Over the course of the past few days, I made a video contribution to A Tale of Two Cities: Portland and Seattle, an exquisite corpse experimental film organized by Seattle artist Salise Hughes. I had to begin my video with a shot that included a coffee cup, and end it with a construction crane. Fortunately for me, in Portland right now there are many areas where the two objects appear in the urban landscape almost simultaneously. Where there are construction cranes creating new luxury condos, there are invariably new coffee shops nearby, serving $3 cups of drip coffee to prospective residents.
I did not have to travel far to make this video. I walked a few blocks down the street from my studio to the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd & NE Couch Avenue where "The Fair-Haired Dumbell" is being erected, an office building that "sits squarely in the center of the action, and doesn't shy away from attention." When I first noticed this construction a year or so ago, I was immediately irritated - I had thought this little patch of land was a scraggly, ignored, tiny public park. There is a bus stop there and it was a small, open green space that afforded motorists and pedestrians a clear view of the west side over the Burnside Bridge. It was also a hotspot for protestors - this major crossroad of the city was a common site for small groups of people to gather with signs and stand for the day, reaching thousands of people with their message. I asked a friend who works for City Parks about this little spot of land and it turns out it had always been privately owned.
Overall this was an interesting experience for me to make this video quickly. I regularly assign video art students at Portland State to make videos in public space - just last term I assigned them to make a video about one block of Burnside Street, which I was basically doing with this piece. It's not easy to be alone in public with a camera, sensitively composing shots and paying attention to sounds, while ignoring stares from construction workers and acting like I don't realize horn-honking is directed at me. I went back several times to this area however, shooting first with my little Flip camera to get a sense of what I wanted, returning later and shooting more efficiently with my HD camera. It felt good to be back in that uncomfortable space, wondering why I feel like I don't have the right to document activities in public, or make art about shared, common, public spaces. It is important to continue to push against those social norms and make works that contribute to the visual record of this region. My agenda, unlike other image-producers for this spot of land, is not to maximize profits but to process experience critically.
Julie Perini makes experimental and documentary videos and films. Preoccupied with daily life, her short-form personal works are autobiographical, self-reflective, and expressive. Her documentary feature films are produced within and alongside contemporary social movements. She is co-director, with Jodi Darby and Erin Yanke, of the documentary feature film, Arresting Power: Resisting Police Violence in Portland, Oregon (2015) distributed by Collective Eye Films. You might like to treat yourself to a peak at her daily & monthly video project, the Minute Movies. One more cool thing about Julie: she is a backcountry guide with the arts/environmental organization Signal Fire.