#Hashtags: Looking towards 2012

#Hashtags: Viral Thoughts on Politics, Arts, and Culture

#Hashtags provides a platform for longer reconsiderations of artworks and art practices outside of the review format and in new contexts. Please send queries and/or ideas for future to hashtags@dailyserving.com.

A corner of a long-ago building, the wall borders the edge of the Ecotrust Building parking lot, located in one of the most renovated and redeveloped commercial sections of Portland, OR.  It should do what all walls do:  create a boundary, or support a series of hidden, internal structures of unknown weight and gravity.  Perhaps, and I know I’m getting radical here, perhaps keep some things out and let others in?

Yet everything this wall has to offer flies in the face of such simple aspirations, and for that reason alone, I love it.  Structurally, the wall is useless.  It supports nothing, contains nothing. It simply stands, a ruined fragment with several sets of windows, all empty of glass, their rusted-red shutters thrown open.  The door to an old loading bay gapes like an open mouth. Aesthetically and metaphorically, however, the wall transcends its structural ineffectiveness, making it—to my mind—a metaphor for the best of all art.

The wall of the Ecotrust Building in Portland OR. Photograph by Rosa Say, courtesy of Flickr.

When you stand outside a building and peek in the window, you expect an inside view, a chance to be a voyeur to something at once internal and intimate.  Instead, the architects responsible for letting this ruined wall stand (Holst Architecture PC) create an entirely different kind of experience.  The interior has gone missing, replaced by a row of cherry trees planted on the other side. The psychological experience vacillates between feeling like you’re looking into the eyes of a soul mate and a pair of mirrored sunglasses that reflect only yourself back.

I was reminded of this wall a few days ago, when a friend sent me a link to an article by Randy Kennedy in the New York Times“Serendipity as Urban Curator”—in which Mr. Kennedy narrates his decision to look at New York as a readymade, ready to be selected and framed, starting with the view out the window of the N train into Manhattan as the train ascends the Brooklyn Bridge.

Subway window, New York City. Photograph by Mindsay Mohan, courtesy of Flickr.

As a writer immersed in the art industry, I understand the tendency to start to see one’s surroundings as one evolving and connected art piece, or to literally have doubts about whether what one experiences is “art” or “life.” A few years ago, on the streets of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, a man matched my stride for a block or two and I could not help but feel like I was being engaged in a private performance piece.

The part of Mr. Kennedy’s article I found most compelling, however, was the implicit suggestion that art does not just happen, but is made—by the window frame of the subway train, the hands shaping it, the mind of the person experiencing it, or the culture surrounding it. For the first time in a long while, I thought of the Ecotrust wall—a favorite Portland landmark of mine—and all the characteristics it seems to share with capital-A “Art”: the combination of purposelessness and craft, accident and design, self-absorption and curiosity.

Ryan McGinley, "Tom (Golden Tunnel)," 2010, C-Print, 72 x 110 inches. Courtesy Team Gallery.

I believe that the best art writing should bring one’s awareness to the frame—to the walls, or the subway windows—without forgetting to bring the reader into the experience. I also believe in laying bare the fact that writing itself is a frame, and using this function of language to bring together aspects of visual culture that otherwise might go unmentioned.  Last year #Hashtags brought you articles on graffiti in relation to the Arab Spring and narcotrafficking websites in relation to Aztec ritual, plus artists working with Occupy and meditations on art after 9/11. Looking towards 2012, we promise it will only get better.