Banter, Insults, Affirmations

How many artists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

How many artists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

I jest, but amongst the pretty lights and kaleidoscope rays of embroidery thread in the Littman Gallery’s latest exhibit, Over It, there stands—for many viewers—an elephant of a question: 18 exceptionally talented artists collaborate on a project, and this is the end result?


So perhaps Over It requires some context.

This art show, showcased in the relatively new Littman Gallery on the second floor of the Smith Memorial Student Union, is a team installation. The collaborators are friends, or acquaintances at the very least. Though the group’s members hail from three advertising firms, a local paper, a local clothing company and even Portland State University faculty, most of its members have clear ties to the internationally-renowned, Portland-based advertising agency Weiden+Kennedy. These are creative minds who design commercials for Nike and Coca-Cola, invent fonts, direct the cover art for the Portland Mercury, manage fashion shows and publish books. 

Needless to say, expectations for their collaborative effort were high.

Three months of brainstorming and wine-and-cheesing in Jelly Helm Studio—the party that secured the gallery space—birthed Over It, a large-scale, needle-and-thread representation of three words originally proposed as a joke by David Neevel (of the heinously awesome

The artists who are Over It discussed the potential of BANTER, AFFIRMATIONS and INSULTS, and the possibilities were exciting.

“To me,” says Aaron Rayburn of Jelly Helm Studio, “[those three words] represent the meaningless chatter that is passed around as social interaction. Personally, I see people ‘liking’ things on Facebook, insulting one another in comments, and affirming life through passive interaction. Being ‘over it’ provides the opportunity for human-to-human interaction, giving meaning to chatter and connecting with people actively and with purpose.”

The wood-floored, white-walled Littman Gallery has been stripped of all visual obstructions, and aside from the 14.2 miles of string and 2,500 eye screws that spell our words and connect the walls to the center of the ceiling, the gallery is empty. “[It] is such an incredible space, with its light, windows and floors, that it felt most impactful to let the space itself be an element of the installation,” said Rayburn. 

Standing in the center of the gallery, a viewer can take in the entirety of the installation in a glance. On the south wall is “BANTER” in shades of blue and seafoam; on the north wall is “AFFIRMATIONS” in colors spanning the spectrum between baby butt pink and goldenrod; on the east wall is “INSULTS” in Valentine’s Day schemes. The west wall is windows, with an expansive view of Park Block greenery.

The gallery curator permitted the artists to design their own lighting, with fabulous results. The shadow play in this show may be its most interesting feature, and in combination with the taut colored threads it creates one of the most beautiful rooms to grace Portland State’s campus in the university’s history.

Aspects of this installation that seem unimpressive—the empty space, for example, or the loose thread ends that hang from the center of the ceiling—were purposeful. “In being sparse,” said Rayburn, “[Over It] is simultaneously intricate, like the arctic or a sand dune. If I were present when a viewer called it sparse my immediate reaction would be to thank them.”

And the loose threads? “It was nice to have…one spot that wasn’t planned, precise or geometric. It provided a balance that showed human fingers had been there, tying tiny knots over and over again,” Rayburn said. “It was basically a window into our process.”

Over It is a show produced by a group whose members began and remained as equals throughout. That in itself is no easy feat. And after a few hundred man-hours of installation, Over It is finally ready for Portland residents to explore.

My recommendation is to breathe it in and appreciate the visual. As with most things in life, much more love and care went into this project than one may immediately realize.

Let’s all leave the insults at the door.