"THIS AUDIENCE is pretty open," says Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) Artistic Director Angela Mattox of the crowd that shows up every year for PICA's Time-Based Art Festival (TBA). Mattox's trust in her audience matters: Performance art at its best isn't about someone doing a weird thing, it's about the immediacy of live art, and the tension that arises when there's equal potential for both immanent connection and outright failure. It requires a certain level of trust from its audience that other art forms don't.
One of Mattox's aims with TBA, she says, is to "debunk stereotypes about what belongs in a contemporary arts festival"—a concern that extends all the way to the nontraditional spaces PICA selects to house TBA's programming. As property values in Portland go up, finding these out-of-the-way locations can be a challenge. In this sense, the festival's become something of a barometer for what's going on in the arts community at large. Political concerns are at work here too, with a strong emphasis on questions of identity embedded in the festival's lineup, rounded out by a concurrent visual art exhibition curated by Kristan Kennedy, and grounded by critical offerings like artist talks (to say nothing of TBA's musical guests this year, which include Zola Jesus, and local heroes Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks). With an eye toward this year's emphasis on socially engaged art, here's where to enter the fray.
Ritual & Requiem
In what Mattox calls "a pretty epic piece," composer Holcombe Waller has crafted a ceremonial musical work called Requiem Mass: LGBT/Working Title, in honor of members of the LGBT community who have been persecuted in the name of religion. Featuring a diverse, intergenerational group of singers, the piece—which has its premiere at TBA—reclaims the parameters of a traditional Catholic Mass for the dead "as a tool for social action."
Requiem Mass: LGBT/Working Title, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 147 NW 19th, Fri Sept 11, Sat Sept 12, 6:30 pm, $10-30
If Requiem Mass is one of this year's pieces that reckon with identity, inquiries into race are also a theme repeated throughout the festival's lineup. One of these, Yellow Towel, comes from Canada's Dana Michel. Named for Michel's childhood practice of wearing a yellow towel on her head to simulate blonde hair, the piece is a solo performance exploring stereotypes around black identity—one that Mattox calls "a troubling, ambiguous, enigmatic, poignant work."
It's also a piece with echoes in Portland's own performance art scene. Michel shares thematic concerns with local dancer Keyon Gaskin, whose necessarily jarring performance piece, its not a thing, elicited real tears and strong reactions at Lynne Tillman's art-focused book release at PICA in February. If you haven't seen it yet, you should absolutely go to one of Gaskin's two TBA appearances.
Yellow Towel, BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th, Fri Sept 18, Sat Sept 19, 8:30 pm, $20-25; its not a thing, BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th, Fri Sept 11, Sat Sept 12, 8:30 pm, $12-15
Last year, comedy cropped up at TBA for the first time in the festival's history, and it's back again. This year, the Works, TBA's after-hours programming, will feature Disoriented Comedy, a nationally touring showcase of stand-up from Asian American comedians (most of them women). TBA's lineup looks like a can't-miss, with Portlander (and erstwhile Mercury columnist) Bri Pruett sharing the bill with comedian Jenny Yang and transgender political theater artist D'Lo, both from Los Angeles.
Disoriented Comedy, The Works at The Redd, 831 SE Salmon, Tues Sept 15, 10:30 pm, $8-10
If you've ever purchased a "Male Tears" coffee mug, you owe it to yourself to go see Michelle Ellsworth's Preparation for the Obsolescence of the Y Chromosome, a theatrical piece that examines the nightmare of frothy-mouthed MRAs everywhere: a post-male world, in which Ellsworth shares a historical archive of masculinity. What would such a time capsule contain? Man dances, man hands, and man specimens, says Mattox. Plus a "Male Gaze Simulator," which is just a giant eyeball that follows Ellsworth around wherever she goes. Who says feminist art can't be funny?
Preparation for the Obsolescence of the Y Chromosome, Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Tue-Thurs Sept 15-17, 6:30 pm, $20-25
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