Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Final Days of TBA: Frisky Seniors, Disco, and Art You Still Have Time to See

Posted by Megan Burbank on Tue, Sep 23, 2014 at 8:45 AM

PICA's Time-Based Art Festival is over, and with it our 10:30 commitments to the Works, waiting in line to see sold out shows (some featuring old folks talking about sex), eavesdropping on art conversations, and hanging out in a warehouse that once held window blinds. Here's what we saw over the past couple days as TBA drew to a close:

Thomas Ross watched "a panel of Portland’s friskiest seniors...describe, year by year, their sexual history" at Mammalian Diving Reflex's All the Sex I've Ever Had. He did not name names.

Jenna Lechner attended Evelyn, Chanticleer Tru's dance party to end all dance parties, where she saw a man dressed as a plush disco ball, party roller skates, and videos of Jem and the Holograms. Elsewhere, she sat through two hours of "butts and mayhem," and witnessed GERMINAL, a performance that should not have been possible, but was, delightfully.

Matt Stangel looked for America in Liz Harris (aka Grouper) and Paul Clipson's neon signs, nameless roads, and broken windows.

I watched Jack Ferver perform an exorcism, and experienced the IRL equivalent of this at Oneohtrix Point Never's Friday night performance at the Works—except with a projection of what looked like a video game landscape full of disembodied humanoid objects instead of poignant emojis:

Did you miss TBA? You didn't really! Well, okay, you did. But you're also in luck! Many of the pieces from "As round as an apple, as deep as a cup"—visual art curated specifically for TBA—will stay up through the end of this month, some into October—and admission is free. Free art, everyone!

Tracy + the Plastics.

That means you still have time to see work by seven TBA artists, including Wynne Greenwood, whose installation, Stacy, is a lo-tech precursor to the Tumblr teen girl aesthetic, with sculpted heads made out of found materials (one is a soccer ball), looped sounds of bratty, sing-songy teenage girl voices, and multiple projections of Greenwood's 90s punk feminist band, Tracy + the Plastics, in which she played every member.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Disco Balls and Balloons: Until Next Time, TBA

Posted by Jenna Lechner on Sun, Sep 21, 2014 at 9:19 PM

  • Photo courtesy of the artist

Today was the official, final day of this year’s TBA Festival (phew!). Last night ushered it in with a big celebration: Chanticleer Trü’s Evelyn. Folks made figure eights on roller skates, circling a giant disco ball wrapped in a pink tulle bow in the middle of the room. Balloons hovered a few feet above the floor, and videos from the ‘80s—of aerobics, nail art, and Jem—flashed on a giant screen.

At the entrance to the space was a graffiti wall—puff paint sat on the table as an invitation to draw. Nearby was Michael Horwitz, working steadily at his portraiture project. A man dressed as a giant, plush disco ball wandered the room, and party hats punctuated the heads of the attendees. It was like an underground disco party with an ‘80s infusion. The color pink was pregnant in the room (I'm pretty sure that's the only way to put it)—in the attire, in the lighting, in the flashing neon “Evelyn” sign.

Evelyn was booked as an art installation turned night club, which is fair enough: a party may be exactly what's needed after an exhaustive week of demanding contemporary art. The name of the party came from disco queen Evelyn Champagne King; King would’ve been proud.

Review: Hypnosis Display

Posted by Matt Stangel on Sun, Sep 21, 2014 at 7:37 PM

Last night at PSU's Lincoln Hall, vocalist and musician Liz Harris (aka, Grouper) and experimental filmmaker Paul Clipson performed Hypnosis Display for the first time on US soil. The 75-minute, live audiovisual collaboration, commissioned by Opera North, is sourced from Harris' field recordings and Clipson's in-camera-edited films that capture naturalistic and man-made American landscapes. The performance notes on PICA's website hint at the piece's significance: "Hypnosis Display envelops viewers in deeply felt connections to landscape, environment, and place. With an attentive yet neutral eye, the film reflects on the American experience and what creates a sense of being at 'home.'"

The piece starts with a tangled and cacophonous take on nature: Using an array of cassette players, Harris mixes together sounds of water, while Clipson matches the ominous rumble with overlapping closeups of turbulent, oceanic surfaces. The water travels forward, across America. Breaking waves wash over the hard lines of pipes and wires, across unnamed roads and flashes of faces. Water beads up on green leaves, hangs in drops from blades of grass, feeds into the lush and later, the concrete. We're never in one place at one time. Both audio and visual layer and stack locations and subjects. Jittery edits of broken windows introduce an increasingly intense pace and, meanwhile, juxtapositional content becomes the rule. The piece moves from coast to continent, shuffling together instances of city infrastructure and places where the natural world edges back in, looking at technological order, human order, and ecological order (and where these forces fit into one another) with kaleidoscopic irreverence for the divisions in between.

As the title suggests, we're dealing with a hypnotic and dreamlike piece, though in terms of reflecting the American experience, I'm not sure that I follow. The sights and sounds didn't really bear an appearance I would describe as uniquely American. Undersides of bridges and closeups of disembodied legs, neon signs and streaks of light, could be from anywhere where these things exist. We're told that the films and field recordings are of America, therefor about America, but what is being said about America— about "a sense of being at 'home'"— isn't really clear. Is it that America is now a place like any other place? That what makes America distinct is its most indistinct features? Is it a way of pointing out the hegemonic quality of Western culture? Or, like the craftsmanship of the piece, is it that America is frantic, always divided, a culture in superposition and chaos?

I couldn't say.

Additionally, the claim that Hypnosis Display "envelops viewers in deeply felt connections to landscape, environment, and place" didn't hold up from my seat. The wild-eyed edits and ever-changing poly-subjects did less to envelope me and more to push me out, and after seeing Tim Hecker's TBA set last Sunday— which absolutely sucked me in and imparted environmental sensations— I was pretty underwhelmed. Halfway through Hypnosis Display, when images stopped for a reel-change, I was ready for things to wrap up, and subsequently didn't notice any specific moments that announced the necessity of the second half of the performance (which isn't to say things were unpleasant, just not super compelling).

When exiting the auditorium, one friend groggily commented that she'd fallen asleep, another that they had to close their eyes a lot because all the pulsing and flashing and never standing still got to be too much. A local comedian buddy noted that he would've given the piece about thirty seconds in any setting that wasn't "auditorium."

Ouch. It's a case of less is more, I think. And also a case of a project that might be a little too coy about how it packages and relates its significance.

Regardless, we can take it as a reminder that mastery of technique and craftsmanship don't guarantee an outcome that people connect with, and that artists might be wise to put an audience's needs before their own.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

SQUART: Review

Posted by Jenna Lechner on Sat, Sep 20, 2014 at 3:32 PM

Tonight Chanticleer Trü reins in this final Works performance of this year's TBA Festival. He made a guest appearance however earlier this week (Wednesday) during SQUART, which, to recap, was a performance of mayhem and asses— literal asses, which aligned nicely with the New York Times's recent declaration about our fine butt nation.

Bare butts and a dog named Giovanni
  • LB Tomczak/PICA
  • Bare butts and a dog named Giovanni.

SQUART—which is short for Spontaneous Queer Art—is a project that San Francisco-based, TBA veteran Laura/Larry Arrington started four years ago. It began as a response to the isolating effects of artmaking and grant proposing. Arrington wanted to do something collaborative, something that "was silly on purpose.” Mission accomplished. How SQUART works: an open call occurs and people sign up and show up a few hours before the show; they're then divided into four groups to create a 14-minute performance, which is judged by a group of “celebrity” judges (Wednesday's judges included Holcombe Waller, the aforementioned Chanticleer Tru, Linda Austin, and others). The contestants are judged by whatever silly, sometimes entertaining, bullshit that pops into the judges' heads at the time.

The run time of the SQUART was two hours, which is way, way too long for an absurdist performance like this. It’s framed as “usurping the conventions of reality TV shows,” but SQUART doesn’t have much to do with reality TV, or with anything that has a narrative structure. Instead, there’s a lot of crawling around, naked wrestling, screaming, grunting, groaning, etc. that occurs during the 14-minute acts of the show (of which there are four). Two women next to me muttered sarcastically the whole time, moaning, “Good thing we only paid $45 for this,” and eventually they were gone, and, after about an hour into SQUART, there were a lot of people that had gone, and quite a few abandoned seats in the audience.

On the contrary, the performers on stage seemed to be having a good time. The takeaway: SQUART works best for the people who are involved in the performance, and for people who WANT to get involved and create a community around movement; it’s not a fun show if you’re expecting to sit back and be entertained. At a performance like SQUART, you will be asked to do aerobics, and you will be asked to “get the fuck up.”

Chelfitsch: Ground and Floor

Posted by Thomas Ross on Sat, Sep 20, 2014 at 10:15 AM

chelfitsch, Ground and Floor
  • Photo by Misako Shimizu

Japanese playwright and director Toshiki Okada's theater group chelfitsch specialize in a certain kind of discomfort. In Enjoy, which saw it's Portland premiere earlier this year at CoHo, that discomfort manifested in the way characters addressed the audience. His characters, members of Japan's "lost generation," frequently seemed to plead with the audience to understand them, or at least laugh with them. Realizing that the audience was laughing at them seemed to break their hearts.

In Ground and Floor, playing last night and tonight at Imago Theatre as part of TBA, the discomfort again arises from the way the characters interact with the audience. Unlike Enjoy, Ground and Floor is performed in Japanese. Subtitles are projected onto a screen on the stage, and the characters seem sometimes to know this is happening. One of the characters, a shut-in who has retreated into herself and in her loneliness speaks too fast for the subtitles to keep up, openly resents the need for subtitles, and that translates into a combination of resentment and pride about Japanese.

If that sounds complicated, keep in mind that that's one of five characters, only a few of which are alive. Okada seems to be interrogating the idea of life in Japan, actually weighing its virtues in an eerily morbid way. Some of these characters are ghosts, some only resemble ghosts.

Chelfitsch plays often include strange, deliberate choreography, requiring the characters to repeat odd motions endlessly. At first it's jarring, but it quickly becomes hypnotic. In Ground and Floor, characters dance these strange dances to an original score of alternately ethereal and percussive music from somewhere offstage.

It's a spare play, slow and often nearly silent. It centers around a woman, her husband, his brother, their mother, and another woman, Satomi, from the couple's past. Much of the actual content of the play is laid out plainly but briefly, offering strings to grasp at, but pulling on those strings seem only to wind up the odd mechanisms that send the actors reeling and dancing.

Loneliness, pain, duty - meaning in Ground and Floor is difficult to get at. It's a ghost story, but one gets the feeling that the whole population of Japan is either made up of ghosts, or about to be. The politics are subtle, and meaning is obscure and challenging. It's unlike any theater experience you'll have at TBA or elsewhere.

Ground and Floor is playing tonight at 8:30 at Imago Theatre. Get there early!

Friday, September 19, 2014

GERMINAL: A Delightful Microcosm

Posted by Jenna Lechner on Fri, Sep 19, 2014 at 8:51 PM

TBA performances are winding down this week, so it seems safe to say: GERMINAL has to be one of the best performances of the festival this year. GERMINAL is a piece of theater, created by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort, that probably shouldn’t work. (I’m not sure what I like more: this performance, or the fact that they were able to pull this performance off.) The premise is four individuals, who, “if they had the opportunity to start the world from scratch, how would they do it”? It sounds like it would be a mess—just look at this chart they create during it—but it isn’t. Instead it’s actually really fun, playful, and smart.

GERMINAL begins in darkness, with a dim, searching spotlight on the stage. Soon the lights on stage are flickering, and we see our four protagonists seated, fidgeting with controllers. They realize through gestures that they are the ones controlling the lights. They live in a closed universe, we find out later, which is the empty stage. We follow them through the next 75 minutes as they learn how to voice their thoughts, classify information, understand finiteness, and establish laws of physics. And on that note, yes, I am aware of how boring this sounds. But you just have to take my word that it's a lot of fun. FOR INSTANCE: At one point our protagonists hack into the stage with a pickaxe and find a guitar, and a “manual” to their universe (also known as a laptop). At another point, they unearth a guitar amp, and a “swanky swamp" which is full of packing peanuts. (See? Fun.) The piece is mostly spoken in French, with English surtitles.

GERMINAL is about language, communication, meaning, and it’s about theater itself. There’s a lot of moments where it is a self-reflexive mind-fuck; it made me think back to early conceptual work, like One and Three Chairs by Joseph Kosuth—it’s a piece that explores the space between concept, meaning, and object. It's a piece that exists between the lines of theater, visual art, and theory, and in that way reminds me a little bit of that critical favorite The Method Gun, which was at TBA in 2011.

Tonight is the last performance of GERMINAL, and I so hope you were able to catch it. TBA is host to the U.S. Premiere of GERMINAL, however it will be at Seattle's On the Boards Festival next week before returning to France.

A Gossip-Free Recap of "All the Sex I've Ever Had"

Posted by Thomas Ross on Fri, Sep 19, 2014 at 2:59 PM

Not one of the Portland cast. Might be gossip to post pics.
  • Photo by Lucia Eggenhoffer

At the beginning of Mammalian Diving Reflex’s new show “All the Sex I’ve Ever Had,” the audience was asked to stand and take a pledge not to gossip. For the next two hours, a panel of Portland’s friskiest seniors would describe, year by year, their sexual history. With admirable, impossible candor, these three men and two women described not only all the sex they’d had, but the sex they’ve missed out on, the loves found and lost, the obstacles overcome, the lessons learned and not learned.

The show swings easily from sweet to sad, funny to fucked up. Periodically, the panel would poll the audience based on one of the vignettes they’d just offered. “Dear audience, how many of you have paid for or been paid for sex?” “Who here is into BDSM?”

Between the panel’s incredible openness and the oath not to gossip, raising one’s hand and even sharing stories (MDR casually questioned certain audience members) feels comfortable, safe, even cathartic. I found myself wishing they’d ask about my specific sex stuff, just so I could raise my hand and announce it semi-anonymously.

Because I pledged not to gossip, I feel I shouldn’t print exactly what happened last night. But in the spirit of encouraging you to go one of the next couple nights, here is an edited list of excerpts from last night’s show:

“I saw Grandma in just her ______ and _____. She _____ed me.”

“I was tapping my _____ with a _____ _____.”

“He was seventeen, tall, and identified as a _____.”

“I find that my _____ is already _____. I’m disappointed.”

“His ____ is not _____ but is very _____ and _____.” “_____, that’s a good word.” “I know, you just want to bite it.”

“_____ _____ _____ dungeon, with _____, _____, and _____.”

I’ll give you a clue: One of those blanks is “scientist.”

If you're into gently kinky talk, senior citizen dance parties, or oral _____ (I meant "storytelling!" Get your mind out of the gutter!), you have to check out “All the Sex I’ve Ever Had." The show happening tonight and tomorrow night at 7:00pm at the PSU Shattuck Hall Annex. Get there early to get on the waitlist, as it will sell out!

Jack Ferver Hosts an Artist Q&A You'd Actually Want to Attend

Posted by Megan Burbank on Fri, Sep 19, 2014 at 9:59 AM

Ask me about Return to Oz!
  • PICA/Ian Douglas
  • "Ask me about 'Return to Oz'!"

"I never wanna stay for the Q&A." That's how Jack Ferver opened his TBA performance, "Mon, Ma, Mes," at Ecotrust last night. And why would he? At worst, post-show Q&As can seem like exercises in cruelty*. So I have to admit, the conceit of Ferver's performance—an artist Q&A that isn't really an artist Q&A, also a retrospective of his performance work—seemed like a tall order. How do you mimic something so universally understood to be boring, and make it interesting?

By making fun of it, obviously. Which is exactly what he did, selecting unsuspecting audience members, giving them pat, dull questions to read aloud for him to answer, then acting surprised, and going off on absurd, self-mythologizing tangents in response. For example:

Question: "How did you achieve so much at such a young age?"
Answer: Rumination over childhood drawings, and how great they actually are, but he didn't know it at the time.
Question: "How old are you?"
Answer: No answer. Lengthy pontification on what it's like to be any age, and connecting with his inner child, so sometimes he feels three years old, and sometimes "a million!"
Question: "What was your favorite film growing up?"
Answer: Return to Oz, followed by a lengthy, highly detailed plot summary of Return to Oz.

You get the picture.

When you're at a post-show Q&A and hear questions and responses like this, it's frustrating. But when the audience is in on the joke, when everyone present knows exactly how softball the questions are and how batshit crazy the responses—it becomes something else. On some level, it becomes broad comedy. For 45 minutes, Jack Fervor embodied every embarrassing self-serious art world cliché, and the audience loved it.

Then there was a shift. Ferver stopped taking questions, and launched into an autobiographical litany about his childhood, about abuse, trauma, about his anxious mind and exchanges with doctors, a raw monologue implicating his totally engaged audience as witnesses to cruelty. Ferver punctuated these almost confessional moments by dancing frenetically, with repetitive, laborious movements, with the performance style so intense it's gained comparisons to exorcism. At one point, he asked Jordan Kindell of the Oregon Ballet—helpfully planted in the audience—to physically carry him. It was a weirdly tender moment. By the end of Ferver's performance, the room felt deflated, and also electrified.

I left with more questions than answers, which is as it should be.

*I have also been to great, productive Q&As where I definitely even took a lot of notes and chuckled along with the audience over art jokes. Those totally exist. I have been to them. Just not as frequently.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Portland Stand-Up Comedy Photo Album: Live!

Posted by Robert Ham on Wed, Sep 17, 2014 at 12:04 PM

  • Jason Traeger
  • Christian Ricketts

Many comics argue in favor of stand-up being an art form; both Patton Oswalt and Kyle Kinane have said as much on their comedy albums. And there is a real case to be made on their behalf. Most long stand-up sets are arranged much like a symphony or a Broadway musical: a strong opening riff to draw you in, an extended middle section where little motifs and beats spark and dazzle along the way, and a big closer to send you out into the night beaming.

It was great, then, to see comedy given a big showcase as part of an arts festival like TBA, and to see the stand-ups invited to be part of the night by host Jason Traeger (he takes the pictures on the Portland Stand-Up Comedy Photo Album blog when he's not doing comedy himself) bring so many different variations of the form to The Works.

The biggest surprise of the evening was an appearance by former Portlander Ron Funches. The jocular co-star of the NBC sitcom Undateable was apparently in town, in part, to finalize his divorce, a situation that he was quick to make light of in his signature lackadaisical style: "At least I know who is to blame for this situation...[long pause]...my son. Have to put the blame squarely on his little shoulders." (I'm paraphrasing this so forgive me if I didn't get it exactly right.) It was obvious the situation wasn't getting him down, or he's just been enjoying some local weed, as he seemed downright giddy up there, snickering at his own punchlines and not seeming phased when the stairs leading off the stage collapsed underneath him (he didn't get hurt, by the way).

Otherwise, we got an array of familiar, and mostly male, faces. And if there was a theme to be teased out of the night, it was an emphasis on some absurdist voices. Tim Ledwith ceded most of his time to a hilarious PowerPoint presentation that had AppleTalk reading a long suicide note he supposedly wrote when he was 12, accompanied by a slideshow of childhood pictures. Christian Ricketts, on the other hand, presented a long bit that involved a mute ventriloquist's dummy named Lou that warned of the dangers of tobacco products before apparently ranting about a Zionist conspiracy. It was one of those set pieces that goes from really funny to not funny at all back to being funny again, if only by dint of the sheer ridiculousness of watching a grown man wrestle a felt puppet onstage.

The comic that seemed to wake the late night crowd up the most was Amy Miller. As you may know, her style has a more traditional stand-up bent, but that seemed to spark something in the 300+ strong audience. Having seen her set a number of times now, I can safely say that the X Factor was the confidence with which she delivered the material. Her riffs on dating younger men and growing up in a trashy family were familiar to me, but I still found myself guffawing away at them anew. If anything came out of last night's fine comedy showcase, it's that my money is on Miller becoming the city's next breakout star.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Review: Tim Hecker @ PSU's Lincoln Hall

Posted by Matt Stangel on Mon, Sep 15, 2014 at 7:15 PM

  • PICA/Tracy Van Oosten

I'd follow general blogging procedure and start this post with a picture from last night's packed-past-capacity Tim Hecker set at PSU's Lincoln Hall, but all you'd see is a black box hovering above this sentence.

When the lights went down for the hour-long, no-stops musical experience, they didn't come back on until the performance concluded. In that expanse of darkness, Montreal-based electronic musician Hecker pushed the limits of sound, making something that felt less like composed music and more like an exploration of the physical properties of sonic experience. His sub-rumble bass oscillations penetrated my body, rattling my eyes, passing faint frissons on my pant leg, implanting the sensation of a new and more interesting heart beat within my chest— all of this happening by virtue of sound. Beautiful sound and uncomfortable sound. Melodic sound and sound purely of texture. Sound that worked like music and sound that worked like a massage chair. Hecker's compositions are as much for the body as they are for the ears, an important point which had escaped me until experiencing his craft in a live setting.

Hecker is one of those rare sound artists to break into mainstream pastures. His albums have landed on year-end Pitchfork lists and the like, and his audience ranges the big-box summer music festival crowd to the more academic set you'd usually find at a TBA performance. Over the years, I've tried— without success— to get into his stuff. I'm pretty sure that's my fault, that he got drowned out in a time when ambient experiments and noise music seemed to be more about a cultural experience than a musical one— I'm thinking back to the days of Lucky Dragons' androgynous Renn Faire cuddle parties at Holocene, or those all-night, 'feel free to bring a pillow' Dublab shindigs— leading me to get a bit bored with sound artists and the ways they interface with their listeners.

Hecker is a remedy to that noise-culture listlessness: his music isn't about being the cool guy at a party, it's about listening with the entirety of your body; it's about feeling sound. That isn't to say that his compositions are non-musical. To the contrary, Hecker is a master of using narrow-palate noise and texture as a jump-off point for minimalist, synth-and-acoustic-sample melodic arrangements. Melody arises from abstraction; from sounds that pummel the body with suggestions of physical environments. In total darkness, Hecker made my body— and later, brain— feel like I was in a new place; the combination of human-penetrating bass and emotive melodic uncertainties giving the physical sensation of say, being under a bridge or at the edge of the ocean, or both at the same time.

This became even more apparent on my Max ride home, still in a trance from the music. I closed my eyes, noticing how the train's vibrations signified a shift in tracks or direction, much the same way Hecker manipulated my sense of place with the hugeness of his music.

It's a shame that Hecker was only booked for one night of the festival. If he had repeat performances, I'd strongly urge you to get a ticket. Last night was, without a doubt, the most memorable and moving musical performance I've had in my six years covering the festival.

Local bookers: please bring Tim Hecker back as soon as possible. I'll buy a ticket. Promise!

The Triumphant Return of Critical Mascara: A Post-Realness Drag Ball

Posted by Alison Hallett on Mon, Sep 15, 2014 at 2:04 PM

Host Pepper Pepper and her clipboard.
  • Pat Moran
  • Host Pepper Pepper and her clipboard.

Critical Mascara: A Post-Realness Drag Ball debuted last year at TBA, and was so well-received that it just might be a new festival tradition, filling the coveted Saturday night spot once occupied by Ten Tiny Dances. The Paris Is Burning-inspired drag contest features extravagant, glamorous, and occasionally downright bizarre performances from West Coast drag artists, and the whole thing is hosted with perfectly disaffected charm by Kaj-anne Pepper, who—hey!—we profiled in the first issue of Agenda.

Last year, the show took place in a giant warehouse; this year, an outdoor stage wedged into 3/4 of a closed-off street. Sightlines suffered, it was super packed, and it felt more like a show than a club—people pretty much packed in and stood still, rather than circulating. All of that said, it's pretty hard not to love this show.

The performers are competing for $666 and prizes hand-made made by Pepper herself. Each contestant gets two chances to walk and pose; the show is divided into three categories, "Fierce," "Shapeshifter Fantasy," and "Next Level Femme." I think last year's categories inspired more creativity, for whatever reason (I loved seeing last year's contestants riffing on the theme of "Hair") but this year offered some weird, memorable moments nonetheless—I really liked the two women dressed as a (sexy) centaur.

But honestly, there's no point writing more about this when we've got pictures.

Continue reading »

Macho Dancer

Posted by Jenna Lechner on Mon, Sep 15, 2014 at 12:54 PM

It was a packed house Friday night for Eisa Jocson’s two-part performance of Death of a Pole Dancer and Macho Dancer.

The first thing you notice about Eisa Jocson is that she’s an incredible performer—masterful and captivating with her control—even though the majority of her first piece, Death of a Pole Dancer, consisted of Jocson merely assembling her portable pole (while wearing approximately 5-inch stilettos) in the space of Bodyvox. Half of the audience sat on the floor of Bodyvox’s studio space, pretzel style, and half stood up. Eventually we get to the dancing, which initially and primarily consists of Jocson violently throwing her body against the pole, in complete silence—aside from the rhythmic tapping of her foot on the floor.

I found myself looking around the room, losing attention during this piece, however Jocson has a quiet confidence that pulls you back into the performance. Things do pick up a bit when Jocson begins dancing on the pole; she is upside down when the music kicks in—the song is "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself" by Dusty Springfield. Jocson is suspended upside down, on the pole, for a long, long time before she slips to the floor. She lies there belly down. This is the end of the performance. The audience files out of the space, clapping, and trying not to step on Jocson's faux-dead body.

The end.
  • The end.

After a 20-minute intermission, we filed back in to Bodyvox and took our seats. We were greeted by a fog machine and Metallica. Macho Dancer is a full-fledged runway performance. "Devil’s Dance" was playing on the speaker when Jocson appeared on stage in black cowboy boots, camo hot pants, knee pads, and a rosary.

The term “Macho Dancer,” can probably use some parsing. Jocson is Filipino, and in the Philippines macho dancing is a really particular kind of club dancing; as Jocson explained in an interview with ArtAsiaPacific magazine, it’s “performed by young men for both male and female clients. It is an economically motivated language of seduction that employs notions of masculinity as body capital. The language is a display of the glorified and objectified male body as well as a performance of vulnerability and sensitivity. The music used in macho dancing is mostly power ballads, sung by artists such as Mariah Carey or Celine Dion, as well as rock and soft rock, like Metallica and Scorpions.”

Jocson’s performance is mostly a study in movement, also in gender. After her performance on Friday night, I was left thinking about what it means to move in a masculine way: so many of the movements in Macho Dancer are about making yourself look bigger, about broad stances, about lunging forward (and pelvic thrusts, naturally). It’s helpful to see Death of a Pole Dancer and Macho Dancer together, for comparison. As Jocson said in that same interview, “Pole dancing is vertically oriented and works with the illusion of lightness and grace, while macho dancing is horizontally oriented, and works on the illusion of weight and volume. It’s more compact.”

To further explain this, I present to you this manual that Jocson created, with illustrations by Jocson herself:

Book by Eisa Jocson
  • Book by Eisa Jocson

I'll leave you with this video, a trailer for Jocson's Macho Dancer:

Chris Sutton Reads From His Tumblr

Posted by Robert Ham on Mon, Sep 15, 2014 at 9:54 AM

Before the main portion of his Re: Disc COVER lecture, Chris Sutton struck a Sarah Palin-like tone, letting it be known that when he writes about music on his blog Record Lections, he's not concerned about facts, but rather how the songs and albums make him feel.

The idea, I'm guessing, was to let him off the hook for when he screwed up a detail about one of the 15 songs he was about to talk about, but it also added to a rather oppositional stance that the musician/DJ was taking for this evening. Sutton was quick to point out in his opening remarks how frustrating it was for him to find people his age (39) listening to only one kind of music. He was different, you see. He listens to everything. Except the obnoxious subset of '90s hardcore techno known as gabba.

For the next hour, Sutton did his best to prove this point, playing segments of 15 tracks by the likes of DJ Shadow, Augustus Pablo, The Kinks, Growing, and The Shocking Blue and reading his blog entries about the songs or the albums they came from over the top. Some of it was insightful and powerful, like his closing assertion about jazz pianist Thelonious Monk ("Time, by definition is a law. Monk has broken it and showed you how to burn down the jail."); most were as hyperbolic and breathless as you would expect someone's casual music Tumblr to be.

It was never made clear, though, why we should care about his opinions about Hound Dog Taylor or Flipper. Sutton only occasionally connected the songs to his own experiences and only once talked up how a band (ESG) helped inspire the sound of one of his musical projects (C.O.C.O.). And for someone who claims to be a voracious music fan, I found it odd that the most recent track he played was released over a decade ago.

What Re: Disc COVER lacked was, yes, some factual information. And I don't mean just about the artists he was highlighting. I would have loved him to have walked us deeper into his world and show us how these songs affected his life in small or large ways. Or find some dramatic or thematic way to connect all the material that he played outside of the fact that he really likes them. A mixtape without context feels like an odd gift.

Not About Face: GHOST PARTY!

Posted by Alison Hallett on Mon, Sep 15, 2014 at 9:38 AM

It's a Rorschach test of sorts: Fifty adults in a room, all wearing sheets with eyeholes cut out. What do you see?

Ghosts, decided most people at Luke George's Sunday afternoon show, though I heard a few comments on the resemblance to a full-body hijab. The Klan connection is there too, though I think it's deliberately discouraged: Many of the sheets are pale pastels, like last-minute Halloween costumes, rather than bright white. Mine was pink.

I was a pink ghost.

Upon entering the studio where Not About Face is performed, each member of the 50-person audience is draped, one at a time, in a bedsheet that smells like it's just been through a hotel laundry. For a few minutes, everyone just roams the space freely, getting their... ghost legs? Most people seem to take to their sheets quickly, flapping and swooping and twirling. (Or, if you're me, giggling uncontrollably because you've got the Diarrhea Planet song "Ghost with a Boner" stuck in your head.) There's a video monitor at one end of the room, showing a picture of the space we're in—but on the monitor, the room is empty. We're ghosts! We're invisible. And it's hard to be inhibited when no one can really see you.

After a while, two of the ghosts begin shouting lines of dialogue, revealing themselves as undercover performers. (I do not remember what they said because ghosts don't take notes and I have a terrible memory.) The rest of the audience sort of coalesces around them, a formation that reminded me of watching the Chapman swifts swirl around the school chimney. Soon the lady ghost summons the audience toward her and leads us in a quick breathing exercise, encouraging us to be aware of our bodies in the space, in relation to other bodies. I've been asked to be "present in the moment" many, many times during the nearly 10 years I've been covering live performance, but something about the anonymity of this scenario made it more resonant than usual. Then everyone was asked to sing together—again, not something that usually works, but surrounded by all my faceless fellow ghosts, I had a became a beautiful, emotional moment. I have a terrible, singing voice, but somehow I felt the way I imagine people with nice voices who sing in really fancy church choirs must feel. (There's an obvious religious/ritualistic subtext to much of the show, beginning from when you step into a pool of light to be draped in a sheet by two volunteers as you enter the space.)

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

BodyCartography Project's Super Nature in Review

Posted by Jenna Lechner on Sun, Sep 14, 2014 at 2:26 PM

I waited for about an hour last Friday for my turn to see Super Nature. I waited at The Works, reading about the finer points of carving carousels to the sound of MSHR’s installation (which, after an hour, sounds like a jackhammer that has been auto-tuned) in the background.

Super Nature is 15 minutes long. It’s experienced one person at a time. You put your name and phone number on a list, and wait to get a text that it’s your turn (it’s drop-in only; they don’t do reservations).

This year The Works is hosted in Fashion Tech, a warehouse space, where the aesthetic is modernism meets industrial chic, what with the decorative cinder blocks, the astro turf, the snow-white camo net.

INDUSTRIAL CHIC: Exterior shot of The Works.
  • Pat Moran
  • INDUSTRIAL CHIC: Exterior shot of The Works.

Waiting for an hour in this environment is a little ominous. Especially given that the Super Nature performance occurs in a small cell with a sliding door, and you can hear…things happening in the performance chamber while others take their turn before you.

By “things” I mean: stomping, mostly, and bodies hitting walls, possibly?

Where one waits.
  • Where one waits.

When it comes your turn, the TBA attendant briefs you: she tells you to turn off your phone, take your shoes off, and that you can move around in the space if you’d like. Once it was my turn, the door slid open and I stepped into the cell. I was surprised to find a young girl, probably about 12, stringy, with braces and straight, shoulder-length hair, wearing a tank top with jeans. She looked at me with indifference. The door slid shut behind me. My heart sank as I realized this would be my destiny for the next 15 minutes (junior high, anyone?). The performer, lying on the ground, made grimaces, jiggled her shoulders with nervousness, walked behind me, then suddenly pounced across the room.

In short, the installation is that Sia video—if the Sia video was shot in a square cell with no windows, and there was fuzz on the speakers instead of Sia, and if there were grey walls and a spotlight (and no clock). And if I was a ghost stuck in that Sia video? Sometimes the Super Nature performer ignored me, sometimes she stared at the floor, in the direction of my toes, and sometimes she pushed me around the space via doing the worm on my back. As for myself, I stood with my repressed Midwestern reserve—my arms crossed behind my back, leaking out the occasional awkward laugh. Super Nature was more or less my awkward preteen years distilled into a sweet little 15-minute morsel. (For more thoughts on the ubiquitous awkwardness at this year's TBA Festival, see here).

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Performing Gender in Duet Love

Posted by Alison Hallett on Sun, Sep 14, 2014 at 12:02 PM

  • Eugenie Frerich

Portland choreographer Tahni Holt's Duet Love begins with iconic images of heterosexual couples, and breaks down those images over the course of the evening. The show opens with four dancers, two women and two men, striking and holding poses in the silent theater. These establishing shots let the audience know we're dealing with archetypes, as do gendered costuming touches like a male dancer's collared shirt and a female dancer's cleavage-exposing top.

Eventually, the dancers split into pairs, one set taking control of the spotlights while the other pair poses together. A witchy singer—longtime Holt collaborator Corrina Repp—does a slinky lounge number that reminded me of Twin Peaks for no reason I could pin down. The dancers come onstage wearing beige sacks; one at a time, they wriggle shoulders-first out of their coverings, naked bodies emerging. Subsequent duets are performed in the buff. (I am torn on this: Do I like looking at beautiful bodies? Yep. And in a dance context, I appreciate a chance to see how bodies move without clothes getting in the way. But isn't physical perfection a little bit... boring?) Holt seems to be going for a sort of tabla rasa thing here—these dancers are only their bodies, stripped of outward signifiers of gender. When they eventually put their clothes back on, it's to mix up and reconfigure "masculine" and "feminine" costuming and affects.

I typically really enjoy Holt's perspective, but this show didn't work for me; I found it kind of condescending, and it conflated gender expression and sexuality in weird ways. I also don't find the show's central question—per the PICA blurb, "If masculine and feminine are forces and factors, how do markers of gender inflect the movement, emotion, and decisions of dancing bodies?"—particularly compelling; I think it might resonate more with people who are more deeply invested in contemporary dance than I am.

For a different—glowing—take on the show, check out this review from our sister paper The Stranger.

Duet Love runs through Tuesday. Details here.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Watching Tanya Tagaq Watch Nanook of the North

Posted by Alison Hallett on Sat, Sep 13, 2014 at 2:14 PM

Every year at TBA, one or two performances leave an indelible mark. Gob Squad's Andy Warhol-inspired Kitchen. Sam Green's documentary The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, live-soundtracked by Yo La Tengo. Rude Mechs' Method Gun. Reggie Watts at the Someday (RIP).

Tanya Tagaq in Concert with Nanook of the North is one of those shows. The setup is straightforward: The Canadian singer Tagaq—accompanied by a drummer and a violist—creates a live score to Nanook of the North, a silent film that follows an Inuit hunter, Inuk Nanook, and his family as they struggle to survive in the vast, frozen expanse of Northern Quebec.

The 1922 "documentary"—many of the scenes were staged—is a deeply complicated film. It provides a window on a fascinating way of life and features undeniably captivating images of survival in an inhospitable landscape; but it's very much a window constructed by the director, who chose to stage scenes of "happy-go-lucky eskimos" frolicking in the snow and wrestling like dogs over scraps of seal meat.

At the beginning of the show, Tagaq introduces herself and provides some context for her work. (Given the language artists usually use, I was surprised to hear such plain speech at TBA.) Tagaq draws from the Inuit throat-singing tradition, but her work is resolutely contemporary, grappling with issues of representation and appropriation. This intro also gives the audience a chance to hear Tagaq’s speaking voice—a pronounced contrast to her ferocious, otherworldly singing, which thrums and keens and growls.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Review: THEESatisfaction & Opening Night at The Works

Posted by Robert Ham on Fri, Sep 12, 2014 at 9:29 AM

Photo by Pat Moran
  • Photo by Pat Moran

Opening night of TBA is alternately thrilling and amusing. I love being among these folks who are very excited to be celebrating the international arts community and the conversations that come out of this meeting of likeminded folks. But I also have to stifle chuckles at the folks who throw on their most outlandish outfits for the occasion. Is this an attempt to reflect the art of the festival? A way to get potentially noticed by a talent scout or fashion designer?

I’m absolutely reading too much into it, because above all else, this is a party. And people like to get dressed up for parties. And the tall doofus wearing jeans and a hoodie (that would be me) has no right to judge.

The new year of the festival also brought about a new home base - in this case the former home of a company that trucked in window shades and wooden blinds. It’s a fine spot (I loved walking out to my car and being greeted with the sight of a huge power station humming away in the dark) and perfect for the two larger installations on hand: MSHR’s Resonant Entity Modulator and Jennifer West’s Flashlight Filmstrip Projections.

The former was the most provocative of the two: four large squares of glass encircled with lights and with these digitally carved sculptures sitting on top. Each one also pumped out its own frequency of sound. One was low and rumbling, another crackling and scratchy. It felt like being in a workshop afterhours, and listening to the death throes of a quartet of deconstructed robots.

I enjoyed West’s installation, which was simply pieces of Plexiglas suspended from the ceiling of this large room, with strips of film attached to each one. Visitors were handed flashlights and encouraged to attempt to project the images on the surrounding walls. The sight of the huge stark white room with this cluster of people and objects in the middle was even more stirring than anything on the film. But I loved the interactivity of it, and how the shadows of the attendees mixed in with the multicolored images coming from the celluloid.

The main draw for the party, though, was a performance by THEESatisfaction, thee best hip-hop act to have emerged from Seattle since Kid Sensation (in your face, Macklemore). Really, to call them hip-hop is incredibly limiting. The duo’s sound is equally indebted to the worlds of jazz, soul, and funk, mixing them all together into something thick, thoughtful, and groovy.

The emphasis of the group’s set was on empowerment (as both females and African-Americans) and self-reliance. Lyrics paid heed to skin tone—“My melanin is relevant,” went the hook of one tune—and losing all the pretensions you might have entered the room with (or as they put it, “turn off your swag and check your bag”).

The biggest message though was that their work was all their own, something that some folks sadly need reminders of. Just ask Stas and Cat (the two vocalists and producers of THEESatisfaction) or Natasha Kmeto or Grimes or any other female electronic or hip-hop project how many times they get asked, “Who makes your beats for you?” or have some “helpful” dude messing with their gear or telling them how they’re doing it “wrong.” There wasn’t anger or frustration in Stas and Cat’s voices as they returned to that theme again and again. It was more a call to action for any other would be musicians or performers in the room. As Cat said, “Ain’t nothing to it but to do it.”

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Introducing TBA:14's Visual Art Programming

Posted by Matt Stangel on Thu, Sep 11, 2014 at 4:33 PM

Each year for the Time-Based Art Festival, PICA Visual Art Curator Kristan Kennedy assembles artists around a theme. This year, that theme is poetry. It sounds pretty antique on the surface, but poetry was chosen for very good reason: these days, International Art English is everywhere, artists are getting tired of using it, and potential audiences are increasingly alienated by it; so Kennedy and others in her field are now looking to poetry to find new ways of making, interpreting, and talking about art.

If you're unfamiliar, International Art English is the unofficial yet undeniable native tongue of the art world. It's found in press releases and artist statements, it's taught in colleges, it's the common voice of dominant art institutions and critical publications… It's everywhere. Read Triple Canopy's highly-influential essay on the subject if you want to know about grammar specifics and the data used to substantiate the theory, but in practice, IAE can be understood to have a white-washing effect on meaning— creating a sort of theater of authority where nebulous language is staged. I find it extremely common to read a press release for an art show and feel no closer to what an artist is trying to say. And if this regularly happens to an art writer like myself, I can only imagine how people with no professional interest in art feel when they encounter IAE. It's gotta be alienating, and moreover, as IAE is misused in its own echo chamber, it becomes an increasingly dysfunctional tool within the art world itself.

So as older generations hang on to IAE and younger artists and curators actively reject it, we're seeing a time when the language surrounding art deserves some attention, and that's where Kennedy's focus on poetry comes into play.

"Artists are telling me, 'We don't have the right words to describe our work anymore,' or, 'We don't wanna put words on work' in terms of critical language or art language," says Kennedy. "I was thinking about this expanded field of language and where poetry fits in, and why, maybe, we need it now," she explains.

Though, this thematic illumination of poetry isn't so cut and dry. Kennedy fills us in on the nuances: "One of the things I want to avoid, to be honest— even though I just spent twenty minutes talking about poetry— is that the show isn't about poetry. It's about new ways of reading work or experiences, and poems are one way that sort of gives us a window into that methodology. So, I don't think [TBA:14 contributing artist] Jennifer [West]'s work has any tie to the way a poem is. And maybe it's less about poems and more about poetics, which are two different things."

She further explains her stance on poetics: "When we see a work of art that is beautiful, often the first word that comes to mind is that it's poetic. And we're using that word kind of in a wrong way, but we understand its meaning, and I think that some of these pieces what I'm interested in and maybe what the artists are interested in is breaking apart an idea and a process and a medium that they work with, that they're familiar with, to find deeper meaning or new meaning and see it rearranged."

So this surface discussion of poetry becomes more of a rejection of International Art English, with sights on poetics as a tool to discover new ways of viewing and creating art.

I'm personally really excited about the intent behind TBA:14's visual art program, the bulk of which will be debuted tonight at Fashion Tech (2010 SE 8th) in conjunction with the festival's late-night WORKS programming.

And stay tuned to the blog for more about TBA:14's visual art offerings!


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

TBA:14, the Pre-Game

Posted by Marjorie Skinner on Tue, Sep 9, 2014 at 8:59 AM

It's hard to believe, given the endless summer, that it's almost time to pull your head out of that can of Ranier you're floating down a river with and put your Art Pants on. But lo, TBA:14 kicks off on Thursday!

If you've yet to peruse this year's offerings, you're late! Luckily we'll have our own guide to the festival on the streets by Wednesday. (Also see the new Agenda arts guide for our capsule descriptions.) In the meanwhile, there are two other ways for you to get your TBA pre-game on starting now:

Miranda July's Somebody app: The deal is you download this free app from iTunes, create an account, and then you are able to send and receive messages between other users. Except, when you send someone a message, it won't go directly to them. It will go to the Somebody user closest to them. They'll get an alert and be able to see the message, including the intended recipient's photo (so they can find them, because presumably this will be a stranger). Then the idea is they go over and deliver the message, to which the sender can add instructions like "crying" or "hug." As you can imagine, this only really works when there is a critical mass of users in the same general area or "hotspot." So ta-da, PICA and TBA are hotspots. While you're waiting, you can go ahead and download it to get started and practice. It would be helpful if some of you would do that, in fact, so I could test mine out. I already asked my husband and he said no before I could finish explaining it. :(

The project, by the way, launched at the Venice Film Festival along with a short demo film that's part of the (fancy, awesome) clothing brand Miu Miu's Women’s Tales Series:

Guess which part of that film I thought was the most awkward.

Wynne Greenwood's Stacy: You remember the queer feminist artist from Tracy and the Plastics—those live performance days may have passed but at Reed's Cooley Gallery you can revisit the project along with some of Greenwood's more recent work:

Greenwood transforms the Cooley Gallery into a studio and performance space in order to re-engage her groundbreaking art band—Tracy + the Plastics—in relationship to her most recent experimental video, installation, and object-based works. Tracy + the Plastics presents an expansive vision of public and private identity in which Greenwood performs live with two projected personae: Nikki (on keyboards) and Cola (on drums). The three women sing, banter, and chat—unfolding their relationship across seductively electric gaps of meaning and communication. In Greenwood’s words: “When an individual in a marginalized group talks to a recorded image of themselves it empowers the individual to open the door to the understanding and celebration that she/he/it can be deliberate.” Similarly, Greenwood’s most recent installations incorporate video and object-based works to create spaces of subjective encounter and healing. Stacy continues these currents in unexpected, new forms.

The opening reception for this show isn't until Friday, but it's been up since Sept 2. Pack a picnic while you're at it; sunny days on the lawn in front of the Ivy League-lookin' old dorms are pretty boss.

  • via PICA/TBA

Sunday, September 22, 2013

TBA Festival: Over but Not Over

Posted by Jenna Lechner on Sun, Sep 22, 2013 at 7:08 PM

Jamie Isenstein performing silently, on the harp. Aka a piece called Rug Woogie X.
  • Evan LaLonde
  • Jamie Isenstein performing silently, on the harp. Aka a piece called Rug Woogie X.

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.

Review: Nacera Belaza, Le Cri

Posted by Virginia Thayer on Sun, Sep 22, 2013 at 3:40 PM

Yup, this is pretty much it.
  • Agathe Poupeney
  • Arm swinging. Lots of arm swinging.

It can feel like there is a lot of pressure to understand and celebrate all the really unusual and challenging work presented at an art festival like TBA, especially as a reviewer. After all, it's very carefully curated, and many of the artists have won international awards for their work, so clearly there are many people understanding and appreciating what they're doing. But I can't speak for them, and in this case I have to admit that I did not get Nacera Belaza's Le Cri.

PICA Artistic Director Angela Mattox spoke briefly before the piece on Saturday, which was the second-to-last TBA:13 show at the Con-Way. She noted that for this year's festival, she was very interested in artists with "singular, uncompromising artistic vision," and when I think about that now, it seems equal parts introduction and disclaimer.

I have seen Belaza's choreography described as mesmerizing, spare, introspective, hypnotizing, minimal, and I certainly agree. But I would also add that this work—which from what I've read must have been quite similar to Le Trait and Le Temps Scelle, her other performance earlier in the week—was repetitive, impenetrable, imcomprehensible, and about 40% of the time, creepy.

Over the first 15-20 minutes, the lights, sound, and arm-swinging movement all went from zero to about 200, from dark to too bright, from quiet to too loud, from still to frantic, everything gradually increasing from slow to fast, from calm to overwhelming. And then it stopped, lights went out, the two dancers (Belaza and her sister) moved to a different part of the stage, planted their feet, and did it all again to a different soundtrack of dissonantly layered music and prayer chanting or children shrieking. But... why?

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Natasha Kmeto and Rap Class: Finally

Posted by Thomas Ross on Sun, Sep 22, 2013 at 1:25 PM

Rap Class
  • Patti Miller
  • Rap Class

Because I'd been running headlong into TBA without watching the changing schedule, I was under the impression I'd be seeing Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang last night at closeout party at The Works. I realized slowly, after my second (or third or whatever) Natasha Kmeto/Rap School punch that I was probably going to see Natasha Kmeto and Rap Class instead.

And it was true! The night was taken over by the Dropping Gems crew. It just goes to show you, you can never trust your little TBA book or your calendar in your phone as much as you can trust a cocktail. Cocktails don't lie.

First there was short set by Rap Class, who seemed to be dressed farm too warmly. (Luckily, when he came back out for his proper set after Kmeto, he had shed his baggy sweatshirt.) Rap Class is all smiles, seriously. This is a guy who looks happier making music than anybody. And he should be, because The Works was finally living up to its party potential, due to Rap Class and Natasha Kmeto.

Natasha Kmeto
  • Patti Miller
  • Natasha Kmeto

Kmeto, too, was pretty obviously pumped to be on stage. "It's Saturday night," she laughed, "what can I do but sing some sexy music for you?" She delivered on that promise. She builds loops of her voice over the electronics she's manipulating, and every sound from her mouth is sex: "Who will be the one to go home with you tonight? Can I be the one?"

All week at Works events I had been thinking, I can't wait till this place is just full of sweaty, sexy-dancing art people. TBA brings an eclectic crowd out to the Con-Way warehouse: young Portlanders looking for a good time, imported artists of every stripe, older art heads from the city and suburbs, and tired volunteers ready to shake off the week and dance.

Before I got drunk enough to hit the floor myself, I was enjoying watching this insoluble mix of people dance. There were a few older couples slow dancing to Kmeto's doing-it jams, and I don't know if they were a little buzzed or just awesome, but one of these couples got REALLY dirty, but in a classy, well-dressed way that totally shamed me off the dance floor.

That mixed with the usual crowd of Portlanders not-quite-dancing, the handful of really amazing let-it-all go types, and the impressive number of what had to be professionals—this is TBA, after all, and the crowd presumably contained performance artists and dancers from all over the world—made it a dance party that lived up to the venue and everything it contained this past week.

As sweaty and loud and sexy as it was, it was impossible not to remember that this dance music occupied the same physical space that a week of various performance art had occupied. And of course, through the warehouse walls, one could find galleries filled with art, or the Room Tone performance happening just before the Dropping Gems show. Kmeto and Rap Class brought the blend of accessibility and creativity that TBA, and The Works in particular, require.

I would not complain if Dropping Gems became the official dance party curators for TBA every year. At least I could watch those old folks show me up on the dance floor every year.

Alexandro Segade: Boy Band Audition

Posted by Virginia Thayer on Sun, Sep 22, 2013 at 12:38 PM

Of all the performances I've seen at TBA over the years (a fair sampling), I can't think of one that comes close to Alexandro Segade's Boy Band Audition in how much the concept really took over the reality of the performance. This event really, actually did feel like a boy band audition. The real performers of this piece were the enthusiastically participating audience members, facilitated and directed by the artist, Alexandro Segade, along with his brother Mateo Segade working the music and projection.

Segade purported to be from the future, where California had somehow taken over Oregon, and the rest of the west coast I think, and then loosely explained that he came back to create a really stellar boy band to somehow save us from that harsh future. I didn't totally follow, but that part was just framing to get us to participate, and to take this seriously. Addressing the obvious question, "Do you have to be a boy to be in the boy band?" his excellent answer was, "I will determine if you are a boy."

He invited the audience to crowd in close, instructed us all to strut around practicing our "swagga"—an important tool for any member of a boy band, no doubt—and then used some projected video to lead the whole crowd through a bit of song and some choreography moves. After we were warmed up, the serious auditioning started.

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Ivana Müller's We Are Still Watching: Who Needs Actors?

Posted by Thomas Ross on Sun, Sep 22, 2013 at 12:00 PM

  • Sanne Peper

Yesterday I sat in a theater full of people I'd never met before, having a conversation. We were supposed to be seeing a play called We Are Still Watching, by the Croation-born, Paris-based artist Ivana Müller. Instead, we walked into a theater without a stage, sat in our assigned seats, and waited.

It was impossible not to notice that the pile of papers under my seat was enormous. I knew from the description of this piece that it would feature heavy audience participation, which I'd been kind of dreading. Now, apparently, one of the larger parts might go to me, just because of the seat I was assigned.

My worries turned out to be unwarranted. While the play was actually entirely audience participation, it was a surprisingly warm, easygoing experience. The script is clever—it's about the situation the audience is actually in: sitting, waiting for a play to start, slowly realizing that they are the play now. It's infinitely self-referential, as the audience members read scripted lines wondering why they're reading scripted lines, voicing hopes for the outcome of the performance, trying to relate to each other, or trying not to.

It's confusing, honestly, to realize that you are starting to think these people are who they are pretending to be. Nobody was really "acting," just reading the lines. And in fact, not even reading consistent lines, as the audience is regularly asked to pass the script to someone else.

The script sometimes made us suspicious ("Are there cameras recording this?" "Could some of us be planted here by the producers?"), flirtatious ("Maybe we'll all end up naked." "Maybe we'll make babies."), or turned us into the artists ("We should just write our own script!" "What if we are being recorded, and later the video will be projected on the wall?").

But it also pokes little holes in its own system, in order to poke holes in bigger, less obvious systems. There's a tiny part of the script that deals with voting: Are we truly together with people we vote similarly to? Is a vote actually our voice, or just part of the script we're reading?

The script constantly asks if we, the audience, are really together. And of course, the script is what brought us together, but it's also the thing keeping us from being together, by putting words in our mouths that aren't our own.

I walked out of the CoHo Theater wondering how I would ever talk to anyone again. Müller's lines had been so natural and credible that I had not only started to believe these other people were speaking honestly, I recalled my own lines as evidence of how I felt about the experience. I honestly still don't know if I was against this experience because I was against it, or because my "character" was. All I know is, I couldn't talk to another human being without a dose of suspicion for two hours. I wandered around in a daze, second-guessing everything, especially my own voice.

The play is still going today, at 12:30, 2:30, and 4:30. If you're just comfortably assuming you have all the agency in your life, you should go get shaken by this play.

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