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Review: Oregon Painting Society

By Lisa Radon September 12, 2009

Oregon Painting Society. Stand by. When I have a photo of the performance at the WORKS, I’ll throw it up.

Oh, Oregon Painting Society.

Last night at the WORKS for PICA’s TBA:09 Festival there was Ennio Marricone whistling, Dick Dale guitar, synthy/circuit-bendy electronoise, and artful use of vocoder (I’m talking to you Birch Cooper) folded into a sci-fi primitive souffle. White pants, plant theremins, and petalled headpieces leavened the evening’s primarily dirge-like pace (with a heavy Nico vibe) as did moments in which OPS gathered ritually in a circle at the front of the stage, moving from a chant of, "A point in a circle. The earth as gameboard," to "Why must I be a teenager in love?"

Oregon Painting Society is an arts collective that makes visual art and music/performance. They’ve twice done installations at Fontanelle Gallery with masks, brooms, and other magical objects constructed out of mundane materials.

I’ve been thinking a lot about OPS since their Fontanelle shows. One thing I find fascinating is that the words that their work requires have been so boxed up by a handful of sub-cultural trends in the last decade and a half, that they are almost unusable. OPS is exploring the primitive, the tribal, and the ritual via their visual art output (specifically the masks and brooms as objects of power), group practice, and performance respectively without falling prey to all of the easy, obvious, and frankly, boring trappings these words have come to embody more than a decade after ReSearch’s "Modern Primitive" issue, the first playa Burning Man, and the height of rave culture (in San Francisco at least), when in Portland particularly, many of the visual signifiers and vibe of these cultural nodes linger with a vengeance. So it’s pretty brilliant that OPS can make work that calls for these descriptors while having none of that. It’s glib, perhaps, but not too far off the mark to say that white pants signal something original is happening here.

Of course if we get out of the sub-culture realm and back into art history, OPS appears to be engaging in a re-exploration of the concerns of many artists in late 60’s, early 70’s—digging into the tribal/primitive in object and act—albeit without that era’s earnestness (fed by its own subcultural moment) that now looks quaint. If some of the OPS arsenal of sound dates to that era, it’s applied in a futuristic fashion with recurring motifs like the monotone computer-esque voice. In fact, in spite of some of the OPS photo-documentation with a 70’s vibe, the whole concern, really, is more sci-fi/speculative even than its sounds and means would suggest…the utopian and even quasi-mystical plot line minus the ominous, culturally critical overtones (and with a dose of winking/joyful just good fun).

I’ll admit there was a point or two last night at which I wanted to get up on the stage and shake somebody. And the fact that Woolly Mammoth Comes to Dinner didn’t really have as much space (physical, temporal, and mind) as one would have hoped was a major missed opportunity. Their dance was primarily a perimeter action, executed on the edges of OPS’s extensive stage set-up and out into the audience. Woolly Mammoth are up to taking the TBA WORKS stage next year on their own and would make a slammin’ evening of dance, as original as it would be great fun. Let’s make that happen.

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