Harrell Fletcher's approach to making art is best summed up in the title of his essay Toward a Tender Society of Thoughtful Questions and Answers. With increasing intensity, Fletcher's goal is to create a forum for humane conversation, acting simply as a conduit for the dreams and stories that he coaxes from strangers. His website, www.learningtoloveyoumore.com, which he maintains with Miranda July, is a growing archive of graphic, written, and aural documents that hundreds of people have submitted in response to open-ended "assignments" posted on the website. In Houston, Fletcher invited various organizations to convene at the DiverseWorks art center, and then exhibited videotape of them doing their thing, whether it was break dancing, meditating, or singing. In other words, Harrell wants to share your story.
Last week he opened And Even More Everyday Sunshine in one of the gloomiest buildings downtown: the Mead Building, home of the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice. After passing through metal detectors, men and women down on their luck wait to speak to clerks through bulletproof glass who will direct them to community court, the UA lab, or to probation officers. For an artist in search of humanizing stories, it is a gold mine.
The show consists of photographs and recorded stories that Fletcher made of scars belonging to both clients and employees of the building. The photo-narratives range from benign to grizzly. Tales of horrific chainsaw accidents, shootings, hit and runs, and babies whose umbilical cords threaten to strangle their first living moments were true and painful reminders of those who walk among us with harder rows to sow.
The Community Justice clients who were there the morning I visited were more interested in sleeping than in looking at art, with a few notable exceptions. A man in a wheelchair and a bright orange camouflage jacket wheeled himself up to every story and read each one. It made me realize what a sweet relief art, honesty, and directness can be in a world of bureaucratic speech and mass communication. For once, the writing on the wall wasn't telling him what to do or how to live. The stories could have been written by the person next to him, and that simple twitch of knowledge infused the air with something resembling commonality. CHAS BOWIE