Michael Graves Live: A Conversation About Recent Designs, Change, and the Future of the Portland Building
Alessi teapots, Target clocks, Disney Dolphin Hotels and the Washington Monument restoration—Michael Graves has influenced a generation of American design with a breadth few architects in history have matched. But it was the cream, salmon and blue-colored Portland Building, published on a 1982 cover of Time magazine, that first introduced Graves and the architectural movement of postmodernism to the wider world.
Arguably Portland’s most demonstrative contribution to architectural history, the Portland Building also has been an equally notorious problem: long-loathed by city employees who work inside and plagued with structural problems and leaks. The City of Portland is pondering the landmark’s future. Who better to ask what should happen than its designer?
The University of Oregon’s John Yeon Center and the Portland Art Museum collaborated to present, “Michael Graves Live” on Thursday, October 9 at the museum’s Fields Ballroom. This event was organized in conjunction with Design Week Portland 2014.
In a live, sold-out, on-stage chat with journalist and Yeon Center director Randy Gragg, Graves explored two topics: 1) his career’s evolution since the Portland Building, and, in particular, since an infection rendered him a paraplegic in 2003 inspiring a turn to designing everything from wheelchairs to housing for disabled veterans; and 2) what of the Portland Building should be preserved and what might change during its upcoming renovation. The lecture is available to view on the Portland Art Museum online recording.
Completed in 1981, the Portland Building became an instant icon of the Postmodernist break from the cookie-cutter corporate modernism that had come to dominate architecture, particularly in public buildings. It was successfully listed on the National Historic Register in 2012. Yet built for less than a common commercial office building of the era, the cut-rate budget led to dreary interiors and devastating leaks. After considering several options for the Portland Building—among them demolishing it, the City of Portland will soon solicit proposals from developers, architects and contractors for a remodel.
Few architects might understand the need for adaption better than Graves, now 80, winner of the Presidential Medal of the Arts in 1999 and the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 2001. Ignoring what he thought to be a minor sinus problem in 2003, he woke up to find himself paralyzed from the chest down by an infection that had invaded his brain and spine. But soon after, Graves turned to designing different tools and surroundings for those living with disabilities, from the Prime TC, a replacement for the traditional hospital wheelchair, to the “Michael Graves Active Living Collection,” which includes showerheads, collapsible canes, walkers, and bath seats.
With an introduction by the John Yeon Center’s executive director, Randy Gragg, Graves also held an exclusive discussion at the University of Oregon in Portland on October 8 at the White Stag Block’s Event Room. Speaking to alumni from the University’s Product Design Program and currently enrolled UO students in Portland, Graves discussed current projects and answered questions about his career. Available online to listen here.
The Digital Arts program in Portland at the School of Architecture and Allied Arts is a unique option for students who elect to spend a fifth year refining the genre and their BFA work. The program gives students an opportunity to connect to the thriving arts scene in Oregon’s largest and most cosmopolitan metropolis and sets the stage for continued connections, exposure, and integration into an arts and culture environment with a global reputation.
Each term, the program invites a faculty member from Eugene or a guest instructor based in Portland to conduct the Portland group of students with a specific curriculum encompassing study and instruction, experience and lecture. For winter 2014, Rick Silva joined the Portland faculty and enlightened the students through a term’s worth of artistic endeavor.
In the world of digital art, Silva holds a place that is new and vividly ground-breaking. He is internationally lauded for his work with the computer screen, his gifs and phenomenal 3-D animations—work that leaves the viewer clamoring for more in a thirsty visually captivating and compelling way. To view Silva’s work is really to have both your intelligence and your cerebral capacity simultaneously provoked. A glance will never do. His work commands a deep, lingering stare—what you see, is not necessarily what you get as images morph, change and play with stills given electronic life by imposed motion and the brilliance of metronome-like regulated repetition. It is a fantastic world Silva creates and it is only by viewing some of his work, that you will get an idea of what was meant when he was called “a recognized pioneer in new Media Art.”
I had an opportunity to interview Silva this winter and he was good enough to provide responses to questions via email. What follows are his responses to a few select questions about his time in Portland and the experience teaching in the Digital Arts program here.
Here is a quick bio to provide some background context:
Rick Silva’s animations, videos, websites, performances, and video games explore landscape, remix and glitch. In his recent project enpleinair.org he is taking his laptop into the wild and creating 3D animations in response to the immediate terrain and elements.
Silva’s art has shown in exhibitions and festivals worldwide, including Transmediale (Germany), Futuresonic (U.K.), and Sonar (Spain). His research has been supported through grants and commissions from places such as Rhizome and The Whitney Museum of American Art. He has performed live multimedia works in London at E:VENT Gallery, Tokyo at The Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts, and throughout North America including the Software Cinema Festival in Houston Texas. Media outlets such as The New York Times, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and the CBS Evening News have all featured his art. Recently, the author of the bookTransmission Arts: Artists and Airwaves regarded him as “a recognized pioneer in New Media Art.”
Silva received his MFA from the University of Colorado in 2007. He has previously taught at the University of Georgia and the Alberta College of Art + Design. [Source]
SP: How has teaching the Digital Arts program this term effected your work?
RS: One of the two classes I’m teaching this term is a Web Art class. Web Art, or Internet Art, is a scene I’ve been active in for about a decade now. I often teach Internet Art as a small section in other digital art studio classes, but I haven’t had the chance to plan an entire course around it. Student’s lives are often so intertwined with the internet, but very few knew about how artists have used the web as a medium in the last 20 years.
It was a great opportunity to rewind to early 90s Internet Art, to touch on some of today’s varied approaches, and to share some of my own history in the scene as well. Thinking about that class, and the history of Web Art, is working itself into some of my new projects that are web based.
SP: Please comment on working in Portland and with the students in the Portland program…what opportunities are here for them?
RS: The 5th year Portland BFA option is a really unique opportunity for our UO Digital Art undergrads, and it has been good for me to experience it first hand as a professor here this term.
Students have close access to the whole Portland art, music, film, and design communities. They get a whole school year to work intensely on their creative practice, and to get weekly, even daily, feedback on their work from their peers, faculty, and community.
Students also have access to some cutting edge equipment like Formlab printers, Oculus Rifts, sound booths, laser cutters, and more. Having a big final show at The White Box gallery [space] is an awesome opportunity as well.
SP: How have the reviews with the Portland community reviewers contributed to the students’ practice and development of their work and ideas?
RS: They become important markers of progress for the students as the year unfolds. The reviews make the students accountable to an audience outside of our classroom.
SP: You have had an exhibition open during this term at the PSU Anzen gallery: was that recent work? And was it influenced at all by your being in Portland? Has Portland contributed at all to your professional practice? Are there opportunities here that you have been impressed with or have contributed to your work?
RS: Yes, that was recent work. The exhibition at PSU was done in collaboration with an artist run space I’m a member of called Ditch Projects. When Ditch Projects has a members show we don’t usually credit each person’s work, so often each of us takes the opportunity to step outside our styles and try something new.
My work is often situated outdoors, and I hardly ever work with text in my videos, so I used this exhibition opportunity to make a 3D animation that has a a very white gallery scene with rotating white pedestals, and digitally spray painted text that spins around and reveals itself on a loop once a minute.
This work was not really influenced by Portland, more just the parameters and theme of the exhibition. I do often think about place or displacement in my art, and sometimes that comes after I’ve lived or visited somewhere, I’m sure something Portland-esque will find its way into a future project.
SP: What have been some of the highlights of the term in your program for this group of students?
RS: One highlight was an assignment I gave in the Web Art class, where students were asked to create real world objects influenced by internet technology or culture. One student created physical “pop ups” and put them on all the other student’s projects. It was interesting how as we walked around and talked about all the projects one by one, and everyone just ignored the added “pop ups,” exactly how we ignore ads on the internet in real life.
SP: Who have you brought in as guest artists or speakers?
RS: This term we’ve had Jeremy Rotsztain, a local digital artist that focuses on touch interface / software art. Jordan Tate,an artist and professor from Cincinnati. And Krystal South, a Portland artist/writer/designer.
SP: Have you done anything specific to being in Portland—taking or talking to the students about what is here and how they can integrate or be involved with the artistic community?
RS: Yes, on my course calendars I list as many Portland art/design happenings that I can find, and urge them to engage with the local scene.
In discussions, I bring up a lot of Portland artists, designers, galleries, and institutions as examples. It’s great to point to art that is happening in the city right this moment, for example the PSU Ditch Projects show, or the 2014 Portland Biennial.
SP: Any comments you can add about your work (current) directions you are going in, influences you have in your work, or new ideas you are exploring?
RS: I’ve been thinking a lot about bird migration patterns this term. I saw this link from a Portland news station the other day that really resonated with me. It talks about these migrating birds that are being digitally mapped by weather radars during the night.
I’m thinking that will for sure end up in a new project somehow.
Thank you, Rick Silva!
Many thanks to student Dave Braithwaite for the images used in this post.
Images of Life, Love, and Politics: Early Photography of Craig Hickman
“Portland Creative Community 1.0”
at the White Box, Fall 2013
As a young man of 17 in 1960s Portland, Oregon, Craig Hickman carried around a camera—without much in the way of rigorous intention and devoid of a strict or limiting sense of an impending project. Hickman, instead, gently wielded his Nikon- F pointing it at friends, lovers, places, and people, many times strangers, he saw around him. The camera operated as an extension of himself, a way to casually document day-to-day life and a way to capture moments that intrigued him. At times, fully immersed in a moment of fun and experimentation, he would hand his camera to a friend who would turn the lens on Hickman himself, producing an unprompted photograph of the photographer.
Hickman followed an early path that would continually fuel his passion for photography and would branch out to include his development of significant computer software (Kid pix), becoming a professor in the University of Oregon Digital Arts program (Department of Art) and a career as a successful, highly acclaimed photographer known for his playful and insightful integration of word and image, and the digital manipulation of images. In the 1960s and 1970s as a student, Hickman worked on the Portland State University yearbooks (yearbooks that with the influence of Hickman and his core cadre of comrades at PSU were artistically designed and intended more as “photobooks” than conventional yearbooks). These photobooks were lively publications rife with journalistic documentation of the assemblies and protests of 1960s, honest portrayals of student life and campus involvement, glowing and sensitive portraits of fellow students, at work, at play, in love.
Leaving PSU in the 1970s, Hickman continued his education and immersion in photography becoming a staff photographer at Evergreen State College (Olympia) and teaching courses at ESC in photography. Intertwined in these pursuits, Hickman would find the time to commute back and forth from Olympia to Portland to initiate and help launch Blue Sky Gallery along with close friends, Chris Rauschenberg, Ann Hughes, Bob DiFranco, and Terry Toedtemeier. Eventually, with Blue Sky set well on its way to emerging as an international, leading photographic gallery, Hickman decided to enroll in graduate school in the early 1980s and pursue studies towards a Master of Arts in photography from University of Washington.
From those early days of capturing unscripted, candid images, and from rarely being without a camera, Hickman’s circle of friends, his subjects, as it were, in most of his photos, explored Portland, New York, and the environs of the Pacific Northwest with an active and curious enthusiasm forming affections and attachments –some that would last and evolve over the next half century. It was a group of close associates in their 20-and 30-something years that included people like Tom Taylor (who would eventually bring about the establishment of the Northwest Film Center); Frank Foster (first head of computer graphics division at Sony Pictures); Chris Rauschenberg (co-founder of Blue Sky, son of Robert Rauschenberg, and himself a renowned photographer); Terry Toedtemeier (co-founder of Blue Sky, Portland Art Museum photographer curator, and lauded photographer); musician Linda Waterfall (folk musician and singer-songwriter); Lynda Winman (co-founder of Lynda.com); Lauren Van Bischler (founder of Portland’s The Real Mother Goose); and many more. These people formed the core of Hickman’s work during this period from the 1960s to the 1980s. It is a collection of images of which the original pictures were never printed nor inspected, until now that is, having been pulled from Hickman’s early career photographs to blanket the walls salon-style at the University of Oregon in Portland School of Architecture and Allied Arts’ White Box visual laboratory. The exhibition has been aptly titled, Portland Creative Community 1.0. With a nod to the connections to sequence based-software versioning, that “1.0” is said, “one point ‘Oh’.”
While the importance of this early social context and history cannot be ignored this exhibition has many facets. Undoubtedly, there is something so fascinating about images of some of Portland’s now well-lauded creatives captured on film some 40 years ago, capering about, full of youthful exuberance and the in the rudimentary stages of what would become remarkable careers. Indeed, you will most likely never again stumble upon a photo of Terry Toedtemeier experimenting playfully with his very first camera en plein air or see individuals like Ann Hughes or Chris Rauschenberg caught spontaneously in the moment, personality and visage bare and vulnerable. Or even the day Craig Hickman was introduced to his very first computer…..yes, these images, and more, are all here.
Yet, the impact of this exhibition far outlasts a nostalgic recognition of faces and places or any sense of self-congratulatory Portlandia-like mythology. Much of the beauty and power of this exhibition lies in the fact that many of its viewers will not recognize a single face, nor know a single name, and will have never have seen the preachers, teachers, intellectuals, leaders, policy makers caught here on film, or printed on paper. And, that is fine. As, with any great art and with any exhibition worth one’s time and contemplation, Portland Creative Community 1.0 will pique curiosity and encourage thought. This is an exhibition of truly democratic proportions and Hickman by not captioning his images, nor titling them allows us to view the entire show from our own perspective.
Admittedly, this is the essence of Hickman’s work: it has a current of life coursing through it, a quiet, unassuming joie de vivre, paired with a sensitive reflective quality (look at those close up portraits—the expressions are real, the moment of authenticity embraced by both photographer and his subject). The images of political protest are not so much angry or supportive but have an “I am standing here and seeing this” reflective quality or as Hickman says, these are images of “Whoever came my way and made the best picture.” The images of politicians stand not as propaganda neither scathing nor patriotically nationalistic; the images of Hickman’s friends not contrived, not staged; the images of women Hickman loved, not glamorous, but real, occasionally playful: women, you get a sense were appreciated, looked at with compassion and wonder. These pictures tell a story—in a series of spontaneous moments unfolding with the purest of intentions—blown-up snapshots taken of life-sized humanity doused with a pervading sense of community.
And, so we come to the question of size. You will immediately notice there is a size issue at play here. Hickman boldly asserts that the selection of impressively large prints was intended as “fun—to not have the picture come to you—you get to walk into the situation.” Indeed, the walls of the White Box are collaged with a significant number of Life-magazine-like, life-size prints both printed and projected compelling one to wonder if there is notable intention in such monolithic reproductions. The emotional and visual quality delivered by the size of the images only lets us in closer….with a come hither temptation to sink our field of vision into one of these and see people, people just like us. In large format, the expressions are closer, the glances accessible—we see anxiety in one man’s eyes, and, in another, can that possibly be a sense of trepidation in the faces of young sailors surrounding a navy propaganda poster where an illustration of a strapping young sailor salutes with confidence and vigor? The message here is one of giving us the independence and courtesy to just look where we want. Hickman trusts his audience to see something of interest. Let your gaze wander, or stare at one and lose yourself in a single image, either way you will be drawn down a path where you are visually compelled to form a new sense of connection to the people in the images before you. Hickman’s photos have a warmth to them, a sense of understanding, of humility, of empathy. Enhanced by the simple palette of black and white, Portland Creative Community 1.0 appeals to our emotional connections by way of this inherent connectedness to humanity.
A few years ago, something prompted Hickman to delve into boxes and boxes of his saved negatives—negatives that included his images shot decades ago at a time when Portland was a city contemplating urban growth boundaries, constructing freeways, grappling with controversial decisions made by the Portland Development Commission, and when students were sometimes more activist than academic, and our beloved Park Blocks could potentially play host to tumultuous scenes of riot police dragging resistant protestors. Into this socio-political urban landscape strode Hickman, camera always in hand ready to capture the closest image that looked, to him, the most interesting.
Without flash, planned or artificial lighting, or contrived situations, Portland Creative Community 1.0 reveals a subtle honesty—a mastery of the manual camera managing to find a brilliant way to mingle human-controlled aperture and shutter speed with today’s computer-based digital camera and all the trappings of modern technology. But that seems to add to the vitality and intrigue of this display of memory and reminiscence, so an explanation is in order. Most of Hickman’s photos from this 1960s-1970s era were never developed, no contact sheets ever printed. A fact that makes the first-time exhibition of these photographs all the more meaningful. For Hickman the last few years have been a journey into the past to see images he hardly recalled and certainly had no idea what would be found. Perhaps it was a romantic sense of melancholy reflection or the simple existence of spare moments, or a basic desire to see what he had been packing around all these years (in, as Hickman calls it, his “deep archive”). Whatever the impetus, Hickman began unpacking his deep archives, and literally hundreds of photos have now come to light. Concocting ways to unearth these black and white celluloid treasures and bring them to a new audience has, in itself, been a curious study in merging 1960s camera equipment and developing methods with modern technology and the vast, immediate land of social media. While the length of years has seen great movement in the technologies available to take pictures, a span Hickman has never stepped away from, it also produced the incredible opportunity to bring this series of images to life using techniques and process unknown when the images were themselves taken. And, of course, the ability to “post” his newly digitalized photos on Facebook, tagging them with names of those within the images: the subjects seeing the images for the first time, as well, effectively created quite a social media buzz.
The process of printing these photos and a placing them in a public place for eyes to view them beyond Hickman’s significant social media following has enveloped process and method unifying technologies and compelling Hickman to discover new ways of experimenting with images originally intended for the black depths of a darkroom. Upon unpacking the negatives, Hickman would place them under the scrutiny of fluorescent light bulbs shining from beneath a layer of plexi—the ubiquitous light table—a piece of equipment that somewhat awkwardly finds itself still in use but not always to light negatives, slides or contact sheets but moreso a fine surface to place the modern images of today—a work surface bridging eras. Onto this light table, the piece that would unify technologies, Hickman placed his negatives and proceeded to bring them to life. Negatives that once would have never seen the light of day until printed and dried, now were exposed on a light table and infused with an existence by millions of pixels. Hickman began by using a macro-lens on the light table and digitally photographed the negatives; he then reversed and restored the images to pristine condition using Photoshop, employing the tool to remove dust and scratches. Hickman comments that the black and white negatives had no fading and were preserved in excellent condition. As an element of this show, the bold melding of technologies and the way Hickman wove the computer digital age into this exhibition stands as a commentary on the history of photography and the changing methods and process that leads to a finished and viewable image. Blending old with new, Hickman expands the process and displays his remarkable ability to interpret photography from a truly inclusive standpoint. A stunning visual communicator, Hickman confidently embraces the best of both worlds using tools that exemplify an understanding of photographic technologies, and, perhaps more importantly, allowing his audience to glimpse his personality and feel a sense of integration with our past and our present.
There is a story embedded in each of Hickman’s images that you will be able to explore by flipping through and reading a printed and online catalogue of the prints in the exhibition. But maybe you don’t need that—each picture alone is worth a thousand words, quite conceivably, more.
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