Don’t try to catch the map is not the territory during the last 30 minutes of the Portland Art Museum’s hours. You need time. The inaugural exhibition—which will repeat every three years—displays work from eight Pacific Northwest artists and addresses relationships with region, climate change, and (quoting curator Grace Kook-Anderson) “a time of reckoning where we need to embrace indigenous knowledge.”
Kook-Anderson organized the exhibition and invited artists, all of whom are currently Pacific Northwest residents: Fernanda D’Agostino and Ryan Pierce are from Portland. Mary Ann Peters and Rob Rhee are from Seattle. Henry Tsang and Charlene Vickers hail from Vancouver, BC, and Annette Bellamy and Jenny Irene Miller are from the far-off reaches of Alaska.
Beyond their respective residences, their backgrounds scatter even further: Tsang was born in Hong Kong. Vickers is an Anishinabe artist whose work explores her Ojibway ancestry. Miller is Inupiaq and a lifelong Alaskan, while Bellamy was born in Seattle. Even D’Agostino and Rhee’s New York-area origins are important in understanding this installation’s star chart of origin and perspective.
It’s compelling to see PAM, one of the largest forces in Portland’s art community, taking on something of this scale. D’Agostino’s “Borderline” swathes the museum’s foyer in massive , interwoven projections of flaming forests and dancers. Cameras in the square record the real-time movements of viewers and project them onto screens too. D’Agostino expressed a desire to make people see themselves in the effects of climate change, from which many feel disconnected.
Adjacent to the foyer, Tsang’s piece occupies a projection room, which affords it a feeling of quiet solemnity as it retells the injustice of the 1851 Tansy Point treaty—where treaties between the Chinook Nation and the federal government were not ratified, despite the Chinook signing them in good faith. The rest of the exhibition shares one large room, which allows pieces to interact with one another—Vickers’ crafted moccasins converse with Peters’ satchel of refugee possessions. Bellamy’s hollow stoneware, hanging from UV-resistant wire, interacts with Rhee’s gourds, grown within the constriction of steel. (Like I said, there’s a lot here.)
My recommendation for a way into the exhibit is this: Go all the way to the back and start with Pierce’s paintings of cataloged wildlife and preservation methods. It feels very Portland and, in the spirit of the exhibition, why not start with your own backyard? Then move out, through Miller’s photo series of modern-day First Nations Alaskans. Find yourself in the D’Agostino projections at the end and see that you are part of the map. Your actions are leaving a record.