For a city nicknamed "Bridgetown," we do tend to underappreciate our bridges. There are so many, it's a pain to get stuck on them waiting for passing boat traffic, and anything associated with a commute instantly becomes mundane.

Lately, though, things are turning around for the long-suffering structures, which are starting to garner renewed attention as unique and beautiful historical monuments in the heart of Portland. The key to this shift in attention seems to be public involvement: encouraging citizens to interact with their friendly neighborhood spans in more thoughtful, creative, and fun terms, fostering civic pride along the way.

Last year saw the first annual PDX Bridge Festival in conjunction with the Hawthorne Bridge centennial, and with the Steel and Broadway Bridge centennials coming up in the next two years, the momentum is sure to grow. Inspiring bridge awe this year, with by far the largest-scale event on the TBA 2011 roster, The Hidden Life of Bridges aims to illuminate and amplify the untold stories of these ribbons that tie our city together.

Chosen to participate in the Regional Arts and Culture Council's Intersections residency program, Brooklyn-based digital media artist Ed Purver teamed up with local musician and composer Tim DuRoche to create a large-scale work of bridge-based public art. The project will employ several live microphones placed under and above the main deck of the Hawthorne Bridge, plus giant video projections on the south side of the Morrison Bridge's two piers. Standing on the Hawthorne Bridge, viewers will be treated to a 15-minute looping walk-in movie. Passersby can also watch from the waterfront and listen via cell phone.

But as impressive as it is to consider the technology and logistics of it all, the whole thing remains abstract without a compelling human anchor. Recognizing this, DuRoche and Purver built a rich narrative through interviews with bridge employees. Working with county project liaison Tony Lester, the artists spoke with engineers, mechanics, safety inspectors, bridge operators, and more. Their unique perspectives and harrowing stories are sure to change the way you think about that heap of metal and concrete between the Willamette and your bike tires.

The Hidden Life of Bridges, Hawthorne Bridge, Thurs Sept 8-Sat Sept 10, 9-11 pm, show repeats every 15 minutes, free