August 2, 2005, with Randy Gragg, writer, and Ron Paul, chef and activist, music by The Watery Graves.
How have local land use politics shaped a new food culture in Portland? This evening, Randy Gragg, architecture and urban planning critic for The Oregonian newspaper, and Ron Paul, of the city's Office for Sustainable Development, discuss Portland's land use politics and the new possibilities they have shaped.
September 4, 2005, with Lawrence Rinder, curator, Laurie Reid, painter, Dodie Bellamy, writer, and Kevin Killian, writer (all friends), music by Andrew Kaffer.
Art & Friendship: Does friendship shape aesthetic sensibility? Is art better understood by friends? If art means one thing to friends and another to strangers, which meanings should we favor? Can we love the art of those we hate? Can we be friends with those whose art offends us?
September 21, 2005, with Walid Raad, artist, and Stephanie Snyder, curator, music by White Rainbow.
In the exhibition, Mapping Sitting, Walid Raad and Akram Zaatari use historical archives of portrait photos as material for new artistic projects. Who speaks through these pictures? Where does power lie in the long history of these photos and the place we find them in today? Is history illuminated when we repurpose it? Can it be seen or understood at all if it is not repurposed? Whose history is this?
October 2, 2005, with Wayne Koestenbaum, writer, music by Lucky Dragons.
Poetry, Food, and Exhaustion: An intriguing title has been given to this event, but it doesn't really tell us anything about what lies ahead. It is simply a marker for our intention to delve into intriguing questions. The actual subjects of tonight's conversation will be as surprising, wide-ranging, and difficult to summarize as the contents of our guests marvelous books. They include: Ode to Anna Moffo and other poems; The Queen's Throat; Jackie Under My Skin; The Milk of Inquiry; Model Homes; Cleavage: Essays on Sex, Stars, and Aesthetics; and a novel, Moira Orfei in Aigues Mortes.
November 14, 2005, with Pablo de Ocampo, director of the Independent Publishing Resource Center, music by Thanksgiving.
Why make zines? Can modest runs of self-made printed matter provoke broad discussions or only narrow ones? Can they reach strangers or only friends? Are some thing possible only on a small scale? Also: What is it like to be artist, administrator, and audience? Is this an imperfect stage on the way toward working exclusively as one or another of these? Or, is this a viable, perhaps new, pattern of collectivity? How has the cultural productivity of Portland been enabled or suppressed by this increasingly common circumstance?
December 13, 2005, with Matthew Stadler, writer, and Stephanie Snyder, curator, music by YACHT.
A dinner and wines from Allan Stein, a novel by Matthew Stadler. With Stephanie Snyder in conversation with Matthew Stadler about fiction, novels, and their relevance to the civic imagination.
January 22, 2006, with Anne Focke, director of Grantsmakers in the Arts, music by Calvin Johnson.
"Especially together, the words 'executive' and 'director' imply a kind of leadership that hasn't come naturally to me. As a kid the image I had of a 'leader' never felt like me: leaders liked taking the microphone and giving rousing speeches, acting like marshals leading troops or politicians persuading voters. They were fast, articulate, single-minded, clear — fascinating traits, but not strengths of mine. Concepts I associated with 'leadership' — control, power, authority — made me uncomfortable. Early on I was interested in whether power and control could be absorbed by a larger group. Being more absorbed in the larger fabric, I thought, might help 'steering' become one function among many, rather than a single, concentrated, more important and isolated position." — Anne Focke
February 28, 2006, DISH with Daniel Duford and Lucien Samaha, artists, music by Drakkar Sauna.
In a slight departure, tonight’s back room won’t consider the work of our guests, it will actually comprise that work. You are now part of an exhibition called DISH, curated by Nan Curtis and Stephanie Snyder. The fifty handmade pots set before you (created by Portland artist Daniel Duford and collectively entitled Viable Seed) each contain a fragment of a graphic narrative that will be exposed through the collective act of our feast. New York/Beirut artist Lucien Samaha—obsessive photographer of the everyday—joins us to capture the pots’, and the feast’s, literary, culinary and social rituals. Samaha’s picture-taking explores and, in part, will constitute the odd moments, stolen glances, exquisite gestures, and bleeding sensations of the evening. Tonight there will be poetry and food, music, memory, belief, and myth. The pots and the photographs will soon reunite at the Feldman Gallery + Project Space at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, where a replica of this room on this night will be built to host the material ruins of the evening and the mise en scene of the feast. From March 2nd through April 15th, the exhibition invites viewers into the memory of a recently hovering past to entertain possibilities for the future. On April 11th a second back room feast will be held inside this gallery replica.
March 13, 2006, with Lawrence Weschler, writer, music by Jonathan Esquibel.
Lawrence Weschler has been a close observer of the echoes and adjacencies that history delivers, between texts and paintings, politics and art, the man-made and that which we seem to merely discover. He is sensitive to texture and has a keen apprehension of form, wherever it may appear. Weschler recomposes these things in clear, direct prose that offers readers the world, but rendered manageable, thinkable, and workable. In this way, the most far-reaching, beautiful, and often horrifying aspects of living are brought to mind in texts that enable us to live more consciously with our eyes open wide. Weschler’s books include Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, The Passion of Poland, Calamities of Exile: Three Nonfiction Novellas, Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders, Vermeer in Bosnia, and, most recently, Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences. Among the questions we will pursue tonight are: What is composition? Is depth an illusion? Is it useful in art? Is it a progressive political concept? Should we invest our time and energy in books?
April 11, 2006, DISH II with Daniel Duford, artist, and Stephanie Snyder and Nan Curtis, curators, music by Mise en Abyme.
At the back room on February 28 we ate lamb stew from 53 bowls made by Daniel Duford. The bowls, and Lucien Samaha's photo and video documentation of the evening, have been installed as a month-long exhibition in the Feldman Gallery by curators Nan Curtis and Stephanie Snyder. Tonight we bring our feast into the gallery. How are our pleasures and conversation changed by this space? Who has authority or license inside the gallery walls? Whose party is this? Our conversation with the artists and curators will look at the changed relations and meanings that the gallery brings. Are the bowls changed by the gallery? Who gets to say what the bowls mean and how they can be used? Is the documentation ancillary or primary? Are the bowls different here than when set on your table at home?
April 23, 2006, with Gore Vidal, writer, music by Stephen Malkmus.
Gore Vidal chose writing over politics because “unfortunately, nature had equipped me to be a writer.” Publishing a groundbreaking and controversial novel, The City and the Pillar (his third book), at age 23 assured his exile from high office. Yet his writing has been deeply political. Vidal uses literature to challenge the ruling class. His seven-volume history of the United States, a series of novels, animates the hidden currents of power that have shaped our country. His ribald parodies of American culture, in books such as Messiah, Duluth, Kalki, and Myra Breckenridge, defy genre even as they speak directly to us of the most commonplace things: sex, celebrity, and demagoguery. Vidal makes no false division between high and low. Unique among American writers, he has succeeded at every level of the culture, shaping the popular imagination through his best-selling novels and through television, Hollywood, and Broadway. Any question will provoke a fascinating reply from Vidal, but tonight we’ll focus on a handful of books and pursue some of the following questions: Can a book get someone elected? Can literature help preserve (or revive) the republic? If we live in a visual age, dominated by films, why write books and not make movies? Is there an American literature? Does the academy help cultivate a future for literature? Is celebrity a useful tool for a writer? Given the challenges that lie ahead, how should we educate our children?
April 26, 2006, with Gregory Crewdson, photographer, music by Valet.
Gregory Crewdson is an artist and teacher whose cinematic still photographs are exhibited widely in the United States and Europe. What is the confluence of people and resources that makes Crewdson's work possible? How does the artifact of the photograph relate to the work's elaborate and essentially cinematic production methods? What constitutes the "obsessive moments" that Crewdson describes as his pursuit? What kinds of stories are being told in Crewdson's work and how do they change over time?
September 14, 2006, 6:30 pm at Simpatica: Sutapa Biswas, with live music by Zach Reno performing as Ghosting.
Presented in collaboration with the Cooley Gallery at Reed College and TBA:06. From the Cooley Gallery website: “Educated at the Royal College of Art, and exhibited at the Tate Modern, London, and the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies, Sutapa Biswas creates dreamy, metaphorical journeys that re-imagine culture and family through diverse time periods and works of art…Casting family members and friends, Biswas lays bare the deeply personal experience of growing up a stranger in a strange land."
September 21, 2006, 6:00 pm at Simpatica: Mary Gaitskill, with live music by The Watery Graves.
Presented in collaboration with Literary Arts. Former Guggenheim fellow Mary Gaitskill is the author of a story collection, Bad Behavior (1988), and two novels, Two Girls, Fat and Thin (1991) and Veronica (2005). Her stories and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, Nest, Esquire, The Best American Short Stories (1993), and The O. Henry Prize Stories (1998).
November 4, 2006, 6:30 pm at 728 SW First Avenue: Lisa Robertson, writer, and Hadley + Maxwell, artists, with live music by Dave Longstreth (Dirty Projectors).
Poet and essayist Lisa Robertson (Rousseau's Boat, The Weather, Office for Soft Architecture) and artists Hadley + Maxwell all lived and worked in Vancouver, BC, — where a strong history of well-published occasional writing about visual art helped shape a robust culture and economy of visual art practice — during formative parts of their lives. They influenced each other in numerous ways. We will speak to them about the place writing takes, or can take, in visual art practice and a city's art culture. (Dinner planned and prepared by Seth Lorinczi of Valentine's.)
How can we write about art? Is writing about art written for anyone in particular? For the artist? For the consumer? For the writer? Who is qualified to write about art? Can a public discourse or a community be created or served by writing about art? What are some great writings about art? What are some great works of art to write about? What is the role of writing within a visual art practice?
January 26, 2007, 6:30 pm, House Spirits Distillery (Medoyeff) 2025 SE 7th Avenue: John O'Brian, food by Naomi Pomeroy, with live music by Adrian Orange.
Art historian and curator John O’Brian was the editor of Clement Greenberg’s papers and a close associate of Greenberg. For the back room he has written an essay on the Portland Art Museum’s hanging of Greenberg’s collection in their new Mark Building. O’Brian was also founder and editor of Collapse, a seminal cultural journal in Vancouver, B.C., where he now lives and teaches.
No one is so useful to the living as are the dead; what uses have been made of Clement Greenberg, and what uses do you suggest Portland and its art museum make? What story does the Greenberg collection tell? How can the museum use that story to shape a vital engagement with contemporary art?
February 24, 2007, noon, at the Reed College Student Union, 3203 SE Woodstock Boulevard: Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell at a special "back room brunch for kids and grown-ups," with live music by Karl Blau.
Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, authors and illustrator of The Edge Chronicles, took part in a spirited discussion with interested kids and grown-ups about their remarkable book series. Chris led the kids in some drawing and showed them how he makes his remarkable pieces for the books. Brunch was mac 'n' cheese and pancakes. Karl Blau rocked the house.
Friday, March 9, 2007, 6:30 pm, Podkrepa Hall, 2116 North Killingsworth Street, 705-9450: Marc Joseph in conversation with Cooley Gallery curator Stephanie Snyder. Food by Naomi Pomeroy, with live music and video projection by Jesse Durost.
This evening we welcome photographer Marc Joseph and celebrate publication of his newest work, The Culture Issue, a 24-page full-color chapbook commissioned and published by the back room. Copies of The Culture Issue given to everyone who comes to dinner (and now available for sale (together with the back room's five other original commissioned chapbooks) on our site's publications page.
Marc Joseph's recent work has focused on book and record shops, framing glimpses of old and new objects as they float through and arrange themselves within the logic of the market, not the abstract logic of art as commodity, but the specific logic of the corner store, the small, peculiar places that expose us to the books and records that matter to us, and which shape our ways of seeing. Joseph explains, "I'd been thinking about what made me look at things in a certain way, and such an important part of it started with books and records, and in book and record stores." In his book, New and Used, Joseph's large-scale, richly detailed color images expose what curator Stephanie Snyder has called "the formative and sometimes transgressive encounters that shape our interests and congeal our sense of identity."
Friday, April 27, 2007, 7:00 pm, Podkrepa Hall, 2116 North Killingsworth Street, 705-9450: John Trombold and Peter Donahue, on the publication of Reading Portland. Food by Naomi Pomeroy, with live music by Carrie Brownstein (ex-Sleater-Kinney).
John Trombold and Peter Donahue are the editors of Reading Portland and, previously, Reading Seattle, anthologies that collect the texts elicited by these cities (dating back to their founding). Both books offer a glimpse of that most outlandish and unlikely of things: the willful self-invention of a city. They document the evolving narratives that, to begin, almost single-handedly constituted these cities, and that now function as essential tools for enacting and inspecting the meanings and possibilities of two very divergent places.
We will discuss the way a city writes itself, the ways that writing can shape the future of a city, and the marked differences Trombold and Donahue found between the literature of Portland and the literature of Seattle.
Among the writers collected are Ursula K. Le Guin, Chuck Palahniuk, Sallie Tisdale, John Reed, D. Lee Williams, Katherine Dunn, Walt Curtis, Charles D'Ambrosio, Carl Abbott, Kathryn Hall Bogle, Michael Munk, Beverly Cleary, Robin Cody, Lawson Fusao Inada, Rudyard Kipling, Joaquin Miller, Sandy Polishuk, Gary Snyder, Kim Stafford, Peter Rock, Elizabeth Woody, Sherman Alexie, Jonathan Raban, Betty MacDonald, John Okada, Monica Sone, Richard Hugo, Matt Briggs, Rebecca Brown, Murray Morgan, Nancy Wilson Ross (some of whom will be in attendance), and many more.
Friday, June 22, 2007, 7:00 pm, Podkrepa Hall, 2116 North Killingsworth Street, 705-9450: Tom Spanbauer, writer, in conversation with Matthew Stadler. Food by Morgan Brownlow and Michael Hebberoy, with live music by Phil Elverum (aka The Microphones, aka Mount Eerie).
Tom Spanbauer is the author of four novels, including The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon and, most recently, Now Is the Hour. He is renowned for the lyrical concision of his prose and an unerring ability to expose the hardest truths of his characters through the sympathetic enactment of their own often broken speech, what Spanbauer calls "burnt tongue." His focused attention to the fugitive ways the heart speaks, through language and through actions, has animated all four of his novels with a depth of intimacy and love that is unique in American letters.
Monday, July 16, 2007, 6:30 pm, Book Release Party, Podkrepa Hall, 2116 North Killingsworth Street.
Book Release party for The Back Room: an anthology. Celebrating two years of adventurous programming, the back room has now published a 500-page anthology of essays and art from past back room guests. The anthology collects original work, commissioned by the back room, from Randy Gragg, Wayne Koestenbaum, Lisa Robertson, John O'Brian, Stephanie Snyder, Barbara Verchot, Larry Rinder, Dodie Bellamy, and many others.
This evening we celebrated the release of the anthology with a topsy-turvy DIY version of the back room that included live music by Privacy (Laurel Knapp), Bobby Birdman, and The Righteous and Harmonious Fists, plus open mic interviews (anyone in the room was invited interview anyone else for five minutes), general mayhem, and great food by Bertha Mendoza of Taqueria Tres Hermanos.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007, 6:30 pm, an evening about Friendship, with CHRISTOPHER ZINN and BILL RAY, live music by GAY DECEIVERS, food by Bertha Mendoza. Podkrepa Hall, 2116 North Killingsworth Street
A friend is a second self.
Happiness depends upon ourselves.
-- Aristotle, Greek critic, philosopher, physicist, & zoologist (384-22 BCE)
What is more titillating than the romance of a new friendship, or more heart-breaking
than losing the confidence of a beloved friend? A pervasive nostalgia has deflated public
expression of this astonishingly important aspect of our lives. Friendships transform
regularly, shifting and morphing and often leading to erotic desire and dreams of
jealousy and revenge. For this very special evening, the back room has invited two
distinguished minds and dear friends--Christopher Zinn and Bill Ray--to share a public
conversation on the nature of Friendship, perhaps the most precious and precarious of
Christopher Zinn grew up in Pine City, NY, and was educated at Georgetown University and
at New York University, where he received his Ph.D. in English and American Literature.
He taught Humanities and American literature at Reed College, directed the college's
American Studies program, and was Fulbright Senior lecturer in Turkey in 1993-94. In May
1997, he was appointed Executive Director of the Oregon Council for the Humanities, and
continued in that position until 2006. He has also taught cultural history at the Oregon
College of Art and Craft, and he lectures and writes frequently on American literature
and culture. Currently, he teaches humanities at the Portland Waldorf High School.
Bill Ray teaches French, Literary Theory, and the Humanities at Reed College, where he
holds the John B. and Elizabeth M. Yeon Chair in French and the Humanities. In addition
to books on contemporary literary theory, the history of the French and English novel,
and, most recently, the concept of culture, Bill has written articles on literary theory
and the literature of the eighteenth century. A graduate of Wabash College and the
University of Chicago, Bill has also taught at the State University of New York and the
University of Oregon.
The evening commenced and concluded with the exquisite sounds of Gay Deceivers. Fresh
off their PICA TBA performance, and right before the release of their debut album, Gay Deceivers
(who are Haley Weiner and Sarah Gottesdiener) have known each other since they were five
years old in Hartford, CT, and been a band in various incarnations since they were
sixteen years old. They played songs they wrote six months ago, and songs they wrote
nine years ago.
Bertha Mendoza, of North Portland's Taqueria Chiquita, served a sit-down meal of her specialty, birria (goat stew), hand-made tortillas, barbacoa (spicy beef), pollo verde, a suite of home-made salsas, and rice and beans. Wine, beer, soda, and El Presidente brandy (and tips) all included.
January 11, 2008, 6:30 pm, Podkrepa Hall, 2116
North Killingsworth Street
PLAZM / Portland's most notorious independent art, design
and publishing organ sheds the office for a back room evening about design,
language, survival, protest and collaboration! PLAZM founder and creative
director Joshua Berger converses with PLAZM magazine editors Tiffany Lee Brown
and Jon Raymond, and back room host Stephanie
Snyder. Come discover why this evening is affectionately titled: Wives,
Mistresses and Prostitutes.
Due to advance interest, we are posting this event early. As usual, a sumptuous
feast and glorious music will complete the evening. Chef and musical guests
will be announced soon, here.
Joshua Berger is a founder and creative director of Plazm. Berger
has been recognized by numerous design publications and award shows. He received
the Gold Medal at the Leipzig Bookfair for his collaboration with John C Jay on the
book Soul of the Game (Melcher Media/Workman). His most recent
projects include the art direction and design of ESPN's Ultimate Highlight
Reel (Melcher Media/ESPN Books) and development of the web site www.anti-war.us,
dedicated to distribution of anti-war graphics to activists globally.
Jon Raymond is a writer living in Portland. He is the author of The Half-Life,
a novel, and Old Joy, a story that became a feature film. He
serves as an editor at Plazm magazine, and an associate editor at Tin House magazine.
His writing appears regularly in Artforum, Bookforum, and other publications.
Tiffany Lee Brown is a writer
and interdisciplinary artist based in Portland and at www.magdalen.com.
She co-edits Plazm magazine and is the founding editor of 2GQ, a literary and performance
manifestation of 2 Gyrlz Performative Arts. Tiffany has presented work at
Wordstock, the Enteractive Language Festival, PICA's Dada Ball, and a gigantic
wedding in Tamil Nadu, South India, among other venues. Her new project, A
Compendium of Miniatures, with book artist Clare Carpenter, is available at
Learn more at: www.plazm.com
As usual, a sumptuous feast and
glorious music copleted the evening. Cuisine by Tastebud Farm and sounds by Tu Fawning.
The back room welcomes Cinema Project for our first film event! A communal brown bag dinner on the occasion of the exhibition Jess: To and From the
Printed Page, at the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College, May 9th–July 20th, 2008
Jess Collins, known simply as “Jess” (1923—2004) was a highly influential Bay Area painter and collage artist who emerged in the 1950s within San
Francisco’s burgeoning literary culture. A brilliant chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project, Jess abandoned his scientific career in protest of
nuclear weapons and devoted his life to art, moving to San Francisco in the late 1940s, where he met the poet Robert Duncan. The two remained life
partners until Duncan's death in 1988. In 1952, Jess, Duncan and painter Harry Jacobus, opened the King Ubu Gallery in San Francisco, which became a
center for alternative art and culture. Often working on large-scale, serial projects, Jess gradually evolved his unique method of meticulous collage
work and representational painting, incorporating both popular and esoteric source material in complex compositions. Jess collaborated extensively with
filmmakers, poets, artists, and writers, including Robert Duncan, Larry Jordan, Denise Levertov, Micheal McClure, Wallace Berman and Harry Jacobus.
This special program, organized by Cinema Project’s Jeremy Rossen and commissioned by the Cooley Gallery, brings together films that were either directly
or indirectly inspired by Jess. The films are shown in 16 mm.
Cristopher Maclaine [1958,16mm, color, sound, 6 min]
The Evolutionary Jass Band formed around 2001, with key members of the band having
been longtime members of the seminal out-rock ensemble with the notoriously large
membership, Jackie-O-Motherfucker. With a steadier (and smaller) lineup and a jazz
language as the focus, the Jefrey Brown-led ensemble slowly but steadily became one
of Portland's most unusual live bands- absolutely dedicated to a working-band family
atmosphere, their unity and focused sonic vocabulary is astonishing and immediately
accessible to their audiences. Early EJB music (the band then going as The Steele
Street Revolutionary Jass Band) revolved around crescendoes of modal, looping riffs,
recalling Ethiopian jazz-funk as well as the ecstatic vibe of 1970s afrocentric jazz
visionaries like Sunny Murray. Now, the band has incorporated even more stylistic
map-points, allowing them to manipulate a highly charged jazz language with
confidence and ease. Combining their aforementioned influences with bebop
compositional balance, Jarmuschian cinematic moodiness, torch song, New Orleans
proto-jazz, and American band music, the band is quickly forging a powerful, brave,
and singular musical voice.
What does it mean to listen—individually and collectively? To what degree
are we inspired by, and how do we respond to, the sounds of daily life?
What possibilities does listening provide for understanding—when you really
close your eyes and rely on your ears? Chicago Public Radio producer,
curator, and sound artist Julie Shapiro, along with back room sound
engineer and artist Michael McManus as her interlocutor, will engage these
questions in a very special back room evening of deliberate listening. To
our humble shores Shapiro is ferrying compelling stories and beautiful
sounds—from childhood memories of apocalyptic awareness to the glorious BBC
Radio Ballads from the 1950’s. Together we will share and discuss these
rare audio gems with Shapiro and McManus as our generous guides. Shapiro
has compiled this exploration of sonic diversity in conversation with
McManus, especially for the back room—a community of curious, devoted