Thirty Times a Minute @ large in PDX

Thirty Times a Minute @ large in PDX

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Images courtesy of the artist (top) SW 3rd Ave & SW Oak ST (bottom 2) Reed College 

I met artist Colleen Plumb a few evenings back in downtown Portland. I was watching the elephants from her film Thirty Times a Minute sway across the grey stone walls of the Armory Building. A moment after we began to talk, the generator running the projector stopped and she had to scramble back up the ladder and onto roof of Little Big Burger to nudge it back to life. Such are the perils of the guerrilla projectionist.     

Elephants pepper so many childhood memories in the form of first trips to the zoo, playground equipment, and toys. They feature in films and as political mascots. In western culture, is there another image that better represents the exotic and the familiar at once, as the casual consumption of this massive creature from half a world away?

Plumb takes an unflinching and often heartbreaking look at our elephant obsession. Thirty Times a Minute explores elephants in captivity. Since 2009, the artist has traveled to fifty of the seventy-five zoos in the United States that keep elephants, making video of them exhibiting what biologists refer to as stereotypic behavior, also called “weaving.” Only captive elephants exhibit weaving, which includes rhythmic rocking, swaying, swinging the trunk, head bobbing, stepping back and forth, or pacing. She theorizes that this behavior might be caused in part by boredom, noting that in the wild elephants can travel up to 50 miles a day and live in large social groups.

The thing I found most interesting about the film was that, despite how truly miserable most of these elephants appeared, the people being captured as spectators continued to fall under the spell of seeing a life-sized elephant in person. Their faces transformed, eyes widening in wonder, lips curving in half smiles as they stopped to look. Recently, Plumb has begun to screen this work outside of a typical gallery setting, projecting on several buildings around her hometown of Chicago as well as during her visits to Portland.

What then is the relationship between those spectators at the zoo and the unsuspecting pedestrians that encounter the film being projected on a massive scale in an urban landscape? Is the wonder the same or different?    

video taken by Josephine Zarkovich

You can see Thirty Times a Minute and a selection of Plumb’s photography at Blue Sky Gallery through Sunday May 3rdhttp://www.blueskygallery.org/exhibition/colleen-plumb/#1

Find out more about Colleen Plumb on the artist’s website http://www.colleenplumb.com/

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