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Sponsored by The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
Portland, Oregon
September 6, 2007-September 16, 2007
Festival website: http://www.pice.org.

Reviewed by Dene Grigar
Digital Technology and Culture Program
Washington State University Vancouver


T:BA:07, or Time-Based Art Festival 2007, is an 11 day event sponsored by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA), that took place in September at various venues in Portland, Oregon. In his welcome statement Artistic Director Mark Russell describes it as a "platform for artists who dream of our future, who ask tough, interesting questions about today and tomorrow" (Festival Catalog 007-8), dreams that ultimately manifested themselves as stage performances; video, film, and animation screenings; performance art works; exhibits; artist talks; workshops; lectures; and salons, all augmented by the PICA blog and internet radio.

The opening event on Thursday afternoon made good on Russell’s promise: A choir, really a gaggle of singers (both professionally trained and not) led by American composer Rinde Eckert, sang––no performed–– well, okay, actually enacted Eckert’s work "On the Great Migration of Excellent Birds." Clustered together on the steps of Pioneer Square, a historic park located in downtown Portland that acts as the heart of this city, choir members raised their voices in song and mimicked the action of birds flocking and flying away. No technology was used, not even an amplifier. Voices were simply carried on the wind, giving flight to the idea that the body––human or otherwise––is the preeminent tool of expression. Not machines, not software, but this corporeal reality we call the body.

This focus on the body emerged as a main theme of the festival. Wherever technology was used, props employed, and costumes needed, the center of all attention remained fixed upon the human in the act of expression. The 2006 Andy Kaufman Award winner, Reggie Watts, for example, waxed philosophical at the Someday Lounge on the state of the universe, taking aim at social and cultural issues like Hip Hop culture’s attitudes toward women and New Age beliefs. The bells and whistles of his performance were not his digitally enhanced musical compositions or video clips that played periodically during the show but rather Watt’s absurdist commentary and highly visceral command of the stage.

The New York City dance group, the Donna Uchizono Company, featured two highly experimental pieces that highlighted Uchizono’s counter intuitive movements and playful, minimalist choreography. The first, "State of Heads (1999), reflected "the idea that ‘heads’ of states seem to be disconnected from the ‘Body’ of the country" (19), a viewpoint even more valid today than it may have been when the work was first created. "Leap to Tall" (2006), the second piece, was commissioned by and starred Mikhail Baryshnikov. At the Chat Baryshnikov participated in before the performance, the legendary dancer quipped that he was thinking that with all of the injuries to his body he would soon give up dancing. Anyone watching this master that evening would attest to the fact that he is as exciting to watch today gliding effortlessly across the floor of the stage as he was 20 years ago leaping above it. His body at any stage of the game remains a well-tuned vehicle driving artistic expression.

In a send up to Dada, Claude Wampler’s piece "Performance (Career Ender)" featured band members of the NY group, the John Carpenter Band. Dressed in white tuxes (and occasionally one in a bear costume, another wearing fluffy bedroom slippers, and later yet another in a glittery Speedo), the band rehearsed a song in preparation for a hypothetical performance. A screen resembling a full-length mirror stood on the stage, where a video projection of the lead singer / bass guitarist (John Carpenter himself) appeared. Projections of the other band members, enhanced by a fog machine, materialized eerily in and out of the screen as they played their instruments. As they rehearsed, finer points of their performance were worked out until, in the finale, flesh and blood versions of the band came out on stage and performed the completed work for the audience. Augmenting this exploration of ephemera, process, and performance were performers planted among the audience. On the evening this reviewer attended, numerous possible "plants" were in evidence, including the PICA volunteer who had joined our group and suggested, when the performance ended, that we hang back and talk to the band members. As the room thinned, we sat patiently waiting, only to be bounced rudely out of the room by Wampler disguised as an usher and perturbed at us for not going sooner––leaving us later with the realization that we were insulted by the artist twice, first by her in person and, second, by her non-performance performance work.

Punctuating the festival was "Some Cats from Japan," a musical event curated by Aki Onda and featuring four different performances by Japanese artists, Fuyuki Yamakawa, Onda, Kanta Horio, and Atsuhiro Ito. While all were noteworthy, Yamakawa’s piece was sublime. With an electronic stethoscope taped to his chest, the artist played his heartbeat, mixing it with Tuvan singing, sounds coaxed from everywhere on a guitar save the strings, and lights generated from the intensity of his body’s rhythms. Anyone who had attended any of the 12 events that took place at the Wonder Ballroom during the festival could attest that the silence that overtook the crowd during that particular performance was testimony to the shock that Yamakawa’s piece evoked. I can honestly say that Portland’s finest young hipsters were slack-jawed during that part of the show.

I could quibble that a curatorial statement grounding the festival with a strong conceptual framework and explaining the artistic choices made was lacking or that the descriptions in the catalog about each of the 50+ events were not always informative enough to help the audience choose which to attend, or even some of the websites the artists themselves offered provided little insight into the works. But I could just as easily say that the youthful T:BA festival, while able to stand up, is just finding its legs. Raw, meaty, and downright quirky, it satisfies both the need of the body to be moved by art and that of the intellect to be awed by it. I encourage anyone interested in contemporary art and performance to pay attention to this up and coming event.



Updated 1st October 2007

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