For the piece, “Untitled”, I made eight realtor signs and installed them at Congress Yard. I grew up in Seattle and moved to Portland about six years ago. Both cities have undergone serious change—communities have been pushed out, history has been paved over, small businesses have been priced out. We often mark and commemorate lives passed, but when a community changes beyond recognition, what are we left with? As I’m writing this, Ken Burns is on the radio telling me that history is always now, always right in front of you. As a handy-man that fixes leaky faucets, rotten steps, and broken locks, I work with the bodies of these buildings and feel the dampness of that history, as it passes from someone’s kitchen, through my hands, and into the dumpster. What would it look like if for the houses, families and businesses that vanished, we had a public record that marked more than a fiscal transaction? What existing vernaculars might we borrow from?
Built Close to the Water (Safeway) – tiles, grout, mortar, redguard, diaper box, pvc pipes, bath fixtures, old spigot, hot wheels track 
Photographed by Nina Johnson
In Eve Sedgwick’s essay, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading”, she says, “…knowledge does, rather than simply is…”. Shifting the focus from the question of how do we know that a particular piece of knowledge is true, to the further question of what does knowledge do?
As a handyman and a caretaker I spend most of my time negotiating small domestic crises in my home and other people’s homes. I occupy a world of quick fixes, of deferred maintenance and goldfish crackers, of not enough sleep; and of symptoms that bely problems that are far bigger than any individual–like crappy healthcare and expensive childcare, and old buildings.
When I see a leak in a pipe, I know it’s usually because the plumbing system is old and the pipes are wearing thin and need to be replaced. But I also know that for most people that’s not an option, so I patch the pipe and keep things going a little longer, knowing that eventually, after enough patches, it will be as if the whole system has been replaced. I get involved with systemic issues, like a failing plumbing system, and work with them contextually in a way that serves the people I’m working for.
To further explore the question—what does knowledge do? I took Eve Sedgwick’s model of a reparative reading process and mapped it onto the work I do in homes and with people. Inspired by the strange and sometimes mystical body of knowledge embedded in the work of care-takers, baby-whisperers, and fixers, these objects and interventions were made to bring together disparate and visually incongruent systems (plumbing system, tiling system, shipping system, lighting system) to perform absurd functions, and to do things they were most likely not intended to do. Like a cardboard box that holds water; long lasting tiles protecting the integrity of disposable shopping bags; a stone used to mend a cracked stud in a load-bearing wall. They are meant to challenge existing systems (the systems that I know how to work with) to function contextually, and to challenge them on day-to-day level, creating openings for failure and revision.
These Emotional Obstacles were the result of a participatory project created collaboratively with Eric John Olson and brought to life at the Sou’wester during arts week. We invited volunteers to build models of their personal emotional obstacles. To do this, we made five emotional obstacle course kits that contained a very specific set of model making materials—balsa wood, colored pencils, construction paper, glue, tape, and rope—and presented them to participants. Along with the kits we brought an analogous set of architecturally sized building materials that corresponded with the kits.
Once the details of our participant’s models had been negotiated and worked out, we built their obstacles, remaining as faithful to the models as possible, and invited the participants along with the general audience to run through the obstacle course.
The kits we gave to participants were accompanied by the following letter:
Welcome! Please make yourself at home. We hope the materials before you provide a medium to begin shaping your very own emotional obstacle. If you need anything—coffee, tissues, cigarettes, chocolate, music, shiatsu?—just ask, we’re here to make sure you’re comfortable.
The idea for an emotional obstacle course came from a general observation: that political and cultural forces have an interest in the way we feel and experience our lives, and that sometimes those interests do not share our interests, and may even inhibit or alter our actions. For instance, have you ever felt like your vote doesn’t count, and let that almost prevent you from voting? These are the feelings we want to investigate, the ones that keep us from doing things that are clearly in our interest to do.
We chose the materials in this kit, and their dimensions, to aid with the architecturally-sized construction of your model. When designing your obstacle please be sure it is surmountable—this is important. Instructions for your obstacle—how to move through it, what people need to achieve to overcome it—should be written out (if you prefer dictation, Sam or Eric would be happy to transcribe).
Samuel & Eric
In Seattle during WWII, fake trees, fake buildings, and fake neighborhoods were created by Hollywood set designers to camouflage wartime manufacturing from foreign adversaries. Our show at Oxbow takes as its starting point the faithful recreation of a few of the fake trees, removed from their original context.
Our re-creation of these trees at Oxbow is meant to be seen from underneath, rather than above, where the materials we used can be most easily distinguished from the overall form intended. From up close, any real attempt at the illusion of a tree falls apart and what the viewer experiences instead are rough and provisional materials clinging to some recycled timbers– the sole representatives of a forest.
But our representation of a historical moment still maintains its resolution, whatever that might be. It sits in the same general neighborhood as the original and it is clearly cobbled together with the same materials the set designers used– feathers, chicken-wire, green flocking, burlap, and salvaged timbers. That these are somehow an appropriate set of materials for an historical recreation is conveniently ironic as they also seem to evoke the provisional methods available to us for depicting and agreeing upon the nature of historical events in general.
Recognizing the change in context, and in viewpoint, of this historical re-creation is important: how does a person experience something that is designed to be understood in one context and from one perspective, in a different context and from a different perspective? By positioning the viewer below the trees rather than above the trees, inside rather than outside, we hope to reveal something completely different and unintended, despite the fact that the objects themselves remain faithful to their historical roots.
Photographs make clear that from thousands of feet in the air these rough and provisional structures were virtually indistinguishable from real trees. From an aerial perspective alone, generally considered the most objective viewpoint, accuracy can be challenging to verify. When a singular perspective of any context is built into our experience of something– be it history, politics, social media or anything else –space for deception is created. Standing here underneath this object, the strange world that constantly demands interpretation remains, but we are momentarily free of deception, ushered in as participants in the construction of meaning and context rather than held at bay as audience members.
As with many cities in the United States, Portland suffers from age-segregated urban planning.This leaves younger generations socially isolated from the elderly and their wealth of experiences. In response to this issue, Eric John Olson and I created a special project for the City of Portland, Dial an Old Friend: a public hotline that connects people to our city’s wisest citizens.
In collaboration with elders at the Hollywood Senior Center, we conducted oral histories about the city’s past and seniors’ dreams for the future of the city. Stories were generously contributed by Harvey Garnett, Jacqui Jackson, Pete Peterson, and Georjean Wilkerson. The final stories were broken down into categories of interest and made accessible via a phone tree that shared personal experiences about gentrification, affordable housing, transportation, employment discrimination, and ideas for a more equitable future. The general public can access the Dial an Old Friend hotline by calling +1 (971) 803-6444.
Dial an Old Friend was launched during the 2018 Social Practice conference Assembly, which was hosted by Portland City Hall. The project was made possible by the generous support of the Hollywood Senior Center, Portland State University, and the office of Portland Councilmember Chloe Eudaly.
The Tables Turned is a project by artists Erin Charpentier, Travis Neel, and Samuel Wildman. As serial collaborators, they work in many configurations of artists and organizations in Seattle and Portland.
The Tables Turned is a research monument that recovers the not-too-visible legacy of American Communitarian spatial design.
From the 18th-20th century, a number of dissident idealists experimented at the intersection of lifestyle and life space; testing the balance between authority and participation, community and privacy, and discipline and release. Their architecture and industrial design challenged dominant social structures in attempts to embody new values and institutions, such as equity and celibacy in the Shaker villages or perfectionism and complex marriage in the Oneida community. However flawed and problematic, these experiments offer insight into a collective imaginary and design process and provide evidence of an unlikely narrative in american history.
The Tables Turned recreates physical objects from these experiments as a starting point from which to consider how ideology manifests in the built environment and how the built environment is a site to challenge dominant paradigms.
Among other works, the exhibition will feature a recreation of the lazy susan table, adopted and patented by the Oneida Community in the 19th century. The table will feature programming developed by artists Arianna Jacob and the collaborative Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen. Further announcements will be made in the upcoming weeks.
This curatorial project I organized with PICE Gallery led to the exhibition of a group of anonymous works from a large group of artists at the now defunct lucky lodge in Seattle, WA. The only stipulations for participating were that the work be exhibited anonymously and that it be nothing people are publicly recognized for doing.
Anonymity is an opportunity to consider artistic practices – the substance and meaning of praxis and theory – outside of any pretext of commercial viability or reputation.
It is also the only thing we were able to offer artists in exchange for their participation.
Participants were invited to approach anonymity as a theme or subject, as a meditation on celebrity, anonymity, privacy, etc.. But it wasn’t necessary to engage with any of the those ideas.
As far as we know, there are around eight participants that cover a spectrum of artistic involvement. Some of the work comes from commercially established and represented artists with works in collections such as the Seattle Art Museum, the Portland Art Museum and the Brooklyn Art Museum, alongside some that don’t consider themselves to be artists and have never been represented, but were willing to participate anyway.
There could be tension here.
Coverage was an installation of my work at a temporary space in Seattle.
If you look at the magic eye poster on the back wall, an illusion of a 3D Statue of Liberty and the Twin Towers will appear. The way a Magic Eye works (in case you aren’t familiar) is by repeating a horizontal pattern over and over again in a way that differs slightly with each repetition. Through systematic use of repetition, patterning, and variation, the illusion of depth and dimensionality appear. This way of creating an illusion is strangely illustrative of the way that mass media coverage gives a very distant event a sense of dimensionality. As a story about an event circulates through NYT editorials, Fox News, AM Talk Radio, NPR, Al Jazeera, etc., the details shift and change but the structure of the story stays the same, revealing new and different details and casting the event into relief. Further, the degree of dimensionality that is created through mass media coverage, reveals something about the complexity (or lack-thereof) of the culture that consumes it.
This absurd observation about the construction of magic eyes was the departure point for designing all the other objects in the room. They started as loose explorations of industrially manufactured patterns and oblique narrative structures and in the course of becoming props to fill out this exhibition, have turned into something else entirely.
We Are a Crowd of Others was a collaboration with Gail Grinnell and Eric John Olson where we used our residency at MadArt Studio to weave together an expansive, site-specific installation with a series of public programs which investigated the language and resonance of ordinary acts.
Resin and blue pigment
“Park” was installed in a gallery located in the bed of a pick-up truck. It was a temporary, situation specific installation that served as a mobile green space for daily commuters traveling the I-5 corridor.
“Fur Coat and Skeleton Stand” is an experiment in language and circulation. Made in response to the exhibition Good Neighbor, its parts come variously from a relative that passed away, a library, a skeleton, and a quote from a short story written by Charles Yu. The quote reads as follows: “Feeling grief. Someone else’s grief. Like wearing a stranger’s coat, still warm with heat from another body.” The stand, without a skeleton, supports the coat. The coat, without a body, is supported by the stand. The words, without arms, bring the two together. In the back of the coat is a checkout card from a library. Alluding to a dust jacket, it’s also meant to be a proposition: text is to body as needle is to thread. In the context of Good Neighbor, it is also simply a warm winter coat for anyone that needs it.
“Be Vintage” was a temporary, site specific project set on First Hill in Seattle WA. Using solicited advice from octogenarians in the community, we created a marketable health and lifestyle plan targeting Millennials. Our web based platform, thematic podcasts, and an ad campaign served as a bate-and-switch like tool for recruiting volunteers for retirement homes. Sponsored by SDOT and City of Seattle.
“Slot Machine/Sedōka” was made in collaboration with Rob Rhee. The combination of slot machine and Sedōka (style of poem) is equal parts pairing and proposition. Both structures, mechanical and poetic, are built for sedentary transportation. Both structures ventriloquize. The machine pulls its own arm with the arm of another. The Sedōka tells a story: a worker at a slot machine factory is addicted to the machines she assembles.
Hosted by LxWxH Gallery
“Artist Statements” started with a statement I ghost wrote for Gail Grinnell that gave rise to some pressing questions, like why do people ask for artist statements? And why don’t artist statements read more like job descriptions or mission statements? And, why doesn’t everybody, regardless of profession, write statements that explain why they do what they do and what they care about… And while these are questions meant to challenge the elitism often found in and associated with art, the actual process of writing the statements has given rise to some interesting questions and challenges as well. In the process of writing these statements some key texts have surfaced– Workers by Studs Terkel and Six years: the dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972 by Lucy Lippard– but for the sake of brevity, I’ll talk about only one: The Diary of Anne Frank: The Critical Edition. In this iteration of the diary there are three complete versions of the text on each page: Frank’s original diary entries (written between the ages of 13-16); a version of the diary she re-wrote page for page (at the age of 16) when she found out it would likely be published; and the final published form which was again re-written by her father. As a reader sifts through the comprehensive texts, a poignant question evolves that really shaped this project: how does the awareness of an audience or community change the way we think and talk about our experiences and what is the significance of having multiple versions, written from different points in time, of the same experience? In addition to that there is another question or maybe challenge that has really informed this project: does the way a person uses language provide a sense of identity as distinctive and unique as their fingerprint? The following statements were written with these thoughts and questions in mind.
Gail Grinnell, August 2013
Working in the studio I often find myself repeating gestures and movements that my mother made while sizing me for a dress. She would stand me up on a chair in the dining room and smooth pieces of pattern paper across my body, pulling out all the moments – the two-inch too short torso, the extra wide hips – that made my body different from an average sized person. Standing still on the chair was hard but what was harder was finding out just how many inches separated me from other people.
As a child, what made that experience worthwhile was the extra attention she gave me. As a teenager, the experience became meaningful in other ways. With her touching and her measuring I came to understand that the oddities of my body were something special and sought after, something worth caring for and accommodating. Often times when I’m in the studio I feel my mothers hands tracing unabashedly across my back and through my hands. It reinforces everything I learned from her about myself, and about working. She taught me quiet things about bedding – about all the places we sleep and make love, give birth and die. She showed me how to make and mend the pieces of fabric that have enfolded my body during every significant moment of my life.
These lessons came full circle, in a way, when she was on her deathbed. When my mother lay dying, her body failing from old age, I noticed a hole in the blanket that covered her. While she was struggling to breath, I sat and mended the hole in the blanket because somehow that seemed to be the only thing that brought comfort.