On Sight 

Parsing TBA's Visual Art Programming

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AS YOU'D EXPECT, this year's TBA Festival includes some big names from the local and international art scenes. But that's where the lineup's predictability ends, as PICA is always experimenting—in 2007, Tiny TBA was added for kids; 2008 featured walking tours of the city; last year, the Works' late-night happenings were moved to the abandoned Washington High School (a huge success)—and the 2010 programming has some twists of its own.

The biggest curveball this year is the inclusion of the People's Biennial, curated by Harrell Fletcher and Jens Hoffman. It's a new biennial exhibition formed as a response to "the art world's ever-increasing exclusivity," collecting artists from cities outside mainstream art hubs. In its inaugural year, a total of 36 artists were selected from Portland; Scottsdale, AZ; Rapid City, SD; Winston-Salem, NC; and Haverford, PA—and over the next two years, their art will travel between those five cities. Fletcher says that the work "ranges from homemade science videos to soap carvings, snapshots, and paintings." (I can't wait to check out Warren Hatch's underwater science videos, which Fletcher tells me are made "in fish tanks in his garage.")

Aside from this push toward accessibility, things are mostly business as usual. During a recent visit to local painter Storm Tharp's studio, we spoke about his TBA contribution High House, which comprises a grouping of mini-installations. Included are house plants and jars of paint from his studio, the door to his home office, and other items lifted from (or inspired by) subliminal moments of creativity—representing not deep laborious meanings, but joyful objects that transcend art-making (a list of actresses sticky-noted to a door, "that half-baked thing you print out and put on the fridge because you like it," explains Tharp).

Like Tharp, Jessica Jackson Hutchins is also working from objects found in the home. In Hutchins' case, the family piano is her centerpiece—which, according to the TBA program, "inspires a series of woodcut and collaged prints, forms the basis of a sculptural work, and serves as the set for a family and friends' music video jam to the song 'Children of the Sunshine.'" That should be an interesting video, considering the word "family" might as well read "Stephen Malkmus" (Hutchins' husband), "friends" could include a number of awesome musicians, and the intimacy of those interactions will contextualize the other works on display.

Moving away from the home, Ronnie Bass created two narrative video installations involving what he describes as "a vision of escape to a new place... [incorporating] threads of social utopias, fringe religion, entrepreneurialism, science, and pioneering." The videos, entitled 2012 and The Astronomer Part 1: Departure from Shed, imply the apocalyptic future that's become a cultural fascination through movies, environmental disasters, and economic uncertainties. Bass tells me that he'll also perform a live version of The Astronomer. He explains, "German pop singer Gandalf Gavan will open the performance [and] I will reenact a live version of my Astronomer video [via] a back-and-forth discussion with a projected image of a blanketed man that I am attempting to console."

Similarly, Charles Atlas is creating a two-room video installation entitled Tornado Warning, dealing more directly with the anxiety of disaster. In one room, a five-channel projection is broadcasted "in corners, [on] transparent screens, and on the floor," incorporating found footage (everything from news clips to internet videos of microbes and plane crashes) and synthesized images (various objects swirling in a warehouse), which Atlas feels will drive home "a sense of apprehension." On the other hand, "the calm [room] is made up of straight lines and numbers," says the artist. Between the two rooms, the rift between man-made order and the chaotic patterns of nature will be accentuated.

Also suggesting a place between order and chaos, Ruby Sky Stiler describes her TBA contribution as "three life-size 'ancient' nudes, pieced together from dismembered parts, and constructed from basic art and construction supplies [which appear to be] carved and assembled from crumbling marble found at an archaeological site." With these sculptures, Stiler intends to comment on the perception of authority—"in this case historical authority," she says. Stiler sharpens her focus on the broken authority of art historians with "small collages woven from art history textbook pages," which seem to dismiss logic (text) through visceral experience (designs imposed on the text).

Of course, if you aren't grabbed by inclusion (People's Biennial), domesticity (Tharp and Hutchins), zeitgeist (Bass and Atlas), or confrontation with authority (Stiler), you can always watch Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger dig their own graves in the Washington High School lawn. No, really. That's happening. The shovels come out opening weekend.

All On Sight exhibits are on view at Washington High School, Thurs Sept 9, 8-10:30 pm, Sept 10-19, 12-6:30 pm (Sept 23-Oct 17, Thurs-Fri 12-6:30 pm, Sat-Sun 12–4 pm), free

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