Reed College Library, through June 13; Sneak and Peek--Vanessa Renwick and William T. Vollmann at Central Library, Saturday May 1, 4 pm; William T. Vollmann Book Signing, Reading Frenzy, 921 SW Oak, Saturday May 1, 6 pm
"That's the toast I always make," Vanessa Renwick explains to me as we sit around the extinguished fire pit in her backyard in Northeast Portland. "'To truck drivers and librarians, because librarians are just the coolest people in the world." Renwick's admiration of librarians was recently reopened when she was invited to create an installation in Case Works, the new display-case venue inside the Reed College library. Browsing the American Library Association website, the filmmaker/installation artist discovered that librarians were the first organized segment of the population to speak out loudly against the Patriot Act.
Working from this point of discovery, Renwick began work on Patriot Act, a neon and text-based installation. Using three open-ended but culturally loaded words--Free, Speech, and Fear--spelled out in ember-red neon tubing, Renwick has created a minimal but evocative presence in the library. Depending on where one stands, the words are a distant glowing hum, a straightforward polemic, or viewed in the reflection of the glass cases--an infinite string of contradictions. Renwick has also included a copy of the Library Bill of Rights, which is indeed an inspiring document committed to the freedom and dissemination of information. A copy of the civil liberty-trampling Patriot Act itself is also on view.
"Sneak and Peek" is the nickname for one of the Patriot Act's scariest provisions--it's a fully legal visit from the FBI to your home while you are away, and under the Patriot Act, the government is not required to inform you of their search. Renwick's Sneak and Peek is an afternoon tie-in event to her Reed show. At Central Library, the artist will give a short talk about her work, followed by a reading by the incomparable William T. Vollmann, the author of Rising Up and Rising Down, a seven-volume treatise on violence that was recently published by McSweeney's. He'll read The Red X, a haunting story based on a series of events in Renwick's life that involve themes of friendship, artistic expression, government intimidation, and shame. You should really go. John Ashcroft would hate you for it. CHAS BOWIE