Professor Howard Davis submitted a statement about the symposium:
The symposium was a continuation of the collaboration between the UO, MercyCorps Northwest, and the Collaborative for Inclusive Urbanism. We’ve been working for the last year with Mercy Corps Northwest (MCNW) on the development of a program with which the micro-entrepreneurs that MCNW helps can be helped with issues relating to their own workspace–availability of workspace, location, design, renovation, etc. In our work we are developing a website through which people can get help, and a system which will match up students with micro-entrepreneurs to provide direct assistance.
The symposium came about through a studio support grant from the Department of Architecture. I am teaching a studio involving new industrial facilities on the in Portland’s Central Eastside Industrial District and the symposium was intended to bring people who are experts in the issues that are being dealt with in the studio–grassroots businesses, industry in the city, and the architecture that serve these ongoing trends.
About 90 people attended the symposium, which was held in the Mercy Corps headquarters next door to the White Stag Block. These included students and faculty from Portland and Eugene, members of the local community, as well as visiting students and faculty from Meiji University in Tokyo (coincidentally there at the same time as the symposium, and part of a program of cooperation that has been supported by Hajo Neis and Howard Davis).
There were about ten speakers, from a variety of places (Detroit, Providence R.I., San Francisco and Portland) and from a variety of kinds of organizations (the owner of a bicycle manufacturing shop, representatives of organizations that promote urban manufacturing, architects who work with such organizations, non-profits). There was also a variety of modes of presentation at the symposium, ranging from individual talks, to conversations between people, to a panel discussion at the end in which the conversation turned to how architectural education might better serve students who want to work directly with underserved populations in the city. This made for a very lively set of sessions with good discussions.
Thanks to the following people: John Haines, executive director of MCNW; Alysse Kerr, MCNW; Sabina Poole, UO; and recent UO architecture graduates Annie Ledbury and Drew Shreiner.
Craig Hickman at the White Box with Portland Creative Community 1.0
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.
Many thanks to Craig Hickman…..ss
Ruf•fle at the University of Oregon in Portland School of Architecture and Allied Arts White Box Visual Laboratory
A short essay on the work by Sara Huston and Jennifer Wall in Ruf•fle
Open at the White Box July 13-August 24, 2013
Open from July 13 to August 24, 2013 at the University of Oregon in Portland School of Architecture and Allied ArtsWhite Box Visual Laboratory, Ruf•fle presents plenty of opportunity for White Box visitors to engage in an examination of perception, identity, and the meaning of objects, complete with psychological and cultural aspects. The exhibition features work from a group of Portland-based women traversing opportunities uniquely afforded to interdisciplinary art and design dialogue. The work in Ruf•fle explores individual inquiry within an overarching collective and shared conversation. It is at once thought-provoking, unfamiliar and recognizable.
The inclusion of work in this exhibition by individuals Sara Huston and Jennifer Wall brings to the forefront the dynamic proximity of conversation and the representation of what it can mean to “ruffle.” Huston and Wall, both UO adjunct instructors in the Portland Product Design Program presented pieces that authentically represent the “diversity and value of collaborative analysis through cross-disciplinary insight” in exhibited pieces, Tiny Parametric Ruffles by Wall and Permanently Liminal by Huston.
Wall’s pieces, painstakenly and metaphorically hung as if 2-dimensional with miniscule brass pins driven into predrilled holes in the four corners of fine book paper, present objects that “chase down the ruffled relationship between parametric modeling software and adornment.” (Wall, White Box Ruf•fle catalogue). Indeed, Wall proclaims herself to be “both metalsmith and designer, both maker and designer” which is a dichotomy that informs her work translating with material eloquence into her designs. One might say, Wall’s work blends the rich and diverse worlds of modernity and antiquity simultaneously transitioning and questioning methods and process both ancient and contemporary. Her works soar from the mere designation of “jewelry” although on first glance what one sees is exactly that: objects in shapes traditionally and culturally recognized as rings, necklaces, small keepsakes, perhaps. But that is the peripheral, shallow view—look closer and see the materials ranging from the brilliant metallic allure of gold and silver, to white ABS plastic, to bronze, to aluminide and the natural, soft, shale-like layers of cuttlefish bone: all materials utilized to explore and push the idea of functionality of the design.
Wall begins her pieces within the technology of a CAD file using Grasshopper, she then moves to the 3-D printer (quite often using the equipment available in the UO PDX FabLab) creating her pieces in metals and plastics. She also works with the ancient technique of cuttlefish casting advocating for the “relationship between the cuttlefish bone texture and the 3-D print.” Wall sees in this collaboration an ambiguity hovering between the two—a pairing of “how things are made and how things appear.” Upon close inspection, the layers of each technique are visible, drawing an almost daring comparison between the two methods. This contrast between process and production as well as the final product, provides the tangible and visual representation of “ruffle”, says Wall, the “use of the 3-D printer and the use of the cuttlefish casting: it’s modernity and antiquity; the ruffles are in the layers; even the cuttlefish, as a living thing, ruffles its fins to propel itself through water.”
This play between the textures and the surfaces of the work, encouraged Wall to explore scale and the relationship between culturally-anticipated sized pieces, and pieces diminished or expanded beyond traditionally accepted norms. She also found a means to traverse the concept of adornment and how it functions as a symbol being both mediator and communication device between the wearer and the viewer.
Wall’s work has been grounded in this method of exploration for some time. She comments that she sees this body of work “….not as a departure but as pieces energized by the quality and diversity of 3-D printing. These are pieces that gain identity from materials—the color and reflectivity bringing a definition to the form.” Wall envisions her future work as propelled forward from her venture into scale with the pieces exhibited in Ruf•fle . She sees the potential for future work to embrace larger scale and to investigate kinetics and the adornment of space and buildings, as well as humans. Ruf•fle has also prompted her to observe her inherent fascination with two dimensional representation and the possibility of pieces made purely for the sake of display. As Wall says, “the role of the arts is to shape culture, and as a jeweler I can shape culture….I can work with personal identity and shifting of scale.” She continues, “I have a great interest in how culture can shift off the body, how adornment can be shifted from the body to the built environment, and onto buildings.”
Jennifer Wall’s work represents an elegant dance between two worlds, one of cutting-edge technology and one of ancient techniques. Her blending of these elements enhanced by a quintessential relationship to the materiality of each piece, places her work into a dialectic process of method and understanding. Discernable within her work are the mindful topics of change and interaction between form, shape, size, substance, and cultural meaning. It is through a process of abstraction that meaning is attributed to her work, or the process by which we think about how her work changes and interacts with us and our expectations.
Burrowing deep into the questions of change, interaction, and how all things relate to or define other things (including her work and her own self image and identity), merges Sara Huston, whose work also graces the White Box Ruf•fle space. Part of a self-professed “collaborative, interdisciplinary, avant-garde studio called ‘the last attempt at greatness,” Huston saw her integration into the Ruf•fle exhibition, (an exhibition she was instrumental in securing and curating for the group), as an opportunity to investigate her own feelings of struggle. Huston talks of a dichotomy between the interdisciplinary discussion: the idealistic yet not fully embraced concept of interdisciplinary work. She asserts “there has never been a separation between art and design, in my own work. . . .and this exhibition was a chance “to look into talking about this discussion, exploring it and how to validate it to [her]self and others.” Huston explains her work is “about [her] identity and how [she] identifies as a creative individual” resisting the public penchant to label her as either a designer or an artist—labels she feels she does not neatly fit into. Ruf•fle gave her a chance “to examine the space inbetween artist and designer and to push [her]self with a new medium.”
Having been involved in furniture (from the very literal and naïve definition) “making” projects, Huston’s work, Permanently Liminal was sparked by a sense of frustration from being called a “furniture maker” and the thought that she desired to reach far beyond the limitations of standard creative labeling or as she puts it, “I needed to exorcise or remove the theme of ‘furniture designer’ so as not to be pegged as one or the other.” Indeed, from her work (some viewable on her website), pieces such as Expectation 01 come across as what most would define as “furniture.” But the failure of her audience to look above and beyond the design aspect and not recognize the artistic component, was driving Huston to want to “rediscover how art and design and the space in between are like a religion and a mantra to [her].” Huston says, with a shy smile, “I am a provocateur.” A sense of wanting to question who she is and what she does, prompted her to create Permanently Liminal, a work that makes strong use of audio to get Huston’s point across.
Permanently Liminal demands a closer inspection. The circular threshold, at once familiar and yet oddly inappropriate, confronts the viewer with conflicting invitations: can one step over this threshold? And, to do so, where are you except in a confined and very limited space? Have you traversed some boundary or simply caged yourself within the halo of Huston’s finely sculpted sphere? This element of the circular liminality echoes back to a state of being on the precipice, existing in-between two or more acknowledged, perhaps, unclear, difficult, complex, and real situations. The threshold creates an environment for the individual to experience uncertainty, to be ruffled, to question what happens next, to be temporarily uncomfortable.
In one sense, Huston compels us to think about reality and what we need to do to break it down into comprehendable parts. She puts us in a static ring, unnervingly similar in color and material to the White Box floor, and subjects us to an audio and physical redundancy of her voice telling us what she is and is not; the circumference facing us with the same position from all positions. Huston boldly questions her surroundings by separating out specific features and focusing on and categorizing them in ways she wants her audience to pay attention to.
This confrontational method of abstraction, (“abstract” is from the Latin “abstrahere” meaning “to pull from”) diligently gives us a slice of her, at this stage, somewhat sullen art and creative angst. Huston comments that Permanently Liminal “completely disrupted [her]” and “confirmed [her] senses of who [she] [is].” The creation of this work forced her to examine how she “relates to the professional fields, the idea of interdisciplinary work, and what ways [she] can work with both industry and marketing to create a space for [herself] that is new.”
Maybe yet undefined, Huston’s own arcadian space without the classifications of artist, designer, or furniture-maker but confined only by the blonde circlet defining the grounded component of her installation, compels her to seek clarity by confrontation. Constructed into this installation are the elements of audio, visual, textural as the senses are called upon to test the limits of understanding and tolerance. Permanently Liminal is a collaboration of disciplines, a mélange of experiences. The multidisciplinary approach Huston show us has led her to a “whole new sense of [her]self, blown away the boundaries of media and audio and made [her] comfortable enough to want to manipulate and work within the digital realm.” Installing Permanently Liminal and reacting to it in the White Box space, Huston asserts that she now considers audio to be “a material” and she hopes to explore the medium as a tangible, physical experience “integrating it into the human psyche and conscious as well as subconscious.”
Both Huston and Wall expressed the sentiment that from experiencing their work and the work in the Ruf•fle exhibition, they anticipate their audiences being ruffled enough to gain new ways of looking at the world, at themselves, and at the boundaries, or lack thereof, in artistic and design disciplines. Presenting work like this in an environment receptive to change and experimentation creates opportunities for discovery of the arts and design as socially and environmentally anchored. And, as Huston reminds us, we must never forget the crucial human component and its importance to art and design, and life, influencing our reactions and how we interact and react to work. While we might abstract to attain meaning and relevance from this exhibit, the utmost value of challenging norms and experiencing situations that compel thought and contemplation, is to remember the Socratic philosophical mantra and remind ourselves, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” It is with exhibitions like Ruf*fle that we are provided the moments, spaces, objects and time to question, to pursue answers, to think to the best of our ability, to examine our lives.
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