Through drawing out the various acts of erasure that had occurred to the space throughout recorded history, the project sought to explore the notion that the loss of history and identity the building itself had experienced as it became part of the institution exists as part of a larger and more systematic loss of identity and character in the area.
Part of Art, building at the Portland State University School of Art + Design, January 2014
Within a few decades it will be the center of life and stir. Old men will sit to rest on its steps, and playful children climb to the summit.
Those expected to assemble there never would while it stood over the city in its completed form. The statue was so completely forgotten that the exact year in which it disappeared is unknown. Around the vacant, unmarked pedestal, homes began to fill the hilltop and obscured the view that was to have drawn crowds to it.
In being forgotten, though, the site at last began to fulfill its purpose. Material traces of the neighboring residents making new use of the pedestal, mainly as a place to smoke, are littered about it. In 2013, the language of the pamphlet acknowledging the public’s role in giving the site a monumental purpose was returned to it as a rededication, written on a found cigarette butt beside a bench at the foot of the empty plinth.
The earliest western coffee shops weren’t about coffee, but conversation—visitors would pay a one-cent charge to get in, then spend their day talking with some of the greatest intellectuals of the time while coffee was provided on the house. Penny Universities eventually disappeared, but “Take-A-Penny Leave-A-Penny University” reintroduced them to modern Portland (a city, coincidentally enough, whose name came from the toss of a penny) and into an atmosphere in which profits from student loan repayments are greater than oil company profits.
Both the expert and the inexpert alike were invited to discuss subjects of interest to them while drinking free coffee, acting as educators and students without a formal institution as the interface for pedagogical hierarchy in the exchange. Much like “Take-A-Penny, Leave-A-Penny” trays themselves, the event was essentially free and the costs shouldered among participants instead of students alone.
Cities are built foundationally on maps, and those maps survive as the urban fabric often beyond they do otherwise as documents. Portland’s first map, drawn in 1844, set up the city’s layout, but was itself lost and forgotten outside of the street grid it laid out within the city’s first two decades.
Drawing inspiration from Jorge Luis Borges’ “On Exactitude In Science,” Schumacher mapped the site of what was intended to be the city’s first permanent structure—a small shanty situated at the northernmost edge of the grid—and reprinted the landscape at its actual scale, representing the place that is itself the last piece of evidence of the lost map as its own map.
Like that first cabin, which had been carried away in pieces by floodwaters, visitors to the lecture could pull spreads from the book and carry them off with them to their respective cities, dissolving the map and the cabin again much as Borges’ fictional map was dissolved into the landscape it represented.
A new palimpsest from two sides being included for a show at Kleven Contemporary back in Las Vegas based on used books and the inadvertently editorial marks they pick up over time. The first 17 pages from this edition from 1956 has been recopied, excising of all content and context but for what was noted by previous owners as important, along with their direct additions and commentary within the margins.
Exhibition and performance at Portland State University’s Art Building Lobby & MK Galleries: April 30–May 10, 2012
In Borges’ “The Book of Sand,” the narrator describes the most unique book in existence: written in a language unknown, no page passed and remembered could ever be relocated—the words in the book were no more permanently affixed to the page than sand is to any point in the landscape.
Built in a hostile desert for travelers and a never-settled populace, the ever-shifting nature of the city is the only permanence Las Vegas has. As an impermanent geography that is forever in transit, the desert sand always underfoot is the ultimate Las Vegan. It even attains preciousness as the thing that survives demolitions to be fenced off after places looming on the cliff of historicity were removed.
Book of Sand attempted to organize the city’s past, present, and future into the permanently temporary structures of tourism and historical study in the contexts of academia. The two week performance of A Dictionary of Displaced Names recorded identities and contexts of places destroyed in graphite as shibboleths that visitors could add to or erase from while sitting across from the artist-editor, making for a text whose potential to shift mirrored that of Borges’ story.
During the two-week long performance of the Dictionary of Displaced Names, both Schumacher and his visitors acted as source and platen simultaneously, tracing with graphite out of recollection and source the text left behind by terms no longer defined in the landscape. The Dictionary, arranged as a dictionary of place names, follows the format’s core idea to pull together terms from a specific human landscape—the origins of street names, geospatial features, and important points—and couples them contextually back with their meanings. Perhaps appropriately for Las Vegas, too, rather than telling a place’s history in an tightly organized, well-structured manner, the place-name dictionary instead sprawls across a thousand cul-de-sacs of narrative, haphazardly woven into each other with little consideration of their neighbors.
Wholly composed on semi-opaque vellum pages usually reserved to protect plates in old books, the index of the Dictionary becomes the margins; white space can be reclaimed by participants with little more than an erasure, and with it the facts as the artist proposed them could be rewritten, misremembered, distorted for either more or less accuracy. It existed not solely as a repository for fixed, dead information tattooed permanently onto a page in ink, but like a wiki: growing, changing, and expanding infinitely to suit every possible experience. Dictionary’s malleability is a representation of both the wiki and history itself as they exist with humanity: always being warped, torn apart, and defaced by an anonymous, faceless mob only sometimes armed with actual information, but more often with the tools of memory and other accessible generated forms of identity.
The oldest hotel in Las Vegas still as recognizable to its creators as it is today isn’t glitzy. It isn’t glamorous. And the closest thing it has to a glittering light is a streetlamp the city sloppily jammed through the arcaded two story veranda that shields the sidewalk from a long-since tamed desert sun.
It’s historic status revoked at the owner’s request, what now might best be called the “City Block Redevelopment Opportunity” after the banner affixed to it stands vacant. Unable to be honored on site with a plaque in the way most historic buildings are, surveying monuments—nearly invisible discs that draw out cities in implied lines— linked a front wall of the building with a plaque in a gallery space. Both the plaque and the survey monuments, made out of graphite and dust respectively, implied the fragility of the site, the building, and the honor bestowed on it.
Using the National Register of Historic Places listing statement for the building reinterpreted through the degradation of multiple generations of photocopies, a new document was created that combined the original with the narrative of its time after being de-historicized.
One of the oddities of participatory exhibition projects is that the only participants that can contribute are, in effect, in one place. That isn’t true of Las Vegans, though. They’re dispersed, and so what information, disinformation, facts, and nonsense they have to contribute often are left out of records.
"A Past Rewritten," the preface to theDictionary of Displaced Namesand Schumacher’s graduate thesis paper, was collaboratively live-editable online for the duration of the exhibition, projected on a central wall. Whenever visitors added or removed something to the text online or in the exhibition space, all copies were immediately updated. While the text could simply be read, it was frequently edited both online and on-site.
At the close of the exhibition, the document’s final edits were collected and bound into a single folio alongside the original text as Schumacher’s required graduate thesis book. Owing to the inherent sense of destructiveness at all stages of the project, the volume was printed onto pages of Eaton’s Corrasable Bond, a powder-coated erasable typewriter paper that, when bound together, begins to rub against itself, erasing each page’s contents.
“The Autzen’s corner of block 199 is no exception. The house that stood here for 70 years is today reduced to a picture in a hallway to pass by, a strange Victorian thing that doesn’t make sense. The few clapboard homes and brick apartments like it that remain are indistinguishable filler for the alleyways between the cast concrete walls, no older or more significant than the rest of the landscape. To a person walking down Broadway, the cast concrete and glass walls seem so permanent, but eternally so. They will always will be, and always were. That house couldn’t exist here, because we can’t let go of the freeway and the college and the things particular to our experiences that could be leveled as easily as that house was in 1966. It may be, as Stegner writes, ‘impossible to be unconscious of or indifferent to space’ for Westerners. How often, though, are we conscious upon entering this space that its footprint is the size of a home, or that countless other lost places are tucked just beneath us as we walk through these halls?
"The house has eroded from this plot of land, and its memory has eroded from our sense of this neighborhood. What’s left of a place whose photographs and other artifacts lack broad significance enough to be cherished and saved into archives? Our present means of entry to its existence, however flawed, are halted and the place shifted even further from possibility. How could it have mattered to anyone if they never photographed it, we wonder, and decide it isn’t deserving of our remembrance as well. And, because of it, our ability to empathize with the fact that seeming perpetuity of the ground we stand on too will be interrupted and our equally nomadic successors will be unable to comprehend our lives and our connection with this place. The last ghostly outlines of our predecessors’ lives are scattered away with the swing of our boot as we walk through, and without a continuity of people and places to settle new visitors, no one that follows us would know it had ever been any different. The lines in sand are a means to entry to the little house every bit as flawed as a photograph or bronze plaque, but whose ease of erasure I hope illustrates how lossy remembrance can be over time and between visitors.
"As Robert Smithson noted of his non-sites, ‘the [gallery’s] room reminds us of the limitations of our condition,’ but that is not entirely the case here. The house within this room reminds us of the limitations of our positioning within causal time—for what few steps we can take into the house are through the demarcations of the walls, crumbling and scattering a place that is already dust. It also reminds us of the scale of the gallery’s present space, large enough to fit nearly the entire contents of the home of dozens of people over seven decades.
"Stegner writes of ‘every city’s edge’ as being the divide between civic life and the endless, timeless arid stretches that make up most of the West, the sunset into which the wandering hero always rides. But time complicates boundaries like this because the edges are everywhere, unevenly shorn and layered throughout its stream; the edge of a city is at any moment at any place within it waiting to be forgotten—waiting for the places we find holy to be scattered and swept away."