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Integrating a Burning House

Anna Gray & Ryan Wilson Paulsen

Copyright Š 2008 by Special Projects Press, Anna Gray and Ryan Wilson Paulsen All rights reserved Conceived and designed by Anna Gray and Ryan Wilson Paulsen Introduction by Stephen Cleary The Glass of Water by Wallace Stevens is reprinted without permission, and is from the collection Parts of a World. Printed in the USA

Special Projects Press P.O. Box 5221 Portland, Oregon 97208 w w w. s p e c i a l p r o j e c t s p r e s s. o r g

Integrating a Burning House

Anna Gray and Ryan Wilson Paulsen

On September 10th, 2008, a 96 year-old house on SW Cable Avenue in Portland, Oregon caught fire and burned down. The house was inhabited by Stuart Baxter, its owner of twenty years, and a couple, Anna Gray and Ryan Paulsen, who rented the first floor apartment. It was also the home of a tabby cat named Brillo Box and a black dog named Maggie. Everyone is safe. A lot is different.

Fig. 1

To our family and friends, and our friends’ and family’s friends, for picking us up again.

‘Bad Juju’ Introduction by Stephen Cleary

‘Bad juju.’ That was what my wife said when I opened the envelope, reeking of the immutable merging of smoke and water and containing remnants of the fire; family photographs melted together on one end, the binding of an ominous flip book defying our attempts at interpretation. Our eleven yearold daughter would repeat the mantra ‘at least Maggie got out,’ every time the subject of the fire was brought up. That mixture of smells always brings me back to my childhood, when my friends and I would chase the sound of fire trucks on our bicycles. We did this a lot, although we usually failed to find the source for alarm. Our pumping legs did take us to infernos in progress, where the spectacle was punctuated by the cracking of weakened support beams, breaking glass and exploding aerosol cans. Other times, we would stumble upon a fire’s aftermath, mesmerized by the devastation and apparent randomness of misfortune. Looking back, there were many fires, although I’m not sure why. Maybe, because it was the 1970’s. The combination of cocktail parties, cigarettes and shag carpeting made for a particularly volatile mix. We stopped chasing fire trucks after being scolded by a distraught victim who we found sifting through the ashes of 8

her former home. I should have offered my help, but instead I became more frightened by scenes of catastrophe. The heightened superstition that my wife displayed on my opening of Ryan and Anna’s fire letter may be a result of the abundance of tragedy surrounding us during the last couple of years. Bad things come in threes and we don’t dare get too close to whatever it is that summons these tribulations. It is human nature to want to know the reason for a tragedy, if only to reinforce what we already know, to make us feel that we are in control. But reason is of little help when our irresponsibility so often goes unpunished, our minor mistakes bring about madly disproportionate suffering, and the blameless suffer and die daily. When we are confronted with fate, we are confronted with our relationship to faith, which is either comforting or not. We may find serenity in organized religion, or share an abstract painter’s distrust in the ability of words to describe our amorphous, yet passionate belief. Others turn their back (and who can blame them) on concepts so loaded and unreasonable, but it is exactly those traits that make the concepts persist, allowing them to permeate even our secular culture. As children, we were curious and wanted to understand the devastation of tragedy, to be assured that it wouldn’t happen to us. As we grew older, curious but emboldened, we taunted fate by playing with sundry fires. As adults we grew wary, wondering how we survived when others did not and realizing that we would never understand, or be assured. We count on our families and friends. And our faith, in whatever form it takes, becomes something truly compelling when acquaintances and strangers come to our aid. 9

Fig. 2

Fire Drafts

Ryan Wilson Paulsen

People want to be included in uncomfortable situations. I couldn’t be more thankful for that. It means people will step forward and help, become part of a story. The reason Anna and I were able to get back on our feet so quickly wasn’t just because of help from people we were close to. Distant acquaintances stepped forward, offering gifts and assistance in a variety of ways. Understandably, everybody also wanted to know the details of our situation. Since the fire, I’ve racked my brain trying to find ways to talk about it. The usual questions are ‘what happened?’ and ‘how are you doing?’ The first part is easy. I just say: ‘the fire started in the dryer.’ That’s usually a satisfactory answer since dryers are one of the most common causes of house fires. The second part of the question though, isn’t as easy to answer. What I’ve wanted is a concise way to explain my thoughts. Instead, all of the conversations I’ve had about the fire seem to be disjointed and muddy, usually ending with me saying something like ‘…we’re still here.’ Being able to categorize the fire with words isn’t my ultimate goal; what I seek is an easier way of expressing my sentiments without inevitably giving the awkward answer.


Most people use the word ‘awful’ when trying to express their sympathy. Awful might be a good word to describe what happened, but it’s not perfect. The word awful is connected to the ideas of awesome/awe-inspiring and dreadful/terrible. Fire, with its inherent beauty and inevitable destruction could easily be considered awe-inspiring, but only from an observer’s perspective. Unfortunately, I was not just a casual observer. I was invested and directly affected. I could use only the dreadful/ terrible part of the word, but that seems to fall flat when I take into account that there were a few good things that came out of the fire. What I really want is to turn the whole story into a joke, like how Lucy ‘Left Eye’ Lopez setting her boyfriend’s home on fire has become a joke, or how the burning bush can cleverly represent the hot air of religion, or lay the groundwork for a joke about syphilis. I haven’t permanently excluded the possibility of writing a joke from this mess. I am still too close to truly laugh at it. James Thurber famously coined the phrase ‘tragedy plus time equals humor,’ maybe I just need a bit more time to be able to laugh over my house burning down. Within moments of our arrival on the scene people were already expressing their condolences for our tragic loss, but I can’t exactly say that the event was tragic either. However, in a moment like that it’s not easy to explain to a consoler why this event wasn’t one way, without having another way to frame it after telling them they’re wrong. Do I explain all the intricacies of the event, enlightening people to the fact that, while the fire was impactful and memorable, it doesn’t quite meet my standards of a tragedy? The 1944 Hartford circus fire killed at least 160 people. One of those was a little girl who has never been identified. That’s a tragedy. 13

My grandmother was in the audience the day before the circus fire. She and her parents had driven down from Holyoke, Massachusetts. I wonder if they liked it? Because the next day the story of their circus experience was usurped by its proximity to the infamous fire. I have always wondered if my great-grandfather regretted not going to the circus a day later, because he liked to chase fires back in Holyoke. Sort of like that joke about lawyers chasing ambulances to find clients, only he’d chase fire trucks so that he could find photogenic disasters. A few of his photographs survived our fire and I still have them. There weren’t any lawyers approaching us in the aftermath of our fire. The local news was just leaving when we showed up at the house. (Thanks to them I can watch footage of my house burning every night before I go to bed.) Interestingly though, contractors began showing up, offering their condolences and their business cards, even before the firefighters were even done with their job. Our fire wasn’t exactly heartbreaking either. At least not in the way your heart breaks when you hear about Roy Orbison’s fire in which he lost two sons. Yes, I lost the guitar (fig. 17) my parents gave me for my twenty-first birthday; 1 my computer burned along with all of the backed-up data; (fig.19) almost all of the art I’ve made became nothing more than a wet black mass, and our wedding photographs were destroyed along with many of our wedding gifts, (fig. 20). Both Anna and I had corresponded for years with each other and artists such as Joe Macca, Rose Lifschutz, Mack McFarland, Amy-Ellen Trefsger, I must admit that the loss of this guitar led to the acquisition of my father’s old guitar, a 1957 Martin D18. He bought it used when he was in college for about $300. I have been asking my father for this guitar since I moved away from home, 10 years ago. I have always loved the perfectly tinny sound of it. Thank god for pity. 1.


Brad Adkins, Shane Paulsen and many others, that whole archive was destroyed as well. We lost tools and art supplies and collections of things. (figs. 7, 9, 13.1, 15, 16.2, 21). We lost all the stuff that you don’t think about needing until you don’t have, (fig. 2, 10, 11). (I should note, that if you are ever to have a house fire, ours is just about the best kind you can have. Nobody died in the fire (that is no people and no animals.) We saved most of our clothes and dishes. After carefully separating each page and making sure they were drying evenly, we were able to save most of our books as well. We even have heroes for the narrative: the Aldersebaes’, a neighbor couple (whom we never had the pleasure of meeting before this incident,) broke the door down with a baseball bat and saved Maggie our dog.) The burning of our house wasn’t liberating, like John Baldessari burning his paintings. And it wasn’t a gesture that could have social or political implications like the act of self-immolation committed in 1963, by Thích Quang Duc, a Vietnamese monk. Lighting oneself on fire is a more common practice than you might assume. In mid-17th century Russia, the clash between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Old Believers, spurred by reforms to establish uniformity between the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, resulted in whole villages of Old Believers burning themselves in protest. They called this baptism by fire. Self-immolation was used by Alfredo Ormando to protest the classification of homosexuality as a sin, and has been used numerous times in protest of wars. Norman Morrison, Roger Allen LaPorte, Florence Beaumont, and George Winne Jr. all lit themselves on fire in protest of the Vietnam War following in the footsteps of Alice Herz who was the first American to do so. She was 82 years old. The Soviet invasion of Czecho15

slovakia inspired a group of young men to publicly burn themselves in resistance. Graham Bamford lit himself up in hopes that it would focus more attention on the conflict in Bosnia. And in 2006, in protest of the war in Iraq, Malachi Ritscher (a former member of the band Big Black) set himself ablaze on the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago. In some ways, I find it comforting to imagine our house as a self-immolator protesting the encroaching towers of condominiums and English ivy that threatened to clog our street. I wonder if our fire could even be considered a gesture, given the fact that we never wanted it to happen. (Doesn’t there have to be some sort of intention to qualify it as a gesture?) Without intention it seems like so much less, as if one can never get beyond retrospective interpretation. This can be interesting, but somehow it has less impact when you know there was no grand plan. There is a recurring plot line on the television show Law and Order. After beginning an investigation, the detectives find that the victim has not been murdered, as it was originally assumed, but rather died from drugs, accident, or by their own hand. Whenever they bump into this twist the detectives find someone to blame anyway, positing all types of shaky moral theories about how a suspect’s actions have ultimately led to a wake of victims. While I like groaning at the ridiculousness of the constructed scenarios on television, I don’t really want to act them out in real life. I don’t want to create a murderer, or someone to blame for this turn of events in our lives, it seems like a lot of work. Maybe bitterness is the key. I recently came across a book by Ryan Gander called Loose Associations and Other Lectures. In it he talks about putting a call out to writers for texts on bitter16

ness. Nobody had anything to submit. A few of the people he asked even took offense to his request, as if Gander would only ask if he thought of them as a bitter person. This makes me think of all the assumptions and projections that dictate how we end up viewing something. Stuart (our landlord and much-loved upstairs neighbor) has been compiling a list of all the coincidences regarding the fire, perhaps as a way of explaining it. I must admit, when I think about how Maggie the dog had taken to sitting in the laundry room (where the fire began) in the month leading up to the fire, or how the theme of the T.B.A. festival (fig. 16.1) that night was ‘Burning Down the House,’ I am almost convinced that there must have been a reason. In Gander’s book he also writes about how having a chip on your shoulder can be a horribly heavy burden, but if you have one on each shoulder a balance is attained. So, while the fire is obviously a chip that I’m carrying on my shoulder right now, maybe what I should do is look for a second. Growing up in Hartford, Connecticut, (the insurance capital of the world) I was taught to believe that insurance was a scam. My father likened it to betting against yourself. About the same time, Pete Rose was banned from baseball for life, for betting against his own team.2 So, from a young age I wouldn’t even consider betting against myself. I have never purchased insurance unless the law required it, and in those instances I’ve done so with grumbles and curses. Now, for the first time in my life, I can actually say I cursed myself for not having gotten insurance, lucky for us we had what I call social insurance.

2. Although, I have believed that Rose bet against his own team my whole life, (and almost everyone I have asked in recent history has believed the same) there was, in fact, never any evidence that could actually prove this.


Insurance has been on my radar lately, at least peripherally. I spent a good portion of last year researching the poet Wallace Stevens (fig, 23). I spent time in Hartford and visited the places he spent his life. I went to insurance row, Farmington Avenue, and The Hartford, a colonial fortress where Stevens worked, making sure insurance was available to protect every aspect of American life. The linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf sold fire insurance at the same insurance company as Stevens. He invented the theory that language affects one’s cognition, actions, and perception of the world. He credits working in the insurance industry with helping him to realize his theory. After many years of handling mistakes in insurance claims, Whorf found that they mostly were results of a discrepancy between the language used by the insurance company and that spoken and understood by its clients. It might have been Whorf himself who dealt with the Wadsworth Atheneum’s controversial 1936 fundraiser, ‘The Paper Ball,’ which was an event entirely dressed in paper. Not only would the building be transformed, but all the attendees would wear paper costumes to the party. When The Hartford learned of the museum’s plan, the company said they would not cover the event if anything happened. The museum didn’t want to go uninsured a single moment because they housed priceless artworks and antiquities. They pleaded with the insurance company to negotiate with them. The Hartford agreed to insure the party if all of the paper was doused in a flame-retardant and there was no smoking at the event. The museum agreed, and there was no fire at the party. The guests all left safely. A lot of flame-retardants have since been found to be carcinogenic and are no longer in use; that’s to say their effects don’t outweigh their benefits. I had never thought that the cost of insurance would justify its benefits. Up until the fire, my experience has confirmed this thinking.


The Wadsworth prevented a fire from ruining its party, but our fire wasn’t exactly that kind of preventable, at least not in the same way, or in the way Jack Cassidy’s house fire was preventable; that is to say, nobody passed out drunk with a lit cigarette dangling in his fingers. I smoke, and in the moments after I was told our house was burning there was the question in my mind as to whether or not one of my cigarettes could have been the culprit. I heard a while back that there is a substance put in the rings in cigarette paper which causes the cigarette to stay lit. As I remember, I was hearing about this because the added substance was just about to be, or had just been, outlawed. The cigarettes I smoke must not put these chemicals in their paper because they don’t stay lit. I have never been thankful for that before. I bet Jack Cassidy would have been thankful. If the fire had been set by one of my cigarettes I could place blame somewhere and that would be an easy way to talk about the fire. I could just say: “I stupidly started the fire with one of my cigarettes.” That would solve both the how it happened and also how I felt about it. Without a receptacle in which to place my blame I have found myself, like Stuart, contemplating whether any of my earlier actions could have brought this on, although I have never been much of a believer in karma. I have tried to talk about the fire as a blessing, which is a really optimistic way to look at things, and not how I usually navigate life. I did hear about a fire in 1996 that burned 12,000 acres of Colorado’s Mesa Verde, (formerly Pueblo Indian land.) The blaze cleared most of the vegetation but left most of the structures the Native Americans had built. The fire discovered some 400 additional structures. Our fire, on the other hand, revealed no ancient structures, and no historic artifacts; it mostly revealed carbon. I could say my material 19

slate has been wiped clean, but the problem is that the slate wasn’t wiped clean enough to really have a fresh start. No matter how hard I try to make my house burning into some type of revelatory landmark I run up against myself. Maybe that’s because of the lack of discernable motivation behind the destruction. But I don’t think I can claim the absence of intent as the only reason I am incapable of turning this story into one of revelation or progress. Like a drug addict who can’t quit his drug until he’s truly ready to give it up, I can’t be changed until I truly want to be. I was content where I was. I had finally figured out a way to live in the place I inhabited. This all leads me to believe that ultimately our house burning down was no big deal. Life went on, back to school, work, people, food, and cleaning. It is funny to think that we lost our home, (and I am invoking also our symbolic place in the world) and not much in us changed. Sure, we all had, and still have, our moments of grief brought on by this incident, but grief is a temporal condition. What did we really learn besides never to leave the house with major appliances running? I am not saying there were no big lessons in this, but we weren’t exactly looking to learn. We were newlyweds in the midst of appreciating life and one another. So, if we didn’t learn much more than safety precautions, I can’t view this event as a big deal, just loud.


Fig. 3

We’re Private People and We’re Outnumbered Anna Gray

The house on Cable Avenue was built in 1912 over the grave of the Portland Heights Cable Car trestle, a precarious-looking wooden structure that wound 1,040 feet over the hills to the west of downtown Portland. The trestle was torn down after only 14 years of operation, when the completion of the Vista Bridge, in 1904, made it possible for an electric trolley to run up into the SW hills, thus proving the somewhat dangerous cable cars obsolete. They were burned for scrap metal. And their route, the thoroughfare connecting the high places to the downtown river valley, is now Cable Avenue: a steep one-lane dead end street hedged in by false walls of Himalayan blackberry and English ivy. No one uses Cable Ave. except for its handful of inhabitants and the occasional car full of high schoolers who park their parents’ bmws in the secluded turnaround and smoke pot. When I first went to look at the house on Cable, prior to moving in, I was charmed by the feeling that as soon as I entered its doors I had disappeared. Like falling into a book, I instantly 22

forgot the surrounding outside or I worked it so seamlessly into my own inside that it was imperceptible. It seems rare these days to find an urban home that cultivates the experience of disappearance and total privacy. This is not to be confused with the sense of security one finds in today’s urban home. The popularity of tall fences, alarm systems and caller i.d. is evidence of a widespread dedication to prevent the invasion of strangers. But, while these devices make it easier for an inhabitant to live in isolation, they do not make it easier to disappear. Instead, they make one more aware of the encroaching outside. Just as Ryan and I were settling into our apartment on the firstfloor of the house, my good friend sent me a first edition of i: six nonlectures, by e.e. cummings. The six texts were compiled from a series of talks that Cummings delivered at Harvard University in 1952 and ‘53. I remember sitting at my desk and copying down a passage from the second lecture onto a sticky note. (The sticky note wasn’t quite big enough and that caused me a fair amount of stress.) The words overflowed unneatly onto two and then three yellow flakes of paper, which I stuck in a row on the window molding in our studio. They stayed affixed for nearly a year until some cleaning spree ended them in the recycling. They read: Any apparent somewhere which you may inhabit is always at the mercy of a ruthless and omnivorous everywhere. The notion of a house, as one single definite particular and unique place to come into, from the anywhereish and everywhereish world outside—that notion must strike you as fantastic. You have been brought up to believe that a house, or a universe, or a you, or any other object, is only seemingly solid: really...each seeming solidity is a collection of large holes—and, in the case of a house, the larger the holes the better; since the principal function of the modern house is to admit whatever might otherwise remain outside... 23

Here, Cummings is speaking to what I assume is an audience of students. He makes pretty decided assumptions about their generation as a people whose experience and environment are wholly divorced from his own, but beyond these assumptions he talks about the growing loss of privacy and solitude in the modern home, and the changes in collective conceptions of habitable space. I especially identified with his bafflement at the way modern structures embrace ‘porousness’ as an asset to domestic living. I loved the house on Cable partly because there was nothing porous about it. It was somehow solid, cleverly installed on its stilted dead-end perch, hugging the hillside like a bird’s nest welded into the fork of a tree. Sheltered by the leaves of the garden and the grade of the hill, we found an unspeakable kind of privacy, a sealed solitude that had no holes until the fire broke a few open. To me, the house felt almost as if it hadn’t changed since 1912, though its many quirky reconstructions and garden were a testament to its long life and composite development. It was very much like the story of the little old house that insisted on staying put while the city grew up around it. And the city had grown up around this house. Just after the owner bought it, over twenty years ago, the surrounding area began its transformation. One condominium went up behind, then an apartment building next door, and a few more down the street to fill in the cracks. If you looked through the trees in our yard, with their webs of climbing roses, you would see thick slabs of vinyl siding, stretching their taupes and burgundies above your head. If you leaned out over the side of the porch, you could see your anonymous neighbors (surprisingly near) on 18th street below. The house across the street from ours was built in the late 24

1890’s. It saw the cable cars transport passengers up the trestle tracks past its doors, and probably saw the flames when they reached our roof a hundred years later, hurling themselves up from the basement stairs. So, when I say that we found privacy there, I know that what we had was an illusion all along, because while the house was a bit hidden away, the neighborhood was quickly finding it. On September 10th, years after our first days on Cable Avenue, I finally met the neighbors. Fire is an irresistible spectacle and the people on our block participated accordingly, bringing chairs out onto their balconies and hovering in the street long after the heat and smoke had cleared. Most I had never seen before; they came offering apologies for something they didn’t do, and asking questions about things I didn’t think they could possibly know about our lives.

It has been almost two months. The house stands now in much the same state as it did just after the fire. The picture windows lack glass, there are holes in the roof and the ceiling melts down. The carpet is a dirty sponge. Everything drips. I imagine mold grows. There is no sense to the way things are arranged, a vacuum cleaner (fig. 20) lies half-melted in the basement, its cord trails through a phantom wall and ends somewhere on the other side of the house. Old drawings and rubber stamps (fig. 16.2) litter the living room floor where the wet couch is overturned and the walls are the least black. There is a blackened cheese grater on the windowsill where my e.e. cummings sticky notes once stuck. The images hanging on the walls have been erased by smoke (fig. 8.1 and 8.2). Upon entering the house for the first time hours after the fire was extinguished, I was acutely aware of its aural changes. There was no white noise, no fans, or refrigerator hum, nothing to mask the rush-hour clog of the freeway, the car doors slamming two blocks down, or the voices on the street and 25

in the house above. The air inside the house was outside air. With these observations came the realization that our lives were suddenly perfectly visible, made legible to the gazes of the numerous neighbors, workers, and onlookers who were passing by. Seeing our things displaced, divorced from their logical domestic arrangements, was unnerving. In some places the rearrangements were weirdly poetic and in others heartwrenching. All in all, it was a compelling mess. As we carried salvageables outside and lined them up along the curb, a sort of soggy, dirt-strewn index of our life began to appear. Each object pointed back, referencing its place of function and significance in our home. But that home had ceased to exist as an idea, or a place, or an atmosphere. It existed now as a collection of symbolic parts some damaged and disjointed, others mysteriously untouched. At this point, I decided I had to change my shoes. I had been putting off their much-needed repair. The large holes I had worked on adding to each sole, were letting in the broken glass, the bits of charcoal and the water. They punctuated the sudden permeability of our home. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not that I am against holes, or windows, or ‘porousness’ in a house or in a shoe. It’s that there is a queasiness in seeing a solid and much-loved thing so quickly punctured. In the past two months, while rolling the fire and its aftermath over in my mind, I have eroded an internal indentation, an exposed patch, that marks the event. And, holes made like that, by slow erosion or repetitive pressure are somehow easier to deal with. This book, in the words of Frances Stark, is as much about feeling these holes, as it is about filling them. 26

The Glass of Water by Wallace Stevens

That the glass would melt in heat, That the water would freeze in cold, Shows that this object is merely a state, One of many, between two poles. So, In the metaphysical, there are these poles. Here in the centre stands the glass. Light Is the lion that comes down to drink. There And in that state, the glass is a pool. Ruddy are his eyes and ruddy are his claws When light comes down to wet his frothy jaws And in the water winding weeds move round. And there and in another state--the refractions, The metaphysica, the plastic parts of poems Crash in the mind--But, fat Jocundus, worrying About what stands here in the centre, not the glass, But in the centre of our lives, this time, this day, It is a state, this spring among the politicians Playing cards. In a village of the indigenes, One would have still to discover. Among the dogs and dung, One would continue to contend with one’s ideas.


Fig. 4

Fig. 1 Dollar bill sticker Created in collaboration with Joe Macca Acquired 2007 Portland, OR

Fig. 2 Assorted Cassette Tapes Including a recording of ‘Bill’s New Wife,’ a recorded phone message announcing the surprise marriage of a best friend. Acquired 2002 Portland, OR via Brooklyn, NY

Fig. 3 Index to Walter Benjamin’s One-Way Street Created 2008 Portland, OR

Fig. 4 Three-Holed Stone Gift of Rose Lifschutz Acquired 2006 Portland, OR via Oakland, CA

Fig. 5 Assorted photographs Acquisition details unknown


Fig. 5

Fig. 6 One-hour Photo Envelope Acquisition details unknown


Fig. 6

Fig. 7 Watercolor Set Acquired 2008 Portland, OR


Fig. 7

Fig. 8.1 Black Painting/Black Billboard Postcard Created for Brad Adkins, 2007 Portland, OR

Fig. 8.2 Publicity Postcard Created for the Static/Flux art show, 2007 Portland, OR


Fig. 8.1

Fig. 8.2

Fig. 9 Daisy Powerline 880 B.B. Gun Acquired 2007 Portland, OR


Fig. 9

Fig. 10 Letter Block Featuring the letters: A, E, L, P, S, W Acquisition details unknown


Fig. 10

Fig. 11 Margarine Container With assorted screws, bolts, and dirty water Acquisition details unknown


Fig. 11

Fig. 12 Panoramic Poster Documentation of a haircut Created 2005 Portland, OR

Fig. 13.1 Remains of a letter Gift of Catherine Ruha Acquired 2008 Portland, OR via Seattle, WA

Fig. 13.2 Paintbrush Acquired 2007 Portland, OR


Fig. 12

Fig. 13.1

Fig. 13.2

Fig. 14.1

Fig. 14.2

Fig. 14.1 “mi casa es mi descanso. it is with ‘carino’ (care/ love/affection.) my home now is for happiness... before it wasn’t. my home is my rest.”

Notebook From the collection of Anna Gray Gift of an anonymous woman Acquired 2005 Portland, OR

Fig. 14.2 Notebook From the collection of Anna Gray Acquired 2006 Portland, OR

Fig. 15 Assorted Tools and Drawing Utensils Acquisition details unknown


Fig. 15

Fig. 16.1

Fig. 16.2

Fig. 16.1 Entrance Passes to Various Art Festivals Issued to Ryan Wilson Paulsen Acquired 2005-2008 Portland, OR

Fig. 16.2 ‘Before & After’ Stamp From the collection of Ryan Paulsen Acquired 2007 Portland, OR

Fig. 17 Guild Guitar Gift of Ted Paulsen and Patti Wilson Acquired 2000 New York, NY


Fig. 17

Fig. 18.1

Fig. 18.2

Fig. 19

Fig. 18.1 ‘An artistic performance designed to remind motorists to drive safely through the neighborhoods and communities that line public roads.’

Commemorative Sticker for Safety Dance Art Performance Gift of Ryan Crase Acquired 2006 Portland, OR

Fig. 18.2 Assorted Notebooks

From the collections of Anna Gray and Ryan Paulsen Acquired 2005-2007 Portland, OR

Fig. 19 Mac G5 Computer Tower

Acquired 2003 Portland, OR


Fig. 20 Dirt Devil Vacuum Cleaner Gift of Kathie Gray Acquired 2008 Portland, OR


Fig. 20

Fig. 21 Overhead Projector Acquired 2006 Portland, OR


Fig. 20 Fig. 21

Fig. 22 ‘I can’t look’

Photograph of a Cat Acquired 2007 Portland, OR


Fig. 22

Fig. 23 Wallace Stevens Postcard (front and back) Created by Anna Gray and Ryan Wilson Paulsen Altered by Joe Macca and re-acquired 2008 Portland, OR via Mulino, OR


Fig. 23

Since September 10th, the house on Cable Ave. has been boarded up. Preparations are being made for its reconstruction next year. Anna and Ryan now live in a 416 sq. foot plywood garage-cabin, full of bookshelves and cubby holes. It was frantically constructed in the two weeks following the fire and fits their lives quite well despite its lack of kitchen sink, toilet, or shower. Maggie and Brillo Box seem to find it adequate as well. Their new home is located on a quiet piece of property in SW Portland, which has been owned and immaculately maintained by Kathie Gray for the last twenty-nine years. Stuart still resides in the downtown area, temporarily occupying a condominium whose windows face west toward the Cable Avenue hill. He makes frequent visits to his former home to tend the garden, and to save the place from its seeming abandonment.


INDEX Asterisks refer to illustrations

abstract painting, 9 Adkins, Brad, 15, 35-36* Aldersebaes’, 15 amorphous belief, 9 association, 8, 16 assumption, 16 B.B. gun, 37-38* Baldessari, John, 15 Bamford, Graham, 16 baseball, 17; bat, 15 Baxter, Stuart, 4, 17, 19, 68 Beaumont, Florence, 15 beauty, 13 Benjamin, Walter, 21*, 29 betting against oneself, 17 bird’s nest, 24 bitterness, 16-17 black painting, 35-36* blame, 9, 19, 25 Brillo Box, 4, 68 Cable avenue, 4 future of, 68 history of, 22-25 cassette tapes, 10*, 29 Cassidy, Jack, 19 chip, on the shoulder, 17 cigarette, 8, 18, 19 Cleary, Stephen, 8 coincidence, 16-17 computer, 14, 57*-58 condominium, 16, 24, 68 Crase, Ryan, 55*, 58 cummings, e.e., 23-24 dead end, 22 destruction, 8, 13, 25 dirty sponge, 25 disappearance, 22-23 dog, 4, 8, 15, 17, 28, 68

dollar bill, 5*, 29 dryer, 12 dung, 27 English ivy, 16, 22 erasure, 5*, 25, 36* faith, 9 fate, 9 fear, 9, 19 fire, 4, 68 aftermath of, 9, 12, 14, 25 as awful, 13 as baptism, 15 best kind of, 15 as blessing, 19 breaking holes, 24-26 chasing of, 8, 14 and heartbreak, 13 insurance, 17-18 as irresistible spectacle, 8, 25 as joke, 13 as lesson learned, 19-20 as liberating gesture, 15 as no big deal, 20 prevention, 18, 19, 20 as protest, 15-16 and revelation, 19-20 as tragic loss, 13 fresh start, 19-20 Gander, Ryan, 16-17 gifts, 6, 12, 14, 28*, 29, 43, 45*, 47*, 49, 53-54*, 55*, 58, 59-60* Gray, Anna, 4, 9, 22, 49, 58, 65-66*, 68 Gray, Kathie, 59-60*, 68 guitar 14, 53-54* Hartford Circus Fire, 13-14 Hartford, Connecticut, 13-14, 17, 18, 66* hero, 15 Herz, Alice, 15


Himalayan blackberry, 22 holes, 24, 26 in glass, 25 in roof, 25 in stone, 28*-29 home, 4, 20, 26, 68 as modern, 23-24 as porous, 24,-25 as rest, 47*, 49 as single particular, 23 index, 21*, 70-71; as soggy, 26 intention, 16; absence of, 20 interpretation retrospective, 16 thwarted attempts of, 8 karma, 19 language, theories of, 18 LaPorte, Roger Allen, 15 Law and Order, 16 Lifschutz, Rose, 14, 23, 28*, 29 Lopez, Lucy ‘Left Eye’, 13 Macca, Joe, 5*, 14, 29, 55*, 65-66* margarine, 41-42* McFarland, Mack, 14 misfortune, randomness of, 8 mistakes, 9, 18-20 Morrison, Norman, 15 notebook, 47*-49, 56*, 58 object as aesthetic, 5*, 10*, 21*, 28*, 30*, 32*, 34*, 36*, 38*, 40*, 42*, 44*, 45*-48*, 50*-52*, 54*, 55*-57*, 60*, 62*, 64*, 66* as solid, 23, 26 as a state between poles, 27 ‘omnivorous everywhere’, the, 23 one-hour photo, 31-32* One-Way Street, 21*, 29 Orbison, Roy, 14 organized religion, 9, 15 Ormando, Alfredo, 15 paint brush, 43, 46* set of, 33-34* Paulsen, Ryan Wilson, 4, 9, 12, 23, 51*, 53, 55*, 58, 65-66*, 68 Paulsen, Shane, 15 Paulsen, Ted, 14, 14n, 17, 53 people as anonymous, 24, 49 asking questions, 12, 25


offering condolences, 13, 25 as private, 22 and uncomfortable situations, 12 photographs, melted, 8, 30* Portland Heights Cable Car, 22, 25 pot-smoking, 22 Powell, Maggie, (see also dog) 4, 8, 15, 17, 68 privacy, 22, 23-26 illusion of, 25 inversion of, 26 projector, overhead, 61, 62* queasiness, 26 refrigerator hum, 25 Ritscher, Malachi, 16 Rose, Pete, 17, 17n rubber stamp, 25, 52*-53 Ruha, Catherine, 43, 45* safety, 20, 23; dance, 55*, 58 self-immolation, 15-16 shag carpet, 8 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, 15-16 Stark, Frances, 26 Stevens, Wallace, 18, 27, 65-66* sticky notes, 23 stone, 28*, 29 superstition, 9 syphilis, 13 things you don’t think about needing until you don’t have, 14-15, 40*, 42*, 50* Thurber, James, 13 tragedy, 13 and human nature, 9 and interpretation, 16 and reason, 9, 18 Trefsger, Amy-Ellen, 14, 55* urban development, 16, 25 utensils, 49-50* vacuum cleaner, 25, 59-60* vinyl siding, 24 Wadsworth Atheneum, 18 water, 25-26, 27, 41-42* Wilson, Patti, 53 white noise, 25 Whorf, Benjamin Lee, 18 Winne Jr., George, 15

Integrating A Burning House  

This 48-page book is centered around the loss of that home, the fire that destroyed it, and the artifacts that remain. Designed as a catalog...

Integrating A Burning House  

This 48-page book is centered around the loss of that home, the fire that destroyed it, and the artifacts that remain. Designed as a catalog...