The word “Tattarrattat” was first birthed in James Joyce’s 1922 novel, Ulysses. It’s the longest palindromic word in English literature and an unmistakable onomatopoeia that takes inalienable form only in a moment we can collectively imagine: a furious rapping at the door. Such phrases within Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegans Wake make him a legend amongst Modernist writers who are trepidatious about inventing words where none that was fitting existed.
Inspired by the cursory notion that the word embodies, Portland-based artist Leif Anderson presents work that considers the incongruous decisions that are made based on short-term needs. In particular, TATTARRATTAT, on view at Melanie Flood Projects, is a keen examination of provisional architecture. Anderson bends and creases photographic prints in the spaces between doors and windows, affecting them to near personification. The works scale the tops of demising walls and protrude from heights that liken them to furniture. The end result is an embarrassment of observational dexterity.
Anderson spent weeks in Flood’s empty gallery space—a third-floor walkup in downtown Portland—mapping and photographing architectural details that had uncertain practical value. The building, with its many charms, is a veritable labyrinth of poorly backfilled passageways and doors that no longer open. Window (2015) is a crisp photograph of one such detail—an architectural opening, now sealed with drywall, though fooling no one as to its previous state. Anderson’s version is installed near its reference, sandwiched between a door and doorframe that would open were it not for the need to house its copycat. The proximity is mocking, and the work is better for it.
LWM623 (2015), one of the few non-photographic works in TATTARRATTAT, has faced its share of adversity since the exhibition’s opening. The work is made of MDF base molding that is extremely reminiscent of what has been used in many areas of the building’s endoskeleton. The structure is neatly wedged between the floor and ceiling, and at nearly eleven feet tall, it bows with a palpable tension. The piece is strained and restless, yet somehow without commanding scrutiny. More than one unobservant visitor has come close to de-anchoring it with their hapless movements. A similar clumsiness abounds when encountering the work of Fred Sandback. LWM623’s appeal for attention is quiet and elegant—so much so that it seems like another haphazard invention already in place before the artist’s investigation.
View from SW Washington St #301 (2015), a photographic print on PVC vinyl, scales three-fourths of a dividing wall, falling delicately over the top and finding a foothold on the other side. This work best illustrates not only Anderson’s clever approach, but also his top-notch sense of humor. The life-sized representation of a ladder is a revelation to its ideological doppelgänger across the street. The work is a photographic imitation of a precarious fire escape housed on the exterior of an adjacent building. The large windows in Melanie Flood Projects make it difficult to miss. What is so unusual about this particular fire escape is that its rusted frame comes nowhere near to being accessible from the ground. Should it ever need to be used, the endangered escapee would face a multistory drop before reaching safety on the sidewalk. With this obstacle in mind, Anderson’s version does not seem additionally absurd.
Four Wheel Drawing (2015) is a conceptual nod to Action Painting. Mounted horizontally on a tabletop, the photographic print bares the gestural mark-making of polyurethane wheels on a vulnerable surface. Anderson photographed an off-white, texturized ground after months or years of its hosting of the dedicated practice maneuvers of skateboarders. Scuffs, chips, and hard drag marks give the impression of the piece being a cousin to the logic of Art Informel. You can almost parse an intuitive dynamism in the broken lines to find moments when a particular trick or jump failed. Anderson deals with the downward dimension typically lost in the photographic process by reinserting it in his method of presentation. His consideration of architecture is particularly thoughtful here, as much has been written about skateboarding as a political antagonism or highlighting of found construction.
“Tattarrattat” is a word rooted in acoustics. An enthusiastic knocking at the door can rattle and ricochet in ways that converge with architecture, and then with our senses, in a curious or nonsensical fashion. Leif Anderson’s TATTARRATTAT is much the same. The marriage between photo-sculpture and site-specific installation makes for a child with acute perception and a lot to show for it. Although the works have mimicry at their heart, they rattle and ricochet across their newfound space in a manner that’s clearly set apart from their source materials. One would be hard-pressed to find a more fitting title.
Leif Anderson: TATTARRATTATT is on view at Melanie Flood Projects in Portland, Oregon, through December 4, 2015.