GABE FLORES ADMITS that it's kind of a game: "I ask, 'Wouldn't it be funny if...?'" and in service of the punchline, art projects take shape. Recently, while collaborating with Gary Wiseman for 28 Days in May—where commercial film director Charles Wittenmeier opened his soon-to-be-foreclosed home to Portland's creative community—Flores asked, "Wouldn't it be funny if we threw a foreclosure sale?" Justified as an exploration of trust, value, and "modification of ownership," Wittenmeier agreed to Flores and Wiseman's conditions: Everything in his home was open to the duo, and the proceeds of the estate sale would go to fund their next project. A massive and pricey book collection was sold. Wittenmeier's children's old toys went too. Even his ex-wife's clothing was submitted to "modification."
The money made, roughly $600, is now at work answering the next "wouldn't it be funny if?" "We're telling people to come shop," says Flores, giggling, "but there's nothing to buy." He's talking about Place, an exhibit of installation and performance art at Suspension Gallery—a new exhibition space located within the old Pottery Barn on the top floor of Pioneer Place Mall. Bob Buchanan, senior general manager of General Growth Properties (the company that manages Pioneer Place), gifted Portland City Art (PCA) a 13-month lease on four stores—all were vacant for two years prior—and PCA gave Flores and Wiseman one of the empty spaces to curate for two months.
When you walk into Flores and Wiseman's Place, it's immediately clear that the works on view actively build relationships with their commercial context. Avantika Bawa's installation suggests a storefront in build-out. Creating this sense of liminality, a large abstract blue shape is painted onto raw drywall, under which is the base structure for shelving units in skeletal form. In a traditional gallery, this could be identified with relative ease as a statement on "the transitory phase [of construction] that often gets unnoticed," as Bawa puts it, but in the mall, it blends in as a literal construction site, silently commenting on the changes around us.
Using objects more quickly identified as artistically intentional, Harrison Higgs is installing various sculptural works that explore the commercial byproduct. He arranges molds of discarded packagings, while pairing these objects with those left behind by Pottery Barn. "All these little bricks, cakes, ingots, and confections—they're made from the materials and derivatives of industry," he says, finding both material and form in common byproducts.
Also incorporating abandoned Pottery Barn furnishings, Wiseman arranged old shelving units to create a passageway around the room. Inside these units are dozens of mirrors, forcing the viewer to see their own image inside objects of commercial waste. Wiseman's passageway leads to an installation by Palma Corral, consisting of two tree branches that hang from the ceiling, with a piece of cheesecloth suspended between them. Where the branches stop, transparent printouts of tree photos hang to complete their forms, commenting on "connectivity," an idea that becomes increasingly complex when contextualized by the mall.
Other works by Rhoda London, Brennan Novak, and Nova Moisa will be installed, and on Saturday, July 10, Place will open from 2-7 pm alongside two other Portland City Art-curated storefronts: Pioneer Gallery, with the paintings of Jeremy Okai Davis and Abraham Zippor Wiley, and another space housing works for the PDX Bridge Festival. John Graeter, creative director of Portland City Art, says that the fourth vacant space will be filled in later months with locally made apparel and crafts, "like Tender Loving Empire." Not half bad, aye?