Carl Klimt, National Register of Historic Places.
by Daniel J Glendening
MESA Project Space is a small gallery with a footprint of about 3’ x 4’ in the closet of artist Jim Papadopoulos’ studio apartment in SE Portland. In National Register of Historic Places, the gallery’s second exhibition, Carl Klimt transforms the small space into an apparently working office charged with the sole task of researching the history of the host building, the historic W. S. Salmon House.
The gallery houses a small desk, covered with papers and manila file folders, office stamps, an index-card phone book, pens and post-its, and a copy of the original application seeking historic designation of the house submitted to the National Register of Historic Places. A series of shelves houses more paper documents, loose-leaf and bound in file folders and accordion document cases, old VHS movies and slide carousels, floppy-disk boxes, stacks of books about Oregon history, and Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. The walls are covered with carefully placed and systematically arranged notes on pieces of paper and pink post-its, photo-copies of parcel maps and owner registrations of the building, and roughly composed photographs of architectural details and peeling wall paint.
In cinema and television there is a shorthand visual marker for the depiction of the unhinged obsessive: a wall, often in a dark, dimly-lit space, covered floor to ceiling with tacked up photographs, wrinkled Xeroxes and scribbled notes, arranged according to some unknown and esoteric system of logic, marked with symbols and shorthand known only to the person behind the accumulation. These are walls of information, meant to illuminate in a screen-readable manner the intricacies of the obsessed mind, the haphazard patterns by which a serial stalks his next text target, or by which the paranoid uncovers the mechanics of her latest conspiracy cover-up.
In Don de Lillo’s 1988 novel, Libra, Lee Harvey Oswald keep an office in the closet of the small home he shares with his wife. In this closet office, he polishes his gun, and writes communist pamphlets. He keeps the door locked at all times.
This is not to say that Klimt is, necessarily, the manic obsessive collating notes late into the night behind closed doors. The project itself is obsessive in its focus, concerned with the articulation of the history of a site, but there are places where its construction as artifice begins to show through. The telephone is inoperable, and there is some question as to whether the slide carousels and floppy disk cases in fact held any slides or floppy disks. The maps and notes on the wall may be arranged with a care that contradicts pure utility and allows aesthetic decision making into the equation.
It’s these cracks in the illusion that allow the work to begin to be something more than a simple documentation of history. National Register of Historic Places is not the thing itself, but a representation of the thing, a depiction and exploration of what history in fact is, and can be. Klimt himself said that in the process of digging through the city archives, he really didn’t learn anything about the house that wasn’t already on Wikipedia. The project becomes, then, not so much an exposure or illumination of the history of its site as an illumination of what history is in a more general sense, and, as hinted at in the selection of VHS tapes on display, Klimt identifies with the role of the Indiana Jones archaeologist, the detective of The Pink Panther Strikes Again, or the explorer/naturalist at the heart of Desert Solitaire, sifting through the detritus of the past to try to tease out the threads of the present.
It is somewhat telling that in this office Klimt has designed there are no flash drives or firewire cables, there are no computers or internet routers or video screens or compact discs. Aside from the couple VHS tapes, there is only paper. Typewritten paper, and handwritten paper, and files of paper and spiral bound paper and loose paper pinned or taped delicately to the wall.
History, in the end is paper; the past is measured in 8.5”x11” sheets.