The more things change, the more they stay the same—especially for a contemporary arts festival founded to highlight the most cutting-edge innovations in art. The Time-Based Art Festival—PICA’s flagship event for the past 20 years, known to most of us as TBA—is going through some changes this year.
As an experiment, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) has modified the 10-day whirlwind format of past years, opting instead for a more leisurely timeline of performances and exhibitions, thoughtfully scheduled from late August through November.
Dubbed Time-Released, the format is not guaranteed to be a new, permanent version of TBA, just something the arts organization is trying on. Brand new Executive Director Reuben Roqueñi described it as “an exploratory exercise in which PICA considers its presenting formats.”
That level of changeability may make Time-Released the most “TBA” version of TBA to date. It’s a truly experimental event, allowing artists and organizers to try out more ambitious projects and making space for even more of the unexpected moments of absurdity and deep connection we have come to expect from the festival.
As of now, the lineup includes THE ACHE, the third installment in Allie Hankins and Hannah Krafcik’s five-part performance series, which will include workshops and contributions from a crew of local artists; Make Banana Cry, a performance and and complementary “fake museum exhibition” that critiques stereotypes of “Asianness” (with incredible costumes) by Andrew Tay, Stephen Thompson, and Dominique Petrin; and a new work titled [siccer] by choreographer and artist Will Rawls, which combines green screens and stop-motion animation to unpack the way Black bodies are captured and distorted in the media.
Time-Released has no official curatorial theme, though that doesn’t exclude the audience from noticing connections across the works being presented. It just means nobody is going to spoon feed talking points, so you can impress your friends during post-Time-Released drinks.
“We want audiences to make those connections themselves, over time, rather than imposing or suggesting [specific meanings],” PICA’s Artistic Director Roya Amirsoleymani told the Mercury. Amirsoleymani organized Time-Released, with co-Artistic Directors Erin Boberg Doughton and Kristan Kennedy.
Part of the impetus for the multi-month schedule was to give audiences more time to process and appreciate the art. To that end, PICA is also offering panel discussions, artist-led workshops, and multiple showings of individual works—aiming for depth rather than density in its programming.
“The sense of release is important,” Boberg Doughton said, emphasizing the second part of the festival’s name. She explained that the structure of this year’s festival released artists from an “expectation that things would happen really quickly,” as was often necessary in the old 10-day format.
Many of the works being presented at this year’s festival are the result of long term conversations and collaborative efforts, Amirsoleymani explained. PICA helped the artists bring their visions to life and to Portland.
“I first saw [Make Banana Cry] performed in the UK in 2019,” she said, adding that the work has evolved and taken on new meaning in light of the Stop Asian Hate movement and renewed efforts to support AAPI communities.
In Amirsoleymani’s view, Time-Released celebrates survival over time—survival of art and the individuals who make it, and also of arts organizations like PICA itself. “Think about these works surviving through an economy in despair and a pandemic, and still persisting despite it,” she said, “and coming out the other side and finding a home like PICA.”
If that sounds heavy, rest assured that Time-Released will bring plenty of weirdness and fun, too. Even the festival preparations have been rife with creative silliness—Amirsoleymani described a dinner held for artist Will Rawls that featured green foods (think pandan cakes, green-wrapped vegan cheese snacks, and cucumber-mint infused beverages) in homage to the green screens used in his performance [siccer]. It was just one example of the ways that the complex works in Time-Released simultaneously inspire both lightness and depth.
In Boberg Doughton’s mind, performance art is a balm for our nonsensical world. “For 60 minutes or 90 minutes, [you’re in] kind of a temporary, alternate reality,” she said. “That’s one of the things I appreciate about these artists— their ability to process the times that, I think, all of us have been through in the past few years, [and ask] ‘how do you make sense of what’s going on?’ Sometimes making something that is absurd can be a response to that.”