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The White Box at the University of Oregon in Portland, Portland, Oregon
Review by Richard Speer

Six artists collaborate, crediting only the group and offering no titles of explanations. "6/one" ends up holding together when it could has easily fallen to pieces.


Continuing through November 21, 2012


"6/one" is a simultaneously vexing and satisfying exhibition. Although it features six artists, it isn’t billed as a group show, but as an exercise in “cooperation and consensus-building” among its participants: Dan Anderson, Karl Burkheimer, Ben Ediger, Chris Held, Todd Isaacs, and Josh Smith. Viewers walking through the installation-centric show will find no labels or printouts identifying which artists created which piece, nor even, for that matter, what the pieces are titled. There are no titles. And while press materials hold forth about “a dynamic conversation around unique and shared views,” they are dead silent on the matter of what the show is actually about. This places a goodly amount of responsibility on the viewer’s discernment, but even more on the artists themselves, charged as they were to make the show cohere. Fortunately, it does.


What, then, is it about? It would appear to be a parodic look at architecture as simulacrum. Most of the pieces have an architectonic bent and a droll self-awareness that simultaneously reference and undermine notions of structure, home, and city. The first piece we encounter is a makeshift structure fashioned out of silver- and gold-colored fabric, emblazoned with triangles. Macrocosmically it reads as a pyramid, microcosmically as a tent. Its faux precious metals and geometric symbolism do not inspire awe as Mayan pyramids do, and its flimsy construction would offer scant shelter to any woodland camper. 


In the adjoining room stands a brick wall with a perfect circle cut into it and a strange apparatus is affixed with a lever and a weight of unknown function. It is a stand-in for a structure, any structure, although its sole purpose is aesthetic, since its form neither follows nor precedes function. Next to this wall is a bright, blue, gaudy curtain spotlit like a theater proscenium. What is going on behind the curtain? One can only guess. What is going on in front of it? Nothing. It contents itself to be a signifier for a stage-play, which is to say, a simulation of a simulation.  


Another piece consists of wooden shelves that display books, souvenir statuettes, themed salt-and-pepper shakers — the sort of common knickknacks that clutter many homes, but lined up clinically and stripped of any domestic warmth. Nearby, on the floor, are four bundles of energy drinks and Cheetos: high-calorie, low-nutrient approximations of real food grouped together in a kind of symbolic ersatz for a kitchen. On the walls, photographic prints juxtaposing urban alleyways with close-ups of tile and insulation allude to the retreat of city dwellers into the anonymity of the suburbs. Perhaps the show’s wittiest element is a grouping of stacked chairs in front of a wood panel propped against a wall. A white sky and the black outline of a mountain range are painted on the panel. Black tape comes forward toward the viewer at the bottom of the panel, as if the mountains were breaking out to invade our personal space. The work evokes the increasing abstraction of experience from the act of beholding nature, to the removed experience of television, to the act of looking at an ironic sculptural piece at an art gallery.


Throughout the exhibition, the artists deconstruct (sometimes literally) and parody the implications of urban and residential architecture while doing the same to the trope of artistic authorship. That they go about this with tongue in cheek humor and an invigorating variety of media goes a long way toward making this enterprise a thought-provoking entertainment rather than a tedious étude on pastiche.

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