- Imager courtesy of the artist
Mariano Pensotti's project Sometimes I Think, I Can See You is just a screen at the PSU Urban Center Plaza. It's just white text on a black background. It doesn't even make a sound. And yet, people will just sit there for hours and stare at it. I sat for an hour, and there were definitely those few that were there when I got to the Plaza, and still there when I left.
The text on the screen is written in real-time by a writer hidden in plain sight. (Hidden, actually, seems like a stretch—basically there's an unmissable tent with a person on a computer under it.) When I arrived at the Plaza, I planned on getting a coffee to sit with, but before I could even get into the coffee shop, I got sucked in. "A man with long hair walks," popped up on the screen. That's me! I have long hair!
The artist went on to describe the way I'd walked from NE Portland over the course of 401 days. "In order to do this, he had to envision himself as something other than himself. He envisioned himself as a rock for about 300 days." The story continued through my past and into my future: I would now recycle my cup and write an epic poem about bridges.
I thought at first that my ego was driving my appreciation of the piece. How could I not be enthralled by an anonymous stranger writing a new life for me right in front of me? But I continued to be interested no matter what was being described. A group of people under an umbrella were apparently inventing a new dance, mostly consisting of finger movements and brief smiles—brief, naturally, because "People don't trust happy dancers."
The writers work in shifts, so you can revisit the Plaza and have a different experience. I left for a while and came back for a second writer. This one was less focused on the people in the Plaza, and seemed to be writing about his own experience as the writer. He referred to himself as a camera, and got lost in the sounds of the streetcar, buses, birds, and fountains.
It reminds me of a writing exercise, but made public. The writers are free, through anonymity, to get lost in the fantasy of other people's lives, but they still have to be conscious that there's an audience for this. When a woman came around the plaza asking for signatures on a bill proposal, the first writer wrote:
She doesn't want all your faces on her. Just samples of your handwriting. She wants it because she thinks it will be beautiful. Even if you think it could be better (inconsistent a's, etc). She's going to take all the beautiful samples of handwriting, she's going to give them to a clock, because she trusts clocks.
This is happening all day through Sunday, 11:00am-6:30pm, at the PSU Urban Center Plaza on SW Montgomery between 5th and 6th. There were also two ongoing instances of it at The Works last night, although I don't know how permanent that is.