Nim Wunnan

 

At White Bird, ‘Attractor’ is magnetic

Australian dance talent meets Javanese musicians, and the result is transformational

Attractor could rightfully be called Condenser for how much talent is concentrated into a single show. First we have Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek. Though partners in everyday life, they don’t collaborate professionally very often—about every six years by their own account. Portland’s seen some good work by Lucy Guerin Inc., and as one of the founders of Chunky Move, Obarzanek has brought some amazing work through town. However, they’ve never been to Portland at the same time. When the directors of White Bird noted this in the Q&A after the performance, they suggested that they might kidnap them and keep them here. I hope Guerin and Obarzanek didn’t sense how much the audience seemed to support the idea.

Any collaboration between these two is worth noting, but joining forces with Dancenorth brings a whole new artistic dimension. Created when Ann Roberts placed $100 on the table during a public meeting because she was tired of seeing talented dancers leave Australia or gravitate to the more populous south to pursue their careers, Dancenorth has become an artistic center in Queensland near the Great Barrier Reef. A multifaceted program, the company produces new work, hosts classes, and provides professional development opportunities, putting northern Australia on the map for contemporary dance. They seem to bring with them some of the coastal wildness of their part of the world.

Dancenorth and Senyawa joined forces for ‘Attractor’/Photo courtesy White Bird

Ok, so we have two award-winning choreographers in a rare collaboration and an acclaimed dance company. That’s enough Australian talent to stuff the stage, but those are just the dancers. The musicians knock this one out of the park.

Javanese duo Senyawa are not just central to the stage and the performance. Their work was the inspiration for the entire piece, and they were full creative partners in the development of the choreography. As they developed the show, sometimes the music led the movement decisions, and at other times it followed. This exchange is central to the performance itself, and belies an incredibly fruitful collaboration between these talented groups.

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Takahiro Yamamoto’s direct path

TBA: In the premiere of the final section of the trilogy "Direct Path to Detour, Single Focus," the focus often goes to the detours

For Friday evening’s premiere in the TBA Festival of the third part of Takahiro Yamamoto’s Direct Path to Detour, Single Focus trilogy, the exhibition space at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s West End location has been separated from the offices by tall curtains, making for a focused, intimate space that seems well-suited to Yamamoto’s one-man show. There’s a ceremonial feeling to the circular stage, which is ringed with purple pillows and remote-controlled LED lights in the shape of tea candles. Yamamoto mills casually among the crowd until the soundtrack, controlled by sidony o’neal, starts up.

The first passage, as Yamamoto takes the stage, cuts between samples, sound effects, and a sudden, brief emergence of the Doogie Howser theme song (more on that later). This soundtrack, like the performance, never really comes together, but that experience of disharmony seems to be at the core of the piece. Considering the name literally, or as a koan-like algorithm, can be useful for getting one’s bearings. In the sense that a choreographed show, meant to be watched, takes a direct path to a state of performance, this piece does what it says by detouring at almost any point where it might solidify.

The project description in the program says:

Direct Path to Detour seeks to evoke various mental and physical states that arise at the intersection of multiple value systems, social pressure, expectation, personal experiences, and body memory.”

Takahiro Yamamoto at TBA. Photo courtesy Robin Cone-Murakami

The first system Yamamoto engages, striding into the center of the stage, is the finicky world of a yoyo. Though he’s in control of it, he regards the toy at times like a strange animal that’s wandered onto the stage with him. He doesn’t perform tricks as much as he just responds to and moves with the yoyo. But already there is some sort of internal tension, and a mismatch of energies, as if his performance is in two places at once. The yoyo, with its own rules of momentum, acts as an indicator of these mismatches. The halting duet ends with Yamamoto muttering at screwing up an exchange with the yoyo, laughing and walking off stage.

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In Ghost Rings, which opened Wednesday evening in the TBA Festival and repeats Thursday, Sept. 14, in Lincoln Performance Hall, Tina Satter, Erin Markey, Jo Lampert, and Chris Giarmo of the Obie-winning Brooklyn troupe Half Straddle take the stage clad in sparkles, lamé, Spandex, and the bright synthetic fabric of ’80s hair bands and pop stars. The lights and rigging are generous and close-in, giving it the feel of a life-size diorama of a rock show.

Artistic director Satter makes two announcements as the music and the show start revving up:

  • First, she’s been making plays about her sister for eight years.
  • Second, Ghost Rings are a candy that she made up a really long time ago, in “2009, do the math.”

We’re left to imagine what they might be until a later reference to light, sugary, purple candy rings brings their image into focus. They’re the namesake of the show, and an artifact of the glittery, mythical world built by Satter and her characters through epic rock ballads and conversations with “internal spirit beings,” but they’re never shown to the audience. We’re told that they exist, and brought into a world where they are obviously real things, and our imaginations are insistently tugged along, like a child leading us by the hand to a fort they’ve built.

The show never waits for us to catch up. The defiantly self-important, improvisational world-spinning of co-imagining children is somehow perfectly fit into the mythos of rock and roll and presented in the format of contemporary performance art. By the time Markey and Lampert announce their characters, Stephanie and Shawna, it’s clear that the dreamy world where they live, which includes places like the Haunted Canoe, is vast and private and full of wonders and perils.

Half Straddle’s “Ghost Rings.” Photo courtesy PICA

At one point, Satter tells us that as children, when she and her sister imagined themselves as adults, they imagined living in neighboring, corner apartments, raising their children together. Their children would be best friends. Husbands were not involved. Like the Ghost Rings, the rest of what she gradually tells us about her sister does’t give us a description of her presence, or their relationship. Rather it just declares things about her, placing her at the center of this world that’s being built on stage, but proving her deep absence as well. Her presence in absentia cuts through the many shifting layers of mythology and private language.

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TBA: Pop goes the foreign film

Interview with curator Gina Altamura: Holocene's Fin de Cinema comes to TBA, matching live music with Tarkovsky's "The Mirror"

At PICA’s TBA Festival on Monday night, Fin de Cinema drew the largest crowd in its eight years of pairing local pop and experimental musicians with influential foreign cinema. Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror projected on three walls of The Works while four sets of Portland-based musicians took turns performing original work as a soundtrack. Palm Dat and Noah Bernstein of Shy Girls started the show, followed by Brown Calculus (Members of Tribe Mars), and then Dylan Stark. Golden Retriever closed the night, their keening, ambient music filling the spacious hall as Tarkovksy’s dreamy meditation on war and memory faded out.

The series has been running at Holocene since 2009, serving a wide selection of films as creative and collaborative prompts for a healthy cross-section of Portland’s avant garde and pop music scene. The film listing includes Holy Mountain, Hausu, Svankmajer’s Alice, Blow-Up, Daisies, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, The Cassandra Cat, Mala Morska Vila (The Little Mermaid), Stalker, The Mirror, Fantastic Planet, The Color of Pomegranates, and Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. These were re-scored by artists including Typhoon, Tu Fawning, Brainstorm, Nurses, AU, Why I Must Be Careful, Grouper, Visible Cloaks, WL, Valet, Wampire, Soft Metals, Wooden Indian Burial Ground, and many more. Gina Altamura, who has been booking acts and curating shows for Holocene for nearly a decade, is the creator and curator of the series. I sat down with Ms. Altamura to discuss the genesis and history of this mainstay of the Portland film and music scenes now that it’s made it into the billing at TBA.

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Andrei Tarkovsky’s “The Mirror.”

Oregon ArtsWatch: So when did Fin de Cinema start?

Altamura: It started in ’09 with [Alejandro Jodorowsky’s] Holy Mountain, which is like the quintessential one to choose. That was an epic one. It was in the days of (the group) Why I Must be Careful. Jon Niekrasz actually composed a bunch of poetry for it. So that was our first one. We initially had the audience sitting on stage, with the live performers behind the audience.

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TBA: A dark, dead thoroughbred

Earplugs, distortion, and a 9-foot figure in a gown amp up the mood for o'neal and gaskin's packed house: "Is TBA a place for rage?"

The press release for Dead Thoroughbred reads, in entirety:

“DT is peri-conceptual, dis-experimental, and a-nihilist.

DT is a blackened performance that is never not happening.

DT is après-queer and post-ratchet.

DT is anti anti-capital capital.

DT is heavy evasion– worthless.

DT is useless currency devoid of value and wide in circulation.

DT has null intension and null extension.

DT is dead frivolous af.

DT is detrital presence; an exhaustion of lack.

DT is at least sidony o’neal and

keyon gaskin.”

The performance in the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s TBA Festival took place in the black-cinderblock box of the PICA annex space. Seats and a few spots on the floor surrounded a clearing for a stage, divided diagonally to make space for two audio setups – laptops, mics, an Ableton pad, various pedals. A lattice of what appeared to be IV bags filled with either black or clear liquid hung near the door to the main building.

keyon gaskin and sidony o’neal

It was a packed house, and everyone had been emphatically encouraged to use earplugs. The door shut and the audience had a few minutes to shift in their seats, adjust their earplugs, and then all the lights went down with an audible clank from some switch somewhere.

We sat for a beat in darkness cut by the red exit signs, then the enormous roll door that made up most of the outside wall churned to life and began to rise. As it rose, it revealed the defiant stance of gaskin’s legs, shod in a pair of severe, black stilettos, but as it continued up, their silhouette appeared impossibly tall and massive, draped in a black satin gown. When the door finally opened enough to reveal the whole figure, we saw it was topped with oneal’s head. o’neal was sitting on gaskin’s shoulders, and their whole form fit into the incredible, authoritative garment. The gown would fit just as well at a formal gala for a secret society as at the head of some interplanetary council, where 9-foot figures were expected.

They strutted in, and the room tensed with the precariousness of the situation – gaskin somehow navigating the room he could see only through the fabric over their eyes, walking on stilettos, pulling a black satin train that must have been 20 feet long. It was captivating, challenging, and incredibly effective for how simple an illusion it was. Once fully in the room, o’neal stepped down from gaskin’s shoulders, creating a centaur-like form as gaskin stayed under the trailing fabric and they moved in unison.

Eventually they split to opposite corners of the room, and the lights went down after o’neal lit a hurricane lamp and a cigarette. From there the show became harder to describe, which seemed to be by design.

For the rest of the show, which was about half an hour, gaskin and o’neal dueled on their audio setups, with loops of feedback, distortion, ragged tones, samples, and drones. gaskin worked the room with a movement performance seen mostly in shadow, lit his own cigarette, and o’neal spoke lines, whispered to individuals in the crowd, triggered audio samples and effects, and paced the room, at later points pouring bleach onto the floor. The two kept the audience in this diffuse, angry, dark, and challenging space until the lights clanked on with a brutal clarity at the end.

The mood ranged from ponderous to openly hostile, and I think choices were made to leave interpretations open-ended for much of the show. Many choices were also made to make the audience uncomfortable – filling the increasingly warm room with cigarette smoke, the grinding audio, and the direct interactions with the audience. o’neal’s most repeated and audible statement was “Is TBA a place for rage?” The last part, “a place for rage” was sampled live and later triggered by both o’neal and gaskin throughout the performance, underscoring its sentiment. It seemed to dovetail with the audio of a clip of Jim Carrey tearing down the very concept of New York Fashion Week, which played in full, punctuated by the ongoing dissonant soundscape.

o’neal repeated another phrase, or variations of it, but I was unable to catch the whole thing.

“People are disappointing precisely because they …”

I think the last word was “disappoint,” but I’m not certain.

Out on the courtyard afterwards, in the milling crowd, I found myself straining in the same way to catch snippets of the murmurs of the audience.

“Did you have fun” “Fun” “Yeah, that was the word I used.”

“The bleach was what put me over the edge.”

“…the dark thoughts that you would, like, vacuum the house instead to avoid thinking.”

“It’s a sinker.” As in it sinks in.

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gaskin and o’neal will be speaking about this performance at 12:30 pm on Wednesday, September 13.

 

 

TBA: shamanism for today

Korean performer Dohee Lee's blend of technology, ritual, and engagement gets TBA:17 off to a stirring start

Dohee Lee’s performance Mu at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s 15th annual TBA festival is only one of the elements of her ongoing, multidisciplinary Puri Arts project. The Korean word, “puri” refers to the relieving and releasing of suppressed or suffering spirits, while “Mu” means shaman. From the start of the show (which opened Friday night and repeats at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9, in the Winningstad Theatre) it’s clear that these are not allegorical titles. Lee is embodying her own new form of performative shamanism which combines traditional spiritual and theatrical elements with modern technology, contemporary settings, and current events. The large-scale projection that opens the show follows Lee as she literally brings her rituals to the streets of the modern world, walking in full costume through the streets of New York as if she was leading a procession of monks instead of curious spectators filming her on their phones.

She accompanied the large-scale projection on Korean barrel-drums, wearing the same amazing costume seen in the video. She was draped in a coat of hundreds of long paper strips bearing writing mostly in Korean, though some appeared to be in English. She wore a simple but elegant and somewhat official folded paper hat and brandished a small hand gong that carried remarkably well through the theater. The paper strips, which could easily be prayers or spells or remembrances of the dead, fluttered behind her on her long sidewalk processional as she chanted, danced, and performed a series of genuflections. While clearly following a set ritual, she demonstrated a seasoned performer’s ability to adapt to the unscripted interruptions from the world around her.

Dohee Lee’s technological shamanism.

One of the most affecting moments in that video came from an encounter with a police SUV. First appearing in the background for a moment, it later dominated the frame when the scene cut to Lee in an alleyway, kneeling in a doorframe and reciting something to herself. The SUV bristled with authority, aggressively stating its right to be where it stood. Its presence seemed to underscore Lee’s status as interloper, as the trespasser interrupting the everyday with a spiritual duty. At the moment it seemed the cops might get out of the car or squawk their siren, Lee stood up, held out her gong, and without looking back processed out of the alleyway, as if she were leading the SUV. It was the first of many moments where the line became blurry between whether Lee was using ritual as a type of performance, or she was performing an actual ritual.

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Portland artists create space for galleries

Portland artists fight the rental crunch with Williamson Knight, Chicken Coop Contemporary and Grapefruit Juice

The changes in Portland’s population, zoning, and real estate have rippled through every aspect of our local culture. There’s more to come for sure, but as the dust settles on our nation-leading rental increases the arts community has been finding new places and new methods to carve out a space for their projects and their people. What follows is a brief overview of three of the more interesting spaces to emerge in the past year.

Chicken Coop Contemporary

As the name might suggest, Chicken Coop Contemporary is housed in a spacious, white chicken coop that stands next to the studio of painter Srijon Chowdhury in his backyard in deep Southeast Portland. An accomplished artist, Chowdhury splits his time between Portland and Los Angeles. In the tradition of apartment galleries and can-we-fit-a-gallery-heregalleries, Chowdhury used the space he has as an opportunity to engage the sometimes-diffuse art community of Portland, and as a place to have a dialogue with some of the artists he’s interested in. As his show at Upfor last year proves, he’s able to bring the rich and considered touch he shows in his paintings to curation and collaboration as well.

The Chicken Coop Contemporary stands next to the studio of painter Srijon Chowdhury in Southeast Portland.

Most of the shows so far have featured small, intense paintings such as the haunting work of Dustin Metz, but the last two shows have included multimedia and site-specific work. The current show directly addresses the venue with text and sculptural pieces reflecting on the lives and ways of chickens and other animals. “Collection Sites by Jesse Stecklow draws on writing about livestock handling, including the work of Temple Grandin, to focus consideration on the lives of the gallery residents—the chickens.

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