South Waterfront

On Friday -- a fantastic lead-in to a weekend of unusually warm 65-degree temperatures -- I took a long lunch to visit a gallery owner I had run into at the Art Spark event earlier this week.

Heidi had offered to show me a variety of projects taking place in the South Waterfront, Portland's newest neighborhood at the base of the tram where developers, elected officials, OHSU officials, affluent Portlanders, and artists are trying to make something exciting where nothing stood before. Some orienting remarks from Heidi's South Waterfront blog on art and architecture:

My observation is that the South Waterfront did not have the advantage of being groomed organically over time. Much like a suburban development, we went from being an unconditioned piece of property to a mini-metropolis (well, micro) in a matter of years. Yet, we are not at all suburban. In fact, we are very urban and real. So what are we? New urban? Designerly new urban with more nature?

I see us as a demographic medley of people with varying degrees of artistic talent or vision, who are (like it or not) creatively cultivating and shaping this place. With each new retailer, resident, tree or water feature, bike rack, dog, trash can, herb garden, and wine tasting, we are deciding who and what we are. In lieu of a decades worth of artists’ cultivation, we are the artists.. defining, breathing life, making community.

I also note that earlier in her blog Heidi refers to it as SWF, not So Wa, which I never really liked. It's another installment of that cutesy NY-wannabe abbreviation that's cropping up all over Portland (NoPo, LoBu, NoLo, and Marc Acito's coinage of BoPo, Bohemian Portland, last year). Also, I get SoWa confused with the strange Washington State Tourism motto, "Say Wa." (are they still using that?) I'll have to poll around on what is the preferred abbreviation among people who live there. But I digress.

We started at La Hina, a new sushi restaurant in the Meriwether buildings. Heidi showed me an an example of a blown glass installation she helped coordinate when she talked to the owner about displaying something other than a 6x4 painting that would usually go above these booths. I thought the result was a nice example of something very unique with appropriate hints to Japanese cherry blossoms.

Next to the OHSU Wellness Center, with a display of Aboriginal artwork in the lobby. Though not very well displayed, these works that have travelled throughout Australia and the world were very interesting and colorful -- and OHSU should be commended for featuring this exhibit in its lobby. But let's invest in a little more professional display for future exhibits can we?

Then over to where artists in residence Linda K. Johnson and Dana Lynn Lewis are working to breathe some art into this new community. Outside there is a temporary artwork -- the community's first herb garden.

Inside the lobby space of a future development (a Vietnamese restaurant? A bank? A cheese market? Who knows!), we talked to Linda and Dana about their work in the neighborhood.

Linda has been walking around the neighborhood in a construction-orange overcoat, observing its construction, interacting with its pioneering residents, and documenting her experiences through movement -- "body blogging" she has called it. From time to time Linda offers informal performances of the movement vocabulary she's developed while serving as artist in residence in this community. There was an article in this week's Portland Tribune that talks more about Linda's residency here, and the nature of site-specific temporary artwork.

Similar to how Linda has been walking through the neighborhood and waving at the residents in the towers, Dana Lynn Lewis has been soliciting the dreams of the people who live here, and has begun to scribe them in a corner of their temporary workspace. But also Dana has become interested in the translucency of the lives that are going on every evening high above in the condo towers. (Actually, there's a good synergy here with this artist as some of her other work that I'm familiar with deals in mica glass and other translucent mediums, including her "Suspended Migration" piece that hangs in the atrium at City Hall, which a gift to former Mayor Vera Katz during her last months in office.) She constructed these gausey-fabric cones as an artistic representation of that. Her lovely hennaed flooring also picks up a pattern that appears illuminated at night on the outdoor sidewalks.

Dana described to us how these cones of fabric will come alive on Saturday with individuals (not necessarily actors) inside of them, each one tending to their daily routine -- reading, putting on their makeup, playing cards -- as if on display in their illuminated windows in the condos above. Rob and I actually came back the next night to see this presentation and indeed it was an interesting study in people's "private" lives as seen through their windows.

It's an interesting time in South Waterfront, and although this neighborhood doesn't yet have a grocery store or a gas station, I am pleased to say that it has some really exciting art. And the art that's going on here today will help set an important tone for the thousands of residents who will be moving here over the next few years.

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