V irginia Parry once wrote, "Photography doesn't belong in this world. Yet here it is. Some government came in and told the people: you must carry your picture with your papers so we'll know you exist." The unnatural accuracy of that statement returned to me a few years ago when the US Census Bureau left a note on my door saying that it was against federal law not to complete the census. What more bureaucratic proof of my existence could the Man possibly want? I already have a social security number, a drivers license, shitty credit, and I pay my taxes (almost) every year.
Now there's another bureau that wants our vitals--a branch of the US Department of Vital Information dedicated to fighting Existence Negligence. The Registry of Existence is a deadpan installation currently on view at the downtown Portland Building. The Registry was conceived by Ksenya Samarskaya, a University of Oregon student, and Britt Tvenge and Daniel Bissell, both recent U of O grads. The artists have created a quintessential cubicle/chained pen/fake fichus tree office space that has surely faked out hundreds of passersby so far. Taped to the cubicle wall, a poster exclaims, "Registering Your Existence is Efficient and Satisfying." Visitors are encouraged (in the most bureaucratic way) to fill out a certificate application with vital stats, as well as more revealing agree/disagree questions such as "I feel a constant desire to change, both in modes of thinking and living." After filling this form out, registrants keep a copy for their records and deposit the papers into a slot that seemingly goes, appropriately enough, nowhere.
At this point there's little else to do but glance around at the file cabinets, pick up a pamphlet, and be on your way. As an art destination, The Registry of Existence isn't terribly rewarding. Why pay to park downtown just to fill out a form or participate in a conceptual art project? The true oomph of the project lays in the context of it's setting--of business men and women rushing here and there, filling out forms, carrying files, and participating in bureaucratic machinery. That being said, this trio of artists have great promise, and have made an impressive debut, which will make it all the sweeter when they start making work targeted at art audiences. CHAS BOWIE