TBA:13: Intentional Communities Made Visual

This year's Visual Art at TBA:13 is more of an ongoing investigation than an end-all exhibition.

Forgetting for a moment that this is a festival about time-based art, one might become confused about this year’s Visual Art at TBA:13, aptly (and elusively) titled: “…community declared itself a medium…”. There is more space and place than there is sculpture and paint; the media is conceptual and ungraspable. It is a show about projects and activities and relationships, not the newest foray into traditional media and expert craftsmanship (not to say that there isn’t some of this).

Kristan Kennedy notes in her curatorial statement: “The artists included in this year’s program will certainly be using our energy.” We are asked as viewers to participate, to connect the points, to bring context to these experiments in community. Don’t expect to get it all (immediately or otherwise). The works presented are pulled from their habitat, shown as one-shots when they are actually ongoing investigations into participation, new media, the role of the artist, and the definition of community.

Community is a gathering of folk.
Community is an idea of togetherness.
Community is an idea of like-mindedness.
Community is a show on NBC.
Community is a cultural force.
Community is a sense of belonging.
Community is a space for interaction and artistic practice.
Community is a subject.
Community is a medium.

On one hand we have the definition of community as a group of people with common interests, traits or in a common location. On the other we have the definition as a worker or resource designed to help the people of a particular area. But perhaps the best way to look at this is from an ecological standpoint: a community in the wild is the idea of disparate species (ideas, artists, scholars, the audience) as they interact, grow, and live together in a specified habitat (the art world, Portland). It is overarching but personal; everyone is affected but always in a slightly different way.


The exhibition* splits itself into parts, each adding to our understanding of the whole. As Kennedy sets forth in her statement, this year’s work requires the audience and an active interaction more than ever. If last year’s Alex Cecchetti relay performance was the beginning, this is the logical conclusion. In order to infiltrate and understand this work you must enter into a different mode of existence from your usual.

Some works are more readily accessible (literally) than others, and this makes sure that each experience is different from that previous. In Lucy Raven and Rebecca Gates’ “Room Tone: Variation,” one only needs to sit or stand in the room to become part of the work. As the performer reads off the piece’s explanation into a microphone hooked to a pair of reel-to-reel recorders, it is not even readily apparent that the performance has begun. There is no call for silence, no preface, no warning. This recording, re-recording and eventual degradation of sound purports to find the tone of the room in which it is happening. This is influenced by the bodies within the space and shape of the walls; the sound bounces off of you and is changed.** You belong to this community.

One of the leftovers from “C’mon Language.”

One of the leftovers from “C’mon Language.”

Requiring a more active participation, Anna Craycroft’s “C’mon Language” has been going on for the past few months, and it is through a series of workshops that she has probed the question: “How do we make ourselves understood?”. The activity area at PICA headquarters is littered with detritus from past conversations; drawings and diagrams and brainstorms are hung floor to ceiling. Without attending one of the workshops, the audience is only scratching the surface. But the place is pregnant with questions and hints. What has gone on here? What have people learned? It’s like a classroom with the essence of learning lingering in the air. You want to belong to this community but maybe you already do.

Differing views on what newsprint should be used for at "C'mon Language".

Differing views on what newsprint should be used for at “C’mon Language”.

Treading a line between physical and virtual while making a case for, perhaps, a dissolution of that distinction, Krystal South’s internet-based “Identify Yourself” (http://www.idyrslf.com) is essentially the artist’s thoughts on identity in the internet age presented in essay format. Rife with links, embeds, image macros and .gifs, South’s personal exploration of her coming-of-age alongside the internet is one that resonates with many. Anyone who was born before the 1990s is aware of a time when the internet was not something. It makes so much sense to talk about the internet on the web. We can no longer treat it as something we must “get on”. As South says, “I don’t go on the internet; I am in the internet and I am always online.”

This pervasive community (that of people using the internet in one way or another) is only trumped in size by that all-inclusive grouping of being-a-human-on-Earth. It is varied and ever-changing and totally reliant on technology to function, yet it brings together people, their knowledge and their experiences in constantly evolving and surprising ways. You belong to this community (you’re reading this online, aren’t you?) and it is still forming.

A.L. Steiner’s “Feelings and How to Destroy Them” is a showcase of video work from the past few years. In “COLOR LOCATION ULTIMATE EXPERIENCE; PART 1 (C.L.U.E.)”, two performers in constantly changing monochromatic outfits dance to a series of instrumental rock songs. As they roll off mattresses in unison, kick up their feet, fall down hills, and shimmy in fuchsia underpants in the desert, the two women create a surprisingly concrete ode to the music video genre. Quick edits and playful video effects keep the viewer interested and watching for the entirety. Other videos tread old ground as nude figures pile up in front of Yves Klein monochromes (referencing his “Anthropometries of the Blue Period” [1960] and its tenuous position in between satire, action painting and perceived misogyny).

In the back room, complete with curtain and theater seats, the presentation of “COMMUNITY ACTION CENTER” further teases the viewer with uncertainty. Various narratives are shown in sequence; most are about or related to sex and sexuality. Nothing is too shocking, but one gets the feeling that these graphic tableaus are meant to make you do a doubletake, or at least to question how you react. The fact that simply writing out a description caused me to question the gender of the actors on the screen (as I searched for a single definition) means that something is working. Depending on how one defines themselves in a gender context, this film will have wildly different associations.

As far as gallerizing a participatory experience, Alex Mackin Dolan’s “Cycle, Sun, Limit” at Con-Way does just fine. Although the imagery and objects are a bit cryptic, the call to (inter)action is clear. Sit down and play a game with some people or play solitaire by yourself in the corner. This dichotomy, encompassed by the brightly-lit white-cube space, brings focus to mundane actions that are designed to entertain. By presenting everyday objects and simple games, the artist recontextualizes constants from every community.

A seemingly minimal showing at the Portland Museum of Modern Art is in reality a far-reaching inquiry into language and its everyday use. Sue Tompkins’ work in this instance exists as audio, rainbow fabric and concrete poetry. The latter is most telling, and hints at how personal bits of language can become. Approaching these works with different experiences, each viewer will undoubtedly pull their own meaning from the structural assemblies of words, characters and white space. Patrick Collier has more to say here.

Sue Tompkins’ flags at PMoMA.

Sue Tompkins’ flags at PMoMA.

Jamie Isenstein’s “Will Return” is easily the most accessible pocket of Visual Arts at TBA this year. It is a seriously cohesive exhibition that brings its many layers together into a series of sly smiles and slow-burning gags. The soundtrack to “Acéphal Magical” (2007) plays sleepily behind the wall where this two-channel video is projected. Its melancholic drone fits in perfectly with the rest of the work, enhancing the atmosphere of mystery and impish mischief. The sound itself could hold its own, but the video is equally mesmerizing and adds a needed reference back to the body of the performer.

The viewer gets as much out of “Will Return” as they put in. Do you walk through quickly and catch the references to vaudeville, to the people in the wings, to the entertainers? Or do you wait and witness Isenstein inhabit her pieces in a series of minute performances? This is a show to be explored. And, as you do, the body of the artist is revealed to be an inextricable part of the work. How is the audience implicated in a gallery exhibition? We are explorers and Isenstein is the guide. Patrick Collier has more insight on this topic.

Jamie Isenstein, "Delicious After Dinner Mints," 2010, C-print. Installation view.

Jamie Isenstein, “Delicious After Dinner Mints,” 2010, C-print. Installation view.

The exhibition* “…community declared itself a medium…” is both about helping to elucidate the forces behind the notion of community (not really so much defining it) as well as looking at exactly what PICA does as a group/company/organization. Kennedy’s use of PICA’s mission statement in her curatorial statement sets the stage for a decidedly more nebulous offering in the visual arts section of TBA this year. Equal importance is shared between what is there (the objects), what/who is addressed (the subjects) and what is missing (the absent).

So is it the subjects that interact with the objects to make form of the absent? Or does the absent shape the way in which the subjects read the objects? Or are the objects and subjects the same in the eye of the absent? Kennedy has it right: “community” should stay in quotes, because as a medium it is still in flux and yet to be defined.

*We’ll use this as a way to talk about “…community declared itself a medium…” in a way that is relatable within this text, although Kennedy starts her statement by clearly saying, “This is not an exhibition.”

**I can’t help but think that this performance (although an experiment) would have been more meaningful if it had lasted for much longer. As soon as I was aware of what was going on, I was ready for it to last hours as I listened to the spoken word give way to reverberation. As it was, at 10:30pm on opening night, it all ended a little too quickly.

“…community declared itself a medium…”
Visual Art at TBA:13
Curated by Kristan Kennedy
June 3 – October 26, 2013
Various Locations
More information can be found at:

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