An Interview With Charmbracelet

who presents Via Los Angeles @ PICA, 219 NW 12th, Wednesday March 17, 6 pm, $2

Imet with Brad Adkins and Christopher Buckingham of Charmbracelet in the PNCA Commons Area to find out about Via Los Angeles, a multimedia presentation they are delivering Wednesday night in PICA's Resource Room. Via Los Angeles looks to be an historical allegory about the Portland art scene nearly 30 years ago, exploring the local community's response to a PCVA (Portland Center for the Visual Arts, a Schnitzer-funded, artist-driven institution in the '70s and '80s) exhibition of California artists who became some of the most famous artists of the era. In their research, Charmbracelet uncovered some curious inconsistencies, as well as stories about fistfights, cheesy horror flicks, and Rowdy Roddy Piper. And as usual, Charmbracelet pulled their Penn and Teller routine, with Chris as the silent partner who nods along and fills in a few details along the way.

So tell me about Via Los Angeles.

BRAD: It started with an exhibition that started at PCVA. Founders Mel Katz, Michele Russo, Lucinda Parker, Jay Backstrand and Louis Bunce were lamenting--like people do now--that there was no venue in Portland to show what they were reading about in Artforum. They asked for Arlene Schnitzer's help, since they were all showing at her Fountain Gallery, and they performed in a similar way to how PICA did. They would break up the shows between nationally recognized artists like Carl Andre, Richard Serra, Vito Acconci, and Sol LeWitt with shows by local artists.

So what's so special about this one exhibition with Chris Burden and Al Ruppersberg?

BRAD: In 1975, Mel Katz organized this show that has been alternately called Six From Los Angeles or Via Los Angeles, depending on whose resume you look at. The idea was that this was the first nationally recognized group exhibition that PCVA organized. It opened either in January 1975 or January 1976 depending on who's talking. The Oregonian ran a feature on the show in '76. So there's a bit of a shift in the way history has been projected back upon the show. Our talk looks at this show and its stylistic repercussions and tracks the history of the artists since then. And we look at the history of PCVA up until this show, which according to Paul Sutinen, went fine except for the fact that Chris Burden got in two fistfights at the opening. So that moment is like one little burst where we pontificate aboutÉ Hollywood.


BRAD: Yeah, did you ever see They Live with Rowdy Roddy Piper?

No, I missed that one.

BRAD: Well Al Ruppersberg had a sideline occupation as a science fiction writer named Ray Faraday Nelson, and he wrote a short story called "8:00 in the Morning," which is about the presence of aliens among us, and a homeless guy who discovers this and tries to take on the world by himself. It was turned into a graphic novel called Nada, which means "nothing" and relates to some of Ruppersberg's text-based pieces. And then John Carpenter turned Nada into They Live. The movie starred a lot of people I never heard of, but it did have Rowdy Roddy Piper, who was wrestling in Portland in the '70s, at the same time that Al Ruppersberg was here for Via Los Angeles. So when Al Ruppersberg--under the name Ray Faraday Nelson--was asked to consult on They Live, he said they should put Rowdy Roddy Piper in the lead role because he had seen him wrestle here in Portland.

So the lecture is about how Mel Katz indirectly influenced the trajectory of Rowdy Roddy Piper's career?

BRAD: Yeah, on some level.

Have you talked to Mel Katz or anybody else, to try to clear up some of these inconsistencies?

BRAD: We've been talking to Paul Sutinen, who has clarified a few things. The stories we had heard said that there was only one fight at the opening, but there were really two fights.

Nice. What's a good wrap-up question for an interview? Charmbracelet: Why on earth should people come to your talk at PICA this Wednesday?

BRAD: Um, because PICA counts heads--no, don't put that. It's a parable. It's a parable about Chris Burden, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and Clint Eastwood.

Clint Eastwood?

CHRIS: Oh yeah, he's in there, too. CHAS BOWIE