12th Avenue Project
Nan B. Curtis and Martin Houston

Twelfth Avenue in Southeast Portland is home to an unlikely art exhibit: 50 signs line the one-way street running along the historic neighborhood. The 12th Avenue Project, created by artists Nan B. Curtis and Martin Houston is part of "in situ Portland," a program of the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) in collaboration with the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA).

Each of the constructed 50 signs mimics the brown highway signs that denote museums and historic landmarks. Separately, they offer text fragments; part of an entire, loosely developed narrative about the journey of a young girl. Essentially, the panels relate the main character to a surrounding community, and effectively make the viewer part of this community. The first panel reads:


"The abandoned ford was a familiar landmark, one of the many on the trip she new very well."

Following this opener are additional, emotive tidbits, words like "Spaces," "Eyes," "Journey," "Chaos," "Noise." The words culminate in thoughtful perceptions of concepts of time, distance, travelling, and a range of tangential emotions. One of the middle panels provides the provocative sentence:


"She too felt empty and again turned to food, imagining a giant feast at the end of her journey."

The tour provides ample space for the viewer to expand and contract upon the narrative provided by Curtis and Houston.

This element is the key to the success of the work, as the driver or pedestrian passes the graphic teasers; they are summoned to slow down and get the whole story, panel by panel.

In the end, the viewer is left with the word "DIRECTION," perhaps leaving the tale open-ended, suggesting that the viewer not only question the future of the heroine, but also the installation summons the viewer to consider their future as well.