Time-Based Art

The Week: TBA or not TBA?

As the contemporary arts festival surges onto an already bulging September calendar, that is the question.

A NEW CROP OF APPLES IS HITTING THE PRODUCE STANDS. Lush ripe tomatoes are overflowing gardens and markets. Cukes are ready for pickling. America’s schoolchildren, ready or not, are back in the saddle again. And today, for the 17th year, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s annual TBA Festival kicks off again. “TBA” stands for “Time-Based Art,” which mainly means performance – art that takes place in a set period of time, in front of an audience – although visual art’s part of the mix, too. And the time is very contemporary: the art of today, for good and sometimes ill. As PICA puts it, the festival, which runs in venues around Portland through Sept. 15, “gathers artists and audiences from around the world” for eleven days of “contemporary performance, music, visual art, film, workshops, lectures, food, drink, conversation, and celebration.” 

Eiko Otake. Photo courtesy Joseph Scheer, IEA at NYSCC, via PICA


Over the years TBA’s had a lot of hits and a lot of misses. Its emphasis on non-traditional and resolutely experimental work can elevate the narcissistic and the sloppy. It can also champion fresh art of astonishing provocation and beauty, as it did in the festival’s very first incarnation, on Sept. 11, 2003, when, on the second anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, the great butoh-influenced performers Eiko and Koma stunned their Portland audience with an outdoor performance in and around the water at Jamison Square, beneath a darkening sky. That performance, eloquently titled Offering, was sad, deep, ghostlike, hopeful, profound. “It strikes me, on this anniversary of death, that the world’s war-makers would detest this dance, which is about deep truths that can’t be glossed or managed,” I wrote at the time. “One watches an invisible flight of ideas. It is the holy and the profane, inseparable, wrapped into one. A mystery.”

The good news is that Eiko Otake is back at TBA for the first time since that 2003 performance, and she’ll be a busy part of things. You can see her tonight, at TBA’s opening reception, in her evolving piece A Body in Places, based on her return to post-nuclear disaster Fukushima. Prints and video works will also be on view through Oct. 24 at PNCA’s 511 Gallery. There’ll be a screening of her film A Body in Fukushima: Reflections on the Nuclear in Everyday Life, on Sept. 9. She’ll perform her Duet Project: Distance Is Malleable, with several collaborators, Sep. 12-14. And in a free event on Sept. 13, she’ll be in conversation with chroreographer Linda K. Johnson and PICA Artistic Director Kristan Kennedy.

 

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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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ArtsWatch Weekly: Fire, TBA

Natural disasters, TBA springs to life, new theater season kicks into gear, Brett Campbell's musical picks, links

Bam. Just like that, it’s September. And just like that, we’re living in a disaster area. Across the metropolitan area the skies are thick with smoke, and ash is drifting like some late-summer demon snow. Fire has engulfed the Columbia Gorge, swept across Warm Springs and southern Oregon (the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland has canceled several outdoor performances), crept to the urban edges. Much of the rest of the West, from Houston to L.A., has been smacked as hard or harder.

James Lavadour, “This Good Land,” suite of two four-color lithographs. Paper size each: 30 x 39.5″; total image size: 60 x 39.5″. Edition of 20. Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts

We tend to think of art as something that engages our minds and our emotions, but here in the West we live in constant proximity to the physical, too, and somehow our art needs to engage that as well. I’m thinking of painters like James Lavadour, whose work seems hewn from the geology of the dry inland, and Michael Brophy’s scenes of human incursions into the wild, and the unromanticized gritty vistas of Sally Cleveland and Roll Hardy, and the elemental art of Sara Siestreem and Lillian Pitt and the late Betty Feves and Morris Graves, and so many others. Their refusal to abandon the idea of the physical is not caution but a recognition that we live in Place, and can’t live outside of it. Call them regionalists if you want. We are all regional, all physical, and our best artists show us how the physical, the intellectual, and the emotional are interwoven. Floods mean something. Fire means something. Wasted waters mean something. We can see it, through the smoke and mirrors of denial. Our storytellers can’t live simply inside their heads. Engage. Engage with the world. Including the physical world that is part of us, and we of it.

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Meanwhile, the cultural season’s steaming down the track like a freight train that’s behind schedule and racing to catch up. Lots and lots going on this week, so let’s just do a quick stop, look, and listen.

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