Photo by Eric Sellers

I KNOW WHAT ENTERTAINS ME. It's 22 minutes long, it stars Zooey Deschanel, and it's returning to Fox on September 17.

On my nightstand, there's a stack of books I'm looking forward to reading—new Jonathan Lethem!—and I still haven't seen the new Simon Pegg movie.

That's hours of good stuff—books and movies and TV I'm already pretty sure I'll enjoy. So why put it all on hold for 11 days to immerse myself in a festival of obscure, difficult, and quite possibly terrible art? 

The answer is simple and self-serving: I like what TBA does to my brain.

The Time-Based Art Festival—produced annually by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art—brings together intellects and influences from all over the world. And facing down art that's strange and unfamiliar, that's made by smart people who play by rules I've never heard of, makes me feel more receptive, more engaged, and more alive. It's not about understanding the art—it's about experiencing it.

Sometimes those experiences are hard to process, explain, or even care about. Sometimes they seem like bullshit. Sometimes they are bullshit. And sometimes they're brilliant, mind melting, world expanding. But TBA's value has less to do with the quality of any individual show (though the quality is generally quite high) than with the conditions created by the festival: conditions in which curiosity and openness are the only tools an audience member needs.

"All the work that we do exaggerates the notion of how to be present in the moment, how to be responsive and engaged," says TBA Artistic Director Angela Mattox, who has booked another dance-heavy, globally inflected lineup for her second year helming the festival.

Put another way: The art at TBA disrupts the everyday, challenging the fundamental ways we think and respond to the world. It's a reminder that not only do people have different life experiences—they have different ways of experiencing life. And, on a deeper level, engaging with the strange and the new and the unfamiliar is a reminder that the world doesn't have to be the way it is—that art, entertainment, culture, politics are essentially arbitrary, and can be changed. That's important. More important than finding out who Schmidt chooses to be with on New Girl (#teamElizabeth).

And if this is all making it sound a little too eat-your-cultural-vegetables, there's also a drag ball, a free festival-opening set from Kathleen Hanna's band the Julie Ruin, and a beer garden stocked with booze and food. In other words: When your paradigms have finished shifting, there's plenty of fun to be had.

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TBA runs Thursday, September 12-Sunday, September 22 at various locations throughout the city. Individual ticket prices range from $10 for late-night "Works" programing to $20 for most shows. See pica.org/tba13 to buy tickets.

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More TBA Guide Articles:

Sexual Science

Man on Man

Prop Artist

Flipping the Script

Life Events

Cartoon Gravity

Music in the Dark

Illusion and Play

Mirror Mirror

What Happened? Who to Blame? How to Judge?

Dance Card

Calendar