Damien Gilley Joins University of Oregon in Portland A&AA Digital Arts Program | Winter 2013

Between the Lines…. with Damien Gilley

Damien Gilley | Image Courtesy of Oregon Arts Commission | Sabina Samiee

For those of us lucky enough to have encountered a visual arts, design or creativity-based education somewhere in our past, at one point, we, invariably, were exposed to the fundamentals of formal analysis—an effort to analyze formal aspects of a work of art by dissecting the artist’s efforts into elements and principles.  It is a concept and a process that usually begins at the beginning:  with a discussion of composition and the use of the simple line.

A line.  It has the uncanny ability to take us from one place to another.  It leads, we follow.  It can be many things:  thick, thin, horizontal, vertical, short, tall, diagonal. However, it is anything but basic.  This extending mark or lingering stroke, stretching into space without much width to speak of, is the fundamental mark in all works of art.  It defines, it divides, it embellishes, it conquers:  it shows us the way.  It can flow like a Rodin sketch, strut across a wheatfield with van Gogh precision, it can soar into the heights of a cathedral or flee into oblivion; it can provoke us Rising Down in a Mehretu.  It is a shape that defies shape, a force not purely found in nature (a place that seems to have realized the value of mass and substance), and a definition of all things both real and imagined.

Into this linear exploration of the possibility of contour, comes Damien Gilley armed sometimes with only his ubiquitous roll of masking tape.  Perhaps best described in his own words, Gilley is a multi-disciplinary artist and educator based in Portland, Oregon.  And he makes use of the line.  Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?  Hardly.  Take a look.

Damien Gilley. Detourism masking tape and airbrush Tetem Kunstruimte, Enschede, Netherlands

His biography tells us his work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at venues including Tetem Kunstruimte (Enschede, Netherlands), EastWestProject (Berlin, DE), Las Vegas Art Museum, Arthouse (Austin), the Art Museum of South Texas (Corpus Christi), and in Portland at Rocksbox, Linfield College, Wieden+Kennedy, the American Institute of Architects, the Pacific Northwest College of Art, and the Portland 2010 Biennial, among others.  Creating work with a global acceptance, Gilley is finding his method embraced by varying public and private entities.

His work has been reviewed by Artforum.com, the Oregonian, Willamette Week, Portland Mercury, Las Vegas Review Journal, the Austin Chronicle, drainmag.com, and was included recently in New American Paintings.

He has received multiple grants including a Project Grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council and an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Oregon Arts Commission. He will have a solo exhibition in May at Suyama Space in Seattle, WA, and was awarded a residency at Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Summer 2013.  Lauded by state art agencies, he even got top-billing on the Oregon Arts Commission’s Facebook page—his work gracing the longitudinal and coveted cover image.

This winter term 2013 at the University of Oregon in Portland School of Architecture and Allied Arts, Damien Gilley joined us as an adjunct instructor for the Digital Arts Program.  He is leading the pack of voracious fifth year BFA Digital Arts students in more ways than one: ambitiously planning student exhibitions in our White Stag Light Commons space, inviting special guest presentations and critiques to interact with his students, and planning future review sessions.  He has taken to our space like a well-seasoned regular, utilizing the Output Room and radiating out his special brand of digitalesque-handmade work.  And that is a key part of his intrigue—that unification of the digital with the hand-done.  It might seem mystifying and slightly oxymoronic but it works in a very avant-garde, technology-based Portland-cum-DIY way.  This year, in particular, his presence seems somewhat unstoppable.  Get off a plane at the Portland International Airport, and winding your way through Concourse A, you get to pass Gilley’s latest in-the-public-eye installation. It is large and mesmerizing–blue masking tape spanning, reaching, breaching, transporting us away little by adhesive little.  It is Gilley in his element—taking us places using technology and masking tape– and all we have to do is stand and stare and visually wander.  Even when the tape begins to dry, the sticky-stuff harden and peel off the wall, Gilley delightfully accepts this as all part of the process–“that’s what happens,” he cheerfully insists, “that makes it handmade.”  His philosophy on this merging of true high-tech and lowly rolls of hardware-store tape truly provides the cohesive core the medium (tape) might lack.

Damien Gilley’s new exhibit ‘Skywalker’, located along Concourse A, is a masterpiece crafted entirely from masking tape. Image from Port of Portland Facebook page.

I asked Gilley to tell me about his practice, his process and his experience (or the experience he hopes to have here at the UO in Portland).  And while I was fascinated by his recent installation at the Portland International Airport and the idea of masking tape (still absolutely captivated by the idea of masking tape….), this was to be a chance to let Gilley enlighten our left brain | right brain balance and give us a glimpse of how he is able to use a line in unexpected and unpredictable ways.

Gilley says,

My practice finds its home in a fine art context, creating installations and large-scale drawings in situ that challenge a viewer’s rational understanding of space. I use digital design programs to sketch and plan these experiential projects, ranging from Illustrator to Google SketchUp, which I utilized first as a  graphic designer in Los Angeles a decade ago. Now I use these tools to produce work that references digital languages, but are ultimately executed by hand in materials that step away from digital processes, like masking tape for instance.

Cashmere Fatigue vinyl and airbrush East/West Project, Berlin, Germany

Regarding his work with the Digital Arts’ students:

I am excited to develop dialog with the students about the hybrid nature of art making today, especially in the context of a digital/physical relationship. I think it is critical as artists to continue to question processes of making and develop lateral thinking strategies that explore new methods of understanding our world. The students do not need to invent completely new processes necessarily, but instead find a personal relationship to their investigations of our contemporary, digital society. This leads to a variety of complex projects that explore unique approaches to making and alternative exhibition possibilities.

Being an artist who identifies with both traditional media and digital processes, I love the opportunity to contribute my conceptual interests in the field to the AAA dialogue. I feel programs that saturate themselves in the current digital reality have the most potential of new programs today, really digesting the contemporary landscape in a complex way that investigates visual, cultural, virtual, and interactive phenomena.

And what we have to look forward to this term:

The students will create new work for a midway exhibition in February in addition to the development of their thesis culmination in May. Throughout the term various artists will come share their work, in particular artists who traverse both contemporary art and design practices. These will be valuable interactions with active exhibiting artists. It is a great opportunity for intimate discussion and conversation about how to exhibit locally and nationally, what digital processes do for artwork today, and how the art and design worlds correlate.

Look at more of Gilley’s work here, Damien Gilley and Saatchi.

Read a Willamette Week review.

Look at the Merriam Webster Dictionary and Dictionary.com definition of LINE.

[Thanks, Damien! for the interview…  -ss]

Fall architecture studio strengthens connection to Eugene by use of bottom up urban design project in Detroit

Assistant Professor Philip Speranza’s fall studio “Public Use of Private Space,” was a unique collaboration between the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts and a private owner in Detroit and her architect brother in New York City. The students’ work provided design development for a proposed community food market and its associated exterior space for a variety of uses.

At the time students enrolled in the studio they were not aware they would be traveling to Detroit, Michigan, as part of the course. However, for the students to visit the project’s site and fully grasp how their proposed urban design installations will aid the client’s community food business, it proved invaluable.

“The trip snapped the students out of their comfort zones and allowed them to better know the space at which they were working. Going to a place creates a connection between what you see as the culture seen from a distance, and then actually experiencing the urban space and getting to know the people,” said Speranza.

“It also allowed the students to better understand the project as a system of connections between the city, the community, the site, and the entrepreneur. It’s not an abstract single thing.  They must deal with all of these connections to have a successful project. This allowed the students to be part of the process.”

Detroit project site. Photo courtesy of Philip Speranza
Detroit project site. Photo courtesy of Madison Jackson

The project site contains a former bank building and an adjoining parking lot. The designs varied but the goal was to connect the private building to the community at the grass roots level by inviting them into the public space, testing Speranza’s research ideas of “bottom up urban design” acknowledging conditions of the site as a system over time.

Class tours Detroit neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Philip Speranza.

The class traveled to Detroit as part of the midterm review following weekly teleconference meetings with the client team throughout the term. The trip’s cost was split between the client and Speranza’s UO research funding. In addition to the midterm review and site visit, the students traveled throughout the region and met many residents of this “shrinking” city.

Speranza was amazed at the disparity between blocks surrounding the project’s site. “Within a block or two of the site, the blocks are totally abandoned with empty lots–what we know of Detroit. And then a block or two on the other side there are large gated houses on one-acre lots. It was bizarre,” he said.

Project site's surrounding neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Philip Speranza.
Gated house in surrounding neighborhood. Photo by Philip Speranza.

Madison Jackson, a second-year master of architecture student, was impressed by the strong sense of community within the neighborhood and throughout the whole city. “Everyone we met was so invested in the city. I believe this is because it’s easier to move out to the suburbs and not deal with the collapse of the city. Therefore, the people who have stayed behind or moved back all care, want to work hard, and do what they love in their city,” she said.

The studio provided Jackson and her peers a unique experience not available in other courses. “The fact that the studio was an actual project with a real client was the biggest difference and the most important part for me. It was useful to experience pitching an idea to a client and getting their feedback. That it is such a big part of an architect’s job and something that can’t easily be taught in school,” said Jackson.

Summer "Adaptive Market" design. Image courtesy of Madison Jackson.

In addition to fostering the students’ designs for the food market, the client also seeks a fully fabricated installation. They selected Jackson’s “Adaptive Market” design as the preferred option for the space. Just like Detroit as a city is learning to adapt and change, Jackson sees her design allowing for the installation to shift as the client, community or seasonal needs change and adapt. “Seasonally the shelves would be converted from seating, to workspace, to shelves, and be further reconfigured throughout the space in the market to best suit the needs of the client and her vendors,” she said.

"Adaptive Market" shelving iteration. Image courtesy of Madison Jackson.
"Adaptive Market" 1:1 mock up. Photo courtesy of Madison Jackson.

The client, Jackson, and Speranza will collaborate with the architecture department student group the Digital Media Collaborative (DMC) to fabricate and deploy the “Adaptive Market” design during the upcoming winter and spring terms. Jackson will be part of the group and is looking forward to this opportunity. “Having a studio project deployed is something that does not happen often in school, so I can’t wait to move forward with it,” said Jackson.

The next phase of the project will be the deployment and installation of the group’s design this spring. However, before it makes its way to the project site in Detroit, Speranza has plans to deploy the installation in Eugene. “I’m speaking with local food organizations, property owners, and area farmer markets to deploy the installation,” he said. An independent study of national food desert criteria and neighborhood planning with student Aliza Tuttle, an undergraduate geography student, has been done in parallel to the studio, identifying neighborhood spaces of deployment and installation west of Skinner’s Butte and the Whitaker as places of deployment in the spring.

Studio final review. Photo courtesy of Philip Speranza.

The studio was just the beginning of the year-long project, but it has provided the students exceptional lessons that didn’t end with its final review. “The studio gave the students the knowledge and experience of what it means to make something, whether that is the software, the fabrication tools, or the physical making of the object in a 1-to-1 scale – not a representation of the idea, but an actual experience of the idea,” said Speranza. “This connects the students to a real experience, both for the individual understanding of art, architecture and design, and also a connection to the community.”

Studio final review presentation. Photo courtesy of Philip Speranza.

Jackson agrees with her professor and says she found a real connection with Detroit, as did many of her peers. “The studio has inspired me and many of the students to become more involved in Detroit in the future because it is such an amazing city and we all fell in love with it,” she said.

Story by Joe McAndrew


For more information about the “Public Use of Private Space” studio, please visit the studio’s blog here.