It's no secret: Within the past decade, the US has seen a steady and resolute decline in bookstores. Yet Portland seems unfazed.
"Bookstores are closing everywhere. Except here," says artist Ryan Wilson Paulsen.
In fact, within the past few years, a number of local book enthusiasts have actually opened shop: Consider Portland upstarts Mother Foucault's, Monograph Bookwerks, Ampersand, and Green Bean Books. One might also consider two big book exhibits from earlier this year—A History of Printed Matter at Pacific Northwest College of Art and Object Focus at the Museum of Contemporary Craft—and the city's explosion in printmaking, specifically letterpress.
"I think there's a real desire for that tangible object. The physicality makes you feel connected," said Paulsen.
Conceptual artists Paulsen and Anna Gray are among the many Portlanders devoted to print, specifically its role as a receptacle of the past. A conversation with the two is a profusion of names and citations, including some truly bizarre and surprising tidbits regarding historical practices.
Take, for instance, a statistic cited from an Art in America article, stating that officials at the National Archives of the Netherlands estimate that they destroy 90 percent of papers entrusted to them in order to save the other 10 percent. In the article, a former chief archivist propounds, "A city fire can be quite useful for archival selection."
For their TBA piece, Don't Worry We'll Fix It, the collaborators planned a record-keeping project of their own with three parts: publication, installation, and performance. Gray and Paulsen have created a broadside called September—a reference to the authoritarian art journal October—which includes a range of writings, mostly local, from Matthew Stadler (founder of local press Publication Studio), Lisa Radon (of local art website ultrapdx.com), Mack McFarland, and more.
Up for grabs are 1,000 of the broadsides, replenished every morning of the festival's 11 days. On display will be various archival objects—a giant filing cabinet, stacks of partially burned books. And for the performance, one of the artists plus a "staff" member will be revising, reprinting, and pasting material back into September.
In addition to their staged writing and rewriting of history, Gray says, "We hope people will write their own."
Within the gutted, whitewashed halls of Washington High School, Portland's TBA seems just the place for such revisionism.
Don't Worry We'll Fix It, Washington High School, 531 SE 14th, opening reception Thurs Sept 8, 8-10 pm, Fri Sept 9-Sun Sept 18, noon-6:30 pm, free, through Sun Oct 30, see pica.org for post-TBA dates and times