Blackfish Gallery, 420 NW 9th, through October 1
The Blackfish Gallery is an artist cooperative that has been around since 1979, but September marks a temporary invasion by outsiders like Vladimir, M.O.S.T., Chandra Bocci, Bryan Suereth, MK Guth, and Matt McCormick. Aptly titled The Locals, the show is a collection of installation, music, performance, video, and zines by more than 50 Portland artists who have made names for themselves in warehouse shows, independent galleries, and through a DIY spirit of self-promotion and collectivism.
The result is a chaotic and engaging collection of old and new work. There are 100 tiny wax men coming out of a utility closet. Giant seaweed and barnacles cover a wall and tumble down to the floor. Styrofoam cups cluster together around the skylight like synthetic honeycomb. A half-circle of My Little Ponies stare at their doubles in a mirror. Large Glad stretch bags dangle from the ceiling with titles like The Unseemly Rubbish of Mary J. Blige (the bag is filled with MJB paraphernalia). Local zines and CDs line the wall while a cycle of short films loops over and over in a makeshift screening room.
Cynthia Star's "My Heart is Filled with Sugar" provides a fitting image for this collection of "noncommercial" artists. A large papier-mache heart hangs above an ant farm. The two are connected by plastic arteries, which the ants use as passageways to the promised sugar. It's a smart piece in its own right, but a few of the ants have ideas of their own. Sneaking out of unseen cracks and holes, they crawl around on the podium and surrounding floor. Discontent with their cardiac prison, they ignore their prescribed role and wander around a foreign gallery space in search of unknown pleasures. A happy accident, it made me smile.
For all its apparent disparity and individualism, The Locals has a strange, inexplicable cohesion. Maybe all the work feels out of place in the increasingly commodified and conservative arts district we call the Pearl. Maybe, as Vicki Lynn Wilson notes in her curatorial statement, "humor and playfulness are what ties the group together." Maybe the show just has a high hit to miss ratio, a rarity in such diverse exhibits.