Sunday, September 15, 2013

Memorial Inscription

A slideshow about Memorial Inscription, a public art piece outside Portland State's Epler Hall student housing tower. As the name suggests, it memorializes Stephen Epler, who in 1946 founded what evolved into PSU. A cluster of low benches have inscriptions briefly describing Epler's work, and behind them a set of stainless steel panels are etched in what looks like an unknown language.

To understand what's going on here, here's a quote from Margot Voorhies Thompson's artist bio at the US State Department's Art in Embassies program:

"Over my career, my interest in calligraphy has led me to create my own vernacular alphabets that reference elements of historical letterforms. My intention is to combine both archaic and futuristic elements while encoding beneath the surface poetry, literature and song. The invention of language and writing systems is a uniquely human phenomenon. Similar to nature, linguistics has the ability to reinvent itself and adapt over time, or run to extinction. This loss of diversity echoes the fate of our plant and animal kingdoms. By creating my own alphabets, the meaning and impact of the language is changed. The components are abstracted into indecipherable line and shape as I incorporate them into my paintings and prints. I am interested in deconstructing and recreating the language using repeated characters, line spacing and other patterns related to writing, books and scrolls. The meaning of this abstraction is to question what is being communicated. I want the viewer to interpret and wonder anew what they see, much like an archaeological find where an artifact inscribed with a mysterious form transcends symbolism, turning into something more elemental. In my work as a calligrapher, printmaker and painter, tools and surfaces determine the character of the writing and inscription."

Her website shows Memorial Inscription and several other examples of this style. I think it's beautiful. I have to draw a comparison here with another imaginary-alphabet inscription, on the fish-alien fake monument Mimir, which I think has more of a whimsical intent than Memorial Inscription does. A bona-fide art critic (which I've never, ever claimed to be) would likely dismiss this superficial, which is probably accurate. Especially since I don't actually have an interesting compare-n-contrast point to make here; I suppose I'm just pointing out that someone else made art with an invented alphabet and I have photos of that too. So if you'd like a refund of every cent you paid to read this, feel free to leave a comment below or something.

Memorial Inscription is actually a bit tough to find. SW Montgomery is pedestrian-only through much of the PSU campus, including here. Epler Hall shares a block with a much older apartment building, with a narrow alley between them, and the art's down at the far end of the alley. Did I say "alley"? Epler is a LEED-certified green building, so this not-an-alley is supposed to be a sort of educational eco-plaza that does magic things with stormwater. Kind of like the one Portland Community College has over on the eastside. Oh, there I go comparing and contrasting again. Like I said, feel free to request your refund down in the comments section.

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