Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
219 NW 12th, 242-1419
Through Aug 25
Harrel Fletcher's exhibit, Everyday Sunshine, has provoked a bona fide art buzz. In the weeks since the exhibit's opening at PICA, much has been written and discussed about the Bay Area artist's menagerie of work. The reaction appears fairly split--some love the Sunshine, which includes drawings, digital photographs, video, and sculpture, while others escape to the shade. Regardless, it is one of those exhibits that lingers on the brain for days as one tries to discern Fletcher's intent.
He sets the tone for the exhibit with a prelude: two enlarged, dated snapshots of himself and siblings greet the "Sunshine" audience. (Detail above) Further into the exhibit, Fletcher's fascination with family and home reappears, articulated better in some works than others. Through various mediums, Fletcher aims to reflect his time in Portland; a residency at PICA and other extended stays in the Rose City fuel diaristic works. The display as a whole suffers from a lack of cohesion; as one viewer so aptly put it, "It's like a meal of snacks." With the hearty entrée noticeably absent, the hungry are left to munch on hors d'oeuvres: some tasty, some bland.
In a series of eight drawings, Fletcher translates snapshots from a friend's photo album. His rendering style is a hard pill to swallow--the crude drawings do little to accentuate the personality of each subject, but fully illuminate Fletcher's untrained pencil. In a separate drawing, Fletcher depicts his friend Miranda July crying. Again, far from technically brilliant, the work comes across like an uninspired sampling from the artist's sketchbook. And the fact that Miranda July herself added blue-painted tears to the portrait does little to save interest in the work. Fletcher also loses momentum with a display of digital photographs. On one screen, Fletcher disseminates a series of images of himself holding animals, derived from his time at an area farm. Other than being mildly funny, it is unknown how the image of Fletcher holding a cast of unruly chickens fits into a larger picture.
In his most compelling and succinct offering, Fletcher displays a minimal video loop starring a band of toddlers and babies. Fletcher films the tikes in a makeshift, white play area. Within the unnatural setting, the children become Fletcher's specimens for study. On two flush screens, infants play with toys, while others move about and show off their baby jig. However, most simply sit and take in their surroundings. Their eyes shift from one stimuli to the next, seemingly focusing a lot on the man behind the camera. They appear a bit unsure and curious about what is happening. (They are unknowing participants in high art.) It's an oddly fascinating piece. Fletcher effectively forces each viewer to deal with his or her own attachment to or detachment from babies.
On the surface, the piece is indeed nostalgic; the work digs up notions of innocence and youth, and therefore calls into question our own aging and death. It is also a fascination with those beings that cannot yet fully communicate and human beings at their most curious stage. It is reminiscent of every family reunion that is reduced to an over-fascination with the kiddies; Rooms fall captive to the simple crawling of a toddler or the gurgling noises of a baby.
In the editing process, Fletcher kept the environmental sound from each filming session. The cut-up sound adds an almost eerie layer to Fletcher's imagery. High pitched gurgles and squealing from the tots become a comical, even weird soundtrack. The piece offers Fletcher at his most directly personal, and his most poetic. Sure, he exposes a fascination for babies, but what he essentially reveals are larger issues of home and family. The piece is successful for everyone can relate to this notion, even the most hardened soul seeks solace in some type of family.