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Black Meets Water

Posted by Deborah Bergman on

Spillway 1, 2014, inkjet pigment print on archival paper is part of the permanent collection of the Bonneville Dam (and displayed in the Oregon Visitor's Center).

I love the way monochrome and a little desaturation reveal the movement, structure, and contours of the forces at work in these images of water meeting an equal power: in the Columbia River Gorge.  

I appreciate the x-ray translucence and approachability that can be found here in the enormous, dangerous, and inherently inhuman--even as these same shallows and depths provide inspiration, literal power, and a mystical reminder to look beyond.  Subjects like these sit at the intersection of natural resources and transcendence.  It's a place that overrides the mind and speaks directly to being.   

 I've made my home here for almost twenty years, but I come from the New York metropolitan area.  Even in the throes of development that the Portland area is experiencing today, I hope to retain the subtle perpetual and enduring sense of wonder this land inspires in me, and humility that comes along with being a immigrant in a land that has embraced me and my inner wildness.

Even when water is still it has an inevitable and magical capacity not only to move but to change state. So when we capture its movement in a still image we are magicians, we cheat mortality, we get to keep something that cannot ever be held.

Water is always a story.

I wrote those words (slightly edited to reflect the development which is now an unavoidable major plot line in the story of Portland) a couple of years ago to describe a series of fine arts photographs I called Black Meets Water.  

They still really describe my relationship to the land of the Pacific Northwest.  Before I came here, my artistic practice was entirely word-oriented (I'm also a novelist, author of non-fiction, translators, and I've done a little spoken word too and all that began at a fairly young age).

But, like water itself, I naturally change state. At different periods, and in different environments, words or pixels (or fiber) may inspire me.

When this began to happen it was a more unusual phenomenon. That was before we acknowledged that there were beings called multi-hyphenates (thanks, Hollywood) or that artistic practices that incorporated various mediums was something commonplace.

So the Pacific Northwest, and specifically the Portland area, was the environment where creatively I began to alternate the steam of writing with the water of fiber and then the ice of digital art.

It happened almost by itself, and it was a natural process. I just followed it.

For me, in the mid 1990's when I came here, Portland was about resources and freedom and the land. It's funny to me as I look at those three words, that they are clearly universal keywords of the pioneering spirit. One of my best friends here is fourth generation Oregonian, and her daughter is fifth generation, and she would probably use those same words. So what I was doing was very universal and had been done a bazillion times before in a bazillion ways. And a bazillions times since. It's just a thing people do. I personally was just doing it artistically and internally. (No wagons, no farming.)  And around here a lot of people come and go and not just today. In the 90's and into the turn of the aughts Portland was known as Mount of Olives, which meant that people came here to rest and regenerate before they went somewhere else, although the goals were a little different than they are today.  But In my case, for some reason, the place stuck.

The resources were artistically physical.  When I came here and for a long time after you could park anywhere in the industrial district and pore through sheets of stained glass, beads, wood, recycled furniture, door handles, yarn, beekeeping supplies and almost anything else you might have a whim for.  Some, although not all, of that is still close-in-available, but you sure don't have freedom of access. If you can park there easily you thank your guardian angel and you might use a traffic app to thread your way in.

Proximity and access alone encouraged me to try things I might never have otherwise. And when I did, people were always available, willing, and delighted to help. I wasn't a child. But in that way I could be a child again.  The answer to almost any question I asked, as far as art was concerned, as far as the potential of awareness was concerned, was always, yes.

And that's how the steam in me learned how and that it certainly could turn into water, and water into ice. And then back again.

I just wanted to show you the root of me doing visual art. This is it. There are people in my life, who knew me only as steam, who regularly ask me that.

BTW, the prints in this series are prints on silver paper or on silver paper and sandwiched between sheets plexiglass, which is a method that I arrived on to show the depth in the water, but also makes them sometimes look like silver jewelry.  (Something else that I owe to the state of Oregon and the city of Portland and because when I asked people answered and no one said no.)  A little later, I hope to make a few available here.

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