"I've always been obsessed with the idea of artists working in office spaces, ever since I worked in a very cubicle-y architectural firm myself," says Alicia Eggert, co-organizer of the weekend-long art-show-in-an-office-space, Step into My Office. "I wondered what an office would be like if artists took it over. I have some friends who would probably go crazy and turn the place upside-down..."
"So this is your chance to make that happen?" I offer.
"Pretty much," Eggert and collaborator Gary Wiseman laugh in unison.
This Thursday night, April 5, Eggert and Wiseman's vision will be realized as dozens of artists take over an old 5,000-square-foot WebMD office space in Chinatown and overrun it with life-size gingerbread houses, bookshelf waterfalls, experimental dance routines, sound installations, and screenprinting "sweatshops." The project is called Step into My Office, which opens to coincide with First Thursday and stays open through the weekend, although opening night will definitely be the time to catch the action.
The idea came last year after Eggert and Wiseman, who collaborate under the name Kitchen Sink, threw an enormous art and music party in an empty house in St. Johns. It was the hottest day of the year, and as bands like Dat'r and Bark, Hide, and Horn rocked out in the backyard, audiences wandered through the house, where every square inch was occupied with art installations—like a room filled with swimming pool floating noodles.
Eggert and Wiseman liked the idea of marrying music and art in big events like this, but thought it wasn't quite enough. For their next project, they thought, they should force people of creative disciplines to interact more directly, rather than simply coexist in the same space. And they had already taken over a house, so why not an office next?
Kitchen Sink placed a call out for "any individual who wanted to participate in an interdisciplinary collaborative group," says Wiseman. Over 130 artists responded, including actors, designers, musicians, visual artists, and dancers. The show's organizers then threw everybody's name into a hat and created randomly selected groups of three to four artists each. They told each group to come up with an idea, and to let them know when they had a project to pitch.
"It's almost like we were conducting an experiment, and the people who signed up were our chemicals," says Eggert. "Some people did not get along well at all. We had to meet with them a bunch of times and try to get it to work. Lots of people bailed... Just about every group had someone who dropped out. There were definitely personality conflicts."
After the crowd naturally thinned itself out, the final proposals were sent to a selection committee comprised of local art-world insiders, and the strongest proposals were selected. All that remained was for these groups of strangers to work together to make it happen.
One of the Office's most interesting projects comes from the collaborative that calls itself Cube-alicious, who are covering every square inch of one of the depressing little offices with gingerbread and icing. For the past several weeks, the members of Cube-alicious have been getting together and furiously pounding out gingerbread dough. Just before the show opens, they'll be taking the dough to Three Lions Bakery, just downstairs from the site of the show, and baking square yard upon square yard of aromatic, tasty gingerbread. The surfaces of the office space upstairs will be covered in the sweet substance, but the project won't be done until the audience pitches in.
"The idea is that when the public walks in, the office will be blank, like a normal, depressing office," says Katrina Boemig of Cube-alicious. "But just like how in a regular office space, you begin to personalize it with photos and plants, you can do the same thing here. Except we'll have icing and candy on hand so that people can personalize the space that way. The whole project will be edible, which is the point, so as people interact with it and eat it, the project begins to disappear."
Other projects of note include one by local collaborative The M.O.S.T., who will be conducting a "Your Fan for a Day" workshop, where you can apply to have someone high-five you and tell you how hard you rock for a day. There's a surprise performance that features a passed-out granny, and a room of tireless screenprinters, who encourage you to bring a piece of clothing to the show. They've asked local artists to license them a piece of artwork, so if you drop off a T-shirt or a hoodie, you'll get it back with a handmade design by a Portland artist on it.
Also on hand will be Kendall Holladay, a soft rock DJ who took great pains to tell me what is and what isn't soft rock. "Some of the so-called soft rock stations here play disco and Motown. That's not soft rock. America is soft rock. Gordon Lightfoot is soft rock. Barry Manilow—that's just easy listening." If you're still confused by Holladay's designations, he'll be giving a small seminar on the topic halfway through the night. "The idea is that if this office space won a contest where the DJ of the soft rock station came down to play records at their office, they'd get something a lot like Kendall Holladay, so that's what I'm going to be doing. And if people want to get into the whole autograph thing with me, that's cool, too."
As of press time, these ambitious collaborations between strangers were being manically prepared, relying on that 11th hour frenzy just before everything comes together. Like Wiseman said, "We feel that often the process leading up to events like this is overlooked, and in Step into My Office, that process is almost the point," before adding that making art of the highest quality is obviously a priority as well. As with any project of this nature, the results are sure to be hit or miss, but when the hits include a DJ spinning "Sailing" by Christopher Cross while you're nibbling on a gingerbread desk lamp, it feels like a spectacle not to be missed.
Step into My Office is at the second floor of 520 NW Davis. The opening party is Thursday, April 5, 7-11 pm, and the show will be open Friday, April 6, 6-9 pm and Saturday, April 7, noon-6 pm, with an artist discussion Sunday, April 8 at noon. There's a suggested $2-5 donation, with food and drink at the opening party offered by Half & Half.