Shovel-ready: land art show opens somewhere in Portland
Artist Merridawn Duckler has curated a land art show at Blackfish Gallery with an offsite component called "Sighted Land," at an undisclosed location on four acres of private land in the Blue Heron neighborhood, just west of Portland International Airport.
A free shuttle will run to "Sighted Land" on three Saturdays in August: On Aug. 13, Aug. 20, and Aug. 27 at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3 p.m.
Duckler has always loved Land Art, a movement that started in the 1960s in America. Robert Smithson's "Spiral Jetty" in Corinne, Utah, is one of the best-known pieces.
"They were often vast pieces of art that had a relationship to the land," she told Pamplin Media. "It petered out in the 1970s, but we wanted to look at it again. Who owns that land? Who's responsible for it? The fire management and land management and environmentalism and climate change, and all these sorts of things".
Blackfish artist Alice Christine Walker offered her property for the land art show of 15 artists. The Portland pieces will be accessible for a month, then she hopes they will disintegrate or be recycled.
There's a complementary show with 20 artists inside Blackfish Gallery (Aug. 2 — 27) in the Pearl, but "Sighted Land" will be the hot ticket of the summer. Walker has three pieces in the show, including her take on Narcissus myth, a small clearing with a pond made of mirror strips.
There's also a moss-covered motor mower half-buried in a thicket of brambles. "I've been working on that for six years," she joked at the show's preview.
Most of the artists are women and there's a Summer of SCOTUS vibe to the show, particularly Jen LaMastra's "Liberty Crochet Mural." She outsourced the crochet work to make a giant blanket that reads "FREEDOM TO CHOOSE" and shows Lady Liberty's torch as a winged uterus atop the medical symbol, the caduceus double-snake.
Ben Mefford made "Ouroboros: Branches of Ungovernment", in which he cleared blackberry bushes until he had an Andy Goldsworthy-style igloo of brambles, with a stump seat. Nearby is an IKEA bed strewn with fruit and surrounded by paper wishes and love notes that Walker rescued from the Ace Hotel when it closed for the pandemic. Walker, a film photographer, was there to decommission the hotel's photo booth, and asked to keep the notes for a future project. This is it.
Aaron Johnson fashioned a camera obscura out of plywood that lets you walk in and see an image of the local banana tree, and when the light is right, of people milling about. "The Alchemists" by Maggie McCloskey shows two mannequin heads decorated with plastic flowers, coming out of a compost heap. It could be both an allusion to Samuel Beckett's "Happy Days" and a quinceañera dress.
The Portland show is less bulldozers and dynamite than weed whackers and crochet hooks. Duckler likes land art because you have to go to it, and it's interactive. In the pandemic she made a pilgrimage to "Double Negative"(1969) by Michael Heizer in the Moapa Valley, Nevada. It's a mesa with a big chunk cut out of it. To Duckler, "Double Negative" made points about entropy and the disintegration of art. "The very foundation of it is supposed to dissolve in 2030. It's happening. It's full of rubble," she said. The locals whom Duckler met had never heard of it.
Heizer's 1977 "Lightning Field," a grid of 400 stainless steel poles installed in New Mexico to attract lightning, was also a favorite. She visited the "Sun Tunnels," by Nancy Holt (who was married to Robert Smithson) in the Great Basin Desert in Utah, which are large concrete pipes you can walk through.
"It's full of hippies sleeping in the tunnels, because the stars line up at the solstice. We hung out all day, there was a band, we had lunch, nobody charged us or cared," said Duckler.
She loves the New York Earth Room, just a room partly-filled with dirt, in a loft at 141 Wooster Street in New York City. The artist Walter de Maria installed it in 1977 and the Dia Art Foundation now manages it.
Duckler's NoPo homage to Cadillac Ranch of Amarillo, Texas, is a row of skateboards. The Texas original is a graffiti magnet, and Duckler's skateboards come with oil crayons so that viewers can decorate them. While it's not likely anyone in Blue Heron shrinks their carbon footprint by commuting by MAX and skateboard, it's a cute sentiment and an homage to the car-less present. And Walker says much of the work will afterwards be burned or composted.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.