TBA in a Nutshell: Kick-off Noontime Chat 9/8/06
At this first noontime chat, Mark Russell, Artistic Director of the TBA Festival, and Kristan Kennedy, PICA’s Visual Arts Program Director, led an informal but informing discussion about what will make TBA 06 so special. Rather than describe and give a plug for each event, (“It’s all in the book. Read the book.”) Mark and Kristan spoke at length about their curatorial styles, and how the process of putting TBA together effects the qualities of the Festival.
Mark told a story of arriving in Portland with a lengthy list of artists he wanted to bring to TBA. It was not long before he realized that top-down approach wouldn’t work in this environment and within TBA’s budget. So he scrapped his list and began a more organic process of curating the festival, driven by practical parameters. They invited artists who a) want to be here, b) are available and have work to present, c) have or do form a relationship with PICA, and most importantly d) artists who are pushing boundaries between disciplines, conventions, taking risks and posing questions.
As curators, Kristan and Mark have focused on relationships with individual artists rather than on finding artists that fit into a predetermined set of specific ideas. Kristan especially emphasized the origin of the word curate as “invested with the care of the soul.” Thus, the artists invited to be a part of TBA are ready to be here, want to be here, and being here will do something for their development as working artists. And, those artists who (like Panther) break a contract to seize an opportunity for a major tour are allowed to do so (despite 50,000 brochures in circulation). “Each change or cancellation is an opening for something more exciting,” Mark explained. An audience member described her scheduling strategy as, “Putting myself in the path of serendipity.” Mark described the curation process in the same way. It’s working so far.
When asked to identify overarching themes, both Kristan and Mark spoke to the role of the audience in uncovering what ties the Festival together. They of course have some ideas of how artists relate to each other, but each year they are excited to make these discoveries along with audience members. Kristan recalled sitting at the WORKS last year with Mark and Kristy Edmunds taking stock of the week as it came to a close. Kristy articulated for the first time the idea that TBA 05 was about the power and presentation of one’s own voice.
While being careful not to underestimate what they will have learned about the artists and work of TBA 06 come next Sunday, Mark and Kristan proposed that this year’s work will have a lot to do with history—how humanity redefines and reinvents the past, as well presenting the past as a mirror to document the world right now. Bringing this idea with me to each new event has definitely helped me navigate through the pieces I’ve seen so far.
Mark cited Stan’s Cafe as the “spine” of the festival. Simultaneously visual installation, performance piece, and audience participation event, Stan’s Cafe integrates many of the ideas about history, science, and the place of the individual that artists across TBA are working with.
I can feel that TBA is coming into its own, and audiences are getting past the learning curve of understanding how to interact with this style of festival. However, this year is not without its own unique challenges, risks, and experiements. This is the first year to include a specifically visual arts component. The programming at the WORKS is more robust than ever, warranting its very own pass and occupying a venue with more appropriate infrastructure and capacity. Expanding to the east side of the river reflects how Portland and Portland’s art community are changing, and fits in nicely to Mark’s “bridges” concept of TBA. However, there’s also the risk that audiences won’t make it over the river, ending the night at home rather than at the WORKS.
By incorporating four styles of venue–theater, club, gallery, public space–TBA aspires to promote audience cross-over. Kristan spoke of her own experience as a visual artists turning her nose up to the early performances PICA presented (“You know, those performances that everyone is still talking about as completely mind-blowing”). She finally started going to them when PICA gave her comp tickets. And, something clicked. Sitting in the audience, all she could think about was “painting, painting, painting!” She never would have guessed that these performance pieces would so completely inspire and inform her own visual work. A goal of TBA is to get gallery goers to wander into a performance piece, and serious theater-goers or dance fanatics to check out the club scene at the WORKS. And, for performance artists to not only learn from each other but also from the work of film makers, sculptors, and musicians—fellow artists finding unique angles for addressing the same problems, the same puzzling state of the world.
This chat took place last Friday (like, forever ago in blog-time). I decided to post about it anyway because I’ve found it so helpful to have these bits of behind-the-scenes information and sense of personalities as I interact with TBA, and try to piece together what it is that is actually going on.
posted by: Kirsten Collins