Nothing says summer in Portland like sitting on a giant sculpture in an old shipyard listening to randomly generated ambient electronic sounds.
That's what the 300-yard-long installation called "To The River" is offering, free of charge, on weekends only, to Portlanders who find their way to Zidell Yards on the South Waterfront, through Sept. 25.
The artist collective AUXART used found wood and rubber inner tubes to form a coiling, snaking wooden lattice from the base of the Oregon Health Sciences University tram, down to the Willamette River. The work crosses the Zidell family's former barge-building platform. Now the barges are gone, and the family does real estate development. While they wait for the market, they are making the space temporarily available for art projects.
Walking through the coils of wood, participants will hear wind-activated sounds, with tin cans acting as wind chimes. The wood arches and spirals, like giant loops of razor wire. The sculpture stops at the end of the barge-making platform, then there is a stretch of dirt to the river. At the river's edge it resumes, and frames a sculptural sound theater. Users can sit on a wooden ellipse that is activated electronically to produce 16 channels of designed sound, mostly clicks and bloops.
AUXART is based around using sculpture like the AUX port in electronics, to plug in sound, or to amplify other forms of creativity.
The ellipse has the skin of a large wooden beam embedded in the bottom of it, that is activated by 16 electronic gadgets that turn the bench into a speaker.
Project and Sculpture Lead Philip Krohn built the sculpture and the sound system, while the sound design was done by Seth Nehil, the head of the sound and video department at Pacific Northwest College of Art.
"It's a 16-channel, sort of stereo system that is a wood sculpture. So when you sit on it, it vibrates," Krohn told the Portland Tribune. "It's got all these sound characters that show up all around this thing, it's really quite magical."
Sitting on the bench you can feel the vibrations, as well as hear the mechanical clicks and odd sounds programmed by Nehil. You can reach down and feel the vibrating wood of the beam skin, which is only one sixteenth of an inch thick.
Other performances are also occurring in that space. To spice things up there is a piano from Piano.Push.Play, and on Saturday evenings there will be concerts by professional musicians.
On a recent Thursday, singer songwriter Robin Bacior played piano, accompanied by drums and bass and Piano.Push.Play founder Megan McGeorge on French horn. Krohn turned off the sculpture sounds and instead used conventional speakers as she played to a group of about 30 people who had paid $25 a ticket. "I've never played anywhere with so many freeways," remarked Bacior looking at the Marquam and Ross Island bridges. The sky was clear blue and the sun set on her face as she sang, a Carole King moment on an intimate stage.
According to AUXART, the art is about "the way that the Willamette River and rivers in general connect us across geographies, time and ideas about difference through shared networks of sustenance. The work is inspired by the many devotional ways that people go to the river to meet, to cleanse their souls or to start anew. It sits in the acknowledgment that the site was once an aquatic part of the river itself, before decades of industrial uses, including ship dismantling and barge construction, and remediation by the Zidell Family as part of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Voluntary Cleanup program.
"To The River" by Philip Krohn and AUXART
3121 S. Moody Ave. Portland
Open Saturdays and Sundays, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. through Sept. 25, free
Upcoming 6.30 p.m. Saturday concerts at "To The River":
Robin Bacior Aug. 25
Freddy Vilches Sept. 1
Nancy Ives & Portland Cello Project Sept. 9
Jose Medeles Sept. 17
Christopher Whyte Sept. 24
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