Art spaces offer vague mission but unique experiences
On the Rocks
'Thirty hours of natural labor,' the bartender tells her friend, 'I was doing yoga and knitting the whole time.'
It's a Friday night in mid-April, I'm waiting to order a beer at Worksound, a new art space on a Southeast Portland side street near Grand Central Bowl. I ask for a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon - it's all they have.
Much as I hate to use a term as vague as 'art space,' it's hard to know what else to call Worksound, a gallery that also hosts film screenings, poetry readings and, tonight, a showcase for the Olympia, Wash.-based record label Kill Rock Stars.
The folks behind Worksound - Modou Dieng and brothers Tim and Mark Janchar - aren't the only ones throwing rock shows in arty spaces. The Artistery on Southeast Division Street has been doing it for more than two years, and I'm sure there are other unexpected, barely promoted shows going on around town that I have yet to hear about.
The goal for both Worksound and the Artistery is cross-pollination. The idea is that visual artists and performers, by existing in the same place, will inspire each other.
At the very minimum, it provides some funky décor.
Worksound consists of two narrow, white-walled display rooms. Tonight, one of those rooms is reserved for those 21 and over. On the bar sits a small platter of raw vegetables and dip, appearing less like a snack than like a symbolic reminder that yes, this is a gallery. Something that looks like an eviscerated couch hangs from the ceiling. Little plastic palm trees dangle at eye level, enmeshed in stalactites of stuffing.
There's also more traditional framed art on the walls, and a series of 'Leprosy' sketches: a leopard with leprosy, a leprechaun with leprosy, a lepidoptera - well, you get the idea.
It's about 10 p.m. and young people - approximately 18 to 30 years old, that is - are pouring in the door. Opening band Magic Johnson is setting up its gear. I ask Mark Janchar, who is charge of booking, how they all found out about this show. Mostly through MySpace, he says.
It's likely, he points out, that a lot of the kids here tonight wouldn't normally go to an art gallery - and most art gallery patrons, it's safe to say, aren't used to background music quite as discordant and raw as tonight's.
On another Friday night, in late April, I'm sitting in a wobbly easy chair in a chilly basement room. On a low stage, a young lady is warming up on electric bass. To my left, a row of solo showgoers sit on thrift store couches, indicating, by tapping text messages into their phones, that yes, somewhere, they do have friends. To my right is a bookcase with hundreds of back issues of National Geographic.
This is the Artistery. A guy is plugging in a space heater, and people are walking around holding mugs of hot tea. It's the strongest thing you can buy, here - no alcohol.
'Basically, it's an open space, you can do whatever you want,' explains Aaron Shepherd, who manages the place. 'It's a recording studio, it's a performance space, art gallery space …'
Upstairs are seven studios rented out by painters, musicians and animators. There's also a living room with couches, a stereo and a computer station. Works by a resident painter line the walls: a tiger, Richard Nixon, a deer, Gerald Ford.
Originally, Shepherd says, the building was a church. Most recently, before the Artistery moved in, it was the headquarters for a medical marijuana group. The current Artistery evolved from an earlier incarnation that was basically a group of artists living and working together in a house.
As far as a mission statement, Shepherd says, 'We try to keep it pretty loose. Basically, the Artistery exists to support creativity and cultivate community.'
He books the live music here, keeps the rent and bills current, and plays in a band called Metal. They play soundtracks, he says, for movies that they make.
Tonight's show is a benefit for the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls, but typically shows serve as a sort of benefit for the Artistery itself. Since money made at the shows doesn't have to support the entire enterprise, Shepherd says, they don't have to rely on alcohol sales to keep things afloat. And that's good, because they prefer to welcome all ages to shows like tonight's, which usually occur four to six nights a month.
The basement, where a band called Explodeintocolor is about to play, is sometimes used as a gallery, but it's not ideal, Shepherd says. The walls aren't in good condition, and the location is off the beaten path.
'We're trying to see where we fit in,' he says. 'Honestly, we don't even know.'
Worksound, 820 S.E. Alder St., www.worksoundpdx.com
The Artistery, 4315 S.E. Division St., www.artistery.net