Yesterday afternoon I stopped by for the live presentation of Claudia Meza's Listening to Space: Sonic City PDX, billed as a QR code walking tour consisting of “thirty local musicians, composers, and sound artists'... favorite local sonic spaces.”
East of the river under the Morrison Bridge, performances of experimental compositions spanned the sublime (Luke Wyland, Like A Villain, etc.) to the abrasive (Daniel Menche), and over the course of the afternoon I couldn't help but think back to Meza's End Things piece at the White Box, “Water”— consisting of 30-some Califone tape recorders loaded with sounds of water— and how the field recordings included in the installation acted like windows into unknown physical spaces, conjuring sonic sources and abstract, amalgamated poly-environments.
Sonic City PDX's digital home presents a similar (but slightly different!) relationship between sound and physical space. The project's Tumblr brings together field recordings and writings that detail contributing musicians' favorite spots— like “Water,” getting at the connectivity between a sound and its source, though stripped of all abstraction (here's the place, here's what it sounds like, rather than, here's a sound, imagine where it came from). I took this slight difference as deliberate, each project acting as the key to understanding the other.
Ugh. Does anyone actually want to talk about Keith Hennessy’s Turbulence? How about, instead, we just stay home, get high as fuck, and wobble around our living rooms? We can touch each other. And wear spandex. It’ll be a reenactment! Even if you didn’t see the performance, no matter. The dance is always changing.
Luckily I photo-documented a cardboard list of things that Hennessy shared with us, things that he said he wanted to happen during his performance. Here is what you need to do:
Did I mention, the dance should be about the economy? Oh hey, the dance should be about the economy!
Except it’s okay if it’s not at all about the economy. In fact, if you have a bottle of champagne at home, grab that. Turn your attention to that. Take a sip of that. Now grab a rubber mat. Take another dreg of champagne; dump the rest of it on the mat, and, get naked…Because that rubber mat has officially become a slip'n'slide.*
Be sure to roll around and touch each other for a solid hour. Don’t forget the human pyramid.
In lieu of any drawn-out convo on this ridiculousness (which, you may have gathered by now, was an hour and-a-half of carefree improv BS), I’ll post some quotes I gathered from last night. In chronological order:
“This is some hippie shit up in here.” — Noah Dunham. (The show hasn’t started.)
“Want a donut?” — Dude hanging from the railing. (The show has started?)
“Who wants a donut?” — Donut dude, now in the audience, handing out donuts.
“Aimless.” — Guy in the audience.
“Well, if the party is in option…I’m gonna take that option. And get out of here.” — Woman behind me.
“DICK. I wanna. See. More. Dick." — My friend, now desperate, and hoping they open the floor to audience suggestions.
“I am so over contemporary art. I am so sick of how self-indulgent this field is.” — My friend, the art professor.
“I just want to see something pretty :( ” — Me, five days into TBA.
I understand: art can have value, even if you don’t like it. You don’t have to like a piece of art in order for it to be enriching. I didn't like this piece, obvs. But I also don't see where the value was. And I am very patient with these things!! Since I saw the work, I’ve kept trying to give the performance the benefit of the doubt, insisting to myself, “I must be missing something.” But, no.**
At a certain point, art stops being “difficult” and starts being an abusive and self-indulgent waste of an audience’s time. The majority of the performance felt this way to me, with the few exceptions being when Hennessy got on the microphone, and made some genuinely eloquent remarks on...well, love, essentially. At another point, Hennessy began wandering the stage, inciting, “Get Mad. Get angry. Go to the window.”
And that’s where he left us. Or at least me, and the people around me. I honestly cringe at the fact that, at this moment, there is a fresh batch of people who are walking out of the theater who have just experienced this, and who probably paid to experience this.
That being said, if anyone else saw this piece and has a different take (I hope someone does), please sound off in the comments!
*Still not sure if this was irony or ignorant opulence (re: our fucked economy).
**And I really WANT to appreciate Keith Hennessy’s piece!!! I watched him at Ten Tiny Dances, and I enjoyed him!!! I love his earnesty. He's funny. When he speaks, it’s obvious that he’s smart and talented (not just anyone can balance themselves on a Culligan jug)!
He's costumed and cartoonish, standing inside a bulky white cube— his head turtling from a hole in the fully-operational, mobile gallery. Tonight, Monday the 12th, Reinsch's white walls house a one-off exhibit of illustrations by Ralph Pugay (to be followed by the sculptural works of Katie Dunbar on Wednesday, September 14).
“Electric muscular openings and closings between females and males,” says Reinsch with a Ginsberg-esque emotive grandeur and musicality. “Wit! Wit can have a value, only in the male, however the moral exhibition, however the accelerating trend...”
He's reciting a flarf poem composed of phrases that were borrowed from artist statements and gallery missions. The found language, remixed to form a work of substantial range, incorporates convoluted declarations about art, purer admissions of motivation and human spirit (or dispirit), and territories between. In becoming the gallery and speaking absurdly within it, the idea is that this poem will call into question the role of institutional art speak.
Two or three drags off my cigarette and Reinsch delivers the closing lines of the poem. His gallery attendant, a woman in black pantsuit, puts a "Be back in 5 minutes" sign on Reinsch. They walk away from the half-dozen audience members, made up of a handful of local artists, a photographer and his assistant, and myself.
No words are exchanged between performer and audience. Nobody knows what to do next. Follow Reinsch? Give him space? Is it part of the performance? Is he moving on to his next location?
We decide to follow for fear of missing the action, keeping a fifty-foot distance from Reinsch, who slowly paces up 13th towards SE Stark. I feel like a private detective doing the poorest tail job ever.
Finally, Reinsch restarts the poem in his pinched, nonchalant way, and we follow closer as he walks down Stark towards the river. He directs his words at two lanes of traffic, stopped for a red light. Some drivers maintain unscathed coolness, pretending not to notice. Others gawk. A man pauses on his bike at the intersection, trying his hardest to seem totally unfazed by the ridiculous sight. He won't look directly at Reinsch.
"Welcome to America!" someone yells from a car window as we continue past the intersection.
The estimable Anne Adams over at Culturephile reports on one of the most unintentionally funny moments of TBA so far: When performer David Eckard's side-show barker schtick was interrupted by a drunk guy who handily stole the show, to the chagrin of a well-heeled crowd:
A slight woman in a beige dress steeled her nerves, got up, and approached the man, who was now standing. “Come over here,” she murmured sweetly, moving to the outskirts of the crowd. When he stood firm and loudly refused, she looked stunned, as though she had spent her entire life up to this moment luring any person to any place, simply by asking nicely.
“You’re spoiling the show for everyone!” shouted a plucky Englishwoman.
“Why?” screamed the drunk. “Why can he talk and I can’t?”
“He’s performing,” said several.
“I’m PERFORMING!” yelled the drunk (in all fairness, making a bloody good point).
Adams points out, correctly, that if you're going to pose as a snake-oil salesman, you need to be able to manage the crowd—even when the crowd gets disruptive. Especially then, maybe. Not only that, but it was disheartening to see PICA staffers call security because their own performer couldn't live up to the promise of his act. Art seemed pretty ineffectual compared to an angry drunk guy.
In fairness to Eckard, apparently when his show works, it's great.
I've been covering TBA as a journalist, in some capacity or another, for the last six years. In that time I have developed this survival kit. Wanna know what it contains? Hit the jump!
Yep, it's raining. Yep, the sold-out show will go on.
From Stephen Marc Beaudoin's preview:
You know the story, right?
Globetrotting explorers happen upon a witch in the great Oregon Territory and wish Oregon from mere territory into mighty statehood; the witch "uncorks" Oregon statehood from the bottle where it's kept, but threatens to rebottle Oregon at age 100 unless someone can guess her name; a California fruit inspector guesses right (obviously!), so the state lives on to celebrate its 150th birthday; and there is a "beaver thump" dance and general rejoicing. Oregon history in 33 jazz-soaked musical minutes has never sounded so riotously bizarre.
Read the rest of the article for more details on the show, plus quotes from Pink Martini's Thomas Lauderdale and Oregon! Oregon! stage director Greg Tamblyn.
So you can imagine that I was probably not the best person to hop on board the "scavenger hunt" organized by the art rock duo of Brother and Sister. I put scavenger hunt in quotes because it implies that you'd be running around town collecting a list of objects. Instead, we were running around town trying to decode clues of ever increasing obscurity.
We started at the Leftbank, divided up into ten war-painted teams. The first clue, located in the Leftbank gallery, required the slashing of a canvas to reveal a cubby-hole filled with CD's that contained our second clue: a snippet of the song "On Broadway." What part of the song? The bridge, of course. Ohhhh, so that's how it's gonna be.
Okay. At this point, a small portion of my team is in my car, the others are on bicycle. The bicycles are far more nimble in this game than those of us with four wheels. I have to hunt for parking spots more often than I hunt for clues. Still, those of us in the car are being a bit helpful—one clue on the Mercury's back page is a doozy until I discover, if you read it right it says, "union station."
Before long it is evident that the bikes have a huge advantage on us, but we persevere, showing up just in time to help. The clues are getting more and more strange: a letter in a post office box has a claim ticket for a locker in the greyhound station, which has a bag that contains an equation of some sort, that leads to a parking garage...
The hunt gets especially serious when we learn that one of the team members will need to get a (free) tattoo. We are not sure what the tattoo is, but apparently, it's our next clue and we cannot progress unless we see it. There is a brief moment when I have the opportunity to get into the chair. But I acquiesce to on of the teammates who arrived before I did and had never been inked before. Turns out that the tattoo is of a cute little donut and we're off to Voodoo.
Things started breaking down after one of our team-mates was required to have half of the Willy Week logo carved into their hair with a pair of clippers (though we didn't know that's what the design was at the time). Leave it to the WW to fuck everything up.
In the end I was reminded of how much I disliked the Bloodhound Gang. They took something magical and mysterious and reduced it to cold explainable facts. Here, the cold explainable fact was that the payoff was totally not worth it. Located in the lot, Brother and Sister wailed away. It was sloppy, loud and irritating. The people dressed as cavemen where just completely perplexing. Such was our prize.
But at least we had some fun and we got into the Works for free... to see more Brother and Sister... Shit.
Yes, Tilburg is a real place in Holland, and for eleven days, it was the ghostly double of Portland—if you squinted your eyes juuuust right you could barely make it out.
As Khris Soden lead groups of tourists through the streets of Portland, he was actually following a route in Tilburg. The Tilburg map had been carefully laid over the map of Portland so that the two cities shared boulevards, buildings and sometimes, community characteristics.
Soden was completely in the zone, talking about the various stops on the tour as if they were real and present. It took some imagination to see the cathedral where the Hilton stood, but as Soden gestured towards the cathedral spires, I'll be damned if I didn't catch myself looking up at them in awe.
There were some lovely Tilburg/Portland synchronicities: The vacant Django's record store on Stark became a Tilburg punk club, Portland's Pioneer Place shopping mall became a tacky 90's style mall in Tilburg, and a Willy Week box became a statue of a man with a jug of piss.
It was certainly strange flipping through another cities tour book—holding up the picture of the Summer Palace in Tilburg, using the image to erase the Carl's Junior that stood in front of you—but there we were, looking like a group of delusional dupes, nodding our heads slowly as Soden described the palace, the fountain and the plaza.
One of the best moments in the tour happened as we passed the Central Library with Soden chattering away about the percentage of bicyclists in Tilburg. A group of young punks, leaning against a wall, sneered at our group as we passed. Suddenly, one of them growled at us—"Fucking tourists." And though most of us were Portland residents, not a single one of us could have protested.
Soden will be performing a similar tour in Tilburg. But this time, their streets will become ours. There's a kind of comfort in that for me. I'm not exactly sure why.
"I have mixed feelings about this place," Linda Wysong admitted during her show yesterday afternoon. "This place" is the South Waterfront, and the show, Backyard Conversations, is an exploration of the strange little world down there, south of the Ross Island Bridge.
If you've got any interest in how cities are born and constantly reinvented, and the conflict between "civilization's" need for natural resources and the need to control them, head down and check out the last couple days of Wysong's tours.
This spot down by Ross Island, in the shallows between the Tualatin Hills and the flats of the Willamette River, has been a gathering place for centuries. And in the 150 years or so that whitey's been in control, the built environment has changed dramatically. Some times because of what we've built...and sometimes because of fires or flooding that erase the work and allow us to start over.
Right now, this spot is a fascinating and confusing place, and Wysong's tour delights in that contrast. It's the intersection of high-tech transit (the Tram and the Streetcar), old-school industry (Zydell shipyards), nature that can be touched and lived, and nature held at a distance through a high-end pane of floor-to-ceiling glass. What once was mined is being replaced, and what was poisoned is being purified--at the same time that the most permanent structures to date are being erected on this spot, changing the landscape more dramatically than we've seen in quite some time.
Human history is the history of creating, erasing, and trying again. Of trying to control nature, failing, and trying again with a little more respect. At the South Waterfront, you can see these processes as they happen. And if you look at it through the lens Linda Wysong provides, you'll see it as a constant flow, much like the river you're standing next to.
PICA's Time-Based Art festival kicks off tonight with a procession based on choreographer Anna Halprin's 1968 Blank Placard Happening. Halprin was the wife of architect Lawrence Halprin, who designed several Portland fountain (including the Keller); her work reputedly influenced his, and the couple are a recurring theme in this year's festival.
To participate in tonight's festivities, wear white and/or bring a blank sign, and show up at the PNCA Commons (1241 NW Johnson) at 8:30 pm. A ghostly procession will make its way to Leftbank (240 N Broadway) for the opening of TBA's visual art program at 9 pm, followed by a FREE late-night party with performances from Deelay Ceelay and the PDX Flash Choir. I will be there. Wearing, um, pink. Sorry, I forgot.
We'll be providing full blog coverage of the 11 days of the festival right here on our shiny new TBA blog. We've also got complete festival listings here, while lengthier pieces about some of the artists can be found here.
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