Video Document (Mark Martinez, camera)
The Constant Construct + Inevitability of Complex Perspective (2013)


Final Weekend


Contemporary Northwest Photography

Curated by TJ Norris

Pioneer Place Mall, 700 SW 5th Avenue/3rd Floor, Portland OR

Through Saturday, June 1 (12-6PM)


The End Has Only Just Begun


Only recently did I get the chance to see a fairly good streaming version of filmmaker Todd Haynes’ seminal Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987). Since sometime in the mid 90’s I had to settle with a poor, static-filled VHS copy of a copy of a copy. It stunned me, not unlike the opening number We’ve Only Just Begun, a record of time that re-plays with and on my mind. The singer Karen Carpenter died thirty years ago, and though she and her brother created adult contemporary music as it was once genrefied, it was far out of its time. Hauntingly so some may say. But they churned the waters like directionally-challenged salmon into a golden stream of hits.

As Off the Plain closes to the public this upcoming weekend I’m reminded moreso now than ever of my personal commitments. Considering things of late it makes much sense to dive deep and directional. The thought of streams, of where they take you are fleeting (of consciousness, against the current, to the unknown…). In the past year I have gained new opportunities outside of my long-term regional focus. In Nebraska I had a wonderful month-long residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. Then, this passing Spring it was off to Fargo, ND as I was invited as a guest artist/curator to the Roland Dille Center for the Arts at MSUM and most recently my first invitation to UofO’s Washburn Gallery where I worked with advanced photography students to piece together exhibitions of their work.  And I’ve now traveled to seventeen of the United States to shoot on location for my upcoming No Sign (2008-13) monograph. This poses a great big question about how to best look at time, the way in which it’s well spent, expendable and expansive.

And while there is no stopping time, the way in which I’ve paid it forward is finding its own natural path (+ ROI) within this rift. I’m proud to announce that after a dozen years of presenting work in and around Portland that this particular exhibition is my final thesis as a local freelance curator. In saying so, the trajectory that took me from my own gallery Soundvision (2002-03), to a curatorial trilogy (grey/area, invisible.other, .meta) and to more underground shows like PXL and re:Nude have all broadened my upcoming path. Honored to have had wonderful opportunities to interact with the next generation of students and galleries at PNCA and PSU among many others, it’s time. Time to re-charge and lay the fruits of these labors-at-large on the table.  While still imagining that curation is an integral part of my creative studio practice I want to fuel the focus of my craft larger and wider - and to look at installation in its pure form. All of this will come in good time. While I cannot quite spell the next steps out in the moment, that would alas, be rather, how would you say, a bit too predictable.

Thanks to you all (you know who you are).


In The O…


imageFrom Friday’s A&E back page (May 24)

"As his final curatorial project in Portland before he shifts focus to a monograph of photographic work, multidisciplinary artist TJ Norris presents contemporary Northwest photography, drawing together a group show that explores the activating properties of light — its dimensions, angles and more — and how they might be reshaped in the hands of various artists, including Seattle’s Colleen Woolpert (still image from the video "Red Twin Blue Twin," 2010, pictured)…"  Full Story


Serving Says….


From the title “Northwest Photography: the Same but Different" I had the feeling that someone out there may have taken more than a typical scant look at what’s going on at Place through the weekend of 6/1. Author Jenna Lechner writes…”Some shows demand a second viewing. Sometimes because they’re great, sometimes because they’re a totally different experience on a second viewing, and sometimes because they’re a slightly different exhibit on a second viewing. And then, of course, some shows are simply demanding. All of the above are true in Place Gallery’s survey of Northwest contemporary photography, Off the Plain. Curated by Portland photographer TJ Norris, it’s a packed group show with 17 artists and showcases a mix of non-traditional photographs……” (more here)

PS: This just in, and I have to say I most certainly feel a part of this ongoing conversation that Sarah Sze is talking about, hear hear!


Assignment: Mini Reviews


A recent assignment for students attending my Exploring the Abstract class at Newspace Center of Photography was to write short reviews of Off the Plain. Here are the results:

JOE: Off the Plain, a show of contemporary Northwest photography, is a stimulating exhibit of twenty mixed media works that build on photography but go beyond traditional notions of the photograph.  Curator TJ Norris offers it as “an opportunity to look forward from the cast of photographic traditions without discounting its influence.”  Some works are manipulated or layered images, such as two large headshots, side by side, of apparently different individuals.  Put on the available 3-D glasses and one head becomes the other, or not, depending on which eye is used (one lens is red, the other green). The artist describes it as “an imaginary portrait of the conceptual space where identities overlap.” Other pieces are more difficult to appreciate unless one is familiar with current movements in photography, and some of the accompanying artist’s statements are conceptualized beyond easy understanding.  Still, it is well worth a visit.  Come prepared to be challenged. 

NANCY: I think the exhibit has a nice mix of media to ponder. I have a special fondness for landscape, so I was drawn to the photograph of light orbs in the grass (by Sarah Knobel). The subtle triangular overlays added a creative aspect to the image. 

ELLA: Off the Plain was an innovative show that begged for looking beyond. At first glance it was hard to tell if the show was ‘done’. I’m not someone who has much experience viewing contemporary art, so I felt like many of the pieces were outside my skills of interpretation. I did enjoy the show though. The desk with photos representing forgotten things caught my eye the most. Probably due to my interest in old things that are infused with an imprint of where they have been.

Brooks DierdorffRemnant: Lots of open space to wander around and contemplate, even to sit and be still while facing death as it hangs from a wall. A 1940’s black and white photograph of my beloved grandparents – one on each side of a freshly shot deer hanging from a tree – comes to mind. Twenty or so years later someone shoots Grandpa with a camera while he feeds a deer from his hand. Grandpa just celebrated his 102nd birthday. I can’t get Dierdorff’s arrow out of my mind. What is the relationship between Organizing Principles and Remnant?

BuswellFirst There is a Mountain: Lines in the Sand – millions of mountain years and billions of microscopic elements coming together to create non-linear lines only to be scooped up by the power of water and wind and transported elsewhere on the planet. Sand - temporarily laid at our feet, captured by a lens and constrained within a frame, glass front and board backing – permanent – for a time. I want to go to that place on the beach and be there to capture the transitory and make it a permanent part of my short life!

ANN: Off The Plain is a wonderful collection of contemporary photographic work which has something for everyone. My favorite work is the piece by Tricia Hoffman. Tricia uses an old sewing machine case to tell a compelling story which is both personal and historic. I grew up with a similar piece of furniture which was loaded with sox for darning and spools and scissors and hat pins. Sewing and the machine represented both my Mother and a way of life when everything was hand made. The artist talks about the journey the sewing machine table made throughout her life from place to place and she shows images in the drawers of things that could have been or were in the drawers. The emotional content is obvious; and references compelling.


Q+A: Further Thoughts From In/Outside The Field


After offering, some local inquiring minds in the arts wanted to know — and a handful of Off the Plain artists responded in kind. Questions were submitted by two regional professionals in the arts which generated some particularly provocative and pertinent responses.


Carson Legree, Director
Clark College’s Archer Gallery asks…

1.) How does your work reference and/or build upon the work of earlier artists? Who are those artists and how did they influence your work? I can’t look at Ben Buswell’s work, for instance without thinking of Vida Clements and her paintings that “lack a point of reference, horizon, or discernible depth of field”. Is anyone looking at Bruce Conner?  Harrison Higgs maybe? Does Richard Schemmerer ever look at the work of someone like Lucas Samaras



Ben Buswell: To address Vija Celmins specifically, I don’t associate my work with hers as our choices regarding process are very different, and for me this is where much of the meaning in both of our work lies. I do however understand the connection between the choices we make regarding how we frame images. For me this choice is two fold. On the one hand, the lack of reference point, along with surface manipulation and the angled framing, allows me to “objectify” the photograph. On the other, the images I use are of specific places, yet have ubiquitous associations. A good analog to this second idea is Roni Horn’s “Some Thames” series of photographs.

Harrison Higgs:  Yes to Bruce Conner. My primary camera for many years was a vacuum-tube video camera from which I grabbed stills. Less interested in the literal, I took to that pulsing glowing rhythm of video. Because my experience of the image in this form was based upon the projection and gathering of light, Robert Irwin also affected my thinking (though not my style).

Michael Sell
: This particular vein of my work springs from a weird place combining the ideas of artists like Paul Klee and Mark Rothko with the notion of photography as a purely decorative element in contemporary society. The notion of the author is somewhat lost in the era of phone cameras and ubiquitous Internet access. I recently discovered the work of Byron Kim whose Synecdoche looks very similar to this work. His idea of exploring racial identity through singular fields of colors is intriguing when I compare it to my work. Boiling down a person’s identity, heritage, or ethnicity to a single color is a way of categorizing humanity. The taxonomy in my piece is different in that the work explores selective editing and summarization of these famous images.

Richard Schemmerer
: I am familiar with Lucas Samaras and like his art books especially the ones with nails and razor blades. I have my own series of book art. As an interdisciplinary artist I appreciate that he is not afraid of paint. I can relate to that as a painter myself. To me painting is not a dirty word, is not dead, and will always have a special priority to me and to many others. I lived in Hawaii for many years and became familiar with a different art aesthetic. There was a lot of talk about East verses West. The Japanese culture is very strongly represented on the islands. I was always fascinated by the art of origami as it can transform a flat sheet into something magical which dates back to the Edo period around 1600 but is predated by Chinese practice during the Sung Dynasty.

I took a lose approach by updating the technique and use it as modular form to built the base construction. I have been inspired to use this approach by Japanese artist Mark Kadota who builds intricate origamies out of light wood. I used this approach to lift the photographs of the ground so to speak inspired by modern day architects like Frank Gehry, but also by natural structures like honey combs. Intellectually I followed a blend of paths like Dada and Jacques Derrida's ideas of deconstruction. Because I work “off the plain” a lot I have a myriad of influences to be grateful for especially Félix González-Torres.

Ted Hiebert: In a larger context my work has always paid special attention to artists working in self-portraiture and alternative techniques, especially optical (rather than chemical) alternatives. Among those that play heavily in my own influence are Lucas Samaras, Evergon, Diana Thorneycroft and Joel Peter Witkin. In a broader context I’ve also been heavily influenced by artists like Bruce Nauman and John Baldessari for their ability to fuse playful and conceptual approaches to art-making.

Chao Wang: I think one of my great influences is the photographer Moriyama Daido.  I’ve enjoyed many of his works and think the influence on me is about the freedom to interpret things as I see — taking photos the way that your mind tells you; not being constrained by the conventional sense of beauty. Many of his photos reflect the dark side of the Japanese society, but personally I want to express my opinion in a strange but yet humorous way.

Carson Legree, Director
Clark College’s Archer Gallery asks…

2.) How does your work fit into a NW tradition?  Does it reference previous NW artists or it is somehow shaped by the natural or unnatural environment of the NW?


Michael Sell: Not sure. I moved here from the midwest in 2009, but I don’t yet see a regional specificity to my work as of yet.


Harrison Higgs: I’m not sure I do fit in. The supernatural environment is everywhere though.

Chao Wang: The NW’s nature definitely play a huge role in my photographs, I enjoy how people and nature seems to connect tightly here, but sometimes also found this strange in a way, since i do not grow up this way, it is interesting that I heard a expression that “people in seattle always seem to dress like they are going camping the next minute” . I found it really interesting and also represent a certain stereotype that  i somehow want to include in my works.

Ted Hiebert: Not really. I’m new to the Pacific NW (moved in 2009) so still acclimatizing to what it means to be working as an artist here. I’m from the west coast of Canada however, so the Vancouver School does factor somewhat into my frame of reference, though mostly as a tradition I try to avoid mimicking.

Richard Schemmerer: NW art tradition in my mind would refer to native Indian art. In some ways I tried to adopt a sense of their philosophy in regard to the environment as one of the curatorial requirements was to reflect on the NW sensibility. Like in the Chilcat Indian tradition that weaves tree bark into textiles. The base of my sculptures is not just origami but also a 3 D version of weaving them together. The photos are of course made from paper which is tree pulp made from trees.


Carson Legree, Director
Clark College’s Archer Gallery

How does your work reveal or describe some aspect of life that is unique to the 21st Century?


Richard Schemmerer: First of all I find this question unfair, slightly passive/aggressive and irrelevant. That said it is of course an excellent question. The 21st century is still very young and we are still with one foot at least in an old world paradigm. So let me address this questions from that position I am in. First of all the pieces are architectural and highly complicated in their structural form I could not have made them with the help of advanced glues. Just kidding but for the fun of it lets assume life in the 21st Century is unique.

My work bridges architecture, photography art, craft, concept, social practice and time based art all into a singular presentation. It tempts the observer to reflect at his role as such and as the piece is observed the observer becomes a performer. The sculptures I presented can today shape shift in size and actually be built as either public art or used as blue print for lets say a high rise complex.

Harrison Higgs: I don’t think I’m successfully describing it yet in my work, but we are finally moving away from dualistic views of the world.

Ted Hiebert: The works in this show are directly related to a series of meditations I have been doing on the question of technology. I’m interested in the ways technology shapes our frames of conceptions and alters what we might otherwise see as normalized modes of perception. At stake in the question of technology is our ability to imagine beyond the confines of new and seductive modes of digital perception — our ability to remix the machines, so to speak, and to find creative ways to dialogue with the new possibilities technology offers. While anaglyph 3d glasses are not a 21st century invention, I see these interventions into the technique as allegorical in that they suggest ways to also intervene into how we use other technological apparatuses. 

Chao WangI guess it has to do with the involvement of technology. I shoot film, but instead of printing with an enlarger, I enjoy the freedom of scanning the negatives and using software to add my texture and language into the photos.

Michael Sell: This work helps to illustrate the anonymity of the contemporary photographer. Technology, the Internet, and photography in general are so widespread in industrial society (and education) that the important names and themes become seemingly less important. This is a generalization of sorts, but as an educator, I find that students remember fewer and fewer specifics about the artists we study in class. This work responds to that; it is an idea that the average person wouldn’t want to be anywhere near Serrano’s Piss Christ, but if you can paint their wall in that burnt orange yellow, the source of the color means less than how the color itself affects their lives. 


Ronald Kriesel, Board Chair
3D Center of Art & Photography asks…

1.) Curator Norris sought to activate the possibilities of how light might be re-shaped through dimensionality, slippage, angularity or aspects that are participatory or performative. How did your art contribution in this exhibit give me, the viewer,  the opportunity to look forward from the cast of photographic traditions without discounting its continued influence.


Ben Buswell: As someone who is mainly concerned with objects, I come to this exhibition as an outsider to the traditions of photography. My interest in the photograph has to do with it’s use as a material and as container of history. I am interested in the slippage of the image in time and it’s relationship to the viewer, ”the frozen moment” vs. the active object.

Richard Schemmerer: As the images have a shiny surface and are variegated in tone, combined and installed on a white wall they do throw shadows which change with the time of day and the amount of sun shine coming through. The light also shifts and exposes different aspects of the construction and the motive as the viewer moves around it. I think light breaks on the surface of these elements and gives them a futuristic aspect. One can imagine that we live in housing modules on a different planet in designs like it.

In terms of “photographic traditions, et al” I am not sure if I understand your question correctly. The viewer becomes the lens by which this installation will be remembered. My hope was to introduce a new way to present photography and liberate it from being a framed flat surface or serve as a copy of nature, a memento mori or being purely documentary. At the same time these photo objects fulfill the same tasks as ordinary photography but also offer up a conceptual aspect as well as a craft element.

Ted Hiebert: These works are about expanding the creative field of vision, remixing what we see in ways that challenge the static sense of the image and instead require us to see pictures for the conceptual impact they have. Technical interventions are both an homage to past technologies (since they wouldn’t be possible without the technologies they use) and a challenge (hopefully) to the possibilities prescribed in advance by technology itself. My pictures use the isolation of the eyes necessary for anaglyph 3d to instead mashup two different pictures of the world, reinforcing the simple claim that we can see the world in more than one way at any given time.

Ronald Kriesel, Board Chair
3D Center of Art & Photography asks…

2.) We all make choices about liking or expecting to like an artwork or an exhibit.  Contemporary art is a challenge for me in which to engage. For me to appreciate the art or intent of the art or the implied story of the art, I expect it to appeal to me.  Most art in this exhibit did not appeal to me.

Per the Curator’s goal, which pieces made me think in a new way: “Involuntary Souvenirs”, “Photo Swatch Grid #1” (did the red tones I moved stay together until today?) and “Untitled Constructed Perspectives 01-05” ( Something about bringing nature with us). So I wonder what you think of this possibility?  Are the pieces I passed over telling a story I missed?  Why did they not also make me think in new ways? Or were they experiments that failed?


Harrison Higgs: I am working with the light based-image as projected into space, reappearing in different planes. It is true that I’ve depersonalized the original narrative. This round goes to industry.

Ted Hiebert: I think there is value to failed experiments, and I think there is a certain willingness required on the part of the viewer in order to find ways to engage with work that isn’t immediately appealing. This is especially true with contemporary art, which often privileges dialogue — and consequently doesn’t always declare in advance what it means (since that meaning waits in many ways to be determined dialogically). At the same time, many of the works in this exhibition asked the viewer to work quite hard in order to engage, something that most of us have a particular threshold for. So — was there something missed if you didn’t work hard enough to engage all of the works? Sure. But at the same time, there will always be things missed in a story that privileges engagement over information or didactic presentation. It’s an incomplete answer of course, but more just to point to the larger context in which this kind of reaction is completely inline with the thresholds we all have for engagement with various forms of contemporary art. Works never fail on their own, nor do they succeed without those who engage them.

Richard Schemmerer:  I think art does not have to be understood, felt or liked for that matter. Sometimes the greatest works are the pieces we don’t like. They can teach us about the role of expectation or our judgment. Good art serves mostly as a mirror first, and secondarily as a bit of entertainment. My work “Constructed Perspective” took multiple perspectives into consideration. I had decided that for this exhibit I would create something that was likeable for most people and easy to grasp and relate to. The elements invoke nature and its ability to multiply or replicate.

They also are architectural - just like the base of biology is mathematics and architecture, but they also can be experienced as a mental construct like the architecture of memory — and how each image we screen builds up to the whole picture. A life time of pictures that makes the movie of our life. An experiment can never fail because it was intended to be an experiment not a recreation, an act that has already happened many times before. Every experiment is at its core a failure. But failure is good as with nothing new would ever be conceived. So by not liking some pieces the viewer is invited to reconsider these pieces as the markers that will be the guide to a newer, more expanded vision.


Panel Discussion Postscript

l-r: Elizabeth Papadopoulos, Brooks Dierdorff, Jen Vaughn, Ben Buswell + Richard Schemmerer; Brian White + Arcy Douglass (panelists)

(Saturday, May 4, 2013)

On one of Portland’s very first bright summer-like days our Artist/Panel Discussion The Constant Construct + Inevitability of Complex Perspective began its session. After a short curatorial intro the discussion took off with short bios and insights about each artist’s work in context within the exhibition. The panel talked about breaching photographic traditions, about teaching (three of the panelists are also teachers), about sculpture, and where we are at right now with media overload in the Northwest.

Regionalism was happily not the main crux of the conversation, though conclusions were made in light of the medium that it mattered to an extent. Bolstered by its conceptual nature the overarching theme was how the photograph is ultimately shapeshifted in a variety of unexpected forms nowadays. That was until post-modernism was brought up. This sparked considerations about language in the arts, in general and globally, particularly pertaining to semblances between art and architecture. This debate could have gone on a whole lot longer given that Place's Gabe Flores dropped hints of post-structural theorist Lacan and the heterotopias of Foucault into the conversation. If time allowed we could have gone a few more rounds (perhaps infinitely?) on this alone. For me it brought back up my inclusion in the amazing Of Other Spaces exhibition I was involved in a few years back.

The dialogue was rife with issues pertaining to commerce and its aftermath, structure and ideology. Coming soon: a video excerpt of the above panel, as well as extended questions that were submitted to me by Carson Legree of Clark College’s Archer Gallery and Ronald Kriesel of the (sadly defunct) 3D Center of Art & Photography. Stay tuned.





The plain! The plain!

by Richard Speer

…Whether in his photography, curatorial endeavors or seminal gallery, Soundvision, TJ Norris has always been a reliable purveyor of conceptually and visually elegant projects with a minimalist bent. His latest outing, Off the Plain, extends his signature aesthetic into the conceit of photography-as-sculpture…..(Read Full Review)


Inventing Three-Dimensional Arrangements 2 (Installation View)
by Melanie Flood