Lightly Illegal: A Letter from the Most Elegant Public Bathroom in Southeast Portland
- Suddenly: Where We Live Now
- Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Portland
- 26 August to 5 October 2008
The following are thoughts written in response to the conversations I had, both public and private, around Suddenly: Where We Live Now, a project by curator Stephanie Snyder and writer Matthew Stadler that exists as an exhibition, a series of texts, and a reader. In addition, the project included meals, screenings, readings, panels, and symposia organized by Snyder and Stadler, all inspired by the writings of German urban planner Thomas Sieverts. The exhibition opened at the Cooley Gallery at Reed College in September 2008, travelled to the Pomona College Museum of Art in January 2009, and will disperse and travel to locations around the world over the next several years. As an artist in the exhibition, I was present at many of the Suddenly events and met most of the participants.
After the Suddenly panel discussion, in Room 315 of Reed College’s Elliot Hall, I wanted to talk to the participants involved, but I needed to get some of the ideas in my head down on paper. I ducked into the first bathroom I saw to make notes. I stood writing at a chest-high marble shelf next to a window overlooking elegant grounds surrounded by forest. The light rain made everything misty and the air smelled clean. I chose the bathroom for privacy, but what I got was something closer in spirit to a cabin at the MacDowell Colony. This formal bathroom—teal walls, oak paneling—was so unfamiliar that I felt out of context, and my senses seemed heightened. It occurred to me that the bathroom was a tiny model of the exhibition Suddenly, which addresses the world as it is and asks us to make sense of it all. Though clear in hindsight, the answer to “what is happening?” is slippery in real time. This disorientation is mirrored throughout the Suddenly exhibition, from the lack of wall labels to the poetic—rather than purely informative—curatorial statement. This sense of uncertainty seems apt, as it is the operating principle by which we live now.
Matthew Stadler invited about fifty guests for dinner and conversation between Thomas Sieverts and architectural historian Aaron Betsky about the new shape of cities in an abandoned parking lot in Beaverton, Oregon. The overgrown, oddly bucolic lot belongs to Goodwill Industries, which gave our group official permission to assemble, eat, and drink on their property that night. During the conversation following the meal, Sieverts pointed out that if the event were held in a German suburb, it would be done without permit or permission, in a manner he defined as “lightly illegal.” Because permits or official sanction are unnecessary in Germany, gatherings like our dinner are legally ambiguous and unlikely to draw the attention of the police.
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About this Article
Lightly Illegal: A Letter from the Most Elegant Public Bathroom in Southeast Portland was first published in Fillip 9 in Winter 2009. For more articles from this issue, see the Table of Contents.
Molly Dilworth is a painter and curator who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Her work was recently featured in the exhibition Molly Dilworth: Dispersion at the Feldman Gallery, Portland.
The views expressed in Fillip are not necessarily those of the editorial board or the Projectile Publishing Society.
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