The Lasting Concept at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) is, by design, chronically unsure of its form. Initially conceptualized as a publication of the same name, the exhibition explores the nagging, process-driven revelation of being unable to excise a particular understanding from one’s thinking. With content that requires a method of digestion similar to reading, the exhibition’s connection to experimental publishing is evident. It’s not enough to flip to only pages with varied images. The works in The Lasting Concept require study—a reading and rereading in hopes of demonstrating the reason for their occupation.
It’s simpler to recall the exhibition in detail by distinguishing its structure. Akin to a physical manifestation of a memory palace, The Lasting Concept is installed with a subtly repetitive air. The works comprise serial representations of poetry, sculpture, and environmental interventions that extend into PICA’s office. Twenty-four artists created twice as many works, some riffing off of their previous iterations in other spatial compartments of the gallery.
Bill Hayden and Sam Pulitzer’s site intervention, Yet to Be Titled (2016), occupies the width of PICA’s third-story windows. The adhesive vinyl lettering simultaneously greets and heckles viewers passing from the street, reading, “What’s Up, Civilians?” The piece appears to question the mental state and intentions of the non-militarized masses—those who are not a member of America’s institutionalized protective forces. It’s difficult to assess whether the tone is accusatory. After all, these forces (though often steeped in controversy and antagonism) are extensions of the society that we, as civilians, have excused. The answer to Hayden and Pulitzer’s question isn’t reflexive—it’s meditative, as is the intention of The Lasting Concept as a whole.
Sara Greenberger Rafferty’s Testing IV (2016) is tucked away in an accessible closet. An amusingly placed microphone stand clutches a wilted portion of red chard. The mic stand is a reference to the tools of stand-up comics, a frequent theme in Rafferty’s practice. The work exists in three distinct iterations throughout the exhibition. Testing VII and Testing VIII (2016) mirror the gesture with a spicy green pepper and a bundle of asparagus, respectively. The series recalls a career comedian’s tendency toward running gags. The 1980s prop comic Gallagher made his name by repeatedly making a mess of whole watermelons. Over the decades he introduced new, increasingly maniacal methods for committing the simple act of smashing them—always with the same result, but with varied ways of getting there. Rafferty’s discussion of this kind of comedy, along with the comedy of art-making and experimental redundancy in the studio, is beautifully aligned with the theme of lasting concepts. Some jokes are so good you have to tell them twice.
Gaylen Gerber’s Backdrop/The Lasting Concept (2016) monopolizes multiple, separate gallery walls in what is perhaps the exhibition’s subtlest intervention. Hinged by aluminum pins, gray background paper engrosses the gallery’s walls of varying sizes to create fuzzy obtrusions to the otherwise uniform hanging space. The seemingly simple intervention interrupts the lasting concept that the appropriate space for art presentation is antiseptic—whitewashed, unwrinkled, and unrevealing of what holds it together.
Gareth James’s (Deodand No. 6/12) Monument of a Park for Apotemnophobes, For Jeff Nelson and (Deodand No. 7/12) Monument of a Park for Dysmorphophobes, For Jeff Nelson (2016) are sculptures that memorialize dead objects. Amputated parts of bicycles, housing materials, and ball bearings combine to form mazelike constructions of a purposefully mapped land, becoming graveyards for recreation. The works’ individual parts were discarded, despite their functional use, due to irrational fears or compulsions that are difficult to explain. Phobias, by definition, are endlessly nagging ruminations.
The exhibition ends (or begins, depending on your independence from the offered installation map) with Stefan Tcherepnin’s Void (Daniel Brown) and Absentee Ballad (2016). An MP3 player holds these two audio tracks of ambient compositions that lull their listeners into a sense of meaningful anxiety. The transient, tempered beats are occasionally rattled by the unexpected thump or chime. Despite the lack of repetitive hooks or melodic bridges, both works have the uncanny ability to remain in your head long afterward. Tcherepnin also contributes Gallery Bells (2016), a diagonally oriented string of paper cups, lids, straws, and excess packaging that dangle from the gallery ceiling like a primitive alarm system. One instantly recalls the jingle of the front door at any small commercial enterprise, alerting the proprietor of a patron’s entrance. The sound is a universally ubiquitous experience that spans the spectrum from art galleries to bodegas. Gallery Bells, however, is an ironic twist. Sourced from Popeyes Chicken containers, the work’s materials are primarily paper and incompetent where noise-making is concerned. The sounds are therefore imagined, which is no difficult task considering the lasting impression of these informal greetings.
The artists in The Lasting Concept all manifest considerations of what it is to be relentlessly pursued by a fledgling notion. As an incubator, PICA is intensely dedicated to exploring this continual process through its relationship not only to the exhibition format, but publications like the one for which the show is named. These reflections on memory and the practice of refinement are poetic for both the known and the probationary.
The Lasting Concept is on view at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) in Portland, Oregon through April 1, 2016.