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Artists contraption captures scribbly shapes of noise and chance

by: COURTESY PHOTO: DEB BOUCHETTE - Pacific University art students take their mini-Chaucer machine for a walk so it can record the choreography of their trip. What do you get when you cross an artist with an Intel employee?

The answer is hanging from the ceiling of Pacific University’s Kathrin Cawein Gallery: a labyrinth of wild and scribbly, colorful, map-like designs on 35 silk tapestries.

Educated in math and science, Deb Bouchette was a technical writer and program manager at Intel before she decided three years ago to try out her dream of making art.

She started with an experimental drawing class at the Oregon College of Arts and Craft, where she learned that art didn't need to look realistic to be beautiful or tell an inspiring story.

The idea for one assignment came to her in the OCAC parking lot, outside her truck, nicknamed “Lucy." She wondered whether she could record the invisible tremors, waves and reverberations of background noise.

She decided to dangle paintbrushes dipped in paint from her truck's rear bumper and then reverse the truck over a blank piece of white paper on the ground.

While she wasn't necessarily expecting a Jackson Pollock outcome, the result — a scatter of colorful lines resembling a musical staff — was exciting enough that it prompted further experimentation.

What results would she get from more motion, or more distant travels?

“In our busy lives, we suppress the babble around us, yet energies continuously ripple through space, bombarding us despite our ambivalence,” Bouchette writes in her artist statement for the Cawein exhibit, titled "The Pacific Art Experiment."

Bouchette used PVC pipes, rubber bands, tape and colored pens to build a structure that could slide, swivel and bounce in the back of her truck bed and draw on paper for her as she drove. The pens dangle by rubber bands from rings taped to PVC pipes that are locked in place on a plywood board.

Bouchette built three additional structures — one for her car, one she can strap to her back and one to pull along behind her in a wagon.

She renamed her truck “Chaucer,” after the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, because like the characters in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” each drawing tells a tale of the going and coming.

Like a seismograph, though an inaccurate one, the colored pens record the bumps and turns, sways and wobbles of what Bouchette calls a “choreography of her travels,” from Hillsboro's back roads to cobblestone alleyways in France to the wild snow country in Alaska.

The snarling lines, clumps of dots, and mezzanines of negative space are a metaphor for the ebb and flow, the chaos and calm of life, Bouchette said.

Pacific students used similar materials to make their own Chaucers last week, which they tugged around the university campus.

While many students were just excited to spend a day out of the classroom, others pondered the idea of abstract art.

At first, junior math and pre-med major Matt Morse, 21, wasn't so sure what to make of Bouchette's artwork. He thought, “How could this be considered art?”

But when he and other students saw her work as a reflection of her journey and travels, they began to grasp that such abstract art is based in process and experimentation. As a math student, Morse said he rarely gets to experiment. “That's the fun part,” he said.

“We are conditioned in imitation and duplicating reality,” said Professor Doug Anderson. Bouchette's presentation breaks out of that by using a tool manipulated by chance, he said.

Bouchette told students she often listens to “crazy and wild music” while she paints or draws, such as that of John Cage, an American experimental composer.

Bouchette, who has a master's degree in computer science from Ball State University, is now working on a doctorate in the philosophy of visual arts at the Institute For Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts (IDSVA in Portland, Maine.)

She works from her studio, an old tractor barn just a short walking distance from her home in Hillsboro.

Jennifer Carter, 20, a junior exercise science major, said Bouchette's abstract pieces made her realize that her drawings don't have to look exactly as they appear in reality or pictures.

“It can be freeing that it doesn't have to be perfect,” she said. “I think that makes things more interesting.”

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