Coming Soon to Suyama Space

The Stranger, August 21, 2007

By Jen Graves

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I got a sneak preview last Friday of Portland-based sculptor Mike Rathbun’s giant, eye-popping installation Geographical Coordinates: N47°36.878’ W122°20.788’. It opens at Suyama Space September 10. [UPDATE: The artist has decided to drop “Geographical Coordinates” from the title. And while the show opens September 10, there is a public reception at the gallery September 7 at 5 pm and an artist talk at noon September 8.]

Since 1995, when Rathbun made a 70-mile solo voyage across Lake Superior in a handmade sailboat, he has been making objects titled by their geographical coordinates. (This one refers, for instance, to the precise location of Suyama Space.)

It’s a plane that rests (having crashed?) on a floor of waves, in a forest of nettles that extends all the way to the ceiling. The gallery is hoping to find a way to let people walk inside the installation despite its steep edges and the pointy black thorns, which would be ideal, because navigating the wavy floor with your flat feet is transporting.

It facilitates the effect Rathbun has said he’s going for, of creating an experience that’s specific to a place and time, but senseless and dislocated and larger, too, like a dream. Here’s a passage from his faculty page at Lewis & Clark College, where he teaches:

I am trying to find Epiphanies. These are moments when for reasons that I can not explain, I seem to be connected to something outside of myself. This happens when a set of circumstances arise and are triggered by something: a song, a view, an idea. I then feel an emotional swell that is so profound that it becomes physical. I experience a moment of clarity; clarity about what I don’t know. It is a glimpse of something that seems to be the most important thing! It is like something that is up and just to the right of my vision and when I turn in that direction it seems to move and keep pace with my turning. Then another set of circumstances cloud it and it is gone. The feeling lingers and leaves me with a hope and a feeling that it is something bigger than I am. It is like waking from a dream. The longer I am awake the less I remember, and the more I try to remember the less sense it makes. But, even after the specifics of the dream are gone, the way it made me feel can last for a very long time. What is that thing, that clarity?