Coolio's predicament is one as old as man itself--the heart's longing to explore new vistas, squashed for want of a ride. But unlike Coolio's Fantastic Voyage video, when local artist Eileen Finn was without wheels, there was no magic bicycle waiting to morph into a fabulous lowrider complete with a beach party in the trunk. She did, however, have the next best thing--a Tri-Met bus pass, and thus began Finn's Tri-Met Vacations, a photo-based installation on view at the Portland Building.
Finn, a graduate student of geography, has configured the gallery to resemble a small travel agency advertising Accessible Getaways for the Modern Explorer. Mt. Hood and a line of trees are painted on the wall, trimmed thoughtfully with Tri-Met yellow and blue striping. On the west wall hangs a rack of bus maps and routes. A selection of twenty stacks of free postcards line the rest of the gallery. The postcards are photographs from the last stops of local bus routes, each proclaiming, "Greetings from the 85-Swan Island!" or "Greetings from the 51-Vista!" Viewers are encouraged to snatch up as many cards as they please, which is easy to do, as they are alternately luscious and banal color landscapes. Some boast romantic, hazy green scenes worthy of Caspar David Friedrich, while others linger on solitary trees in manicured lawns and shipping ports.
Finn's conceptual approach to exploring the urban geography is inventive and witty, and mercifully, her execution is damn near pitch perfect. Tri-Met Vacations is one of those rare examples when idea, output, and presentation gel into something much greater than the sum of its parts. Within a predetermined radius of possibilities for the automotively challenged, Finn uses adventure, curiosity, and an eye for harmony to explode what at first seem like restraints. And then to top it all off, she gives it all away, bringing us souvenirs to gaze privately. Rarely is an art show so generous, so witty, and so earnest all at once. CHAS BOWIE