TBA performances wrapped up today, however TBA's presence lingers for the remainder of September with a number of visual art shows curated in conjunction with the festival. A.L. Adams did a run-down of the shows in last week’s print issue of the Mercury; left out were a few of the galleries further out from downtown. A bit about those:
Farthest from the city center but the most worthwhile of the exhibits is at the Cooley Gallery (at Reed College), which features Jamie Isenstein’s Will Return. I visited the show today, which is a mid-career survey of the artist's work (more details here, in the Mercury's TBA preview guide). It was the perfect experience for a rainy, dreary Sunday. I was warmed by chuckles from the cleverness and curiousness of the art, as well as Isenstein’s presence in the gallery. With a wrist brace strapped on and a bag of yarn at her feet, the artist was hovered over a small harp, silently weaving yarn into the strings. We chatted for a while; I asked how the opening was. She shrugged, “I was in the wall.”
In other words, Isenstein was performing her piece Magic Fingers inside a temporary wall in the gallery; the wall is cut out to feature her isolated hand as it moves and pauses in different poses, highlighted by a royal-blue background and a gilded frame. This is at the entrance to the show. Sprinkled elsewhere around the gallery are, more or less, various illusions. There's a series of watercolors illustrating the following: several clown shoes, a hand pinching an ear plug, the borders in silent films. There are also a few video pieces; one titled Clap Magic includes a monitor that loops a pair of clapping hands and an actual lamp that is in the gallery and has The Clapper bulb installed. The lamp turns on and off, activated by the clapping hands on the video. A beautifully designed monograph accompanies the exhibition, with articles written by Reed Alumni: David Velasco of Artforum and, delightfully enough, anthropologist-on-magic Graham M. Jones (who is also a professor at MIT). Isenstein and I talked a while longer about Ozzy Osbourne's prank at Madame Tussauds, and bonded over a similar, appropriately odd and uncanny childhood experience, which involved clutching store mannequins whose arms terrifyingly fell off. Isenstein will be at the Cooley Gallery, in person, for a few more days. I'd definitely recommend checking it out.
Trekking out to north Portland, the Portland Museum of Modern Art features the work of Glasgow-based Sue Tompkins (through October 5). It’s a small show primarily of text pieces, which are printed on 20 sheets of A4 paper, all displayed in a row, and function like visual poems. It’s worth seeing if you already happen to be at Mississippi Records, but in general the exhibit feels empty, like it needs a human presence or a (live) voice to activate and engage you in the space. In the absence of this, there is a small ipod shuffle with headphones. Listen to a recorded live performance by Sue Tompkins, which repeats phrases something like “work it”— basically it sounds like a Daft Punk record that keeps skipping and repeating. On the wall are two pieces of rainbow organza with a safety pin and zip attached to them. They’re both labeled “seven.” They feel careless or unconsidered, or like a fragment of another exhibit. I was underwhelmed, although I’m sure someone has an explanation for them (see: comments section?).
Lastly, getting back to (arguably) the core place of TBA activity, the exhibits at Con-Way will still be open September 25-29 (12-6:30pm), as Andrew Ritchey’s curated selection of videos will be screened. They’re 16 mm short films, by the likes of George Kuchar and other underground/independent filmmakers.
In a semicircle around the gallery, roughly 30 Califone tape recorders hang from the ceiling like a giant, abstract chandelier. The tape recorders are arranged in three rows, those dedicated to low, mid, and high frequency ranges. Visitors are invited to start and stop individual recordings to generate new soundscapes, and the Califone's tone and volume wheels open the piece up to deeper experimentation.
Arriving in the space with a musician friend, I observed dozens of little Christmases light up in his eyes when Meza's “Water” came into view. A gallery attendant explained the rules— green-lighting the go ahead and mess around— and we went to work pressing buttons and standing in different places to test out the dynamics of the piece.
“If a sculpture is a story, the inverse process is also possible,” states artist, novelist, and performer Alex Cecchetti in an interview with PICA Visual Art Curator Kristan Kennedy, commenting on the combination of performance, object-based story telling, and installation that's presented in his TBA:12 End Things contribution, “Summer Is Not the Prize of Winter”— a piece that aims to transform a narrative into a sculpture.
Allowing for inversions, I suppose it's fitting that I came into Cecchetti's work a bit backwards— backwards in that his installations are the result of his performances, and I didn't spend any long hours with his room at Washington High School until Monday afternoon, when it was empty of performers and visitors, dotted with a smattering of objects, assemblages, and wall/chalkboard drawings.
“The first day it's empty,” explains Kennedy, “and [visitors] walk in and they say, 'Is the air the exhibition?'”
No, it's not. After each daily performance objects are left behind, the room becoming more and more full as time wears on.
“The stars,” Cecchetti says of the things that remain in the room— explaining that these metaphorical balls of gas stay so visitors can create narrative constellations between them. With his finger, he draws angular examples in the air in front of himself, narrating, “You can make the bear, or you can make the scorpion, or you make... What else? A lion.”
Yet, these DIY star charts aren't just for audiences, but also for other performers who replace Cecchetti (and one another) over the ten-day evolution of “Summer Is Not the Prize of Winter.” Cecchetti's replacements do their best to reproduce his story and performance for audiences, simultaneously teaching it to the next performer. (The process is compared to “a game of telephone” and "relay performance" in program notes, with Cecchetti relearning the story from his final surrogate before relating the new, transmuted version on the last day of the festival.)
But back to the stars. When I come to them on Monday afternoon, never having seen Cecchetti's performance, I'm at a serious loss as to how I'm supposed draw the constellations.
We wrote about Ten Tiny Dances yesterday—here are some pictures to go along with the words.
When I met up with PICA Visual Art Curator Kristan Kennedy, beyond digging into TBA:12's pared-down visual art program, End Things, I wasn't sure about where our conversation would go.
Kennedy showed me to a cluster of comfortable chairs in PICA's swanky new office and event space, and, without much build-up, began speaking very candidly about her work from TBAs past. We discussed exciting art that can get lost in the hustle and bustle of festival environments (a consumptive issue Kennedy hopes to solve with year-round programming— now reserving six of PICA's twelve visual art budgetary allotments for use outside festival week). On top of the organizational and curatorial maturation, she gave a thorough account of the thinking that went into designing End Things, drawing thematic connections between the six included projects (useful if you're looking for a little guidance as to how the projects can be read together).
For the Cliff Notes, check out my piece from last week's TBA print guide. The full transcript of our conversation is after the jump. (The opening reception for End Things takes place tonight at Washington High School from 10 pm to midnight, and additional projects are on view at PICA's downtown office through September 29.)
I've been looking forward to Jesse Sugarmann's Lido (The Pride Is Back)— easily my most-anticipated TBA:11 offering.
It's billed as a minivan ballet of sorts, in which three Chryslers are parked on 42 air mattresses. The air beds are inflated, forcing the bulky vans to rise into the air (and possibly topple into a pile-up). As awesomeness would have it, the performance debuted this afternoon at 4 pm and is set to rise up again, tonight at 7. (Two more performances are scheduled for Sunday, also at 4 pm and 7 pm, and if you can't make it to any of these performances, video documentation will be on view at Washington High School through the duration of the festival.)
I arrived at this afternoon's performance a little late— the minivans were already at full mast— but I got a taste of Lido in motion a few days ago.
On Thursday, TBA:11's opening night, in place of Sugarmann's performance was a video of the project, shown in a darkened Room 103 of Washington High School (the same room where Ghost Mom played an amazing set last night). The video documented a Lido test run, shot at Sugarmann's Springfield, Oregon alternative gallery space, Ditch Projects.
There are several compositional aspects that I heard people noticing aloud as Lido looped a few times through— sonic qualities being the first. 42 air mattress turned on all at once sound remarkably similar to an airplane that's revving its jets on a tarmac. When the air mattresses reached full capacity and cut off, ending the noise, I heard a woman behind me say reflexively, "Oh, thank God." People chuckled at her reaction, because, yes, the sound elements are fairly abrasive. (Personally, I enjoyed this aspect of Lido, but I have a sweet spot for the subtler qualities of noise— how you can hear all these relational frequencies as they cancel out and harmonize with one another.)
Aside from sound, a girl sitting next to me noted the anti-climax of the piece: The minivans never topple or crash in this particular performance. They start flat on the ground, and as the mattresses inflate, back ends are lifted towards the ceiling, while front bumpers nose towards the ground. The end result— three minivans held in 50ish degree angles— is full of tension, and as various camera perspectives are employed, it feels like that scene from The Matrix where Trinity pauses mid-air, kicking ass with the camera panning around her.
The anti-climax was also true of this afternoon's live performance. As I stood in the sun, watching the mattresses slowly deflate, the anxious formal slant of the minivans suggested multiple line graphs, all tracking a negative relationship between undefined variables (if a vehicle's front is to be read as the direction of the graph).
I'm not too sure about what I'm supposed to take away from this— what values I'm being asked to apply to the aforementioned variables— but I'm convinced of the work's physical greatness: Lido is elegant and badass, inventive and singular. Unlike anything I've seen.
Though I'm told the piece is a monument to Lee Iacocca and his reign at Chrysler, the tension I read in the work describes what the auto industry must be feeling right about now. Oil is running out, people are shouting for green transportation, and nobody seems to know what to do next.
While I can't claim to have gleaned any solutions from Sugarmann's piece, it's the highlight of my TBA:11 so far. It'll be in my thoughts for some time.
For more insight on Sugarmann, his work, and the intentions behind Lido, click past the jump for an email interview with the artist (plus links to visual aids!), and check out my piece from our TBA:11 print guide.
TBA:11 - ready or not, here it comes! I'm pretty psyched to check out The Hidden Life of Bridges which runs from this Thursday (opening night of the fest) through Saturday night. Here's a little preview:
As I mentioned in my article a couple weeks ago, this large-scale public art collaboration from Ed Purver and Tim DuRoche aims to show a new perspective on a couple of the bridges we think we're so familiar with. What I didn't get to mention in much depth are the logistics of the thing, the how and what, which are the most useful bits. So hit the jump.
At some point or another, everyone gets frustrated with their job. It doesn't matter if you drink beer and jump on a trampoline for a living— eventually you'll get tired of the boozing and bouncing. That's why I wasn't surprised when local artist Storm Tharp told me that he used his TBA:10 residency to create artwork that represents his struggle to remain positive in the face of workplace frustrations.
But as an artist who's following his passion, why the frustration? Tharp spends a lot of time in his studio— on average, eight hours a day, five days a week. When deadlines get close, the days get longer, as do the nights, and weekends away from the studio are no more. Not only does the time commitment wear on Tharp, but so do the ideas that one day seem brilliant, and the next, fruitless. It can take some serious perseverance to push through, day after day, idea after idea, until an exhibit takes shape. In short, it's a job like any other.
In overcoming the pressures of rigorous studio practice, Tharp created High House, an installation combining sculpture, mural work, painting, and minimalist arrangements of objects such as photographs, sticky notes, and furniture. "The show is very simple," explains Tharp— it's all about exploring what keeps him sane through the long days and weeks he spends in the studio; it's about identifying what makes him happy and representing those things.
In its inaugural showing, the People's Biennial is a bi-yearly exhibition formed by curators Jens Hoffman and Harrell Fletcher as a response to "the art world's ever-increasing exclusivity." Attempting to offset this exclusivity, the exhibit includes artists from cities outside mainstream art hubs— Portland; Scottsdale, AZ; Rapid City, SD; Winston-Salem, NC; and Haverford, PA. On view at Washington High School through October 17 (and afterward, traveling between the aforementioned cities), the offerings range from homemade science videos (Warren Hatch) to slice-of-life photography (Jorge Figueroa), mutant piñatas (Beatrice Moore) to super-rad sculptures made of old computer chips (Gary A. Freitas). The artists are largely self-taught or MFA-less, and together create an easily digestible pocket in this year's TBA programming.
After the jump are some personal highlights, as well as thoughts on the inclusion of the People's Biennial in TBA:10.
I highly recommend visiting the installations at the Works when there isn't a performance or a crowd (and it's free). The magical creepiness of empty hallways with sounds emanating from darkened rooms where strange lights flicker across the wall is an experience in its own right, and one I think best enjoyed alone. I stole down there yesterday afternoon for just that reason, and while I was drawn to some of the video installations much more than others, I've been assigned to comment on Christopher Miner's The Safest Place and John Smith's The Girl Chewing Gum. Miner, who is from the South, is preoccupied with the influence of one's upbringing, and in this piece is addressing that specifically in regards to religion. The film is the same constant image of a young man clad in taupe-y t-shirt and shorts clasping his knees to his chest as he rotates round and round in the zero-gravity environs of what appears to be a space shuttle. Meanwhile Miner's voice eerily chants an old spiritual. Some of the words are hard to make out but Jesus having mercy is really all you've got to know. The mix of old-school, earthy spirituality and of mankind's most advanced technological aspirations, are in a way the best of both worlds; both are reaching to the heavens/the next world in their own way, and so yeah... Jesus in space pretty much has your bases covered. Point taken.
As for John Smith's The Girl Chewing Gum, it's a work from 1976, which makes it a questionable inclusion for a contemporary art festival. What's more, I've seen it online prior to the festival, and so can you:
That said, I like the humor here as a send-up of hyper-controlling directorship, and there's something satisfying about when the narration is especially well timed to the actions onscreen. As it steadily becomes more imaginative ("he's just robbed a bank," etc), the pretense becomes even more obvious, then the detailed examination of the building in the frame seems to chip the speaker's authority as he realizes his own (rather mundane) mis-perceptions, though when he begins to describe the field from which he's speaking and the camera shifts to said field, things unravel in such a way that is literally neither here nor there. I wish that instead the act had been kept up, that the camera had stayed trained on the busy street and the booming voice "directing" traffic. I don't think you need to go all the way in disassembling the concept to make a point about art, control, reality, and perception.
When I found out that I'd be writing about Yemenwed, the New York-based collective made up of artists, animators, dancers, architects, and designers, I immediately went to PICA's TBA:10 programming guide to see what they'd be presenting. I discovered that Yemenwed was slated to show two videos. The first, Episode 3, is described as "a surreal sci-fi journey that melds animation, live action, painting, and sculpture." The second, Bedroom w TV and Woman Lays w Aide, follows "several characters within an abstract interior, based on a bedroom in a New York City public housing project." A little confused, I went to Google, dialed in "Yemenwed," and lo and behold, Episode 3 popped up in the top search results:
After watching this video, I found myself intrigued by the visuals, but disappointed intellectually. While the psychedelic landscapes and architectures were populated almost entirely by the never-before-seen, creating a fresh mixed-media experience (the main shtick), I was largely unaffected by the technical and narrative content of the film: several characters traveling through a flatly-rendered CGI world; their destination, an obelisk with a metronome for a shadow; their bizarre costumes and fantasy objects rarely informed by a function; their actions performed without clear motivation or consequence; the dramatic soundtrack coupled with a story that couldn't quite deliver the matching emotions.
Regardless of personal disappointment, I made like a good critic and went down to Washington High School to spend some time with the entirety of Yemenwed's exhibit— hoping to find something that would fulfill my intellectual curiosities.
One of the reasons for this, of course, is that I’m an elitist prick. In other words, I prefer film. I like the texture of it, the way it can be manipulated, the colors, the imperfections. Yes, I understand video is just as malleable for someone who knows how to fuck with the dials. But, almost without fail, I get hung up on the public access feel of many art videos and my mind simply begins repeating, ”Star wipe... Star wipe... Star wipe... Star wipe...” That is, unless there’s something extraordinary going on in the video—and by “extraordinary” I mean “Kate Gilmore”.
But here’s something fun: For every channel added in a video installation, my enjoyment of it increases 10 fold. Weird, right? It’s true. Give me more places to look; present me with some surprises; make me move my eyes, and swivel my head, and move my body to take it all in; and suddenly I’m completely engaged.
This, then, is my video art continuum. A continuum that couldn’t be better illustrated than in my two very divergent reactions to the works of Ronnie Bass and Charles Atlas, on display at Washington High School through October 17th.
After getting out of the debut of Nicole Kelly and Noelle Stiles' Blanket yesterday evening, I tweeted—perhaps callously:
Blanket didn't do anything for me besides put my right asscheek to sleep. Made my BF "giddy" tho. #TBA10
For what it's worth, and to the show's credit, my date to the show—ahem, the "BF" in question—and I ended up periodically revisiting the differences in our experiences of this piece until getting home from the Works' Art Party well after 2 am (On a school night. Brutal.)—more on that later. The quote in the title is his, after we got into unpacking why he enjoyed it and why I was nonplussed. I wasn't displeased, mind you, just unaffected. Blanket is the kind of show that I like to challenge myself to attend, because just dismissing or ignoring it would be too easy. The PICA preview of it reads:
Blanket contemplates the body as information and objects as instigators. Drawing from the personal, scientific and cultural, Blanket explores human engagement and cultural shifts toward synthetic experience.
That doesn't convey much, in my opinion (I find this to be an almost universal truth about PICA's TBA guide descriptions). It doesn't particularly intrigue me, nor is it a deterrent. Later, I did a little more research into the show for a blurb we put in our own TBA previews:
An installation of soft sculptures by Danielle Kelly—lumpy tubes and manatee shapes in sale-bin fabrics like camo and grandma florals, maybe a sweep of fringe—that don’t just look like body pillows; visitors are encouraged to hug them. Though not during the performance, please, during which Noelle Stiles will dance languorously among them in a piece meant to provoke questions about the virtualization of society and whether the color yellow really makes you smarter.
There was a lot of yellow, including for me the highlight of the show, which was when soloist Noelle Stiles donned the yellow-fringed pant leg you see on the official TBA guide's cover photo. Before attending (after having watched some online video footage) I suspected I might find it dull, but otherwise I like to think that I went in with an open mind, curious to see how I would respond to it. I did the same thing with Jérôme Bel’s Cédric Andrieux—I was (the only person, maybe?) underwhelmed by 2008's Pichet Klunchun and Myself, but I went anyway, and absolutely loved it. The difference I think was that Cédric appealed to my fondness for narrative and impressed me on a technical, physical level, whereas I found Blanket uncommunicative and vague, a kind of aimlessness that at best misses me completely and at worst, annoys me, while the performance itself wasn't especially unusual. Proficient, well executed, varied, and energetic, yes, but nothing that shouted to me with its prowess. I can get down with the mutant huggable, and occasionally fringed, blobs that decorate the lovely, light-drenched space:
For his part, my companion's reasons for enjoying it were all on a sensory level. He found it warm and uplifting, but not profound or even particularly meaningful. All of which are worthy goals for any art, I think, and maybe I'm demanding to much of a thesis here, but if you state you're contemplating things like "cultural shifts," then it's some kind of mutual misfire that I was left unchanged. I'm not fond of the idea that I should lower my expectations because something is sanctioned by our local institutions as art. If it's to be a purely sensual experience, why bother the virtualization of society about it?
A family gathers in their living room in front of a trio of windows. They take up instruments, and in spontaneous anti-harmony, repeatedly sing the words, "we are children of the sunshine." The father (Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus) strums a guitar. The mother (Jessica Jackson Hutchins) holds her youngest child, burying the newborn into her chest. She plays a plastic recorder; puts it down. She triggers a homemade synthesizer. A family friend (Brian Mumford, aka Dragging an Ox Through Water) tinkers through a four-note melody on a piano, while older children dance around— taking up a drum here, a toy there. It's a peek into the family dynamics of one of Portland's foremost creative couples— though for Jessica Jackson Hutchins' TBA contribution, Children of the Sunshine, this video acts not only as a brief voyeuristic moment, but as the central informative element to a series of sculptures and prints that are on view at Washington High School.
As you probably know, the 2010 Time-Based Art Festival (TBA:10) officially kicked off last night, and packed was Washington High School— home to the Works (TBA's late-night performance showcase) and a large chunk of the On Sight (visual art) programming. The big pull of the evening was Japanther's collaboration with shadow puppeteers Night Shade (check out Alison's rundown on that), but I came a bit earlier in the night to take my first look at the On Sight offerings. While I only made it through a few exhibits in the time allotted before the Japanther show— the monster crowds slowed me down considerably— I did get to spend some time with Ruby Sky Stiler's exhibit, Inherited and Borrowed Types, and I have some thoughts I'd like to share on that.
In a recent email correspondence with Stiler, the artist told me that she's interested in challenging "historical authority" through her work. This confrontation is embodied by three centerpiece sculptures (built from "foam, joint compound, [and] acrylic resin") and a series of collages ("woven from art history textbook pages"). Stiler's sculptures appear as faux-ancient nudes reassembled from broken slabs of stone. The nude women are headless and often terminate at the shoulder or arm, never totaling in a complete human form. As these sculptures are intended as criticism of historical authority, they suggest an incomplete account of the past— the narrative pieced together with haphazard hands, joining and mismatching factual rubble.
While Stiler's sculptures communicate her conceptual underpinnings with relative economy, I found her collages more visually compelling, and way less expected (after all, "history as potentially inaccurate" is a well-established idea). These collages vary a good bit: some combine strips of black paper with textbook pages to form rigid, checkerboard patterns; others incorporate color (pink), while the lengths of paper are cut into curves, tilted planes, and zigzags (as if processed through a paper shredder set on "Joy Division t-shirt"). When considering the textbook as Stiler's medium— and the way her grids become increasingly disordered and divergent— the artist seems to be thumbing her nose at academic art; imposing raw emotionality over the structured approaches to creativity represented by authoritative texts. It's the kind of angsty work that's just subtle enough to avoid coming off as immature or whiny.
Images of Stiler's sculptures, after the jump.
Since 1993, and in places ranging from NY to OH to CA to TX, Nina Katchadourian has stacked books side by side. For her Sorted Books project, Katchadourian utilizes books from libraries both public and private—arranging them, by title, to create what basically amount to little poems. There's the one above about sharks, for example, or this one, assembled from a collection whose owners are quite fond of helping themselves:
Through October 23, a series of photographs from Katchadourian's sortings are up at PNCA (1241 NW Johnson)—but as clever as some of these combinations of books are, they're also a bit underwhelming.
So, I don't have anything nice to say about Fawn Krieger's National Park— the exhibit at Washington High School which uses foam, wood, tar, cement, and felt to fabricate a cave, some rocks, and an ambiguous stream/lava flow thing (a material-based interpretation of a national park). Really, National Park reads as a big old fail— mainly due to a rift between the artist's concept and the symbolic statement communicated by her final product.
More scathing remarks after the jump!
Brian Lund's untitled TBA contribution renders Oliver Stone's Wall Street into 2-D, choreographic diagrams. Remembering scenes from the film in graphite tick marks, colored squares and circles, and layered lines, Lund notates characters and their movements. These tick marks, shapes, and lines are at times used to record specific scenes from the movie, and at other times used to recast these scenes into dance numbers, honing in on major plot points and repeating them for emphasis. The diagrams on display at PNCA first appear as loose geometric sketches, though later emerge as the schematics of greed.
Daniel Barrow in a red button-up dress shirt, striped yellow-black tie, and plaid pants— he's just skinny enough to squeeze behind his overhead projector which is wedged between two rows of seats on the floor of the Northwest Film Center. He preps for his performance of Everytime I See Your Face I Cry by squirting some blue lens cleaner onto a paper towel. He shortly converses with his assistant who'll pass him the hundreds of painted Mylar transparencies needed for his hour-long "manual animation"— an imagined account of a disenchanted art-school graduate, working as a trash collector while creating a phone book of personal portraits and profiles.
SPOILER ALERT: If you're going to see Everytime tonight or tomorrow you probably shouldn't read on (unless you want a guide for some of the more confusing plot points).
Washington High School circa 10 pm last night, packed with dance culture kids waiting for Gang Gang Dance to take the stage at TBA's Works:
"I'm so fucked up" she tells her friend, sprawled out in the center of the room, staring off into the ceiling, running her fingers through her friend's hair. The friend rolls onto her side, "me too," she says, drawing out her vowels. I found myself remembering what it's like to be totally fried on psychedelics, teenaged, experimenting with no consequences in sight. I too would've laid on the floor, listening to Ethan Rose's randomly deprogrammed music boxes. Dozens of the identical little boxes were spread across the walls of the room, triggered at random and arranged with timers to fumble through an anti-composition that Rose calls Movements.
One of the coolest things happening at the Works is the ongoing project by Justin Gorman. Gorman creates large signs of painted text that he erects in various city locales. They are a bit like temporary, truth-searching billboards, and they'll be popping up around Portland over the next week.
Instead of creating his signs in a studio, Gorman decided to bring the process to the Works. I watched the sign come together for a long time last night. It's a bit of meditative creation in the hustle and bustle of TBA's party space.
I think this one was going to read "Hush Hush..." The only problem is, I have no idea where he's going to put it. I can't find the information anywhere. I guess I'll just have to go and ask him tonight.
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