This morning I read Mattias Forshage's brief essay "Worthless Places (Atoposes*)", and decided that it would be worthwhile to do a derive in search of such places in Portland, Oregon. I knew it would be a challenge, because Portland is culturally a very bourgeois city… But this would force me to keep my eyes open.
Shortly into the walk, I came upon a vacant lot that I hoped would qualify. In the past it had been beautifully overgrown weeds and piles of trash. That was all still there, but it had been fenced in with a "No Trespassing" sign, and a truck advertising "Toppy's Furniture". So apparently someone had given the space "worth" by capitalist standards – but the cats still wandered about the place like hobo kings.
I was walking parallel to an interstate expressway, a couple of blocks to the east. I noticed that there was a wall blocking the sight and some of the sound of the expressway from the residential neighborhood I was walking through. The narrow area next to the wall looked as if it might be a "worthless" place, overgrown as it was with weeds, vines and so on. So I approached this area. Upon close examination, I discovered that there had been some attempt to cultivate this space – rocks were laid to mark off little circles and ovals in which domesticated flowers, herbs, shrubs and trees were planted. But it had all pretty clearly been left untended for quite some time, and so everything had a wild, unkempt look – the morning glories as much as the chicory, the evergreen trees as much as the Queen Anne's lace and dandelions, the roses as much as the clover and thistle. Here the drift into "worthlessness" was beautifully evident.
Portland is also full of back alleys. Since these do provide passageway for pedestrians and vehicles of all sorts, they don't automatically qualify as "worthless". But in my wandering I came upon one that was overgrown with blackberries from the side and with several varieties of plants growing out of and widening cracks in the pavement. It was obvious that this alley was hardly ever used, and was drifting toward a glorious "worthlessness". I am certain that similar alleys could be found in other parts of Portland.
But as I expected, on this too brief derive I did not discover a lot of "worthless" space. Portland is a bit too neat and refined. Still, I am certain with further exploration I could find more, and it is something I will continue to explore.
*This piece originally appears in the CD-ROM album of the 2007 London International Festival of Surrealism hosted by SLAG.