An elegiac mood pervaded this exhibition of works in various mediums by Portland artist Pat Boas, a former critic for Artweek, Art Papers and artUS. Several of the serial projects use the New York Times as a source. Given the current twilight of newspapers, the artist’s meditations on the publication’s archive as communal memory stir feelings of nostalgic regret. For “Alphabet (NYT 01/01/01),” 2001-02, she created 26 transfer drawings from page one of the Jan. 1, 2001, issue of the Times, one for every letter from A to Z. Using solvent, she lifted individual letters onto silk tissue—all the A’s on the page to the first drawing, all the B’s to the second and so on—producing indecipherable echoes of a single day’s major stories. For the dozen ink drawings that make up “All the Heads on the Front Pages of the New York Times, 2001” (2001-02), Boas used each sheet, over and over, to trace contours of a whole month’s worth of people pictured in the news. The resulting palimpsests document an entire year and render everyone, from world leaders to hapless victims, uniformly anonymous and spectral. Slightly crinkled from repeated applications of ink, these delicate works suggest the fragility of knowledge, as current events demand our attention then fade into inexact memories.
Selecting images of ordinary folk from the news, Boas created the series “NYT Little People” (2008-09) to honor the subjects of human-interest stories. She portrayed these figures lovingly in gouache; they float, out of context, in each of the eight drawings in the same positions they occupied on the front page: troops in combat gear, a golfer in mid-swing, two women in burkas. Another project, “A3” (2008-09), consists of 20 digital prints scanned from page A3 of as many issues of the Times. Here Boas highlights the regular juxtaposition of diamond jewelry ads and photos of war, poverty and other disasters. Isolated and decontextualized, the pairs of dramatically contrasting images become ironic statements about the injustices inherent in global capitalism.
Turning to the physical environment, Boas posits a forest of signs, and wills herself their receptive recorder. In the beautiful video What Our Homes Can Tell Us (2007-09), she offers a different kind of news: haunting messages formed by single words serendipitously encountered. Using product labels, book spines, prescription bottles and home appliances, Boas photographs ordinary words like “complete,” “time” and “free,” presenting them individually, one after another, as found poetry. The still images, appearing slowly in sequence, produce remarkable readings as the patient viewer mentally assembles the captured words into phrases: “Your / finest / moments / before / you / precious / normal / new.” André Breton would have called this an example of objective chance, in which an individual happens upon a communication from the external world informing him of his own (as yet unconscious) desire. Boas’s exhibition—aptly titled “Record/Record,” noun and verb—revealed not only a visual artist avidly reading the paper of record, but an inspired poet presenting herself as amanuensis of a quotidian reality replete with hidden meaning.
Photo: Pat Boas: Chance Watches Over You Safe Until Tomorrrow’s Past, 2009, from the series “What Our Homes Can Tell Us,” digital inkjet print, 10 by 25 inches; at The Art Gym.