portland institute for contemporary art

September DanceWatch: TBA-plus

PICA's Time-Based Art Festival highlights a month that also shows many dancers and companies emerging from isolation

It’s TBA time! TBA stands for Time-Based Art, and it’s the Portland Institute For Contemporary Art’s annual festival (September 6-October 3) of dance, performance, music, visual art, film, workshops, and artist talks. The festival is inherently interdisciplinary and champions local, national, and international artists who reflect and respond to our times. It’s a mind-altering, opinion-changing, heart-opening extravaganza of the senses. 

Below I have highlighted the dance-centric TBA events along with other September dance performances because that’s what we do here at DanceWatch. I recommend taking a deep dive into the work of each artist via the internet because they are so much more than my short descriptions. They are dancers, choreographers, writers, activists, and complex nuanced human beings. Just click on their names and away you go. For the full schedule of TBA events, go to PICA’s website.

Some performances are in person, some are online. As in most of Oregon’s theaters, masks are required indoors and outdoors regardless of vaccination status. For the festival’s live, in-person programs taking place at PICA, proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken in the prior 48 hours is also required. Awesomely, this year’s festival is pay-what-you-can and has a new single-pass structure, but indoor capacity is limited to 50 percent or less to enable distancing, so plan ahead. Enjoy!

September Performances

New York choreographer Emily Johnson performing in her work, “Invitation To Being A Future Being.” Performance view, Socrates Sculpture Park, 2020. Photo: Scott Lynch


VizArts Monthly: TBA is here! Plus other happenings in September

Summer may be ending but arts programming ramps up in September with offerings in everything from performance to print to paint.

For many of us, PICA’s Time-Based Art Festival (TBA) signals an impending change in season. Inching closer to autumn, it’s again time for the iconic festival to challenge the status quo with inventive performances and panel discussions. Starting mid-September, local and global converge when artists share work that pushes boundaries, and this year, the festival offers pay-what-you-can pricing and a single-pass structure. Start planning now. Events fill quickly, and you’ll have both in-person and digital options to choose from (details below).

If you’re comfortable attending in-person events, Church of Film returns to the Clinton St. Theater with more experimental film programming this month, and several galleries are presenting exhibitions on significant themes of upheaval, hegemony, climate, and the unknown. September promises a series of art happenings that will challenge the viewer on the most pressing issues of our time.

Emily Johnson pictured, Image courtesy PICA

Time-Based Art Festival
September 16 – October 3, 2021
Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA)
Various locations

Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s (PICA) annual festival of performance, film, workshops, lectures, and more has arrived! Since 2003, the Time-Based Art Festival (TBA) has gained a reputation for its commitment to intense, innovative performances and interdisciplinary artworks. This year, with additional COVID-19 precautions in place, TBA offers a robust calendar of events. Several stand out:

  • Let ‘im Move You: Intervention: jumatatu m. poe & Jermone Donte Beacham, co-presented with On the Boards and REDCAT.
    October 1 and 2, 2021, at 6 PM; exact location revealed prior to performance

    In Let ‘im Move You: Intervention, which first premiered in three Philadelphia neighborhoods in 2016, jumatatu m. poe and Jermone Donte Beacham seek to activate the sidewalks and alleyways of historically and/or predominantly Black neighborhoods. Drawing on the structure of J-Sette, the live outdoor performances work “to reveal the powerfully singular expression that can emerge within this highly regimented dance.” This choreographed series of works stems from the artists’ decade-long research into J-Sette performance and the performance of joy. Jermone Donte Beacham will also take part in an online panel discussion on October 1 that further explores the Black queer majorette dance community.
  • The Drift: Garrick Imatani and Travis Stewart.
    September 17, 2021, at 12 PM, and October 3, 2021, at 6 PM; PICA Resource Room, 15 NE Hancock St. Portland.

    The Drift is a “visual archive of the future, where the politics and excuses for failed Indigenous repatriation are bypassed through an inexplicable force that returns all that is lost and stolen.” Garrick Imatani, Travis Stewart, and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde collaborated on this project, which combines virtual reality, a publication and screening, digital fabrication, and photography. Stewart and Imatani will also participate in an online panel discussion on September 18, further elaborating on The Drift‘s themes of repatriation, healing, and Indigenous futures.
  • GOOD MOURNING: RITUALS FOR DISPLACEMENT: Mia Imani, curated by Wa Na Wari.
    September 19, 2021, at 12 PM; meeting locations revealed prior to performance

    Mia Imani, an international interdisciplinary artivist (art + activist) and arts writer based in Berlin, creates works that live in liminal art/science spaces to address personal and communal traumas of disenfranchised communities. Imani melds dreams, rituals, ethnography, geography, and psychoanalysis to create new visions, activated through experimental reportage and more. For Imani’s performance of GOOD MOURNING: RITUALS FOR DISPLACEMENT, the audience will move to three different locations, all accessible to those with mobility devices.
Work by Michelle Ramin, image courtesy Stumptown Coffee


Art & Music: Aki Onda’s Collection of Collections

"A Letter from Souls of the Dead," now on view at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, tugs at memory

A Letter from Souls of the Dead points quietly in multiple directions at once. This exhibit by Aki Onda (they/them), an artist and composer currently based in Japan, opened at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art on July 10 to an eager public. Masked attendees filled its warehouse to watch Onda and several local artists perform with the exhibit’s signature decorative hand bells—an offering that Onda described as “a small ritual for activating the works and pouring energy into the space.”

I had the opportunity to preview the exhibit and speak with Onda and curator Kristan Kennedy (she/her) prior to the opening. Near the start of our discussion, as we spoke about childhood memories, Onda motioned toward the PICA warehouse and said, “This is our church.”

Aki Onda (right) and Marcus Fischer playing Bells at the opening of A Letter from Souls of the Dead/Photo by Tojo Andrianarivo, courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

A Letter from Souls of the Dead does take on the likeness of a sacred environment. In addition to a host of bells, the exhibit includes old technology from an electronics store as well as imagery of vintage cassette tapes. Onda’s caring arrangement of this ephemera invites awareness of the memory and energy that lives between and beyond it all. Many of the materials in the exhibit are sourced from Onda’s previous works. Kennedy aptly described it as a “collection of collections,” which coalesced through a mix of Onda’s intuition and intention. “There’s a lot of decisions made in advance, a lot of careful planning, but then there’s also a lot of room for openness,” Kennedy recalled of the process. 


Even amidst the chaos in our world right now, artists are getting creative and finding ways to perform for you. September’s performances are a combination of live, live- streamed, and recorded performances. 

In preparation for this month’s live performances that require social distancing, let’s play a few games. Let’s imagine that social distancing is a dance and that you are a performer in this dance. A dance that includes everyone around you. All the world’s a stage, right?

First, find a broom. Hold the broom out to your side, parallel with the floor, with one end about a foot from your center. This is approximately six feet. Two arms length. This is the suggested distance that we are supposed to keep between us to keep us safe from catching and spreading Covid-19. Now, walk around the house moving the broomstick around your body 360 degrees and experience what this measurement actually feels like. Yup, it’s bigger than you think. Watch out for those dishes and that lamp! 

If this doesn’t work for you and you need a different visual, measure six feet out from your center and place objects from your house in a circle around you on the floor. Now feel your feet on the ground, reach your fingertips up to the sky, and spread your arms out on either side of you and turn in place carving out the edges of your space with your fingertips. You can even take this a step further and explore your space beyond the vertical and horizontal tracing all of the areas in between. Now take this imaginary space that you have explored and create a giant bubble with it and put yourself in it. You now live in a bubble at all times! Stay in your bubble!

Next game. Imagine that you have a string attached to your bellybutton that connects your body to others. Imagine that we are all connected to each other, all the time, through this extensive web of strings. Take a moment to feel what this really feels like, to keep other people around you in your consciousness at all times. Imagine being out in the world and stringing yourself to people walking by you or folks standing in line with you at the grocery store or protestors downtown. You CAN be conscious of yourself and others all at the same time. 

Now, get into your gigantic bubble and connect your string to the people around you. Keep your distance but stay connected and go forth into the world. 

These are exercises or dances that dance teachers often give to their youngest students to help them learn body awareness and to keep them from bumping into and injuring each other during class. These awareness tools can keep us safe, create compassion, and connection. And don’t forget your costume, your mask!

Performances keep popping up, so I will be adding them to this list as they come up. Check back often. 

September Dance Performances

The beautiful Portland performer and community activist, Chisao Hata.
Photo courtesy of Chisao Hata.

Echo Theater Company PDX
9-10pm September 1

Under the full moon, in an undisclosed location somewhere in Portland (The event address will be emailed the day of the show), Echo Theatre, Portland’s zany, forward thinking, acrobatics, aerial dance, and physical theater company, will present, Luminaries, an hour long performance of music, dance, and storytelling. The event features Japanese-American performing artist and community organizer Chisao Hata, triple threat Bevin Victoria, Korean-American actor, writer and director Heath Houghton, and theatre and television actor Tessa May. Topping off the evening will be performances by the renowned Echo Theatre Company Education Director Wendy Cohen and Director of Operations and Community Engagement Aaron Wheeler Kay, who specializes in acrobatics, aerial dance, and physical theater.


Vision 2020: Ella Ray

"There is this level of resistance coming from formerly colonized people who are marginalized, and I feel something bubbling under the surface"

Ella Ray is an art historian who, as she puts it, “produces environments, partnerships, and texts that explore the relationship between the interpersonal, the public, and the in-between.” She has a B.A. in art history/critical theory from Portland State University, and works for the Portland Art Museum and Portland Institute for Contemporary Art. She is community partnership coordinator for Portland Art Museum’s Hank Willis Thomas exhibition All Things Being Equal, which closes Sunday, Jan. 12.

Ray is a multifaceted creative who uses Black studies and Queer studies to examine the ways Black popular culture and Black fine arts are defining contemporary culture. She earned her degree from Portland State University in Art History with a focus on Critical and Queer theory. As a historian and a community member, she is leading challenging conversations around race, historical erasure, and the fruits we all can gain through open institutional critique.   


What I’m going to do is go through a list of questions. Just whatever is on your mind, go ahead and let it flow. Give me whatever is in your crystal ball. Let’s start with your current professional background.

Currently, I work at the Portland Art Museum, formerly as a Kress interpretive fellow through the Kress Foundation. At the same time I am the community partnership coordinator for the Hank Willis Thomas All Things Being Equal exhibition. In addition to that, I work with PICA in their youth program, freelance consult for various arts organizations, and art adjacent things, and I write about Black theory, Black studies, and performance.

Art historian Ella Ray, using “Black studies and queer studies to think about the ways in which Black popular culture and Black fine arts are defining western culture.” Photo courtesy Ella Ray

You also have a background in art history. Can you tell me just a little bit about your education and what you went to school for?


MusicWatch Monthly: Second winter descends

Hymns, films, saxophones, French music, Local music

Oregon has two winters as well as two summers. We’ve just wrapped up First Winter: the time when it hasn’t gotten too terribly cold and miserable, holiday cheer is in the air, and everybody’s all excited for the solstice and the new year. Now that all that busyness is behind us, it’s time to hunker down for the rest of winter, the long cold dreary late morning of the soul, a grim season that seems to grind on forever and promises only the occasional snow day in compensation.

But we’re in luck: we get to ring in the Coming of Second Winter with a month of pleasantly undemanding concerts of medieval hymns, saxophone ensembles, live film music, and classical chamber music by a variety of French and Local composers. It all starts this weekend with Cappella Romana and the Hymns of Kassianë.

This weekend: nuns, saxes, oboe, and movies

“With a golden apple in his hand, Emperor Theophilos slowly walked between two lines of contending beauties; His eye was detained by the charms of Kassia, and, in the awkwardness of a first declaration the prince said that in this world, women had been the occasion of much evil,” from Eve on down. “And surely, Sir,” Kassia pertly replied, “they have likewise been the occasion of much good,” including Mary, who birthed Jesus.

Kassia’s impudence at a medieval beauty contest aimed at finding a bride for the ruler of Medieval Europe’s Eastern Empire may have cost the composer (born 810 in the Byzantine capitol Constantinople) her chance to become Byzantine empress. But it might have also sparked her to overcome the barriers female artists faced in her time—some of which remain. Kassia subsequently left the royal court, earned fame as a poet, philosopher, and activist who endured beatings and other persecution. And, like the later, more famous female medieval composer Hildegard of Bingen–she became abbess of her own convent. The Orthodox church later beatified her as St. Kassianë.


An academic conference for Schemers, Scammers, and Subverters

Artists Ralph Pugay and Roz Crews have designed a conference for our times

“I think a lot has changed for the project since we talked last,” says Ralph Pugay (he/him) as I caught up with him and Roz Crews (she/her) over coffee two weeks ago. I have been following these two artists as they have collaborated on the Schemers, Scammers, and Subverters Symposium , aka SSSS, since early last year.

“We’re not going to have Tonya Harding,” continued Pugay.

“Sadly,” added Crews.

Originally slated to take place in December 2018, SSSS was envisioned as an academic conference that would feature presentations by schemers, scammers, and subverters from a wide array of backgrounds. The aforementioned Olympian was high on the list of desirable presenters. However, Crews and Pugay have since shifted their timeline and programmatic vision, instead reaching out to locally-based artists, creatives, and cultural workers through their networks. The event will now take place February 23, from 10am-6pm at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Portland.

Living School of Art poster for the SSSS’s TOTALLY HONEST BARTER BAZAAR

The conceptual framework of the symposium carries layers of nuance underneath that sensationalist title. “The title of the project is a big part of the project…It’s totally critical, as is true with lots of conceptual art projects,” said Crews of its multiple meanings. “I think those words [scheme, scam, subvert] have negative connotations,” reflected Pugay, “but then I can also imagine, coming from my background, my experience of being a Filipino immigrant, those are also tools for survival for people.”

On the one hand, SSSS has been shaped by a dialogue between Crews and Pugay about this fraught historical moment. They began asking themselves what it would be like, in Crews words, “to make a project that’s about scheming and scamming and subverting systems, when we have a President who is just straight up scamming us all.”