Monday, December 31, 2018

2018: The Year in Instagram Cat Photos



I had almost forgotten that, per recent tradition, I'm supposed to wrap up the year here with some Instagram cat photos. Upon checking IG I realized that I'd pretty much used it exclusively for vacation photos this year and had posted precisely one cat photo. However the recent tradition specifies photos, plural, so I dug out a recent one and added it a few minutes ago. He highly recommends that particular brand of catnip banana, btw, and he's not just saying that in his role as a globetrotting celebrity and Instagram #brandfluencer.

Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop, July 2016

The previous post showed what the Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop trails look like now. It just so happens that I did the same hike back in July 2016, so here's another photoset showing what the area used to look like before the big forest fire. Granted this is also a comparison of July and December photos, and the latter would seem rather grim in comparison even without the stumps and ashes. Still, this is the closest thing I've got to an apples-to-apples comparison, and I imagine that most viewers will enjoy these photos more than the previous set. I know I certainly do.

Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop, December 2018

Back on November 23rd, several popular trails in the Columbia Gorge reopened for the first time after the Eagle Creek Fire. So a couple of weeks ago I did the 4.9 mile Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop trail to see what the area looks like now. Some parts were surprisingly ok, with signs of a "good" forest fire that swept out underbrush and let the trees survive. Other areas were kind of grim and spooky, notably along the Vista Point trail above Wahkeena Falls. The most positive spin I can come up with is that some parts of the Gorge now look like vintage postcard views of the area from a century ago, around the time the historic highway was built. Back then it was due to logging rather than fire and a changing climate, but the visual effect is more or less the same. In an old post from 2014, I pointed out that rock formations around the Gorge tend to have silly melodramatic Victorian-sounding names ("St. Peter's Dome", "Pillars of Hercules", "Bishop's Cap", "Thor's Crown", etc.), and explained my theory that the names reflect the era when there was the least vegetation around to obscure all the weird rocks. So maybe that should be the tourism plan for the next few years: In our lifetimes there may never be a better time to nerd out over Gorge geology, so come see some cool rocks before the forest grows back. Hey, it's worth a try.

There's one experience I want to relate that the photos don't capture. Imagine placing your hand on a tree for support, at a steep or tricky spot in the trail. You've hiked this trail regularly since you were a kid, so you've likely put the same hand on the same spot on the same tree dozens of times. But this time your hand comes away covered in charcoal. To me this was the most upsetting part, more than any of the images. After the first time, I tried to avoid touching anything scorched, not really because of the charcoal; it just felt wrong somehow, verging on unclean. As in, you don't want to touch it for the same reason you don't want to touch roadkill. Sure, obviously you can't catch a disease from a burnt tree, but that was the visceral reaction I had. It's odd: The very same wood, burnt in a campfire, would be cozy, a source of warmth and happy memories. But when it's burnt and still standing amidst a forest of other burnt trees, and bits of it are rubbing off and marking you as you pass... well, it was more unsettling than I had expected.

Friday, November 30, 2018

some vacation photos

Consider my situation:

  • It's the end of the month, and the rules say I have to post at least once a month, and I've kept it up since, er, 2005.
  • I have a drafts folder full of unfinished posts, none of which are ready to post, otherwise I would have done it already.
  • I'm in this no-posts-yet situation in part because I was on vacation for a reasonable chunk of the month, and spent a lot of that taking photos, some of which turned out ok.

Given these circumstances, I'm going to go ahead and post a slideshow of assorted vacation photos, without researching & writing a whole long blog post about each place I visited. I mean, those will show up here too sooner or later, but I'm not going to give even a rough estimate of when that might happen. So, briefly, here's what's in the slideshow: Everything's from the island of O'ahu, with locations including Makapu'u Point & its lighthouse; Ulupō Heiau, an ancient Hawaiian temple in the middle of suburban Kailua, now weirdly surrounded by churches; Kawainui Marsh, a large & scenic wetland area that I'm told is habitat for native Hawaiian birds, although I don't think I saw any; Waikiki Beach, mostly around sunset; and assorted brewpubs, restaurants, and food trucks here and there around the island. Oh, and Santa Claus riding in an outrigger canoe on a parade float, as one does.

Perhaps I'm showing my age here, but I sometimes wish Flickr slideshows had an option to make vintage slide projector sounds between photos, as if you were looking at these in your aunt & uncle's rumpus room in 1978, trying to stay awake because these have been going on for over an hour. And occasionally a slide is upside down, or there's a slot without a slide and it blinds everyone, and your little brother somehow gets a huge glob of gum in the shag carpet, which will never really come out, and most of the grownups are smoking and it's gross. I can't simulate the full classic vacation slideshow experience, unfortunately, but I did shuffle them randomly and then reorder them a bit, as if Uncle Steve had dropped the slides on the floor partway thru his fourth glass of jug Chablis and failed to reassemble them properly. So with that vivid image, enjoy the slideshow!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Civic Drive Iris

So next up on our ongoing public art tour is Civic Drive Iris, a kinetic sculpture at Gresham's new-ish Civic Drive MAX station. TriMet's description:

Civic Drive Iris, 2010, by Pete Beeman is a colorful, kinetic sculpture that functions as a landmark for the new Civic Drive Station. Artwork was funded primarily by the Portland Development Commission.
  • Tall, brightly colored sculpture evokes a blossoming flower or radiating sun
  • Hand crank invites pedestrians to interact with sculpture
  • Turned crank causes sculpture top to illuminate and simultaneously expand and contract like an iris valve

To be honest I just sort of stumbled across this one. I was trying to solve an annoying software problem at the office, and decided to go for a walk and think about it (which works surprisingly well). But I felt lazy that day & decided to go ride the train and think about it instead, so I did (no bright ideas, though, unfortunately). Eventually I got off at this new stop to turn around & go back, thinking it was the downtown Gresham stop, which it isn't. So I saw the art, thought "hey, at least I get a blog post out of this", and searched the interwebs when I got home, which is when I realized it was kinetic and had a crank I could have tried out. I was about to claim there was no longer a crank and grumble about vandals, but the photos insist there really was a crank & I just didn't see it somehow. I'm just not getting any better at this "noticing basic things" business, apparently. Anyway, this is the third Beeman kinetic sculpture we've visited on our neverending art tour, the others being Pod, the big stainless steel wavy thing across the street from Powell's, and Waving Post at the SE Fuller Road MAX station.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Basket of Air

So next up on the grand tour we're taking a peek at Basket of Air, the sculpture in the center of the Hoyt Arboretum's new bamboo garden. The RACC description explains:

Artist Ivan McLean spent a few of years in the southern Philippines as a member of the Peace Corp and used this experience to inform his sculpture, which sits in the middle of the Hoyt Arboretum’s Bamboo Forest. The sculpture’s posts mimic the basic segmented structure of bamboo while the central sphere, a form often explored by McLean, reflects the idea of bamboo baskets he encountered during his travels.

While in the Philippines, “I built a nipa roofed house with various types of bamboo used as structural members or woven into the wall panels. During my travels I also watched in awe as workers created scaffolding rising hundreds of feet around modern buildings in Hong Kong and then a short time later hiking for days through bamboo forests in Northern Thailand and staying with families in simple homes made from the ubiquitous plant… I was constantly impressed by how skilled people were in using bamboo to build a variety of objects, including baskets.”

We've seen a couple of other McLean sculptures here previously: work previously seen here: Flying Salmon in 2014, & Rational Exuberance back in 2012. (The latter one was relocated north of the Fremont Bridge a year or two after I posted about it). I snarked a little about the salmon one, it being something of an overused motif in Pacific Northwest art. I feel I may have been unfair; undoubtedly the customer (an upscale, super-Northwesty grocery store) insisted on salmon. Salmon have the unique ability to be both an eco-feel-good regional icon and a delicious meal at the same time. Maybe not exactly the same time, but you know what I mean.

In any case, since we're more or less on the topic of bamboo forests, here's a fight scene from House of Flying Daggers (2004):

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Millikan Way MAX art

Ok, so this next public art post is about the Millikan Way MAX station, which has sort of a STEM theme due to the old Beaverton Tektronix campus next door. I took a couple of photos when I was there a few years ago, figuring I could grab a quotable blurb about it from one of the usual places, and poof, there's your blog post. And then the search came up empty, and this post sank to the bottom of the Drafts folder and didn't get a second glance for ages.

TriMet's art guide for the westside Blue Line merely says the station as a whole was designed by the "Westside design team", and describes a few of the features, without listing titles or artists for most of them:

Trees, wetlands and the nearby Tektronix campus inspired the Westside design team artists’ theme of nature bumping up against high technology.

  • Brick patterns on the systems buildings suggest coniferous and deciduous trees
  • The songs of local birds are etched in bronze plaques along the trackway
  • Clusters of leaves, seeds and pine cones are sandblasted in 30 locations in the plaza
  • Test patterns and mathematical symbols on graph paper are created in terrazzo
  • Christopher Rauschenberg’s "Time Window<" documents the view from the shelter in 1994

This whole thing seemed unusually vague; I finally understood why after I found a 1998 Oregonian article reviewing the art for the Blue Line's grand opening, back when that was something newspapers did. Millikan Way just gets a brief mention in the article, grouped with a few others: "Beaverton Transit Center, Beaverton Central, Millikan Way and Beaverton Creek: These four stations embrace nearly all the cliches of 90s public art, from photographs etched on the shelters, to cosmic allusions and navigation devices integrated into the paving patterns."

The article explains that MAX stations east of 185th don't have freestanding art because the feds prohibited federally funded projects from buying art during the initial phase of the project, until the rules changed in 1995. It doesn't explain when the earlier rules were put in place, but I suspect that came out of the Mapplethorpe/Serrano culture wars of the late 80s and early 90s. The pre-1995 rules had a small loophole in that they didn't prohibit you from hiring artists for your design team, and then having them do decorative pavers, designs on brick buildings, themed benches, etc. and classify it all as design rather than capital-A art. So that's basically what TriMet did, and I suppose this is why we aren't told exactly who designed what.

In discussing "cliches of 90s public art", the Oregonian piece mentions "The Kudzu Effect (or: The Rise of a New Academy)", a brief and snarky 1996 article by Joyce Kozloff. It lists ten contemporary public art cliches, which seem as contemporary now as they were in 1996; her names for them give a bit of the flavor of the article:

  1. It’s a Small World
  2. Junior High School Science Project
  3. Junior High School Geography Project
  4. The Artist/Architect Collaboration (also known as the The Two’fer)
  5. Kids “R” Us
  6. Heal the Earth Project
  7. The Artist/Writer Collaboration
  8. The New Age Observatory (also known as Son et Lumière)
  9. Transgressions and Interventions
  10. Triumphal Arch to Nowhere and Domestic Obelisk

Kozloff explains this style as a reaction to the arts community being besieged by angry fundies. I suppose the idea was that upbeat and inoffensive art might placate the Moral Majority goons, or at least they'd go yell at somebody else for a change. Which worked, in a away, in that you rarely see them hollering about art anymore. Although now they won't shut up about Trump's divine infallibility and all the races, religions, and other groups they want to wipe off the face of the earth. I am unsure that this is a real improvement.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

House for Summer

Next up we're taking another trip to the Hoyt Arboretum, but this time it's for art. Off to one side of the Holly Loop trail, near the intersection of Knights Blvd. & Fairview, you might notice a tight circle of white birch trees in a small meadow. This is House for Summer, a 1987 installation by artist Helen Lessick that turned 30 last July. The RACC link describes it:

This captivating installation of birch trees, part of the City of Portland’s public art collection, has been pruned and shaped to take the form of a house, a house that changes with the seasons and is a reflection of the shelter of the forest canopy. House for Summer is a prime example of the work Lessick has done over the past three decades investigating the imagery and metaphor of plants.

There were various festivities to mark the 30th anniversary, and Lessick had a solo exhibition at a NW Portland gallery to coincide with the event.

I took these photos in summer 2017, vaguely around the big birthday, but I was kind of busy and didn't get around to posting them immediately. This may have actually been the same trip where I sat down on a bench and planned out a big software project that took most of the year between then and now to complete, which would be why I've been so busy lately. In any case, I didn't get the post up right away, and the weeks dragged out, and then the seasons changed a few times, and it didn't seem right to post about nice summery things in the dead of winter. So here we are about a year later, which is actually quite fast by my recent standards. (Luckily nobody relies on me as a source of breaking news.)

I took a peek to see if I could find any news articles from when House for Summer went in, and found a dedication photo from July 15th 1987. A July 10th arts page blurb mentioned that there'd been a couple of prior season-themed houses in the series:

Helen Lessick has installed, or rather, planted another in her series of house installations. Lessick has been playing with the idea of home for a while now. Her “Venus Fly Trap (House for Spring)” was part of last year’s Inside/Out series at the Portland Art Museum, and “Metallic House (House for Winter)” was shown recently at Marylhurst College.

The blurb went on to mention that Lessick planned to plant clover inside the house the following summer to "help delineate inside from outside", though it looks like wood chips play that role now. In October 1991 there was a House for Autumn made of hay at the Bybee-Howell House on Sauvie Island. That article mentions a prior House of Fire ("a metal frame engulfed in gaseous flames") and Waterhouse (with "walls formed from a sprinklerlike contraption").

More recently, the Oregonian did 20th anniversary article about the house in 2007, which was actually within the lifetime of this humble blog. I had already done a few public art posts by then, but somehow I didn't notice or clue in about this one. The article mentions that birch trees usually only live to 20 years or so, and implied that that would be the end of House of Summer, but here we are a decade later, so either the trees magically lived longer, or these are not the original trees. The photos of it in someone's 2013 blog post appear to be about the same size as now, but it's hard to tell.

The Nevada Museum of Art (Reno, NV) has a collection of materials about the project including annual photos from the beginning thru at least 2011. Which I guess would be kind of interesting, but I can't point you at them since they're 35mm slides in a box in Reno.