TBA Review: Britt Hatzius’s Blind Cinema is Not For Child-Hating Roald Dahl Villains

Hearing an eight-year-old describe a film is hilarious.
Hearing an eight-year-old describe a film is hilarious. Britt Hatzius

The setup for Britt Hatzius’s Blind Cinema, which ran throughout PICA’s TBA:16, seems to me the sort of thing that would either strongly appeal or appall. The event entails experiencing a film blindfolded while a child sitting behind you describes what’s happening on the screen, whispering their observations into a funnel pressed against your ear. Obviously, if you are a child-hating Roald Dahl villain, this would not be the performance art event for you. And you would be missing out, because hearing an eight-year-old describe a film is hilarious.

At the Hollywood Theatre, where these performances ran, I filed into the front row and dutifully tied the blindfold around my eyes. Losing this dominant sense, it’s easy to tune into the sounds around you, and soon there is a soft rumble as local schoolchildren aged 8-11 file into seats behind the audience members. Then there is the sound of warm pops and crackles of old movie film, and the anticipation of being transported into a movie world takes over.

Only—you’re not about to be transported.

BLIND CINEMA from Brittski on Vimeo.

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TBA Review: Grief and Humor in Mohamed El Khatib's Finir en beauté

French Moroccan author and director Mohamed El Khatib
French Moroccan author and director Mohamed El Khatib Zirlib Collective

Amid all the spectacle and exhibition of TBA, the description of French Moroccan author and director Mohamed El Khatib’s performance stood out to me for its dry simplicity. The promotional material made no mention of stagecraft or costumes or frenetic display. This was a lecture-performance involving family history and a variety of documents. My inner archivist urged me on.

In Finir en beauté, El Khatib uses administrative documents, notes, emails, texts, fiction, and nonfiction, to discuss his mother’s death, and through this story, to examine the way we grieve and how we remember. The story of a parent’s death is as common as it is bewildering, and El Khatib's tale will feel familiar to anyone who has spent time bedside with a loved one who is terminally ill. His mother's death from liver disease is not extraordinary, but El Khatib’s observation and gift for narrative allows him to tease out the subtle particularities of his experience—both the absurdly humorous and heartbreakingly tragic—to deeply moving effect. ("In the particular lies the universal.")

The props and production details were kept minimal: The stage at the Lincoln Hall Boiler Room Theatre at PSU was simply arranged with a television, a black wall onto which translations of El Khatib's talk (conducted in French) were projected, and a small table on which sat a video camera, some prayer beads, notebooks, and papers. El Khatib arrived onstage and began with an understated "Bonsoir." When the audience responded, he joked that if everyone spoke French, he could forego the English captions behind him.

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TBA Reviews: She's In Parties Was Not Much Of A Party After All

Outside of the installations in the space, the live performances often felt like they were getting swallowed up by the huge room.
Outside of the installations in the space, the live performances often felt like they were getting swallowed up by the huge room. Briana Cerezo

The chatter of this year's TBA Fest kept returning to the subject of the 16,000-square-foot space in NE Portland recently gifted to PICA rent-free by an anonymous patron. Outside the building, which housed The Works events as part of this year's festival, PICA Artistic Director Angela Mattox positively glowed with excitement as she talked about the possibilities for art events and installations there.

That certainly bodes well for the future of TBA and PICA. At present, however, the space hasn't come near its full potential yet. Outside of the installations in the space, the live performances often felt like they were getting swallowed up by the huge room that housed them. This was clearer than ever during the closing night event: She's In Parties, a concert organized by musician Shannon Funchess.

With zero fanfare or introduction, a parade of short sets kept beginning and ending. Were it not for the plumes of dry-ice smoke filling the room and the purple and red lights coming from the stage, no one would have really known that there was a show happening. It didn't help that, being the big party to round out the festival, the crowd within the big concrete walls of The Works building was more interested in talking and drinking than dancing. Nor was it favorable to really listen to the music unless you were parked right by the stage. The poor acoustics swallowed up most of the sound otherwise.

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TBA Review: Watching Grown Men Juggle in Alessandro Sciarroni’s UNTITLED_I will be there when you die

Alfredo Anceschi

Let’s be be honest: When one thinks about contemporary performance art, one does not immediately jump to juggling. And yet, in a field that seems to have exhausted the use of microphone as character, and nudity as truth, an earnest piece symbolizing life’s journey through hurled objects isn’t so out there upon further inspection.

UNTITLED_I will be there when you die marks the return of Italian Artist Alessandro Sciarroni as he continues the performance trilogy that he started with FOLK-S Will you still love me tomorrow? (TBA:15), a piece that deconstructed folk dancing to its bare core, to unravel life’s repetitions. Working in a similar vein, Sciarroni takes on the act of juggling, presenting the activity plainly, without spectacle, perhaps as a way of showing life’s successes and failures in each caught or dropped object.

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TBA Review: Pondering Desire With Allie Hankins and Her "Fuck Machines"

Allie Hankins performs a love dance for a member of the audience.
Allie Hankins performs a love dance for a member of the audience. Suzette Smith

My introduction to Allie Hankins as a performer was her 2012 TBA dance Like A Sun That Pours Forth Light But Never Warmth where she quietly covered herself in gold leaf for an extended period of time then leapt unbelievably—half nude and strong—for another era to a rampaging orchestral score of Bolero. It was breathtaking. So it’s also incredible to see Hankins show us another character four years later who is so different from that incredible light, a wry Janeane Garofalo '90s stand-up comic persona—with some slam poet added for good measure—who always seems just a breath away from fellating her microphone.

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TBA Review: Amenta Abioto Nearly Achieves Transcendence

Shes connecting threads of experimental, soul, and gospel music in novel ways and imbuing her work with a deep political savvy and emotional impact.
She's connecting threads of experimental, soul, and gospel music in novel ways and imbuing her work with a deep political savvy and emotional impact. Briana Cerezo

The setting for Amenta Abioto's TBA performance on Wednesday night was immediately striking. A table was set in the center of the main room within PICA's new space on NE Hancock. Draped over the top was a colorful cloth with an array of food and a few pieces of sound equipment. And the whole thing was bathed in the glow of a single light that projected images of the moon and various abstract shapes. As the lights in the room started to go out, the mood promised something equally dramatic and bold.

Abioto didn't get quite to that level, but she certainly came close. For her hour-long-plus set, she did a lot: building songs out of layered vocal loops recorded in the moment, reading a bit of poetry from a small spiral-bound notebook, losing herself in dance around the table, sharing a piece of pie with her sister Intisar, and even having a bit of a banana to regain some strength after one particularly intense song.

Like most of Abioto's live displays, it was formless with her spirit and mood driving the direction of the evening. If that meant taking a moment to burn a bit of sage and walk around the table, that's what was going to happen. That also meant that it was difficult to remain immersed in the presentation. And little things kept happening to remind us how extemporaneous it all was.

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TBA Preview: Repurposed Nostalgia in Mechanics Laid Bare

Suzette Smith

Tonight, TBA presents Mechanics Laid Bare a one-time-only collaboration between Portland non-profit cinema art collective the Cinema Project and local composer Matt Carlson. I got a chance to see their practice and talk about the project a few nights ago in a darkened Old Town loft where they were rehearsing.

Carlson sat near the back with a table full of flickering synth equipment. Heather Lane, Mia Ferm, and Melinda Kowalska of the Cinema Project were moving around a long, low table filled with small projectors. They were of the reel-to-reel variety, the size of old classroom AV equipment. A large rectangle of amber ocean water rippled on the screen, looping and fluttering along with the projector’s own flickering light. Michael McManus (also of Cinema Project) walked back and forth between Carlson, the projectors, and a soundboard he was using to mix newsreels on the film strips in with the space-like sounds Carlson was creating. So that was rad as hell.

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TBA Review: The Effervescent Spirit of AU and the Camas High School Choir

It was the most life-affirming night of music Ive experienced in some time.
It was the most life-affirming night of music I've experienced in some time. Briana Cerezo

Luke Wyland's music, primarily written for his band AU, has always been deeply felt work. Even at their most bombastic and buoyant, with both he and drummer Dana Valatka creating ground-shaking rumbles, the emotions in each song are never far from the surface, and they're impossible to ignore.

That feeling was only trebled on Wednesday night when Wyland presented new material and versions of some of his best AU compositions that featured the singers of the Camas High School Choir as part of his musical palette.

Wyland began working with the ensemble and their director Ethan Chessin during the last school year, guiding them through this material and the minutiae of the music industry. It all culminated in a performance at Yale Union last April that was so well-received and much talked about that it's being repeated at TBA this year.

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TBA Review: Unpacking “Otherness” in Carlos Motta’s Deseos / رغبات

From <i>Deseos</i>
From Deseos

When it comes to TBA—and art in general—I find that one can measure the resonance of an artistic work by the amount of questions it leaves you with. That’s not to say questions that come from confusion or misinterpretation of a piece, but rather thoughts that prompt a viewer to ask questions of themselves, their surroundings, or their institutions. Carlos Motta & Maya Mikdashi’s Deseos / رغبات (Desires) left me with a lot of questions. More on that later.

This short film is the result of a collaboration between Filmmaker Carlos Motta and his co-screenwriter Maya Mikdashi as they unpack and explore the lives of Martina and Nour, two characters (or one could say historical subjects) who lived in the 19th century and personally dealt with conflicts of gender, sexuality, and society’s views of the sexual body. According to Motta and Mikdashi’s research (presented on Motta’s website and also in a dramaturgical packet given to audience members at the screening) Martina was prosecuted by the colonial court of Colombia for being a “hermaphrodite” when she was accused of having an “unnatural body” by her then-lover. In Beirut, Nour faces similar societal and cultural adversity when she is forced to marry the brother of her female lover when they are caught in the act by her own mother.

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TBA Review: Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble's Stealthy Mindfulness and Toxic Masculinity

Yes, thats Elliot Rodger in the middle, embodying that reddest of red flags: Adult men who call women girls, and cant say the word without a verbal sneer.
Yes, that's Elliot Rodger in the middle, embodying that reddest of red flags: Adult men who call women "girls," and can't say the word without a verbal sneer. PICA via Flickr

In 2014, Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured 14 near the University of California at Santa Barbara before killing himself. It was later proven to be an attempt on Rodger's part to punish women for rejecting him and other men for having relationships with women. Since then, Rodger's become something of a symbol for toxic masculinity—unchecked feelings of entitlement to women's bodies and attention that leads to everything from street harassment to murder—and that was enough to give me pause about attending the west coast premiere of Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble's The Art of Luv (Part I): Elliot at TBA:16. It's a performance that puts Rodger's manifesto of hatred towards women—or, as he puts it, "girls"—front and center.

But context is everything, and what could have been horrifying becomes a much more nuanced meditation on desire, gender, capitalism, and the way a fractured, dysfunctional idea of romantic love is commodified in our culture. Oh, and it's quite literally a meditation: Audience members were welcomed into Reed's Black Box Theatre by an attendant wearing a white robe and handing warm, lavender-scented towels out of a small white cooler. Inside, the theater was full of ritualistic detail: small tea lights lining a stage surrounded by cushions, a projection setup, and more white-clad figures wearing golden laurel crowns and playing instruments. The stage was altar-like, but where you'd expect to see a statue of a stone Buddha or blue-veiled Virgin Mary, there were two VHS tapes of Titanic.

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TBA Review: Disco Nostalgia and Wildwood Fantasies in Meg Wolfe's New Faithful Disco

A queer-love power trio.
"A queer-love power trio." PICA via Flickr

Pulsing with disco nostalgia and wildwood fantasies, Meg Wolfe’s PICA co-commissioned TBA:16 piece New Faithful Disco made its Portland debut at the Winningstad Theatre this weekend. The modern dance performance was a single, uninterrupted work with curiously contrasting motifs and a compelling musical framework—who doesn’t love a little funk?

Three dancers—taisha paggett, Marbles Radio, and Wolfe—awaken and crawl out from under a pile of large homemade quilts toward bright light. Their movements are trance-like in unison. Soon they have rolled up their blankets and hit the disco dance floor. Throughout the performance, they shift in and out of sync with one another. Their motion is expended in a variety of forms: executing chores like folding and putting away their quilts, a grammar of cool disco dance moves and gestures, or else more free-form expressions, from rapturous to writhing. Similarly, the music cycles from nature recordings to cacophonous sounds like slipping or rewound audiotape, resolving finally into an irresistible funky beat, only to dissolve again.

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TBA Review: When Watching One Part of Morgan Thorson’s Still Life, Another Part Passes You By

Dirty walls, dancers moving in unison, check marks happening on the back wall.
Dirty walls, dancers moving in unison, check marks happening on the back wall. Suzette Smith

Since Friday, Morgan Thorson’s Still Life has been playing at the Portland Art Museum, on the second floor of the Modern and Contemporary Art Building for five hours at a time. Thorson has 10-plus dancers working with her, running through an ensemble piece that acts out “the death of choreography” by erasing elements of a piece as the performers cycle through it.

I arrived on a Sunday, near the middle. Museum chairs lined the room’s edges and seven dancers stood illuminated in lavender light. Music playing sounded curiously like the underlying hook of Lil Wayne’s Lollipop. The three sets of dancers ran repetitive movements with partners, including but not limited to: brisk walking, slamming into the wall, erratic gyrations that (depending on the dancer) approached twerking, slowly raising an appendage, treating a partner’s appendage like a ball of light at a rave, synchronized scuttling and so forth. A strip of chalkboard ran around the room and the dancers intermittently leaned over the audience to make unexplained tallies. By this point there were scores of tally marks. The walls were covered in dirt bruises from the dancers’ hands and feet.

I sat quickly, without much thought, and noticed Lu Yim to my left. Yim is involved with the Portland dance collective Physical Education. Since Yim didn’t look at me and was wearing knee pads, I decided they were probably in the performance. The dance seemed to occupy not only the area of the room but beyond it and the space of the chairs, where the audience sat uneasily. One set of the dancers slapped the floor and a teen jumped, startled. These dancers were dangerous.

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TBA Review: Narcissister’s Sublime, Ab Fab-Approved Spectacle

Narcissister sheds identities like Russian dolls.
Narcissister sheds identities like Russian dolls. Briana Cerezo

In a 2012 episode of the British sitcom, Absolutely Fabulous, Edina, hoping to impress an American actor, suggests that she and her aging scenester friend Patsy take him to clubs to see Narcissister: “She’s a kind of crazy disco performance artist; she pulls things out of her pussy on a rotating platform singing ‘I’m Every Woman.’” Cue laugh-track. I love Ab Fab—and while you can see a clip of this exchange on Narcissister’s website—don’t be mislead by its reductive description.

Narcissister’s Narcissistic Advance, which showed at TBA:16 over the weekend, is performance art that draws heavily on burlesque, but includes performance techniques from modern dance to video art to puppetry. Be it live-action or short film, each segment features Narcissister, the persona created by Brooklyn performance artist Isabelle, who wears a plastic wig-form mask and a merkin throughout. Narcissister’s creator is an Alvin Ailey-trained dancer, and the artist’s study of movement is evident throughout the performance in the well-organized use of performance space, and a sophistication that belies the clumsiness of the mask, the many props, and the fact that the whole array must be handled with plastic fingers and acrylic nails.

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At This Year’s Time-Based Art Festival, the Stakes Will Be Higher

Duty Free
Duty Free Dylan Mira

“The stakes are a lot higher in a space that we want to be able to welcome people into,” says Erin Boberg Doughton, performing arts program director for the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA). Ahead of PICA’s annual Time-Based Art Festival (TBA), which kicks off September 8, Boberg Doughton and PICA’s visual art curator, Kristan Kennedy, are weighing in about what to expect from the interdisciplinary performance festival. One major change: After 13 years of a more itinerant approach—repurposing under-utilized spaces for temporary performances—TBA has a new, permanent space in PICA’s new home at 15 NE Hancock, which will serve as one of the festival hubs.

As usual, PICA’s offerings are packed with a dizzying array of conceptual work—some of it socially engaged, some funny, some heartbreaking, some just totally weird—including a large-scale collaboration with the Portland Art Museum, “a live video essay” from filmmaker Dylan Mira, new pieces from local performance geniuses like Allie Hankins and Keyon Gaskin, and Andrew Dickson and Claudia Meza’s “Don’t Get Me Started,” an evening of “well-crafted rants” from comedians and artists curated in response to all of the depressing news items that probably made you want to cancel 2016.

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Final Thoughts on TBA 2015, Plus Art It's Not Too Late to See!

The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art's annual Time-Based Art Festival (TBA) came to a close Saturday night, with '90s-inspired dance party. A few remaining performances landed Sunday, and with that, those of us covering the fest for the Mercury have our lives back. When we met before the festival started, TBA Artistic Director Angela Mattox said this year's lineup would be heavy on inquiries into identity. That turned out to be true, but there was also an unexpected undercurrent of whimsy. Here's what we saw during Portland's biggest performance art fest:

Michelle Ellsworth
  • Briana Cerezo
  • Michelle Ellsworth

Katie Pelletier witnessed Michelle Ellsworth's immersive Preparation for the Obsolescence of the Y Chromosome. An inquiry into what might be missed once men are extinct, it was "part corporate R&D presentation, part dance, part comedy, part cultural anthropology project and evolutionary biology lecture." Elsewhere, she watched two performances from Radhouane El Meddeb: one that found the artist serving couscous to his audience, and in another, exploring the limitations of rigid gender roles through putting several dancers through the wringer.

In Night Tripper, Noah Dunham was kidnapped by a trio of Norwegian artists and taken to the forest for a witchy ritual. It was not as terrifying as that sounds (there's your whimsy).

Philippe Quesne’s La Mélancolie des Dragons
  • Courtesy PICA/Martin Argyroglo
  • Philippe Quesne’s La Mélancolie des Dragons

Meanwhile, Thomas Ross made Philippe Quesne’s La Mélancolie des Dragons sound so delightful I'm just going to leave this quote from his review over here: "The metalheads introduce themselves to the woman, Isabel, there to fix the car... They’re a touring amusement park, and their park is based on a number of things they’re interested in: art, music, nature, children’s books, bubbles. (Exemplary line: 'Isabel! Bubble machine!')"

Also of note: B-boys deconstructing gender in Amy O'Neal's Opposing Forces. The triumphant return of Ten Tiny Dances. Dynasty Handbag's unapologetically tacky, Jerri Blank-adjacent talk-show sendup, Good Morning Evening Feelings. Tyondai Braxton's restless synths. The undercurrent of fear in Keyon Gaskin's Its Not a Thing might be your own. The purposeful confusion of Dana Michel's Yellow Towel.

Opposing Forces
  • Briana Cerezo
  • Opposing Forces

Did you stay home this time around? Don't worry! TBA's visual art component, Pictures of the Moon with Teeth, is still up and open to the public at 2500 NE Sandy. The show "tackles the 'spirit'," writes Jenna Lechner in her review. "The work... shares a common thread of a monochrome color palette, and the concrete industrial venue asserts its smooth, even gray over much of the it." You have until October 11 to go see it.