September 17th, 2010 | Published in Arts
|A spirited moment from the John Jasperse Company’s “Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies.” Photo: Courtesy of PICA|
The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s 10-day-long Time-Based Arts Festival (aka TBA), is now in its eighth season. I have had the privilege to be in attendance each year since its inception in 2003, when I experienced a memorable performance of Butoh legends Eiko and Koma.
A lot has changed over the years: locations, staff, scale, audience. For the last four years, however, a consistent curatorial format has remained as PICA has seated two outside guest artistic directors. The first addition was the indelible touch of Mark Russell; also returning this year is Cathy Edwards.
With Edwards at the helm, given her post as director of performance programs at Connecticut’s International Festival of Arts & Ideas, the events have become radically more dance-centric than in the past (recalling my years watching Dance Umbrella back in New England). She has most certainly gathered some of the brightest in the world of movement, notably this year’s presentation of both John Jasperse Company and Maria Hassabi, as well as the re-return of producer Mike Barber’s “Ten Tiny Dances,” always a crowd favorite.
In this light I tend to focus on a curatorial vision, so this year, for me, it was all about the gesture, however random, slight or grandiose. As any festival would have it, an attendee may be running around from event to event. TBA is no different; it’s a whirlwind of ecstatic energies on both sides of the Willamette that could both invigorate and exhaust over the course of a single evening – call it an audio/visual workout. It’s somewhere in this sphere that one may reach a point of uncertain nirvana in the throes of performance art including dance, film, theater, contemporary visual art, spoken-word monologues and readings, concerts and the blending of genres beyond category.
This year PICA has teamed up with many key presenters – sites across town include Imago Theater, BodyVox, the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, the Whitsell Auditorium at the Portland Art Museum and, for the second year running, the former site of Washington High School has become The Works, a central location for performances and all visual art installations related to the festival.
|A shot from Storm Tharp’s studio, part of the exhibition “High House.”
Photo: Courtesy of PICA
Oh yes, those gestures. They were evident throughout these venues, and in the streets before and after performances. There was something awkwardly romantic and free in the black and white tulle flags dangling, blown by a small fan in Storm Tharp’s pristine and yet homey installation “High House.” It may be the first time I’ve seen his work this simply, and while there is plenty to look at – jars of pigment, notes to self, a teeny sculpture of a dancer, a video of drapes being blown hither in his living room, and other tableaus depicting famous actresses from the ’70s done in pastel – you get the feeling you are ogling around the stage of the artist’s belongings, his personal space. With everything on risers and faux staircases, all in bright retro/futuristic white, the audience has become part of a small square maze of curiosities.
Another gesture was that made while twisting and turning about in the round as part of The Wooster Group’s eye-opening interactive and panoramic war film projection titled “There Is Still Time … Brother,” directed by Elizabeth Le Compte and developed with Jeffrey Shaw. The audience is seated at center (on swiveling stools), actors surround on all sides of the circular space, and one audience member (at center) controls the direction the film will be projected. As the central person in the room moves, the film moves round the room. It’s ingenious to say the least, and judging by the way in which you watch the loop (only 20 minutes) you probably could be sitting and spinning for hours without seeing the whole thing – it completely breaks the linearity of passive cinema.