Saturday, November 03, 2007

river legend

river legend

They'll probably send me to Guantanamo for posting this. These pics are of a large sculpture in downtown Portland called "River Legend", which you've probably never seen or heard of before. This is because it's cleverly hidden around the back (2nd Avenue) side of the ultra-70's-ugly Green/Wyatt Federal Building, which faces the Plaza Blocks. The sculpture's on a raised landing behind a row of trees, and you can only see the very tip of it from the street. To see more you have to climb a steep flight of stairs, or walk around the building from the 3rd Ave. side.

Naturally, being a federal building, there are cameras everywhere. The area around the sculpture looks like it might be the designated smoking area, so that might explain what seems like an excessive number of cameras even by federal standards. I can easily see some wingnut Bush crony deciding smokers are extra-sinful and need close monitoring. Or maybe they're just worried about skateboarders. Who knows? In any case, they're bound to have video of me taking photos of the sculpture, and modern face recognition software could easily pair that up with my driver's license photo, and from there it'd be a trivial step to discover that I'm a registered Democrat and I always vote. Even though taking photos, and being a Democrat, and voting are all still legal, technically, it wouldn't surprise me if I'm now flagged as an evildoer in some shadowy government database. Even though -- and I'd just like to emphasize this -- my interest was strictly in the sculpture itself. The building appears in a couple of photos, but that's sort of unavoidable from certain interesting camera angles.

river legend

But enough about me and my probable Kafkaesque legal future. "River Legend" dates to 1976, and was created by the sculptor Dimitri Hadzi, whose website offers another photo of it. He seems to specialize in themes inspired by Greek mythology, but in this interview he indicates "River Legend" was inspired by the Indian tale of the Bridge of the Gods (the original one, not today's rather scary toll bridge). So, ok, that explains the name and the basic shape, although it looks like there's still a lot of Greek influence going on there. Well, that's what I'm getting out of it. Casual passersby, or smokers, probably just see yet another big blob of modern art. More than likely it barely registers, as it's not obviously anything in particular. Not too many people would be curious enough to check the interwebs for more info, and doing so turns out to be a bit of a chore, since the sculpture isn't even marked with its name, at least not that I saw anywhere. This little bit engraved toward the base was all I had to go on. What all those initials stand for is anyone's guess.

river legend

I can't really blame people for not being curious about the sculpture. Our fair city has more than its share of chunky 70's public art, and it all looks about the same, quite honestly. Regardless of the inspiration, or the materials used, back then everything came out big, brown, and slabby. I don't know if there's an official art world term for it, but there was definitely a look, or a movement, or school of thought at work.

So you might be wondering why I was curious. Well, as I mentioned, you can see the tip of something over all the bushes, and that bit looked sort of chunky and art-like, but tucked away in an obscure and rather forbidding location. I can't resist stuff like that, even if I'll probably pay for it later. So I suppose it isn't a very good reason, under the circumstances. Once they're waterboarding me down in Gitmo, I'll patiently explain it to them again for the umpteenth time, and they'll just assume I'm hiding my true purpose and break out the electrodes or something.

river legend

It's not entirely accurate to call "River Legend" big, brown, and slabby. Big and slabby, definitely, but its exact color is giving me trouble. The thing's made of basalt, the same volcanic stuff most of our fair state is made of, and I've always sort of thought of basalt as a flat dark grey color, but the more I look at it, the less sure I am. I spent a great deal of time in GIMP tweaking these photos, compensating for my digital camera's auto-overexposure misfeature, bringing out colors, etc., which turns out to be harder than you might think. At this point I'm not entirely sure what color it is, or if it has any particular color at all, or it all depends on the quality and angle of light you've got at the moment. So I just sort of tried to use my best judgment and hope the outcome doesn't look too cartoony or amateurish. Personally I'm inclined to blame the rock, for making things far more difficult than they needed to be. Maybe I should've just bailed on the color business and converted the pics to black & white or something. Hmm. I wish I'd thought of that before.

Whatever color or colors the thing is, it does have an interesting texture in parts, and a little Unsharp Mask action really brings it out.

river legend

No "dig a little deeper" post of mine would be complete without a pseudorandom fact dump. So here are a few tidbits related to the sculpture:

So, ok, those aren't the most enthralling bits of trivia I've ever come up with, but unless you want me to start simply making stuff up, it'll have to do. I suppose I could try to start a legend that walking under it is good luck, or possibly bad luck, or maybe a bit of both, or not. It's not a very good legend, is it? Oh, well. I tried.

river legend

river legend

river legend

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