructs her relationship to her lost father with whom she reconnected after a separation of over 15 years.





Joel Wellington Fisher

Joel Wellington Fisher

Art Gym – Shifting Practice is a group show of allusions, interventions, and conventions in contemporary photography at Marylhurst University.





Saturday, Jan 17th openings

constructs at DisjectaDisjecta – Constructs with Nathan Green, Pablo Rasgado, and Laura Vandenurgh takes Disjecta’s gallery walls as a form for experimentation that highlights the architecture of gallery space through scale and the body through site specific installations that encompass painting, sculpture, and architecture.



Roger Shimomura (American b. 1939), Classmates #1, 2007, 24 x 36 in., acrylic on canvas, private collection, Seattle, WA. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Art at Washington State University, Pullman, WA.

Roger Shimomura (American b. 1939), Classmates #1, 2007, 24 x 36 in., acrylic on canvas, private collection, Seattle, WA. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Art at Washington State University, Pullman, WA.

Hallie Ford Museum of Art – Roger Shimomura: An American Knockoff at the Melvin Henderson-Rubio Gallery at Willamette University is an exhibition of paintings and prints from the early 1970’s to the present with an emphasis on his recent work. Influenced by comic books, pop art, and traditions of Japanese woodblock prints, Shimomura’s work represent his experiences as a Japanese-American by addressing his childhood at the Minidoka internment camp during WWII and by inserting himself as an aging Asian Everyman in a host of recognizableAmerican settings.



Saturday, January 24th opening

Detail of work by Adam D Miller

Detail of work by Adam D Miller

Rocks Box – Hive Mind is a solo exhibition of work by Adam D. Miller. Co-founder of The Pit, an exhibition space featuring emerging and mid-career Los Angeles based artists. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 5pm, or by appointment at the intersection of N Interstate Ave and N Rosa Parks Way.





Finally, here are the links to two great maps of the many galleries and art institutions of Portland that have intriguing shows beyond the scope of this brief guide:

Portland Art Dealers Association Galleries and Alliance Members

Duplex Collective’s Gallery Guide

Don’t forget to mention the shows you’re looking forward to below in the comments!

Getting to know you: Whiting Tennis at Hallie Ford Museum of Art

And a little extra for the sake of contrast

It is sometimes difficult to look at a particular artist’s exhibition and not have a cascade of forerunners’ names wash through one’s mind. Of course, whether readily perceptible or not, every artist has been influenced by someone who came before; likewise, a viewer’s appreciation of said art may rely on and benefit from a knowledge of that art history. Yet, much like this writer trafficking in the comfort of truisms, that influence resonates louder and longer in the work of some artists than it does in others.

The Whiting Tennis exhibit, “My Side of the Mountain,” is at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem through March 23. The title for the show comes from Jean Craighead George’s book of the same name. The book tells the tale of a young man who leaves his city home at a young age to make a new life for himself on some family acreage, where he proceeds to make a living off the land. Written for a young audience, it comes from a time when this country was still making the dramatic shift from a largely agrarian to urban society, and the skills the main character develops to survive were becoming lost to the larger culture.

When Jenni Sorkin reviewed Tennis’s 2008 exhibit at Derek Eller Gallery in New York, she made mention of this book. I also find some comfort that Tennis’ work reminded Sorkin of the artist David Smith’s work. But Tennis’s drawings, paintings, and in some instances, his collages at Hallie Ford brought Smith to mind for me, not his sculpture. Then again, it wasn’t just echoes of Smith; a whole generation of artists sprung to mind, from Picasso to Smith and even the Northwest’s very own Louis Bunce. Nor would I be too far out of line to suggest that Tennis’s sculpture echo some work by his contemporary, Cris Bruch, or owe a debt to the likes of Martin Puryear, but only in Bruch’s and Puryear’s more architectural pieces.


Oregon ArtsWatch Archives