The place is an unassuming two-story putty-colored house. Standing alongside three lanes of south-moving traffic and just two blocks up from the I-405 on-ramp, it is hardly in a postcard-pretty neighborhood. A few blocks away are the sprawling green lawns of the Portland State University campus, but otherwise, it's a stretch to even call the house part of any sort of community.
But on Friday, P.S. What?, a new art/film collective in town, will kick off their spring-summer "bike-in theatre" series. Projecting locally made films and slide shows on the side of their house, they have invited any and all to park their bikes in a vacant parking lot adjacent to the house and take a seat for the screenings.
"We're hoping that the weather is nice," says Ahren Lutz, one of the three roommates who are transforming their home into a nexus of art and film projects. The films will be shown on the empty north face of their house that offers about a twenty-foot square space, and they are inviting people to tour the makeshift gallery they have set up in their living room. In a very real sense, this experiment is an attempt to build a community out of the nucleus of their own home. "It's almost like living in a public space," adds Lutz.
The theme for the first showing is, appropriately enough, houses. Lutz will show a collection of slides depicting George Washington's home. Splicing together slides from educational films about Mount Vernon, he has put together an idiosyncratic and wryly witty show, much like other slide shows he performed at a recent Charm Bracelet film screening.
Rhianna, a friend of the three roommates, also plans to air her documentary "Free Willy--Keiko's My Friend." Seven years ago, when Portlanders marched in favor of the notorious killer whale, Rhianna used her camera to capture the festive mood and interview marchers. Another friend is showing a Flash animation short called "Love Goes Apartment Hunting." (They also are extending an open invitation for anyone to bring their own films, slide shows or art work.)
The name for the collective, P.S. What?, claims Lutz, comes from an odd dream he had. "It was one of those weird dreams that doesn't make sense until later," explains Lutz. That mental postscript became the rallying cry for their project. "It could also mean performing space or public space," Lutz adds.
Like the name of the collective itself, there are few hard edges to the mission and guidelines. "We're inventing as we go," Lutz says, smiling. He is standing in his backyard smoking a Camel cigarette. Not far away, six television sets are stacked near a fire pit. At the core of P.S. What? are the three roommates, their friends and whatever brainstorm occurs to them. "There is a mesh of creativity in this house," Lutz explains.
Originally the idea had been to stand a sandwich board outside and invite walkers-by in for "$1 educational tours." That concept has matured into an ongoing video project for a possible television show called The L Room.
Intermittently, the roommates coax and otherwise invite pedestrians into their living room for videotaped interviews. (Imagine a more youthful Mr. Rogers meets an indie Pee Wee's Playhouse.) Other times, they interview them through the front window of their house. Quite the opposite from the mockery and arrogance in shows like Jackass and Tom Green, the intrepid filmmakers try to glorify the idiosyncrasies of these strangers. They interview and dredge stories and hidden talents, discovering that one man was "the Jimi Hendrix of Croatia," and that another had written several children's books.
Lutz has no expectations for their project. But he also recognizes they have nothing to lose. "At the very least, we live here anyway," he says. After a pause, he adds, "It's just an idea."