Every September, the Time Based Art Festival (TBA) kicks off what I think of as “art season” in Portland. The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) brings artists from around the world (and local favorites, too) to their headquarters and various other locations around town to present work that is often beautiful, sometimes challenging, and every once in a while completely mind-blowing. One year, a gentle-sounding film ostensibly about stars left many attendees practically speechless, and in a state of delightful existential chaos. You never really know which show is going to be the one that rocks your world, but part of the TBA adventure is being your own curator and assembling a little two-week smorgasbord of artsy surprises for yourself. The one thing that you can always count on is fuel for smart, interesting, and weird conversations afterward, so bring a pal and plan on post-show drinks so you can unpack what you’ve seen.
TBA 2022 is the twentieth anniversary of this now-iconic festival, and PICA is making appropriately bold statements about what they’ve got planned: Artistic directors Roya Amirsoleymani, Erin Boburg Doughton, and Kristan Kennedy say that this year’s lineup “gives, moves, disrupts, replenishes, restores,” and they “promise you will feel something from all you witness.”
The schedule hints at themes of personal journeys, communal healing, cosmic connections, and sensory immersion. After a fully-virtual program in 2020 and a hybrid experience last year, this year will be the most IRL version we’ve had since pre-pandemic times, so ideas of shared and embodied experiences feels right. Check out the full schedule to choose your own adventure, or kick back and let me do the curating for you with the following TBA picks:
Los Angeles-based musician San Cha made her TBA debut in 2019 at a packed-to-capacity performance at the lumber room—so packed that many people, including me, couldn’t get in. (Sad trombone.) So it’s fantastic news that San Cha is bringing her blend of traditional Mexican and contemporary musical genres and her incredible costumes and stage presence to TBA’s opening night—in PICA’s much roomier main venue on North Hancock. Local DJs Dez Ramirez (AKA La Cosmica) and Diana Suarez (AKA Buena Suerte) will keep the party going until closing time. If you missed San Cha the first time around, this is your chance to experience the magic! And if you were one of the lucky few in attendance back in 2019, you’re probably already making plans to go. (Thurs Sept 8, 8 pm at PICA, 15 NE Hancock, suggested donation of $0–$20)
I will never not be charmed by the experience of holding a seashell up to my ear “to listen to the ocean,” even though I know the sound I’m hearing is my own blood rushing through my head. Florida artist Sasha Wortzel must feel the same way, judging by the 3D-printed conch shells featured in their exhibition Dreams of Unknown Islands. Instead of mimicking the tides, Wortzel’s shells whisper traditional Jewish prayers of spiritual fortitude in the face of grief, recited by the artist’s friends and family. The grief in question here is the ecological kind—the kind of sadness you might feel when wildfire smoke wafts into town each summer, or when wetlands get paved over by luxury resorts. Video projections of sunsets and sea turtles contribute to a peaceful, meditative atmosphere conducive to working through tough emotions. (Wortzel will provide a brief talk about Dreams of Unknown Islands on Sat Sept 10, noon, Reed Chapel in Eliot Hall, 3203 SE Woodstock, FREE; the exhibition opens immediately following the talk, 1-3pm, and runs through Sun Nov 20, Cooley Gallery, 3203 SE Woodstock, FREE; This is an Address: The Films of Sasha Wortzel screens with artist Q&A, Sept 11, 2 pm at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy, $7)
Sunday night performance's Arab.AMP is a mix of psychedelic, experimental, and folksy, with a throughline of Southwest Asian and North African (SWANA) musical influences tying it all together. Sir Richard Bishop (founding member of the long-running band Sun City Girls, part-time antiquarian bookseller, not technically a real “Sir”) contributes baroque guitar stylings; performance artist Lime Rickey International brings green-tinted synthy drones; and Portland’s Descending Pharaohs provide Arabic psych-rock vibes. (Sun Sept 11, 8 pm at PICA, 15 NE Hancock, sliding scale of $5–$20)
Weepy, pale, Victorian ghost ladies mourning their long-lost-loves are all well and good, but why should they have a monopoly on the visual culture of sadness? Curator Nana Adusei-Poku offers alternative iconographies of mourning, loss, and grief in this lecture, starting with the medieval alchemical idea of “black bile” as a source of melancholy and connecting the dots between art history, autobiography, and contemporary art. Adusei-Poku’s goal in this lecture, and in the recent group show she curated at Bard College in New York, is to unsettle one-sided ideas about who is allowed to be sad, making space for visions of despair that can actually inspire comfort and connection. (Wed, Sept 14, 8 pm at PICA, 15 NE Hancock, sliding scale ticket cost $5–$20)
This collaboration between video artist DB Amorin and sound artist Chloe Alexandra Thompson is billed as “engaging sub-bass tones to high-pitched sirens whose interactions entangle the spatial experience of listening with the expanded field of embodied proprioception.” That’s a lot to unpack, so if you’re short on time, here’s the simple version: This multimedia performance will involve sound you can literally feel—immersive visuals to take you out of your head and plant you firmly in your physical, sensory experience. They Can Never Burn the Stars is part of the ongoing Indigenous-led curatorial series Knowledge of Wounds. (Thurs Sept 15, 9 pm, PICA, 15 NE Hancock, sliding scale ticket cost $5–$20)
After absorbing so much art, you're going to be full of inspiration, wonder, and energy—and that means it’s time to dance! UwU Collective's massive crew of Portland-based QTBIPOC DJs and multimedia artists promise a night of underground music and fun (check out their show on XRAY for a taste of what they’re all about). UwU aims to create futuristic queer utopias through partying, which sounds like a pretty magnificent way to close out TBA 2022, if you ask me. (Sat Sept 17, 9 pm at PICA, 15 NE Hancock, sliding scale $5–$20)
Can't get enough TBA 2022? Read our ongoing reviews of the performances at the festival.