More than any city we know, Portland loves to get its art fix in concentrated, multi-vitamin bursts of festivity. PICA's Time-Based Art festival is the leading example, of course; it boasts two year's worth of programming stuffed into barely more than a week, and draws a far bigger audience than PICA's more traditional performing arts programming. In visual arts, the Affair at the Jupiter Hotel attracts hundreds of Portlanders every fall who rarely set foot in galleries otherwise, and Wordstock has positioned itself as a literary event of major proportions with visiting world-renowned authors. Both the Affair and Wordstock last fewer than 72 short hours.
Yet one five-day-long cultural blowout consistently flies under the radar, and it might be because it's run by fulltime college students on a shoestring budget. Now in its 17th year, Reed Arts Week (RAW) has become a sleeper favorite for Portlanders thirsty for top-notch writers, performers, and artists every late winter. Taking place unassumingly on Reed's campus, past RAWs have featured name-brand artists such as KRS-One, the Guerilla Girls, Miranda July, Davy Rothbart, and Karen Finley. This year, organizers Laura Weiser and Kate Rutledge-Jaffe have jam-packed a long weekend with middlebrow goodness from the likes of DJ Spooky, Bobby Birdman, and Eleanor Antin.
Here's our rundown for most of the weekend, but for all the goings-on, including more than 40 student art shows and performances, hit web.reed.edu/raw.
Arthur Bradford's fiction ranks among the most charming and bizarre I've ever read. His debut collection, Dogwalker, became a cult classic for its casual, everyday intonations of quotidian life on a slightly mutated tip. For instance, in "Mollusk," a best-friendship dissolves when two old pals discover a garden slug the size of a loaf of bread and fight over who gets to keep it. "Dogs" begins with an affair between a man and his girlfriend's dog, which bears his litter of puppies—and one tiny baby boy. Bradford tells these stories with the detachment of a city council reporter, which lends the stories a dreamy, matter-of-fact tension.
The last time I saw Bradford read, he actually sang one of his stories while playing a bluesy rhythm on acoustic guitar. It's been three and a half years since Dogwalker came out, so here's hoping that Bradford comes to town packing some new tales—preferably with mutant garden pests and animal-human hybrids. CB
Reed College Chapel, Thurs March 2, 7 pm, free
HOLY GHOST REVIVAL, BOBBY BIRDMAN, JIGSAW GENTLEMEN
Like his superhero-esque name suggests, Bobby Birdman is a man above others, a pop-minded electro wizard with more star power in his pink baby toe than 7,100 MTV2 princes-of-the-moment. On his new Frykbeat EP, Victory at Sea, the dude coos and croons and gets all Sinatra over gorgeous swells of robo-techno blips and herks and unobtrusive digi-beats. If the Nazis had won the war and American musicians were a persecuted, hunted, beat-down minority, Bobby would be the biggest—and most hated by the Man—pop star in AmeriKKKa. Also playing tonight's show are Seattle's Holy Ghost Revival and Portland's own Jigsaw Gentlemen, who had the crowd dancing like an E-dosed frat party last time they played the Student Union. AG
Student Union, Thurs March 2, 8:30 pm, $5
Long before Cindy Sherman came along, Eleanor Antin was disrupting truth, self-portraiture, and narrative in a prolific body of work that includes film, performance, installation, photography, and writing. In her early film, Representational Painting, she reproached feminism, self-expression, and art history simultaneously by applying make-up for nearly 45 uninterrupted minutes. More recent projects, like her elaborate staged photographs reenacting the last days of Pompeii in the sunny affluence of La Jolla, bring a little more humor and color to her fascination with narrative and history. Tonight she'll talk about her long, varied career, and probably show a slew of photos and videos, too. (If you're still on the fence on this one, let the fact that Le Tigre name-checked Antin on their debut CD be your guide.) CB
Vollum Lecture Hall, Fri March 3, 6 pm, $5-7
Sure, this "Rhythm Science" lecture is a rerun from last year's TBA Fest, but when Spooky dropped his funky science at Weiden + Kennedy in September, it was on a weekday morning, and almost everyone I know missed it. Those of us who were there caught something pretty awesome, though. Spooky talked about the cultural, political, and linguistic implications of sampling and digital remixing, but made it sound as if he were talking to a roomful of close friends. The most common phrase uttered that day was "It'll make more sense if I just play it for you," after which he'd let go on some super heavy beats, mixing and scratching the whole way through. Spooky spent most of his time playing music to illustrate his brainy-but-clear theories about music and digital culture. Plus, as an added bonus, he treated us to an early rare video of Kool Moe Dee, and gave everyone a mixed CD just for showing up. How friggin' awesome is that? CB
Kaul Auditorium, Sat March 4, 2 pm, $10
Several years ago, photographer Elena Dorfman discovered a California company that created the world's most life-like blow-up dolls ever seen. Priced up to $6,000, the hyper-real "girlfriends" were made to order—customers picked out everything from their pubic hair styles to their fingernail length. (Needless to say, the vaginas and anuses were also meticulously crafted.) Dorfman began to track down the men who bought these dolls, and made portraits of the "couples": color photographs that resist the impulse to judge or sensationalize. The resulting images are beautifully shot, but lack the psychological oomph that the subject matter could allow for. Dorfman will be showing slides of the work and talking about her experiences, which should be as fascinating as anything else you'll hear all day. CB
Vollum Lecture Hall, Sun March 5, 2 pm, free
If you've ever wanted to give physical theater a chance, now's the time: Joan Schirle is the artistic director of Dell'Arte International, which means she's basically the brains behind the most renowned physical theater company in America. So yeah—probably the one to catch. She'll present her one-person show Second Skin, which uses movement, music, masks, and dance to create 15 different characters, all linked to a woman who thinks she has the living soul of Marilyn Monroe inside her. Don't be deterred by that lame-sounding premise; this show is not to be missed! JWS
Kaul Auditorium, Fri March 3, 8 pm, $5-7
Mercury Arts Editor Chas Bowie's photographs mine the stuff of the everyday—from a Hulk Hogan statue to a gas pump that reads, "Jesus is Lord!"—to create images that capture something much more intriguing and mysterious. JM
Gray Campus Center B, through Sun March 5, free
Nan Curtis, who teaches at PNCA and curates the Philip Feldman Gallery there, presents two installations that document the alarming changes her body underwent during her pregnancy. To view the film and still images she's compiled to inform you about the perils of motherhood, you'll have to do a little peeping by leaning into a box that resembles a pinhole camera. JM
Hauser Library, through Sun March 5, free
Co-founder of the gallery Homeland and sometime member of the arts collective Red76, Paige Saez will be building an original sculpture for RAW—and all the members of the Reed community are invited to pitch in. Like her recent "Take Home Lovers" project, in which gallery-goers reassembled dismembered stuffed animals, this collaborative sculpture will break down the barrier between artist and spectator. JM
Kaul Lounge, through Sun March 5, freeAll events take place on the Reed campus, 3203 SE Woodstock, and are free to Reed students and faculty.