I have been attending the Time-Based Art Festival (T:BA) presented by Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA), every year since 2007, exactly half its entire lifespan. What one begins to notice, year in and out, that you see the same faces, bodies, venues, artists, even drink specials, and such nostalgia develops that you begin to really miss it when its gone and look forward to its return. This became especially true after PICA’s third season using the historic defunct inner southeast Washington High School (WHS) as an epicenter hosting installation, theater, dance, and of course THE WORKS, T:BA’s nightly after party. To qualify my nostalgia, I wouldn’t return to this festival (and in fact exclude Music Fest Northwest) every year if I didn’t meet new people, enjoy unique experiences, and discover new music, theater, dance, and art that has never found presentation at T:BA or PDX ever before. But as of this blog, it is day three of the 10th annual happenings and I have yet to walk to in WHS, only the perimeters where Big Art Group is staged. And the last time I stepped out of the halls, it was 2011, I had been inside for 24 hours viewing the epic monologue of Mike Daisey, an experience so intimate and exhausting that perhaps I’m hedging my time before engaging full on for the next eight days.
Big Art Group from New York City literally took to the walls of WHS for the purpose of broadcasting a collage of live comedic video and theater with snips and clips of Portland residents discussing war, justice, and democracy, that they call The People-Portland, a loose recreation of The Ortesteia, a trilogy of tragedy by Ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus. The narrative is told in fragments by a seemingly amateur cast in silly props and cheap costume, some of them reading directly from cue cards. A live feed of this performance is projected with five “screens” directly on to the brick face of the building. Meanwhile, you see through the windows that every set used to stage the show occupies one of the several rooms beyond that wall. The video clips of PDX residents chime in with their perspective here and there to replace the traditional chorus, providing a sort of time-bridge, relating ancient struggles to current affairs. The whole thing is humorously sloppy, ironic, at times awkwardly sexy, and for me it was difficult to connect to as a narrative. But the narrative isn’t what compels you to watch. It provides multiple perspectives, entertainment like you’ve never exactly seen, and its a reminder that epic stories are happening now.
Only one snippet from the chorus really stood out for me. A white Gen-Y aged man says, “I believe there is justice for me, but I can also understand why some people believe there is none for them.” I would suppose, as logically as Socrates could, there is no justice for some and some justice for others, at least not generalized in to a democracy. In your privileged life you manage to stay out of trouble, but only at the expense of non-white-attractive-male individuals who absorb injustice every day. So all this man experiences may be the bias of an unjust system that favors his social strata. No justice for him, just the winning hand. As you watch and listen, you find that the attractive white people in the chorus tend to feel that they have justice and democracy works, whereas the disenfranchised black, trans-gender, non-white-male individuals have a different experience. Big Art Group managed to pull those together and deliver it to a privileged audience. Bravo.
After this performance, opening night rung like the bell of a cargo ship reaching the shores of some deserted island. That island is Washington High School and those in attendance are the inhabitants. T:BA is the premiere contemporary art festival in Oregon and Portland remains a small growing city. Opening night brings gobs of folks who cannot attend the event for all eleven days, for one reason or another. That is why I tend to come back later for the installation and forget about seeing the headlining band, because it overflows capacity each time. I get so much access to this event, why absorb space from the folks enjoying the free opening night.
Friday night is supposed to be a great night, and typically I am excited to get running out the gate. Life does not always present exactly what you want. For me, I’ve always wanted to rent a room for the two weeks of T:BA for the purpose of staying close and catching everything, having a place to write and absorb the energy. Instead I write from a barn in the northwest hills, ten miles from WHS. And rather than enjoy the dance party put on by CHRISTEEN, I stayed home. And rather than catch any shows, I caught up on work, other than a visit to Slabtown. Acquaintance Danbert Nobacon and colleagues from KBOO assembled to celebrate the release of their new audiobook collaboration, Three Dead Princes: An Anarchist Folktale. I went to show my support. I decided to read the book before hearing the audio. But enough of that, lets get back to T:BA.
With new Resident Artistic Director Angela Mattox, working side by side with long time curator of performing arts Erin Boberg Dougton, in the heat of economic and political madness that is summer 2012, there is clear intent to present works that deal with the difficult topics of our time, including democracy, economy, and social justice. And from the side of visual arts, long time curator Kristan Kennedy explores the shift in perspective that is contemporary consciousness with a new collection called END THINGS. No longer concentrated at WHS, the viewer is back to the previous design, visiting exhibitions at various locations. One of those happens to be the newly PICA’s newly purchased building. I am excited to see what they have done with it as well as what has changed about WHS. Also, the flow of the schedule really makes it possible to view everything. There is much less overlap than any previous year. Here is what I am planning on for the next several days.
Saturday// Lagartijas Tiradas El Sol / Nora Chipaumire / Ten Tiny Dances
Sunday// Keith Hennessy Workshop / Hampton & Etchells / Andrew Dickson / Miguel Gutierrez / Kota Yamazaki
Monday// Brainstorm & Sahel Sounds
Tuesday// Keith Hennessy / Future Cinema
Wednesday// Sam Green / Parenthetical Girls et al.