bangbang

I installed “Bang-Bang” in November of 2007 at the Leftbank. The piece “Bang-Bang” was about the building’s impact on the post-WW II jazz community of Portland. During World War II, a significant number of African-American migrant workers traveled from the Southern US to the Columbia River looking for jobs in the booming war time industry. Most of them found work in the Kaiser Shipyards, and when the war ended in 1945, a majority of them stayed, establishing what we know today as North Portland. Upon settling in Portland, they brought the music and culture of Jazz with them, launching Portland as the place to see Jazz west of the Mississippi. Located just below Williams Avenue on N.E. Broadway in what is known today as the Leftbank, was The Dude Ranch, a famous jazz club in post-war Portland. The Dude Ranch was a popular club known for its nightlife and famous acts. Performing some of the most riveting music in the history of Portland Jazz were Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, and the Buddy Banks Band. Many became regular acts at The Dude Ranch, contributing to its reputation as one of the best places to hear Jazz in Portland.

The life of The Dude Ranch was short and sweet. Interracial tensions within the community, as well as a reputation for a late-night gambling and drinking, resulted in it being added to the list of controversial clubs on Williams Avenue. Unfortunately, in 1946, an accidental shooting was reported, and as quickly as it had become an established hot spot for Jazz, The Dude Ranch was shut down by city authorities. This unmistakable loss to the Jazz community shows the impact of architecture as a cultural support. This historical shooting incident aroused my interest particularly because it was just one gentleman who accidentally shot his gun, resulting in the club being closed forever, negatively affecting a whole community. I call these small yet relevant events, “micro- happenings.” As in any microcosm, a micro-happening generates a significant consequence from a rather small, insignificant event, which could happen anywhere, anytime.

The key to my interaction with the stories of The Dude Ranch was looking at how our narratives affect our surroundings, and how our surroundings influence our narratives. The installation I created for the building was in the very room where Louis Armstrong used to blow his trumpet. It was a text-specific work with the words “bang, bang” painted in red, lower-case Helvetica font, twenty feet long and about two feet high. I call these text-based responses to history ‘narrative reductions’ or historical slogans indicating a method of distilling research to its simplest point or action.