Radiant Dream Face, Oregon Painting Society. 2009 Augen Gallery

It is a crime that the Oregon Painting Society show at PSU’s Augen Gallery, Radiant Dream Face, which was scheduled through January 1, ends tomorrow, Friday, December 18. Something about PSU=a campus, and they’re boarding the place up and going home for the holidays or whatever. It’s a big drag because if there were one installation you’d like to see held over this year, it might be this one; because this is a sensational installation that is optimally seen twice…once when you explore it for the first time and play the plants (you’ll see what I mean), and another time when you bring back a couple of friends to jam.

For Radiant Dream Face, Portland arts group Oregon Painting Society (Matt Carlson, Birch Cooper, Liam Drain, Barbara Kinzle, Brenna Murphy, Julia Perry, and Jason Traeger) populates the Augen Gallery with detritus of the suburban living room (or the Goodwill furniture department): vaguely faux-Colonial furniture variously disassembled (plenty of detached lathed legs) in multiple, generally low-lying arrangements interspersed with cheap houseplants (Brassia arboricola, Dracaena deremensis, Ficus benjamina). There are coat racks, chairs, screens, balustrade, tables, mostly of somewhat caramel-colored woods. On some shelves there are small-scale balsa constructions that are halfway between microstructures and wooden line drawings (by Traeger) and a number of white plaster cast faces (Cooper). Furniture and plant act as markers of aspirational interior design (albeit in the days before the late Domino), markers of the happy home…furniture the likes of which one might have seen on a t.v. game show behind Door #2.

But some of these plants are something special…this is a magnificently interactive sound environment and many of the plants are wired. Did I know that plants conduct electricity? I did not. But of course anything containing water conducts…like you, for example, lightning rod. Throughout the exhibition, there are plant instruments that can be played when you wet your hands and touch two at the same time. Meanwhile, there is a crystal table and two corn-cob wands that can be "played" by exposing the tips to light. Cooper, the instrument experimenter, has rigged the plants (and the dirt) as oscillators, the crystal table as a homemade synthesizer, while the sideboard at the end of the room bristles with switches triggering pre-recorded sounds, the result being electro-sci-fi-futuristo amid the placid suburban furnishings. That is: the soundtrack of the future imagined is to be found amidst the wreckage of the idealized yesterday.

On opening night of the exhibition, the room was darkened with various spotlights creating shadow (of the plant leaves on a white screen) and providing light source for the light-sensitive "instruments." Visitors of all ages "played" the plants. An exhibition that can both intrigue (blinding me with science) and delight (playing plants!!) visitors of all ages who eagerly interact with its elements is doing many things right, one of which is Soc. Prac.‘s erstwhile goal of making triangulating experience that encourages visitors to interact with each other. Here, it’s done so well, which is why you must take a friend, and hopefully you’ll make a new one there.

Previously, I suggested that OPS’s work is, "more sci-fi/speculative even than its sounds and means would suggest…the utopian and even quasi-mystical plot line minus the ominous, culturally critical overtones (and with a dose of winking/joyful just good fun)." If utopian quasi-mysticism and presence of crystal sounds New Agey to you, you’d be right on track with OPS’s latest concerns. And why not revisit the high water mark of hopefulness and individual agency-meets-expansive spirituality that is the New Age?

After all, OPS is not the only arts group balancing on the fulcrum between idealized futures past and utopian/dystopian tomorrows. In Texas, see Totally Wreck; in Brooklyn, Lizzy Wetzel, and of course there’s Assume Vivid Astro Focus. In Portland, see: Weird Fiction (esp. their GIF Economy, on now), and Bethany Ides’ recent Third Side night of performance at PWNW where Emma Lipp, Corrina Repp, Erin Perry, Lindsay Kaplan, and the Glitterhearts rocked a sweet future-nostalgic ritual.

There’s something in the air.