Saturday, June 22, 2013


I don't get a lot of reader suggestions here on this humble blog. I do try to follow up on them when I get them (the stone marker at N. Peninsular & Farragut, for example), although I can't guarantee exactly when I'll get to take photos, much less put a post together. A couple of months ago, Gentle Reader @howrad took an Instagram photo captioned "new art for 5th/Davis corner, hanging out in PDC basement for staging.", and mentioned me so I'd be alerted to it. So I knew something was on the way, for a change. Then I just had to wait for it to be installed, and then wait for a chance to take some photos, and then I had to figure out what it was called so I could google it. Still, by my usual standards of timeliness here, this post counts as lightning-fast breaking news. Don't get too used to it.

Anyway, this is Nepenthes, which RACC describes as:

Artist Dan Corson and RACC are currently installing Nepenthes, a series of four illuminated sculptures along NW Davis Street. These glowing sculptural elements are inspired by the carnivorous plants called Nepenthes, which are named after the magical Greek potion that eliminates sorrow and suffering. By referencing the patterns of native Oregon native and other carnivorous plants and inserting a quirky expression of nature into an urban environment, these sculptures celebrate Old Town Chinatown neighborhood's unique and diverse community.

This project represents the fulfillment of an opportunity that developed during the Portland Mall Project to increase pedestrian connectivity between Old Town/China Town Festival Streets and the Pearl District. In conjunction with Old Town/Chinatown stakeholders, the Mall design team created a pathway along NW Davis Street, via a sculptural lighting design, which links the music and cultural activities of Old Town/Chinatown to the activities in the Pearl District, also along Davis Street, such as galleries, the Museum of Contemporary Craft and Portland Center Stage, and vice versa.

I always roll my eyes when design people talk about creating corridors or gateways or what have you. This particular corridor is supposed to connect the Pearl District to one of the city's previous attempts to gentrify Old Town. "Festival streets" were a huge urban design buzzword circa 2006, and the city decided Old Town ought to have a couple of them. So they repaved NW Davis & Flanders in concrete between 3rd & 4th, planted some palm trees there, and added some ill-fated Chinese dragons that didn't stick around long. It's been about five years now, and so far the hoped-for upscale real estate boom hasn't yet arrived in Old Town. The city's development people must find this really frustrating. The super-swanky Pearl District, one of their great successes, sits just a few blocks west. But try as they might, they just can't seem to lure the gentrification gods to the other side of Broadway. Hence, I suppose, this corridor of giant lighted pitcher plants.

Don't get me wrong, I think the pitcher plants themselves are pretty cool, although I do sort of wonder how durable they'll be over time. Now that they're lighted I'll need to go back at some point and take some night photos. It's strictly the location that I'm being snarky about. And I could be wrong about that. This may finally be the tipping point, the thing that finally makes Old Town safe for rich Californian retirees, and unaffordable for all the ooky poor and homeless people who live there now. But the city's been trying to make Old Town respectable and family-friendly since roughly 1850, and it hasn't happened yet. I have to say I'm skeptical this time will be any different.

Updated: Apparently these pitcher plants were weird and Portlandy enough to momentarily catch the eye of the Big Serious National Interweb Media, and both Gizmodo and The Atlantic have stories about them now. Still, you (yes, both of you) read it here first, for once. Don't get used to that happening.

1 comment :

armando said...

This post reminds me of the Chinatown wok sculpture, and lo you you a post on it.