Thursday, May 10, 2007

Another kind of performance

Pink snow season has come and gone at last, alas, in Portland – that delirious and brief time when all the flowering fruit trees are doing their thing. Big luscious clouds of pink and white line the riverbanks, and a walk down the street means you and your dog come home with festooned with cherry blossoms.

Also at this time of year, people walk around sneezing their noses off.

Along with all the floral phenoms, another performance has been unfolding for months here. Someone tell me if this is happening all over the U.S. or just in Portland.

Like many cities founded in a pre-auto era, Portland streets have iron rings imbedded into the curbs, apparently meant to provide places to hitch up horses. Several months ago, someone started making use of these relics; small plastic horses began to appear all over town, tethered to the curb by means of a wire braid looped around those old iron rings.

Eventually it turned out the ubiquitous horses were largely the work of a lone installation artist. I saw her one day downtown, being video-documented while she “dedicated” a new tethering at the corner of 12th & Washington.

At least in my neighborhood of Irvington, she inspired a lot of copycats. Soon long-disused toy models started turning up on curbs. Especially well-represented were those spooky Sparklehorse creatures that had an inexplicable vogue some years back – you know, the Disneyesque equines, fully anthropomorphized with long eyelashes, demure smiles and spun fiberglass manes and tails. On one nearby block, Sparklehorses appeared clumped together in tiny herds, glowing and glinting at you in the dark with those unreadable Mona Lisa smiles….

But toy horses are not the only things participating in the city-wide show. I’ve spotted bears, rabbits — even a few dinosaurs. No Barbies, though. I guess shackling pert little blonde effigies to the curb is a step too far into the dark side even for Portlanders…..

Anyway. There’s an odd coda to our local Happening. A month or so ago, some counter-installation artist went around Irvington on an impressively thorough safari and busted the legs off every single toy! Probably s/he did this just to be a grinch, but you know: arguably, the action does provide the logical conclusion to the original artist’s (presumed) intent. If at first the little horses reminded us of bygone days here in Portland, maybe the vandal’s response reminds us of how car culture came to change the city – and not for the better.

As if in defiance of the spoilsport’s campaign, few people have removed the broken toys. Now the horses just lay there, legless and lonesome, their painted eyes still wide open but now looking just a little surprised.