Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, 219 NW 12th, Through Feb 3, 2003
First came Icarus, the dreamer who tried to fly where eagles dare, but instead wound up taking a spill into the big drink. Then there was Breughel's painting of the fall, followed by Auden's poem about Breughel's painting. Next came William Carlos William's ode to Auden's verse, and more recently, Springfield's flighty tribute in which Homer soars briefly before taking his own watery plummet. That's a fairly rich, if grossly condensed, history of artistic tradition wrapped around man's longing to fly. At the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, Venetian-born artist Luca Buvoli, who now lives in New York, presents Flying: A Practical Guide for Intermediates. The show consists of two sculptural installations, a video, some animation stills, and a small floor drawing drafted in Gatorade powder.
Prior to his intense work on flying, Buvoli made zines and artist books about Not-a-Superhero, a character he created that reconciled his childhood fantasies with his own mortality and human failings. Some of these books are on view in the PICA Resource Room, and in the later ones, there is an increasing preoccupation with the act of flight. A release from our human bondage perhaps--a spiritual liberation, a metaphor for the creative spirit--Buvoli's work does not lend itself readily to any of these interpretations. Rather, the artist has semi-farcically proposed a method by which humans can learn to fly, if we follow a step-by-step series of instructions pertaining, but not limited to arm thrust, airflow, breathing, and gliding. The video component of the exhibition, which is loosely arranged in a classroom setup, shows a professor presenting a lecture on these techniques. It is played tongue-in-cheek, with silly music and stop-motion animation mixed in with some broad thoughts about aeronautical locomotion that, admittedly, had never crossed my mind before. The show's two sculptural pieces are nearly identical. They are of Buvoli's signature figure--a man with arms outstretched as if in flight (or more accurately, as if like Jesus), and a long resin tracer, climbing the walls and ceiling like a shadow of his flight trajectory. The pieces are cast in polyurethane resin, which looks like rubbery Jolly Ranchers, and are very easy on the eyes. I wish we didn't have to see the dinky eyehooks and monofilament holding the artwork up, but I guess guidewires are the flipside to flight.
This was my first time seeing Buvoli's work in person, and I was hoping for much more from the show. The two resin pieces are practically copies of one another, and the 18-minute video is twice as long as it needs to be. Most disappointingly, though, is that when I left PICA, I didn't care about flying one ounce more than I did when I first walked in. CHAS BOWIE
PDX Gallery, 604 NW 12th, Tues-Sat 11 am-5:30 pm
The most striking image in Storm Tharp's current show is a drawing of two heads. Disembodied, the heads are the same elegant lady--a woman who bears a striking resemblance to an aged Marilyn Monroe with slightly ratty, tussled hair. Both heads are mounted like marble busts on pedestals. But unlike the traditional bust--most often a stoic memorial to a person--these heads are animated. In fact, they are extremely alive. Both have their eyes squinting; one looks like she is yelling, the other is laughing or crying. There is a certain violence in each expression; but Tharp's gentle lavender pencil lines seem to turn down the volume on her screams. It is all at once delicate and disturbing.
Tharp's current collection was created this summer while in residence at the well-regarded Vermont Studio Center. Although the works vary in style, each draws its energy from this same dichotomy between delicate and disturbing. Emotions run wild in his paintings and drawings, like a wild horse being broken or, alternately, like a proper lady who is one step away from going off the deep end. Each piece teeters beautifully on this cracking point. PHIL BUSSE