What can you say about a gallery that never charged an artist’s commission, that never censored the artist’s work and that only asked that the artist keep his/her prices low so the people who appreciate art, rather than collect it to match their couch, can buy the art. A bohemian fantasy? Soho in the `50s? No, that was Portland's Galleri 8, created and run by the no-Couch-Art-allowed artist who calls herself, Cyaokha (Kie-oh-ka). “When I came to Portland (from LA in `89) there was no alternative, no erotica, no hip places... it was a dead scene... nothing more than classical nudes by famous dead photographers.” So Cyoakha started Galleri 8 out of her own pocket. “I paid the rent myself for the first five years.” And her first show was an erotica, multi-media event that opened First Thursday in February, 1990.

“There were a lot of shows that were created just for Galleri 8,” she says, as opposed to the artist just wanting to hang and show their work in a space. “I created the space as an artist, to survive, to connect with other artists, here and nationwide.” And so Galleri 8 and its regular contributing artists was a conundrum of workshops and happenings, of connecting and controversy and meeting of the minds.

Cyoakha recalled the installation “Biohazard,” by David Olstein – an AIDS walkthrough where visitors were greeted at the Galleri 8 door by a mock nurse who fitted them with a surgical mask and gloves. A cross in the main room was fashioned out of pedestals, creating an altar, or shrine, to the individual AIDS sufferer. One such pedestal displayed a medicine cabinet with all the medications, including their precautions, side effects, etc., that an AIDS patient or caregiver would be routinely familiar with. Toiletries and personal items were dispersed around this. In the center, borne on a pedestal under glass and illuminated by a harsh spotlight, was a vial of the artist’s contaminated blood. All of this was upstaged by the hanging beauty of the brightly colored HIV micrograph. The innocuous viral portrait reminded all of what was present in the plain vial of blood. Visitors disposed of their masks and gloves in a container marked “Biohazard” upon exiting the installation and were encouraged to leave their comments with the “Nurse.”

Apparently this exhibit was a little too much for some gallery goers more acquainted with the safe “Motel” art across Burnside in the Pearl District. Cyoakha recalls a cowboy from Bend, standing outside in the hall waiting to get in, carrying on, “And what do I have to wear these gloves and mask for... is it safe in there... are you gonna throw infected blood on me or something?”

The cowboy just didn’t get it that the artist was trying to share with the public what it felt like to be him – someone who is HIV positive. In fact, you could say that is the intent of any artist: just trying to share with the audience what it is like to be him/her. Of course, that would require there be some kind of passion or emotion present in the work. It’s more than classic, static nudes – the ubiquitous poses of a torso lit by crisp lines of light and shadow seeping through venetian blinds. It's more than pretty California art; it's more than just hang and sell. Cyoakha's sarcastic rejoinder to all the art cowboys: “I don’t have any mall art.”

Cyoakha also laments the two or three people per day who actually climb the worn stairs from SW Ninth to visit Galleri 8, and their complaint, "Why aren't you down at street level so it would be a lot easier for people to come visit?" And Cyoakha has to laugh. “Haven’t they ever been to the art districts in big cities... You have to go down alleys and up stairs and down hallways...” She admits that in spite of all her efforts to shake things up, Portland still suffers from a lot of play-it-safe, provincialism. “I even had this very young, hip-looking couple come up to me and say, `How’s the penis and pussy gallery doing?’” But Cyoakha doesn’t care. She and the Galleri 8 co-op, formed two years ago, have left their mark on Portland. “I think Portland is a lot more open now... you have all these coffee shops hanging art and having happenings. There’s a lot more erotica happening. There’s stuff like Fetish Night now.”

Her work is done for now. And she will close the doors to the general public on June 30th. Cyoakha will keep the space for her own studio and occasionally open it to the public for special shows and happenings -- one day only events instead of trying to staff all the hours they've been open for the two or three visitors per day. It does bother her that Galleri 8 was cool, and so a lot of people came there and hung out; but then it became established, and not cool, so they went away. That kind of superficiality, to a woman who opened a gallery so she could survive artistically, is as foreign to her as mall art. And so are the politics and power struggles of running a co-op artists’ space.

Maybe that’s why the last Galleri 8 picture show is titled, “The Artists/The Art.” Because for Cyoakha that’s all it ever was or ever will be.

(Inviting all the biggies that have shown at Galleri 8 over the last seven years to submit a self-portrait and an old, or new favorite, the artists are: Cherie Hiser, Paul Dahlquist, J.C. Brown, Linda Kliewer, Frank Engal, Brad Wallis, and more. Performing will be The Land of the Blind. Opens June 5th, First Thursday.)

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