Interpreting Elk Rock Island (A Collective Selective History)

Elk Rock Island Natural Area, Portland OR, 2022

In collaboration with Ashley Yang-Thompson

Elk Rock Island is a thirty-acre park in the Willamette River, just south of Portland, Oregon. The park presents as both lovely and ordinary. Like everywhere else,however, there is a history and lore that isn’t immediately visible. For the project, student artists from a class at Portland State University visited the site, looking for clues to its history, ecology, and social contexts. The students followed up with additional research that revealed a history of sex work, gambling, and incidents of arson, as well as unique geological features and rich ecological niches particular to the site. Students created signs responding to the research. They ranged dramatically in tone and content: some vulgar and humorous, others were understated and sentimental, while others were intended just to be informative. They were installed across the island, and crammed onto a wayfinding signpost which was installed at the foot of the island. Based on student observations and research, I wrote a historical placard that served as what I termed a “collective selective history.” The installation explores the way that different forms of knowledge and experience can collectively tell the story of a place. The project was created in collaboration with Ashley Yang-Thompson.

I also designed a small publication that contains lore written by students about the island.

There was a subsequent exhibition of student work from Portland State University’s CORE arts program classes, in which the installation was featured.