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Instigating Institutional Change Towards Decolonization
Originally published by HowlRound Theatre Commons
April 13, 2020
This article was written prior to the pandemic we are working through globally. We send love to you and your communities. We note the vital role artists bear, particularly in times of crisis. We note the organizational leaders who are shifting radically in real time: paying artists, altering schedules, transforming values into care via commitment and action. The Global First Nations Performance Network (GFNPN) is thinking about how to be acute and responsible while acknowledging that the systemic inequities revealed by this pandemic are reflective of the deliberate settler-colonialist project and paradigm.
GFNPN will continue to grow alongside our accomplices. The work and efforts of our cultural organizations in these times of urgency and emergency must consider, center, and continue toward decolonization and indigenization rather than forsake these shifts in consciousness, awareness, and action for the sake of a “return to normalcy.”
Emily Johnson: The Global First Nations Performance Network (GFNPN) is a new transnational, Indigenous-led initiative that works to increase the quantity, impact, and capacity for Indigenous performance locally and internationally. GFNPN is an innovative support infrastructure focused on cultural change; commissioning, touring, and presenting Indigenous performance; and capacity building for the Indigenous and non-Indigenous performing arts sectors.
GFNPN’s advisory committee—which currently includes myself, Lori Pourier, Reuben Roqueñi, Ed Bourgeois, and Vallejo Gantner—recognizes the deep shift and systemic change that United States–based cultural institutions need to make in order to create equity in the performing arts field and the world at large. We recognize that most institutions have not made the necessary steps, but we believe supporting one another’s efforts is the most productive way forward.
When it comes to the work of decolonization and indigenization, everything about an institution must change—from structure, governance, and leadership to ethos, values, and worldview. The shift of consciousness and action that is needed in the world—recognizing, acknowledging, centering, respecting, and understanding Indigenous knowledge, art, making, culture, leadership, and sovereignty—becomes reality. This is what is needed to build equity.
There are some institutions willing to do this work and move from being allies to becoming accomplices. One example is the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) in Portland, Oregon. The staff and leadership at PICA have taken good steps toward decolonizing and indigenizing the practices and curatorial processes of their organization, making a list—shared below—of how far they’ve come, where they need to go, and what their challenges are. We at GFNPN consider this list to be a good example and possible model for other partner and settler-run organizations.
Roya Amirsoleymani and Erin Boberg Doughton: As two of the three co–artistic directors and curators at PICA, we are part of a team of staff, board, artists, and community members seeking to critically question and acknowledge the colonizing forces of our own organization’s practices and how they mirror systems and structures of the nonprofit art world that uphold and perpetuate settler-colonial culture and its harms.
In May 2019, the artist Demian DinéYazhi’ posted a query on Instagram, which said: To all institutions practicing land acknowledgements: tell us, what steps do you take to hold space and center Indigenous Peoples? How are you actively working to pay Indigenous people, donate to Indigenous causes, protect Indigenous land and water rights, and promote Indigenous sovereignty?
This prompt led to PICA’s first public statement about where the organization is in its work supporting Indigenous artists, which was later adapted into a list in preparation for a GFNPN gathering. We’re sharing this list in hopes that it might be helpful to fellow allies as we work together to center Indigenous artists and decolonize our processes, institutions, and the performing arts field, acknowledging that we are in the early stages of the work and many have been doing this for much longer. It is a work in progress, incomplete and imperfect, and we welcome a dialogue with anyone who is also doing this work and would like to share their questions, ideas, challenges, or provocations. We offer this with gratitude to Demian, Emily, and the many Indigenous artists and colleagues who have shared and continue to share their labor, guidance, and vision.
How far have we come?
1. We are in an ongoing process toward individual and organizational consciousness shifts, awareness, acknowledgment, and commitment to prioritizing Indigenous artists and communities in our research, curation, and community engagement efforts.
2. We are committed to making land acknowledgment statements before every public event and providing printed statements in our programs and on the wall of our building’s entryway.
3. We are committed to ensuring Indigenous artists are represented in our annual Time-Based Art Festival, year-round programming, residencies, and grant funding, with an emphasis on queer, trans, womxn, two-spirit, gender non-conforming, and non-binary Indigenous artists. While we do not have a quota, we have dedicated a minimum of roughly 10 percent of our artistic budget for the past two years to Indigenous artists’ projects and programs, and we plan to do the same or more in upcoming years.
4. We are actively working to expand and strengthen trusted relationships with Indigenous artists, communities, and groups.
5. We are striving to ensure there is Indigenous representation on our staff and board (there is some, but there should be much more!).
6. We provide fiscal sponsorship and resources to GFNPN and are actively participating in calling other allies in and out in that effort when needed. In part, this is an attempt to relieve Indigenous folks of always having to do that kind of education as well as emotional and administrative labor.
7. We are attempting to listen actively and closely when critiqued or called in/out by the community, and we are trying not to react or respond defensively.
8. We are reading, discussing, and sharing texts on decolonization politics and practices among our team.
9. We are incorporating decolonization and specific consideration of indigeneity into our working processes and plans toward racial equity, which is an ongoing effort, and not a destination or end goal.
10. We are regularly turning over our physical and material space, time, and resources to Black, Brown, Indigenous, and POC-identified artists.
11. We are building Indigenous-focused and -centered connections and exchanges among local, national, and international artists and curators.
12. We are creating platforms for and supporting Indigenous-led curation and programming.
Where can we go?
1. We can ensure and expand Indigenous representation, inclusion, and retention on our board and staff.
2. We can strive to ensure our work and office culture feel as safe, inclusive, welcoming, and affirming as possible for Indigenous folks (especially for womxn, queer, trans, two-sprit, gender non-conforming, and non-binary folks), and that our work and office culture shifts in response to what we learn from the Indigenous community.
3. We should be cultivating conversations and building trusting relationships with local and regional elders, tribes, and Indigenous communities, in addition to individual artists.
4. We must work toward repairing past relationships; actively acknowledge the colonizing roots and forces of the nonprofit industrial complex; and strive to subvert, upend, decolonize, and indigenize the dominant systems and structures that uphold PICA and the art world at large, with the understanding that reparations and decolonization of space, mind, and culture is lifelong and imperfect work, and should not be about re-centering the institution.
5. We must seek Indigenous individuals’ and communities’ input, advice, participation, and leadership throughout all of these processes, with financial compensation.
6. We can embed policies, values, and protocols into our organizational fabric so this work will be carried out consistently in all areas (staff, board, volunteers, marketing, production) and continue to evolve through changes in leadership.
What are we committed to doing that presents challenges?
1. Prioritizing Indigenous artists (“First Peoples first”) when other marginalized or oppressed people in our community are also struggling for resources (e.g., Black and Brown folks and people of color; people with disabilities; immigrants and refugees). We are striving to be intersectional in this work.
2. Building trust with local Indigenous elders and communities, given the range of work we support, including queer and transgressive voices and experimental aesthetics.
3. Growing capacity for programs, staff, and board positions so we can recruit and retain Indigenous individuals and compensate them equitably (many staff begin as volunteers, and board is unpaid). How can we improve working conditions?
4. Building capacity for commissioning, residencies, and development so we can support artists throughout the life of their work.
5. Identifying the “right” leaders with whom to build relationships. Many of the original peoples of the land now known as Portland—including Chinook, Multnomah, Clackamas, and many others, both recorded and unrecorded—were either killed or violently and forcibly relocated to reservations far away. The urban Indigenous population now represents 380+ tribal affiliations, from lands near and far. There is some hesitation on our part in not wanting to misstep, offend, or do the wrong thing, but we can’t let a fear of mistakes or discomfort preclude us from trying and doing the hard work. We have a lot of progress to make in this area, and the path is not clear.
Foundations pool their Covid-19 arts relief cash
Originally published in Oregon Artswatch
APRIL 22, 2020 // FEATURED, NEWS & NOTES // BARRY JOHNSON
A group of major Oregon foundations has pooled its money to create a new arts relief fund. So far, the Oregon Arts and Culture Recovery Program has $1.3 million to distribute to nonprofit arts and culture organizations throughout Oregon with grants for emergency operating support and recovery activities.
Organized and administered by the Oregon Community Foundation, the fund will give preference to arts nonprofits led by and serving communities disproportionately impacted by the social and economic consequences of the outbreak of Covid-19. The application process doesn’t look too onerous, either.
The emergency funds are intended to meet “immediate operating needs and losses related to the cancellation of performances, gallery exhibitions, fundraising events and more,” according to the RACC press release announcing the start of the program. The group of funders will also look for “proposals with strategies that allow art organizations and cultural institutions to innovate and adapt to the challenges of Covid-19. Organizations serving as a hub or facilitator for the arts and artists in their local, state and regional communities will also be prioritized for funding.”
Most of the money will be distributed in smaller grants, $5,000 and below, though larger grants (up to and even exceeding $25,000 in rare cases) will also be available.
The applications will be circulated around the foundations, which will have the opportunity to fund larger requests. Partners contributing toward the pooled fund currently include: The Collins Foundation, James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, Oregon Community Foundation, Regional Arts & Culture Council, and Schnitzer CARE Foundation/Jordan Schnitzer. Other partners aligning and supporting the effort include: Oregon Cultural Trust, Oregon Arts Commission, Reser Family Foundation, and the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.
According to Oregon Community Foundation’s Jerry Tischleder, additional funds may be added to the program.
More Funding News
The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art is converting its Precipice Fund to a relief fund for independent visual artists in the Portland metro area who are experiencing financial hardship. The fund will award a total of 120 $500 grants to eligible artists.
“The grantmaking process will be administered by PICA, and applications will be reviewed by a panel of local cultural workers, artists, and members of the PICA staff. Panelists will evaluate applications based on a combination of eligibility; application content, including demonstration of both financial need and active artistic practice; and a commitment to equity that ensures diversity among awardees and the inclusion of artists whose communities are underrepresented in relationship to visual art opportunities, economies, and funding streams.”
Applications will go live on Monday, May 4. Full application information including application details, eligibility, and frequently asked questions can be found at precipicefund.org.
Getty, Warhol, and Frankenthaler Foundations Provide Emergency Relief for Artists and Orgs
Originally published in Hyperallergic
As the COVID-19 pandemic roils the arts community, the organizations launched emergency funding initiatives to support the cultural sector.
Valentina Di Liscia, April 6, 2020
Stories of the coronavirus’s economic impact on the arts keep rolling in, seemingly with no end in sight: museum workers laid off, artists out of work, fundraiser after fundraiser to urgently make ends meet. As the nation comes to terms with the unprecedented financial fallout of the pandemic, major arts institutions are stepping in to do their part: the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Frankenthaler Foundation, and the Warhol Foundation are among the cultural organizations that have introduced major emergency funding initiatives.
Last week, the Getty Trust announced a $10 million COVID-19 relief fund to help small and mid-size Los Angeles-based arts nonprofits stay afloat. The LA Arts COVID-19 Relief Fund will be administered by the California Community Foundation (CCF), with grants amounts expected to range from $25,000 to $200,000.
An online portal for the program, as well as grant guidelines, will be available on the CCF and the Getty’s websites in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation will commit $5 million in relief funding to support artists and art institutions economically impacted by the health crisis. The initiative is a milestone for the New York-based foundation, marking its largest allocation for a single cause since it became active in 2013.
The relief program will be distributed over a three year period, with the first round totaling $1.25 million: $500,000 for the Foundation for Contemporary Arts (FCA)’s COVID-19 Relief Fund; $500,000 for direct grants to artists, launching in the coming weeks; and $250,000 to cover operating costs at several NYC organizations focused on the work of living artists, such as the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts and Artists Space.
Taking a slightly different approach, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts is focusing on re-routing existing funding to bolster artists in need.
Through its Regional Re-Granting Program, the foundation is authorizing 16 organizations, including Locust Projects in Miami and the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, to pivot its annual $100,000 grants toward COVID-19 emergency relief funds. That money is traditionally used to finance independent artist projects that fall outside the reach of conventional funding sources; now, it could help individual artists cover basic expenses, like food and childcare.
The Warhol Foundation’s measure is an example of how organizations already making a difference in the lives of artists can creatively rethink their priorities and resources. In a similar move, the CCF Fellowships for Visual Artists, funded through an endowment from the Getty, will now be repurposed to provide emergency support for visual artists.
For additional relief grants and resources currently available to artists and cultural workers, visit Hyperallergic’s most recent Opportunities post.
The 29 Can’t-Miss Portland Art Events This Spring
Your super calendar for the season.
Published in Willamette Week
B = Books, by Scout Brobst
MU = Music, by Jordan Montero
MO = Movies, by Mia Vicino
V = Visual Arts, by Shannon Gormley
T= Theater, by Bennett Campbell Ferguson
D = Dance, by Shannon Gormley
In an interview last year, Mitchell Jackson said he didn’t mind if folks came to his book Survival Math to understand the “black experience”—you can’t hold on to that reductive mindset after reading the book. Survival Math is a long-form sketch of Jackson’s childhood in Northeast Portland, told in a series of poetic, boiling essays that reflect on what it takes to survive when you exist on the queasy underside of the American epic. Broadway Books, 1714 NE Broadway, broadwaybooks.net. 7 pm. Sold out. B
Bardo and Delicate Fish
By late winter, most Portlanders feel a little dead inside. So it’s fitting that Portland performer Lyra Butler-Denman will premiere Bardo, a dance work about recovering from grief, loss and death. The visceral, narrative piece will be followed by another premiere, Jess Evans’ Delicate Fish, a work that pays tribute to the ocean. Shaking the Tree Theatre, 823 SE Grant St., lyraandjess.com. 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, through March 7. $20. D
Composer Tessa Brinkman is too courageous to consider boundaries. The New Zealand-born flutist has played and held master classes around the globe, and she’s collaborated with some of the planet’s finest artists. The fact she’s based in Portland is a gift. This production is a showcase of her latest work, Box/Grown Men Sing. Given her proclivity for pairing cutting-edge sound design with striking visual art, this should be a sensational performance. Performance Works NorthWest, 4625 SE 67th Ave., pwnw-pdx.org. 7:30 pm. $10-$20 sliding scale. MU
After selling out the first run of Been Ready earlier this month, [at PICA] Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater brings back its Black History Month show for a one-off performance. Been Ready is based on five personal stories of navigating race and gender, told through the company’s energetic, vivid choreography. Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta St., albertaabbey.org. 6 pm. $8 suggested donation. D
Even if you don’t recognize the name Tommy Orange, if you’ve walked into a book store in the last two years, you probably recognize the cover of his book There There. The novel is a deft exploration of Native American identity that earned him an American Book Award, a PEN/Hemingway Award and a spot in the ranks of Pulitzer Prize finalists. Literary Arts will host Orange for a discussion on indigenous life in urban and rural America. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, literary-arts.org. 7:30 pm. $15-$65.
Portland International Film Festival
PIFF is the biggest film festival in Portland. Though many of the films are Oregon made, countless others hail from countries all around the world, emphasizing the need for creative expression on a global scale. This year marks the inaugural Cinema Unbound Awards, which will be honoring directors Todd Haynes (Carol) and John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) for their boundary-pushing work. NW Film Center, 1219 SW Park Ave. See cinemaunbound.org for complete schedule and list of venues. Through March 15. $14 for individual screenings, passes start at $350. MO
Arcturus Quintet: Northern Lights
The Northern Lights grow most intense in March. So the Arcturus Quintet, one of Portland’s most passionate chamber groups, curated a three-suite performance that captures the dripping, frolicking spirit of early spring, including Carl Nielsen’s Op. 43. Set to perform in one of the best venues to hear chamber music in the Pacific Northwest, the five-piece group is just waiting to bloom. The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave., 45thparallelpdx.org. 7 pm. $20. MO
Black Art Ecology of Portland
Veteran Portland artist and Pacific Northwest College of Art professor Sharita Towne is leading a new project: A Black Art Ecology of Portland. The community art initiative is kicking off with a show featuring some of the most distinct voices in Portland art: photographer Intisar Abioto, clothing designer Donovan Smith, graphic artist Melanie Stevens and Towne herself. There will also be an outdoor work presented by the Mobile Projection Unit, who have been projecting experimental art on bridges and buildings around the city this winter. PICA, 15 NE Hancock St., pica.org. Opening reception 4 pm. Through March 14. V
Jeff Parker & The New Breed
It’s almost a letdown that Jeff Parker can only play one instrument at a time. On the Tortoise guitarist’s excellent 2020 solo album, Suite for Max Brown, he plays everything beside the canyon-like rhythms and the vocals on the opening track, which are sung by Parker’s daughter, Ruby. Even though you won’t hear his reserved touch on the synths or playful mbira at this showing, the band he’s bringing along is talented enough to bring to life the album’s exciting form of jazz fused with fuck-all-else. Jack London Revue, 529 SW 4th Ave., jacklondonrevue.com. 9 pm. $25. 21+. MU
9 Parts of Desire
In 1993, Iraqi-American actress and playwright Heather Raffo saw a painting at a Baghdad art center that depicted a naked woman clinging to a tree. That image inspired her to write 9 Parts of Desire, a one-woman play that explores the lives of nine Iraqi women and is based on interviews conducted by Raffo. Portland Center Stage, 128 NW 11th Ave., pcs.org. 7:30 pm. Tuesday-Sunday through April 19. T
The Future is Now: Film Noir Hybrids for the Nervous Generation
Hosted by renowned film educator and former Stanford professor Elliot Lavine, this series of four classics showcases the dynamic breadth of the noir genre. Screening each Sunday in March, the selected films range from The Manchurian Candidate to the existential sci-fi crossover Seconds. Lavine’s previous lectures at Cinema 21 have been multi-class commitments that cost upwards of $100, so a $9 ticket for his wealth of knowledge seems like a Harry Lime-level grift. Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd., hollywoodtheatre.org. 7 pm. Sundays through March 29. $9 per screening. MO
Open Signal’s New Media Fellowship shows are always worthy of attention—as buzzy as VR and digital art exhibits have become, they’re still hard to find around Portland. But this exhibit is particularly intriguing since it was created by Oregon native Jessica Mehta, best known for her award-winning novels and poetry. Details for her Open Signal show haven’t been announced yet, but in the past, Mehta has combined her poetry with virtual reality and performance to tackle such topics as eating disorders and indigenous identity. Open Signal, 2766 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., opensignalpdx.org. Through May 11. V
Craig Thompson and Aimee de Jongh
Cosmic Monkey Comics will host two graphic novelists with nearly a dozen awards between them for a discussion on their new releases. Craig Thompson, a Portland local and three-time Eisner Award winner, brings his intricate, heavily inked style to Ginseng Roots, a retelling of his childhood as a laborer in the ginseng fields of Wisconsin. Aimee de Jongh comes to Portland from the Netherlands. Taxi, de Jongh’s follow up to her acclaimed 2018 Blossoms in Autumn, is a detailed look at those who drive and take cabs. Cosmic Monkey Comics, 5335 NE Sandy Blvd., cosmicmonkeycomics.com. Noon. Free. B
Portland’s world class vocal ensemble, Cappella Romana, does nothing better than it does Eastern Orthodox. The group taking on Peter Tchaikavsky’s brooding Divine Liturgy seems like a coronation. Naturally, they’re pulling out all the stops. Glenn Miller’s bellowing basso profundo will be complimented by the prestigious Pacific Youth Choir. More than anything Cappella Romana has produced, the Divine Liturgy will be a Byzantine dream. Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 147 NW 19th Ave., cappellaromana.org. 7:30 pm. $32-$52. MU
In Nikky Finney’s National Book Award-winning collection of poetry, Head Off & Split, childhood trips to the fish market are revisited with the weight and self-possession of adulthood. Born to two activists at the crest of the civil rights movement, her work binds art and history, skipping from the landscape of the new American South to the career path of Condoleezza Rice in sharp, cutting verse. Lewis & Clark College Smith Hall, 0615 SW Palatine Hill Rd., lclark.edu. 6 pm. Free. B
In 2003, Rebecca Solnit attended a party in Aspen, where the host took it upon himself to walk her through a book he had recently read a review of—a book Solnit had written. That story turned into an essay, which turned into a book, which turned into the term beloved by exasperated women and gender studies classes everywhere: “mansplaining.” Her new memoir Recollections of My Nonexistence is an intimate portrait of an artist’s life in 1980s San Francisco. Solnit will be joined by Portland’s unofficial memoir laureate, Cheryl Strayed. Revolution Hall, 1300 SE Stark St., revolutionhall.com. 7:30 pm. $36. B
Camille A. Brown’ & Dancers have already performed two of the works in the choreographer’s trilogy here in Portland: Mr. Tol E Rance, a multi-media show that looks at black comedians throughout history, and Black Girl: A Linguistics Play, a joyful ode to black womanhood. Now, dance importer White Bird is bringing Brown back for the final installment of the series. Set to a percussive score, Ink mines dance traditions from across the Africa diaspora for a piece that’s fast-pace, agile and fluid. Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, whitebird.com. 8 pm. Through April 4. $25-$34. D
Though Oregon Ballet Theatre’s big, glitzy productions of classics are always the shows that sell out, the company shines brightest when performing modern ballet. This spring, it revives Beautiful Decay, resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte’s theatrical, athletic and touching piece about aging. Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, obt.org. 7:30 pm. Through Sunday, April 12. $29-$103. D
“No dwarves or elves or trolls.” That’s the first rule set forth in this play by Annie Baker, which chronicles a brainstorming session for a mysterious project. Baker—who also wrote the delectably surreal John—loves blasting through narrative conventions and into funny, fascinating new dimensions, making her work a natural fit for the boundary-breaking Shaking the Tree. Shaking the Tree, 823 SE Grant St., shaking-the-tree.com. 7:30 pm. Thursday-Sunday through May 16. $25-$30. T
MFA in Craft Thesis
When the Oregon College of Art and Craft closed last year, PNCA offered to provide a temporary home for the students still working on their MFA in Craft, plus the program’s faculty. The five MFA candidates will present the culminating works of their degrees at Upfor Gallery, the last ever thesis exhibit from the region’s last craft college. Upfor Gallery, 929 NW Flanders St., upforgallery.com. Through May 2. V
The Rite of Spring
In the hands of another company, a modern dance show based on Virginia Woolf’s Ms. Dalloway could come off as esoteric. But like just about everything else NW Dance Project creates, Woolf Paper is lucid and emotive, whether or not you’re familiar with the source material. The company’s reprisal of Woolf Papers will be paired with a world premiere of their take on Rite of Spring. Igor Stravinsky’s classic score is full of beauty, angst and heightened emotion, which makes it a perfect fit for NWDP. Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, nwdanceproject.org. 7:30 pm. Through April 25. $29-$59. D
Song of Extinction
At the center of this play is the bond between a biology teacher who survived the Cambodian genocide and a student whose mother is dying of stomach cancer. It was written by E.M. Lewis, the Oregon playwright who wrote the Antarctic epic Magellanica. Like that masterpiece, Song of Extinction is about the intersection of science and grief. Twilight Theater Company, 7515 N Brandon Ave., twilighttheatercompany.org. 8 pm. Through May 17. $18-$24. T
In this world-premiere play by Carrie Barrett, a utopia whose citizens are watched over by the Giant Yellow Sphere is threatened by the arrival of the Blue Cube. If that bizarre premise doesn’t already intrigue you, it’s worth noting that the play is directed by Elizabeth Jackson, who scorched the stage last year with her intense production of the Alaska-set drama Brilliant Traces. Defunkt Theatre, 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd., defunkttheatre.com. 7:30 pm. Through May 30. Pay as you can. T
Found Footage Festival
Scavenged from videotapes found in thrift stores, garage sales and dumpsters across the country, Joe Pickett of The Onion and Nick Prueher of The Colbert Report have combed through hours of found footage to present the weirdest and wackiest slices of life. It’s concrete proof that the fine art of the VHS format is not obsolete. Dante’s, 350 W Burnside St., danteslive.com. 9 pm. $16. 21+. MO
Looking for Tiger Lily
Drag clown, playwright and film programmer Anthony Hudson explores what it means to be queer and half-Native American in this revised version of a cabaret show. Partly inspired by Hudson’s fascination with Peter Pan, Looking for Tiger Lily promises to be an entertaining and enlightening glimpse into the soul of one of Portland’s most prolific performers. Portland Center Stage, 128 NW 11th Ave., artistsrep.org. 7:30 pm. Tuesday-Sunday through May 31. T
An African American Requiem
There’s little in the classical music world that centers around the experience of African Americans. Composer Damien Geter is helping to change that. Teaming up with Portland’s Resonance Ensemble and the Oregon Symphony, some of the finest African American talent from around the world are helping put together this show, including world-class composer Kazem Abdullah. Considering Oregon’s potent racial history, this may be one of the most important shows of the year. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, orsymphony.org. 6 pm. $20-$100. MU
Devin Harclerode and Laura Medina
Fuller Rosen has become one of the best places to see emerging local artists. This spring, the Division Street gallery is hosting a joint exhibit with PNCA alum Laura Medina, who delves into cultural displacement using everything from illustration to VR, and Devin Harclerode, whose installations and videos portray nature in ways that are both bizarre and beautiful. Harclerode’s titles alone are visceral: “Heave,” “Hack Path Meditation” and “Sweaty Mother Slow Groove.” Fuller Rosen Gallery, 2505 SE 11th Ave., fullerrosen.com. Through July 10. V
The Goonies 35th Anniversary Celebration
The seaside town of Astoria hosts a Goonies celebration every year, but 2020 marks the Oregon-made hit’s 35th anniversary. This year’s festivities haven’t been announced yet, but the 30th celebration included filming locations tours, Goonies screenings, presentations by the film crew and a special appearance by none other than the actor who played Chunk, King of the Truffle Shuffle. Here’s hoping for a Sloth cameo this year. Various venues in Astoria, see thegoondocks.org for full schedule and tickets. Through June 7. MU
Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism
It’s easy to understand why Frida Kahlo is still a cultural icon in 2020. In her surreal, brightly colored portraits, the Mexican painter defined beauty on their own terms, and insisted on the validity of autobiographical art. Since the show will also include works by Diego Rivera, the legendary socialist muralist and Kahlo’s romantic partner, it’ll likely be a rare exhibit that benefits from both fanfare and of-the-moment relevance. Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave., portlandartmusuem.com. See museum website for hours and admission. Through Sept. 27. V
23 PNW Events You Must Check out in 2020
Originally published in Seattle Magazine
BY: GEMMA WILSON & ANAKAREN GARCIA | FROM THE PRINT EDITION | JANUARY 2020
We’ve picked some of the best festivals, fairs and other events in Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and British Columbia
Image Credit: Kim Budo
Timbrrr! Winter Music Festival
This music fest heats up chilly Leavenworth with musicians like Pedro the Lion, Ivan & Alyosha and Bully playing the Leavenworth Festhalle. The main stage is 21 and older, but there are plenty of stages open to all ages, along with all the wintery Bavarian charm you could ever want. Times and prices vary. Various locations, Leavenworth
Emerald City Comic Con
The sea of incredible costumes is a high point of any con; this year’s ECCC also features Chris Roberson, G. Willow Wilson, Jim Lee, Ashley A. Woods and Walter Koenig in the lineup of comic artists, writers and actors participating in panel discussions, photo ops and signing sessions. Times and prices vary. Washington State Convention Center, downtown
Washington Brewers Festival
Landing on Father’s Day weekend, this brewer’s festival highlights over 500 beers made by Washington state breweries, including IPAs, stouts, porters, and wheat and Belgian-style beers. The Friday kick-off is a 21-and-older event, but the rest of the weekend features family-friendly activities, including face painting, a kids’ craft tent and a root beer garden. Times and prices vary. Marymoor Park, Redmond
27th Annual Festival of America
Each of the two days of live entertainment, arts and crafts, and delicious fair food is capped off by the famous Grand Coulee Dam laser light show, projected onto the face of the dam. On July 4, that show gets an extra-special grand finale: an Independence Day fireworks display. 10 a.m. Free. Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center Park, Grand Coulee
Spokane Scottish Highland Games
Stone putting! Caber tossing! Whether you’re watching or participating in the Spokane Scottish Highland Games, these feats of strength are a wonder to behold. For a less extreme experience, consider joining a tug-of-war match, sack race or dance competition. 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Prices vary. Spokane County Fair & Expo Center, Spokane
The highlight of this weekend of Western entertainment, from bull riding to barrel racing, is undoubtedly the suicide race. While the anxiety-inducing name is probably due for a rebrand, the race is jaw-dropping: Horses and riders plunge down a 225-foot bluff and into the Okanogan River, racing to make it across the water and then 500 yards farther to the finish line. Times and prices vary. Various locations, Omak
Port Townsend Film Festival
Film festivals in beautiful settings are a no-brainer, and Port Townsend boasts one of the best in the region. There are always special guests (last year’s included Cheryl Strayed and Stephen Tobolowsky), and what began as “a film lover’s block party” now boasts a lineup of more than 90 films playing in seven venues. Times and prices vary. Various locations, Port Townsend
The Port Townsend Film Festival offers three outdoor movie screenings in addition to its 90-plus film lineup. Photo by Mark Saran
Portland Rose Festival
From the opening fireworks to the final parade, the City of Roses’ annual celebration promises a vibrant, invigorating time for visitors and proud Portlanders alike. Highlights include the carnival-ride-filled CityFair, held on weekends throughout the fest, the Starlight Parade (5/30), the Junior Parade (6/3) and the Grand Floral Parade (6/6), as well as the coronation of the Rose Queen. Times and prices vary. Various locations, Portland, Oregon
Estacada Timber Festival
If timber is your thing (or even if it’s not), get to Estacada for a full day of fun themed competitions—log cutting, log rolling, axe throwing—finished off with fireworks to celebrate Independence Day. 10 a.m. $5. PGE Timber Park, Estacada, Oregon
Oregon Country Fair
Every year, a colorful wonderland pops up in the woods west of Eugene, Oregon, populated by the musicians, magicians, jugglers, jesters and more than 700 artisans who participate in the annual Oregon Country Fair. Surround yourself with the splendors of Mother Nature, then bring some of them home with you in the form of handmade, eco-friendly goods, such as candles, clothing, beaded jewelry, furniture and glasswork. 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Prices vary. Veneta, Oregon
TBA stands for Time-Based Art Festival, an annual presentation by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art celebrating modern work in many forms. The 11-day festival includes performances, music, visual art, films, workshops, lectures and more by a bevy of local and international artists. Times and prices vary. Various locations, Portland, Oregon
Anchorage Fur Rendezvous Winter Festival
Bundle up for this snow-centric celebration (called “Rondy” by locals), whether you’re watching sled dog races, running with reindeer or witnessing the creation of snow sculptures, among other activities. The open world championship sled dog races are a three-day event (2/28–3/1), with racers traversing a total of 75 miles. For a more hands-on experience, join the wacky race known as the Running of the Reindeer (3/7), for which you’ll choose from four different “herds” to race with as you try to outrun actual reindeer. In your downtime, admire the massive artworks coming to life during the Alaska State Snow Sculpture Championship (3/1). Times and prices vary. Downtown Anchorage, Alaska
Petersburg Little Norway Festival
Expect Vikings and Valkyries at this celebration of Norwegian Constitution Day in the Alaska fishing town of Petersburg. Savor traditional Norwegian and Alaska Native foods, and enjoy live music, traditional crafts and, of course, the annual herring toss. Times vary. Free. Various locations, Petersburg, Alaska
British Columbia PuSh Festival
This annual performing-arts festival is a jewel in Vancouver’s arts crown, a three-week smorgasbord of risky, cutting-edge theater, music and dance from around the world. Times and prices vary. Various locations, Vancouver, B.C.
Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run
During this four-day event, mushers, who have been sworn in as official mail carriers, race on dog sleds across the historic Gold Rush Trail to Barkerville, B.C., to deliver special cargo. Letters, tucked into envelopes designed by local artists and purchased by the public, collect their “Carried by Dog Team” stamp en route to Barkerville, where they then continue on to destinations worldwide. Skiers and skijorers are welcome to join the action; just be sure to dress like a musher and stay warm. Times and prices vary. Various locations, British Columbia
African Fashion and Arts Movement Vancouver
Designs inspired by current African styles walk the runways at this event promoting African fashion and art in British Columbia. The catwalk events are the centerpiece, while proceeds from the silent auction will go toward purchasing school supplies for the children of Lomé, the capital city of Togo, in West Africa. 4 and 7 p.m. Prices vary. Pinnacle Ballroom, Pinnacle Hotel, North Vancouver, B.C.
To answer your first question, yes, this is a family-friendly event! Watch live local entertainment like fire dancers, and spend time walking from vendor to vendor in the Munchies Market, enjoying noshes from Idaho Five Star Funnel Cakes and Aladdin Egyptian Cuisine. 10 a.m. Free. Julia Davis Park, Boise, Idaho
Elmore County Fair & Rodeo
This county fair has all the classics, from deep-fried fair food to rodeo queens and bucking broncs. When you’re not snacking on greasy treats, check out the live music or watch bold riders compete in barrel racing and bull riding competitions. Times and prices vary. Elmore County Fairgrounds & Event Center, Glenns Ferry, Idaho
What is pond skimming, you ask? It’s a quest by skiers and snowboarders, of all ages and in all outfits, to zoom across an artificial pond at the end of a ski run without falling into the heated water. No surprise, it’s one hell of a spectator sport and a great way to close out the winter season. Time TBD. Free to spectate. Ambush Headwall, Big Sky, Montana
What would a strawberry festival be without a 60-foot-long strawberry shortcake? Montana’s chefs and cooks come together to create this delicious festival centerpiece, which has a place of pride among the festivities. Also to be enjoyed are wares from arts and craft vendors, live local music and food trucks serving cuisines ranging from Mexican and Pan-Asian to traditional barbecue. 9 a.m. Free. Downtown, Billings, Montana
35th Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Western Music Rendezvous
At this four-day festival celebrating the history and heritage of the cowboy in the Rocky Mountain West, gather around the metaphorical campfire to enjoy original works of poetry and western music, all of which share an oral history of the American cowboy. Times and prices vary. Various locations, Lewistown, Montana
The 32nd Annual Great Montana Sheep Drive
Share the streets with hundreds of woolly friends during the Running of the Sheep, which raises money for local businesses and programs in the community of Reed Point. In addition to the main event, this Labor Day tradition features a round-hay-bale-rolling contest, a car show, egg-tossing competitions and a live auction. 10 a.m. Free. Various locations, Reed Point, Montana
Alice in Wonderland at OSF in 2019. Photo by Jenny Graham
Theater lovers flock to an artistic oasis in Ashland, Oregon
Since 1935, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) has animated the idyllic town of Ashland, just off Interstate 5 in the Rogue River valley. The 4-acre, multistage arts haven is now a major player on the national theater scene, having premiered works by Pulitzer Prize–winning playwrights Lynn Nottage, Paula Vogel and Robert Schenkkan, and championed newer voices such as Luis Alfaro and Qui Nguyen, among many others.
OSF’s 2020 season, the first under sole leadership of new artistic director Nataki Garrett, will feature both Shakespeare classics and contemporary works, including world-premiere plays by Dominique Morisseau and Karen Zacarías. Also on the bill: two-part behemoth Bring Down the House, an all-female adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy created by Seattle-based collective Upstart Crow, which premiered here in Seattle in 2017 in a coproduction with Seattle Shakespeare Company. Nearby lodging and dining options are plentiful and varied, and, of course, there’s plenty of good beer. This is Oregon, after all.
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
February 28–November 1, 2020
Working It Zine Showcases Multiple Narratives About Sex Work
Working It (Fall 2019)
Review by Lindsay Costello originally published in Art Discourse
Working It Zine, part of No Human Involved Exhibition at PICA with STROLL PDX, image courtesy of Art Discourse
At the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, an exhibition and corresponding series of events has centered the multiplicity of voices surrounding sex work. No Human Involved: the 5th Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show features a range of artworks made exclusively by sex workers. The show was co-curated by Roya Amirsoleymani of PICA and Kat Salas and Matilda Bickers of STROLL, a Portland-based harm reduction, outreach, and education group run by and for sex workers. In tandem with the exhibition, Art, Activism, & Publishing in Sex Work was a three-day symposium that included a lecture by activist Emi Koyama (co-presented and sponsored by PNCA’s MA in Critical Studies) and the release of Working It, a zine of writing by and for sex workers. The zine was designed by Rose Nordin in partnership with the Independent Publishing Resource Center, and edited and published by STROLL. In many ways, Working It is the pièce de résistance of the symposium, providing concrete written evidence of the depth and breadth of the discourse surrounding sex work.
Working It is printed on multicolor pastel paper, and on No Human Involved’s opening night, copies of the publication came wrapped in iridescent cellophane. The presentation is playfully disruptive, with a strong vertical orientation that, while curious, still feels comfortable in the hand. The zine is comprised of three main sections: Q & A sessions with sex workers, “Sarah’s Poems”, and a collection of personal essays by sex workers. Topics of discussion in the sex worker Q & A sessions include white privilege in strip clubs, FOSTA/SESTA, care labor, and sex work as a romanticized hot topic in mainstream media. Most affecting, each interview ends with a call to action for white sex workers—speaking out and using privilege to create change comes up more than once.
Working It 2019, part of No Human Involved Exhibition at PICA with STROLL PDX, image courtesy of Art Discourse
“Sarah’s Poems” are bitterly vulnerable in their simplicity. Each of the three short poems references an “I”, assumedly Sarah, who writes in an honest, confessional style that evokes Anne Sexton’s Wallflower. Sarah weaves together frank depictions (“I am grateful for the dresser you left at/the curb./Its honey-stained drawers stick a bit”) and sensuous responses (“He wants to pierce my soft belly,/but I bare my sharp teeth.”) Although only one page, this section serves as an eloquent intermediary space between the interviews and personal essays. Sarah’s work is both factual and tender.
The seven essays featured in the latter half of Working It are dense and varied, both informative and personal. Janis Luna finds parallels between their therapist work and sex work by bringing a “beginner’s mind” to each role; an attitude of humility and curiosity. Phoenix Calida derides “enthusiastic consent culture” and its neoliberal exclusion of the sex worker community. Daphne Marx connects self-healing for sex workers with the overall healing of society, stating that “[their] life is a metaphor for society and the world.”
By honoring a wide range of experiences within sex work—the joyful, the infuriating, the stigmatized, the rewarding—Working It broadens the narrative surrounding sex work, challenging the reader to learn and listen.
No Human Involved: The 5th Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show November 8 – December 14, 2019
Conversation with Kristan Kennedy, PICA
Kristan Kennedy is Artistic Director and Curator of Visual Art at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) in Portland, OR.
With Laurel McLaughlin originally published in I is for Institute
Can you tell me about your role at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) and how long you’ve been at the institution?
I am Curator of Visual Art and one of three Artistic Directors along with Erin Boberg Doughton, who is Curator of Performance, and Roya Amirsoleymani, who is Curator of Public Engagement. We work as a team to set the vision and programming for the organization. I began my career at PICA by volunteering in 1995, and I was included in an exhibition with my collaborator Topher Sinkinson in 1999. I joined the board in 2001, and I began working as a staff member in 2003. I’ve had a long trajectory here, and each role has helped inform the next.
And you’re also a practicing artist. I saw a work of yours yesterday at the Portland Art Museum.
When I first moved to Portland, I was right out of college and I was part of a collaborative with my friend, Topher Sinkinson that operated under the name Swallow Press(x2). We interjected photo, text-based works, outdoor projections, artist books and posters into the world as a way of combatting a lack of empathy in public space. PICA, and specifically its founder Kristy Edmunds, was one of the first people to really support our work.
In addition to taking the time to guide us toward resources in town, she invited us to be a part of an exhibition called Counter Canvas, which engaged contemporary art in the context of its extrication from the public realm. In the late 1990s, there was an ordinance in Portland that was passed to try and stop billboards from taking over, but the city didn’t care to distinguish between billboards and art that was at the same or similar scale. There was a lot of rogue stuff happening at the time, and in effect, the ordinance shrunk everything. If you were doing an outdoor project, you had to abide by those guidelines, and you could get arrested for putting up a public art project, even a sanctioned one.
Is that still in effect?
It changed a while ago, but I almost wish they would put it back, because have you seen some of the murals in Portland right now? I find them highly problematic. People have asked me what I’d want there instead, but why does every urban surface have to be covered with illustration? The cartoony murals feel like a blight on the city, and I mostly want to ask, what are they saying? What are they other than decoration? But in any case, yes, I was and am still a practicing artist. My work now lives in the big messy field of painting.
Can you talk a bit about Kristy Edmunds and how PICA was founded?
Kristy Edmunds is an artist herself and founded PICA in 1995 when she was 28. She had been working in the Art on the Edge Department of the Portland Art Museum with her mentor, the curator John Weber, to make a program of contemporary performance—and I’ll use the term “performance” here lightly— installation, and other new media. It was a short-lived program, as new directors came in and really shifted the funding of that department away from supporting the work of living artists. I wasn’t in Portland at the time, but Kristy really saw that there weren’t any, or at least very few, organizations that were supporting international experimental work in the city.
We were at the tail end of the culture wars in the 1990s and there was some understanding that institutions had censored artists, and that there was exclusion within institutions. Globalism was also pushing its way into lots of different fields. Kristy, in her youth and passion, left the Portland Art Museum and was encouraged by some patrons, who had supported her and John’s work at the museum, to start her own thing. As the story goes, she went into a room with a legal pad and a pencil and wrote out an entire plan. She came out and talked to a couple of those museum patrons and they started writing checks. She started PICA with $5,000 and Bora Architects lent her an office. She had no furniture and she sat on the floor until PICA’s first volunteer showed up, and a little community of artists and others started to help shape what is now Portland’s longest operated contemporary art organization.
All of PICA’s original programming happened in itinerant spaces. Portland was a very different city than it is now. The Pearl District, in northwest Portland, was just train tracks and gravel and a few galleries. But there were all of these maverick people in town at that time—gallerists, restaurants, architects. Developers were trying to envision a 20-year plan to meet what they thought was going to be a city filled with creatives.
Kristy had vision and focused on core values, and never played the role of an expert. She saw herself as a collaborator and galvanized a lot of things, and inspired a lot of people to make the seemingly impossible happen. She was often invited to talk about her vision for a new institution or her advocacy for artists, both nationally and internationally. It wasn’t unlike Marcia Tucker’s role at the New Museum.
At the time, we had an organization called the Portland Center for the Visual Arts, which preceded PICA; a lot of the people that supported Kristy had previously supported PCVA. It was founded by a very small group of people. It gets historicized as if it was this massive effort, but it was about 40 people. It was artist-run, and brought contemporary artists of the time to Portland to work on projects in warehouses with them. It was funded by the NEA, but when the NEA faced challenges in the 1980s, it bottomed out. There hadn’t been anything in town for a decade after that to replace it. The galleries were really holding the scene together.
Wow, that’s quite a stagnant period.
I don’t think it was for lack of trying. There was a lack of resources and institutional support, but there was a rich scene of artists and really dedicated gallerists and vibrant art school programs. There wasn’t a leading voice to create the kind of art center that could serve all of those people and engage with curious audiences. The Portland Art Museum was focused on blockbuster shows. There was a void.
It sounds like Kristy rallied the community around the need for a contemporary art organization.
There’s a phrase that those of us who worked with Kristy have internalized, and I’m paraphrasing, but it goes, “PICA is an organization about a community using its energy.” PICA started with that idea and continues in that spirit. The original tenets of the organization that Kristy and the founding board set—to be ethical and nimble—are very much present in the work that Vic, Erin, Roya and the staff do. I think that core is what has kept us going through a challenging 25 years. It’s how we stay relevant and it’s how to keep an organization like this alive in a larger world system that continues to divest in culture.
Kristy was foundational, and in the time that she was here until her departure in 2005, she traveled a lot and was being called into service internationally. I had just come on staff and I remember her telling me that a good artistic director would only be in the office about 10 days a month because they’d be out in the world. She took a sabbatical, worked in Australia and married her partner, the choreographer Ros Warby. We shifted to having guest artistic directors, who mostly were curating the Time-Based Arts Festival, a programming initiative that Kristy began in 2003.
So, the transition from itinerant organization to office space was under Kristy? Were the offices downtown?
Yes, Kristy started over at Bora Architects, and then shared space with Literary Arts, and then we moved to another building. Kristy started having these conversations with Dan Wieden, who was thinking of moving his advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy to its own flagship space. They did the Nike Revolution commercial and they started off as a small firm, and by 1995, they had maybe 160 employees and they needed a building—this is what I mean by all these other people coming up at the same time. A lot of it centered around radicality, even if some of them were commercial in nature. It was about hiring artists, not buying into professionalism, pushing culture forward. There was a lot of that ethic that was running these organizations.
Dan Wieden and David Kennedy were ready to build this other kind of space, looking for architects and a few really interesting people were up for the job. Eventually Brad Cloepfil, who is the founder of Allied Works Architects, got the job and this relationship between a really dynamic firm and architect has extended to this day. It was a creative partnership and they wanted PICA to be in that building, so we got a beautifully designed office, library and gallery in one of the corners of the Wieden+Kennedy building.
Was there a connection between Wieden+Kennedy and PICA prior to this move?
They weren’t funding us, outside of Dan’s personal support, but the perception in the community at the time was that we were taken care of because we were in this building. I think the alignment was a little ahead of its time. At that particular moment all the tenants in the building were trying to shift paradigms. Kristy wanted a flexible space to make programming and to host artists and the community. She was interested in accessibility.
For example, our resource room/library was a vision of Kristy’s. It is made up of all the books she had been collecting, all the books from her trips, that people gave to her. She was like, “Why do curators get all these catalogues?” So, she put them in the public realm and convinced someone to give us a grant to buy more books. You have to understand that at the time, this wasn’t standard practice. There wasn’t the “Hub” at the New Museum, and there weren’t educational spaces where the public could enter a non-collecting institution to touch books, and see what the hottest show was or read Artforum. You could barely find those publications in town. What PICA was trying to do was create a space where we could communicate with the rest of the world and exchange ideas.
But there was a lot of criticism about our communication with local artists and the community. Kristy would always say that this was so reductive. We showed artists who lived in Portland, but we never sent out a giant brochure to announce a local artist program—we just put them alongside other artists from all over the world. We were subsidized for three years. As you know in this field, you’ll get grants for a three-year period and then you’re on your own. After three years, there’s no one else with a $500,000 grant just waiting for you—especially for a burgeoning organization.
After trying out this exhibition program and having a performance season, and hiring a curator, Stuart Horodner, and using other spaces like theaters and warehouses, we quickly found ourselves in a financial crisis. This was around 2000-2001, with 9/11 and wars going on, and it was a global crisis of sorts. It wasn’t profitable to be in the arts; people were directing their funds elsewhere.
There was also audience fatigue. We had a core audience of 150 people who were at everything, and they were very loyal, but the ambition we had was bigger than that and we needed more community buy-in. Kristy’s vision was never to have an exclusive club. Watching everything wither on the vine after this huge leap was extremely painful, but it presented Kristy and the organization to return to its foundational values. What could we become to support art and artists in this new moment? We asked ourselves some really hard questions and took a leap, and what resulted was shuttering the gallery and letting go of the curator, which was painful and emotional. But we came out on the other side with the Time-Based Arts Festival.
Can you tell me a bit about that? It seems to be a structuring factor for PICA in a unique way.
At that time, it was a figment of Kristy’s imagination. It was a result of her international travels to cities in Asia and Europe that had these very tightly-curated and civically-minded moments to highlight contemporary dance, theater and visual art. Here in Portland, people can walk by foot and ride the MAX line to and from different venues so we thought, what if we constructed an event where the city was engaged? The city became the institution for a while.
Considering this itinerant beginning that you’ve mapped out, it’s interesting that it continued through the festival structure. Programming seems to be a very large part of PICA’s line-up.
We aim to bring international art of consequence concerning the issues of our time. We do that through many different programming initiatives between exhibitions, publications, dinners, lectures, happenings, symposia, and parties, but the TBA Festival is for sure a major driver in the organization. The festival is going into its 17th, and it’s now one of many vibrant festivals of its kind in the US. In 2003, however, it was an extremely new and daring concept and made a lot of the staff scared. It was this weird thing and it looked like we were crashing. We were dreaming beyond our means, but it was a recognition that there was a shift in contemporary art that we needed to rise and meet.
To go back to the itinerant part of it, I always use the term “unstitutional” to describe PICA. At the time, there was a thought circulating of “saving the institution,” but I thought instead that we ought to save the places that are in-between, the “unstitutions.” Regardless of whether we have a building, we will always be moving around, doing site-based works and keeping our home and programming responsive.
What was the arts ecology in Portland like in this period you’re describing in the early 200s?
We didn’t have an art ecology at the time. We were all working towards that. We didn’t have any MFA programs in town at that time, or these small and mid-size spaces. What we did have was a lot of artist-run spaces, the museum, we had galleries and some programs embedded in the colleges that were coming up at the time—the galleries at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) and the galleries at Reed. They were really taking on the job that in a market-driven city like New York or LA would require six institutions. Portland was more like an estuary, an interstitial space where things mix and grow in new ways.
But we were really in a city that was changing. Portland, and Oregon more largely, has a complicated and nefarious founding. It was founded as a white utopia and that’s the truth. But in the 1990s, we were in this period of globalization and there was an understanding that we had to respond to the world.
To get back to the TBA Festival, Kristy wanted to bring something that was civically-minded and still engage in hardcore contemporary practice. There were a few things that I think were really great in her design of the festival. One was the festival having a late-night hub, a space where everyone could gather. At the time, when you went to a contemporary art festival in France or something, there would be little bar or club where the curators or artists went. That was important for her to have, but she wanted it to be open to the public and programmed.
The second thing was the Institute Program, which was a series of contextualizing lectures, but not in an academic sense. I wouldn’t say that we were anti-academic, but PICA is artist-driven most of us who work here don’t come with pedigrees. Our experiences are as working artists and with learning on the ground. What Kristy really wanted while we had living artists in our midst was to use their voices to contextualize their work. It was not a very heavy-handed program, and it brought artists of multiple disciplines together to talk about their work. This was very early in the field for that.
There’s also a third factor, which was building a network. We would try to keep artists in town as long as we could and give them tickets to everything. She wanted to give them time to get to know their peers’ work without having to beg for comps. Having artists, audiences, and industry people in proximity to each other in a social space was key. Later, I think a lot of people would call this a “third space,” creating a space for people to gather together around food and drink and hospitality.
For the first year, we were being criticized for shuttering the gallery and our commitment to the visual arts was questioned, which was really frustrating for us. We wondered why people were so siloed in their thinking about contemporary art, especially as walls were breaking down and blending. Tradition is important, but there was a lot of hybrid work going on and it needed a space. That felt urgent at the time. Why couldn’t an institution be responsive? Why couldn’t visual artists see performance and performance artists see visual art? It was confusing for us. It made us push further into that space. We were really criticized for it. If you go through our archives and look at our press, we might as well have been Enron at the time, or some other scandalous organization. But we knew we had to diversify and engage with community. We couldn’t operate in an ivory tower and expect people to support us.
When the festival started, it was well-received, but it also nearly bankrupted us. But it accomplished what Kristy wanted—Eiko and Koma performing in a public fountain with 300 people there and all this other work that seemed to wake us all up, respond to the sense of urgency, and soothe the soul. This cumulative effect really began to change the city. And now, 17 years in, we have audience members who have attended all of the festivals, and they’re just as informed as some of the leading curators about this work. I think reducing the divides between artists and institutions and audiences was important here; I can’t stress that enough. It’s all a long story to say that the festival became our primary programming initiative. We were always doing residencies, we were always doing exhibitions, we were doing public programming outside of that, but TBA was our most visible thing.
Thank you so much for that detailed history! I’m curious about the spaces PICA has occupied and shift here to this building on 15 N. Hancock in Northeast Portland, which was at one point more of a residential area.
After being in the Wieden+Kennedy building and the TBA Festival, we eventually decided we needed a building of our own. This was partially in reaction to the changing dynamics of Portland and the watershed moment of realizing that gentrification and expansion was now shutting out artist-run spaces. There weren’t a million warehouses around anymore that people would give us for free for projects. How were we going to survive in this new condition?
TBA also made us consider whether PICA was the festival or an organization. I’ve been programming visual arts since 2006 in a very robust way, and in that time PICA was accused of not having a visual arts program. I was investing all of this money and soliciting commissions and exhibitions, but it wasn’t recognized because we didn’t have this white box. While we were resisting that move to a building, we were learning from squatting in different buildings. They were helping us dream of how we could live inside a home.
From 2009–2012, we were based in a shuttered high school in Southeast Portland that had a large theater and classrooms, but it was completely dilapidated, with no electricity. We took it over for TBA and made it our hub. What I noticed in that moment was that we’d been in all of these warehouse spaces, but nothing operated like that high school did. The architecture of that space was more human-scaled—people knew how to be in that 19th-century building—which I had divorced myself from thinking was important. I saw that it was becoming a social space, and people felt that they belonged there. It was flexible and could adapt to our various formats, but could still feel raw and public as opposed to the first, highly-designed space. People felt like they could build it with us and it helped develop our values, but we knew that to stay nimble, we had to have our own space.
What we could afford at the time was a hub that had a little social space and presentation space, so in 2012, we moved to a loft downtown at 10th Avenue in the West End on a three-year lease. It really helped us bring audiences in and so they’d walk off the elevator and see us working. We operated there for several years, and it was a space that we could be in where the public could find us.
Our current building is in Northeast Portland. It has its origins in some strategic planning that we were doing around the time of the current regime change in the US government, when the idea of creating a safe space within institutions was floating around, and we thought, “Could we create that?” We started thinking about how we could react not only to contemporary art, but to politics in the social fabric of Portland. We had a strong identity, and in the beginning, it was important for us to claim our space as we moved around and articulated what PICA was.
When we entered into discussions of what our building would look like a funder named Allie Furlotti, a young artist with means, came into our lives. She had been attending the Festival and was looking for a community that aligned with her values and politics, and an organization that was mostly women- or femme-led, and she found us. She had been funding the arts outside of institutional structures in Portland, but she came to us because she wanted to find an organization that could get money directly into the hands of artists. At the time, we were starting the Precipice Fund, which was funded by a grant from the Warhol Foundation. Though it was unusual to bring another funder into that program, we knew that it would align with Allie’s values, so we presented her with a dream budget for commissions and asked if she would help us expand the Precipice Fund. She came in at a significant level to support the fund, and helped initiate a major commissions fund, which went to Jennifer West and Every Ocean Hughes, formerly known as Emily Roysdon, and some multi-year projects that I was working on.
Allie became a member of our board and was part of the search for a new space as she went into development in Portland. But instead of doing what a lot of others were doing, she didn’t land-grab for herself and then just donate a lobby. Her first instinct was to buy a building for PICA, and we are currently under a 20-year lease thanks to her vision and generosity.
That’s great, and now your office spaces and exhibition spaces are in the same building. Do you pay rent?
Yes and no. We have an ever-evolving subsidy plan, and currently have subsidized rent and pay utilities. We took on something really big by going into this building because it’s larger than our previous office space. Now, we’re serving the public more, staffing is different, and there’s more of a balance between operations and programming in terms of budget, which is very different for us. Our utilities and facilities costs are more than what we used to pay in rent.
Alongside the Precipice Fund, you also have granting initiatives like the Resource Room grants and the Creative Exchange Lab, so it seems that giving to artists was a founding principle of this new space.
Yes, and we’ve always supported artists and we always pay fees. We’ve become better at it. In the beginning, the idea was that we were a scrappy arts organization and opportunity was a kind of payment.
What kind of fees do you pay?
We often pay above W.A.G.E. rates—and actually we hosted one of the very first W.A.G.E. lectures here at the Festival. A.L. Steiner came out and did a W.A.G.E.-Action. It’s in one of the early TBA catalogs.
Great. And how much is that roughly?
It depends on the scale of the project. We’ve used other networks such as the National Dance Project and National Performance and Visual Art Network, and those organizations had been talking about ethical fee structures long before W.A.G.E. came along. But from the visual arts perspective, W.A.G.E. was the first to really be effective. It’s really dependent on the project but for an exhibition, I would set aside $3000-$5000 for artist fees. We also cover travel, housing, offer per diems, and cover materials. It’s not easy, and there isn’t any wiggle room in the budget for extras. I am very transparent with artists about our limitations and our willingness to support them in an equitable way.
Can you tell me about your exhibition spaces? I saw the Abigail DeVille show, The American Future, in the large space and then I saw the blackbox space that had Peter Simensky’s performance unearth this past weekend.
Yes, those are our two spaces currently.
How large are they?
The total space is 16,000 sq. ft. including the offices, and then we have back storage, a kitchen, and a green room
Do you have other satellite spaces?
We don’t own them, but we program in other theaters and public space.
How many people work at PICA?
It varies, but we have about nine core staff and then we grow to over 100 during the festival. With a show like Abigail DeVille’s, I have a preparator crew of about a dozen, which was the largest we’ve had. We also have a huge volunteer group as well.
You also mentioned a board earlier that helped to steer these various building movements. Are they a financial board or an advisory board?
They’re a financial board, but we don’t have a requirement to give a certain gift. That’s also scalable because we want to keep artists on the board and have a variety of different people of different means. So, they’re a working board, but I think in order to survive in the current landscape, we’re trying to grow to a capacity-building board. It’s interesting to make that shift.
How many people are on the board?
There are 20.
That’s fairly sizable. I wanted to circle back to how the institution articulates itself, and to think about your mission statement. You have this great language on your website that says the aim of the institution is “blurring boundaries at the edge of new forms and ideas.” I loved that image of blurring boundaries on the part of institutions and hierarchy, but also in terms of the various media that PICA presents, from dance to film and visual art. Has this always been your mission statement or has it evolved over the years?
It’s evolved slightly over the years, but it’s close to our original mission, which emphasized the intersection of art and ideas. The mission statement has always been around that blurry boundary. Sometimes some language creeps in from grant applications that require us to quantify and tick all the boxes, but it was foundational to Kristy, the working board, and our artists to note the intersection between art and ideas. Perhaps because they came out of a theater tradition, the artists who have been a part of the performance program, even master artists like Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Spalding Gray, or Ann Carlson, were ultimately interested in experimentation and weren’t making distinctions that the art world was making about their work.
Can you talk about your curatorial structure, which seems to also be aligned with this? As you mentioned, you’re one of three artistic directors and each of you are also curators of visual art, performance, and public engagement, respectively.
From the beginning, we in close proximity with one another as curators, and it’s almost strange that Erin and I have a wall between us, since that didn’t exist in other offices we had. But it’s great because when I’m making an entire stage set for the Abigail DeVille show, like you saw, I know that I have Erin to discuss production with and crew to get lights and such. There have been so many times that we’ve discussed projects with one another, even before this three-headed Artistic Director structure was put into place. The idea of interdisciplinarity is really important to us and we’re always thinking about things that we can’t define. In the art world, there’s really limited language for what’s actually going on. A lot of the programming here is about revealing forms that are close in proximity and that elude language. Many times, history has gotten it wrong, but I think that we need new ways of bringing work into the public realm that would formally be marginalized.
In terms of the three-headed leadership structure, that was just the right thing at the right time. Erin, Roya, and I have worked under many different artistic directors and when Angela Mattox, our previous artistic director, left we discussed whether it made sense to hire another person. We wanted a structure that would articulate who we were. Institutions talk about transparency, but sometimes a preparator or associate curator is doing more work than a curator. So, we wanted to create a structure that was less hierarchical and would allow the different forms that we’re mixing and representing to be held as equals. We wanted to make sure that collaborations were put at the forefront and public programming was seen as a curatorial practice—not just contextualization, but something that highlights research, ethics, and politics.
With all of these collaborations and programming, I’m curious what a season line-up looks like here.
Right now we’re testing the building out. When we came to this building and started dreaming about our calendar, we acknowledged that we have to think about the actual seasons here in Portland, which might sound facile.
Not at all. People in Portland seem to be very eco-conscious.
Definitely. We have a long period of hibernation, where people basically do not go outside and interact. Spring, summer, and early fall are the most social times, and people will come out for anything. On the cusp of that is TBA, in the manic last days of summer before we enter the serious tone of the fall. Right before December, everyone crawls into their caves. So, we started thinking about January and February as potentially public-facing times to get people out and about and go to intellectual and experiential things they actually care about. There’s been a sound symposium, and sometimes PICA works with other organizations to consider something like the anniversary of J20, or to respond to critical issues like recent attacks on LGTBQ people, and we offer the space as a hub for things to happen. Then as we move into spring and summer, we’d have an exhibition that might include performance and talks around it, or satellite programming that keeps it active for three months.
After that, we go into TBA, where we’re all co-curating together. Erin is the lead on it, since her history is curating that program, alongside myself and Victoria Frey, our Executive Director, with Roya making the Institute programming during that time and also the Scholar Program. To clarify, the people who are involved in the Scholar Program might formally be in academia, but they also might be autodidacts, or just interesting thinkers. Then, we go into an exhibition in November and we have community events to end the year; for instance, we combined our Precipice Fund Awards with an end-of-year party. Essentially, there’s a wave that crests at TVA Festival and then allows for longer sustainable engagement with exhibitions in the late fall and winter.
What is your overall operating budget?
The overall budget is crawling towards $2 million, but it really should be somewhere around $1.8 million.
And this is to cover all of your programming costs?
We’re going through a process of finding the right fit for programming in the new building. In the first four months that we were here, we hosted about 70 public events. A lot of them involved sharing the space with different publics, and the need in the city right now for that kind of space is extraordinary. Through our work with the Precipice Fund, Creative Exchange Lab, and the Resource Room Residency, PICA has become a space where other artists ask us for resources.
We had a conversation about what it means to be local, and we wanted to present a model of how to think about community, because the way that people are talking about it now is more rooted in bringing people that were excluded from these institutional spaces, while connecting people too. So, as we were considering this facet of our identity, our lack of place became unnerving to a lot of people who feel displaced already, especially artists in marginalized communities. We were thinking how we could address this new need in Portland more broadly—which I’m sure you’re seeing in these interviews—because it’s not about importing hot artists from other cities, but supporting those within your own community.
That actually leads to my next question. Who do you think of as your community and do you see it differently from audience here at PICA?
It depends. With the events that we did with Pop Mob and Q Center around LGBT politics, a lot of our “audience-community” and the PICA community were present along with a huge number of people that don’t intersect with art. But through that event, those groups saw that our values were aligned. We got a thank you note from an organizer who lives in the neighborhood recently, who didn’t know they could just walk in and talk to curators and be seen, and they understood without explanation why we might want to put in all-gender bathroom signs. Understanding that this space was for those conversations was important. I think we’re doing a lot of work in this space to ask questions about what community and audience are. We’re still learning and I don’t know if I have a definitive answer.
That’s a great answer.
I’ve used the word community in this interview a lot, but it is a loaded term because community—the idea of one community, or one viewpoint, or what’s best for the community—is problematic. These can go towards places of exclusion.
Are questions of accessibility raised in your discussions? ICA is rethinking their relationship to accessibility both in concrete ways in their building, but also in terms of interpretive strategies. How do you think about that at PICA?
Depending on the artist project there’s been different ways that that has come into play. We’ve always been in ADA accessible spaces, even when we were in warehouses. It was a big concern for us. We’ve started to work more closely with the deaf and hearing-impaired community to think about engaging sign language to interpret performance, which is a very particular field-within-a-field. We’ve used translation services for different texts. We’re also now working with the artist Myles de Bastion, who is working on visualizing sound art for deaf and hearing-impaired people. I think it’s a primary concern of the organization right now, and it feels like it’s taken a long time to get some place that we should’ve been all along. Our performances have been pretty open and accessible over the years—and our exhibitions are for sure—but we’re taking into consideration various needs, like the height of where art is displayed and how we make or write didactics. These are important questions that we’re asking ourselves.
Something I noticed from this weekend’s Peter Simensky performance was the question of land acknowledgements. It was refreshing to hear you acknowledge the land of the Multnomah and Chinook peoples of Oregon in your introduction to the performance. A number of exhibitions that are up in the area right now, like I’ve Known Rivers at Disjecta, curated by Suzy Halajian, and the map is not the territory curated by Grace Kook-Anderson at PAM, are considering artistic practices within these communities, which is important in light of Oregon’s problematic foundation as a white utopia, as you mentioned earlier. It seems as though there are discussions about decolonization happening.
Yes, though there is a lot more work to be done. There’s a delicate boundary between giving a land acknowledgment and supporting indigenous work or acknowledging indigenous values and constructs around time, performance, care, and hospitality. Those things all enter into how we’re thinking about “work” as well. The land acknowledgement is the least that we can do.
Of course, and there’s also so much important scholarship that is getting visibility and helping to bolster that thinking as well.
The land acknowledgement is something we’ve adopted in recent years, and we’ve taken cues from other types of organizations who had already initiated these kinds of statements. Canada is a leader in that regard. We have artists in our midst who we have to answer to and these are artists who we are working with, who are gratefully and generously sharing the conditions that they need in order to feel comfortable to perform. Inviting those indigenous artists to present work and use their own voices in order to define it, whether it’s in a lecture or talk or writing, is really important. We need to go beyond a statement or acknowledgement. We’re also educating ourselves about work that has been unseen but has been done for a long time in the indigenous communities of Oregon, but also within the world.
Since 1995, we’ve presented work from lots of different artists all over the world, and I would say that especially as TBA Festival and a season of performances emerged, we concentrated on work from countries that were not in the first blush of where you would think contemporary performance was coming from and performance from communities that were in upheaval, like in the Balkan region or in Central or South America, or different parts of Africa, like Burkina Faso. That’s where a lot of the international work was coming from as the festival grew. Now, there is also a concentration on learning about the indigenous communities in the world and we’ve presented work by indigenous artists from all over. We’re not trying to homogenize one indigenous experience or one black experience or any one experience, but we try to present different concepts. We tend to skew towards concepts of “radicality” and “survivance” in looking at indigeneity with emerging artists that are working now, and they are the ones that have done the work to help us get to that place.
It’s important work and it’s good to hear that institutions are thinking through connections that were so broken by colonialism. You mentioned your peers—who do you think of as your peers either conceptually or programmatically?
I think that we look at the artists that we present as our biggest influences. We have several peer organizations in the United States and beyond that we’ve worked with since our inception and a small group of leaders from those places that we talk to on a regular basis. Our peers are institutions like the Henry Art Gallery, the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Walker Art Center, ICA Boston, Diverse Works, On the Boards, Participant, and Women & Their Work in Austin, and we also value being a part of networks like Common Field. I could just go on and on and onRegionally, we have PNCA and Reed College as partners, with Mack McFarland and Stephanie Snyder, respectively, at their helms. We work with different professors in various institutions that have connected us with artists and their communities to share space and share equipment. We share everything—pedestals—and we work with the gallerists in town.
That’s really great.
Artist-run spaces are our biggest partners, and that was something that really came forward after the Precipice Fund began. I don’t think people really understood how much of a nascent and grassroots organization we were, and how much we interacted with those artist-run spaces—more so than the museums, or our peers nationally. Personally, I look to historical models like the New Museum under Marcia Tucker, who is huge influence. I heard her speak in college and it was life changing. Courtney Fink, who was at Southern Exposure for many years and now is running Common Field, is a valued peer.
There are also various spaces we look at that are coming up on the West Coast, like S1 here in Portland, who are involved in presenting sound and visual arts. They’ve inspired other such groups all over the country to start analog synth libraries. There is an organization, Public Annex, that came out of doing public advocacy work with adults with disabilities who are artists. Cinema Project isn’t as active now, but was when we first came to town. We co-programed with them a lot, because they were working at the intersection of film and performance and historicizing experimental film and media. So, I’m inspired by a lot of different people. And I think a lot of people here are also inspired by a lot of people who aren’t in the visual arts, such as chefs and others who are creative and inventive, and certainly, people who are on the edge of radical politics or cultural theorists. We don’t look to one place as a peer, and that has opened us up to how we’re working with different communities.
In the beginning, our mission was really directed toward supporting a kind of contemporary practice that was on the edge, that we didn’t see in institutions. Our artists are now performing in museums, for better or for worse, and they are being historicized, and they will be part of the canon. But what else is coming? How do we expand what contemporary art is, and how do we push at the sides of a system that has historically been exclusionary, not only of form, but of people? That’s what we’re all turning our attention to and it’s not only against neoliberalism; it’s literally a shift of what art is and allowing these different forms to inform us and what we have to do and not just using the market or art history as our guide.
And is that how you’re thinking of the “institute” as well? “Institute” is one of the core programming elements on your website, but what is your conception of the “institute” here at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and then more broadly?
Yes, our “Institute” refers to our educational programming, from participatory workshops, talks, and salons to our Resource Room library and archive, and our partnership with academic institutions that includes schools from elementary schools to universities. But more broadly, I think that there are several words that are key in our name, and I’m specifically pointing to “for,” which always gets changed to “of.” For Kristy, the “for” was extremely important, maybe even more than “institute.” Being “for” contemporary art
and artists meant something different than being “of” it, which signifies owning or collecting it. In the organizations that Kristy named, you’ll see “for” often. She’s currently the Executive and Artistic Director of UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, which she renamed from the Center “of” the Art of Performance. There were these semantic things which she was really interested in. If you read any of Kristy’s writing or her speeches, she’s always spinning language on its heels all the time. That was important in making meaning. “Institute” was about understanding that ideas were a central part of the practice, not only the art itself. We were non-academic in our execution of what the institution was, and so it was really about artists taking center stage, even above the curators and speaking in their own voice, because none of us were experts here.
In a way, are any of us? Can’t we always be learning?
If we’re experts in anything, it’s saying yes to artists and letting them lead where the institution is going to go. That is a foundational principle—saying yes to the artists and supporting them. It gets us into trouble all the time.
I would imagine that can be tricky with balancing budgets and grant expectations.
Projects balloon out of control. They look different than when they started. We say yes to an idea in a commission rather than an artwork. I didn’t know what Abigail DeVille’s show was going to look like until the night before, basically; we are building it all bit by bit in real time. There’s a lot of shared risk and responsibility in working that way, and you can’t be separated from the humanity in art production when you’re working alongside someone. You can’t just program someone and go upstairs and let a registrar handle it. “Institute” for us also signaled that we’re working with other humans—that there’s more than one person.
What are some of the upcoming projects or personal professional goals that you’re excited about?
I’m looking forward to continuing The Creative Exchange Lab, which is a Mellon Foundation-funded program that’s been going on for the past five years and has been really exceptional. It’s a way for us to replicate or formalize something really amorphous that happens during the festival when artists of different disciplines are together, and they just meet and share ideas. We’ve seen all of these amazing works by just putting them together. We have two more classes of this Creative Exchange Lab, so we have six artists coming in during the spring to work in Portland, and then we take them out into nature for half of the time. That’s been a small program, but very impactful and cumulative. I’m really excited about the artists that are coming, like Manuela Infante, who is an artist from Chile who’s doing a work about plant life and extra-sensory communication.
Roya and I are co-curating our first exhibition together with the artist Gordon Hall, which will also include a cast of local performers with Gordon’s sculptures and an ancillary program with film, light, and sound. Gordon’s working with minimalist sculptures that reference the body and architecture through theories of queer phenomenology. We’re also publishing a Gordon Hall reader with the last ten years of his writing. Then, we’ll go into TBA, which we’re still programming, but we have some really key pieces set. We’re working with artists from the Middle East, Asia, and the United States.
In the fall, Roya is taking on the spot that is normally my exhibition spot, because I’ll be on sabbatical for eight weeks, which I’m really excited about. She’s really bringing back that intersection between the programming, the Resource Room library and archives, and residences, and really working in a space between publication, performance, and exhibition. She’s collaborating with a collective that works with sex workers and various other collectives from around the world to produce three small project-based works at the end of the fall. In 2020, we’ll premiere The Dreamers, which is an ongoing cycle of projects that we’ve been thinking about for a number of years with Carlos Motta, who has been working collaboratively with queer dreamers to make films. We’ll premiere the entire cycle.
We operate on basically a 6-month cycle, which allows us to be responsive, but gives us space to have these longer-range conversations about commissions and siting work here as well. Our spaces are fluid, sometime formal, sometimes raw, and it’s project-by-project. Curatorially, Erin, Roya, and I are looking to work with artists and communities that will show us how this space evolves over time.
I think that what’s being revealed right now in the field is really important. We’ve created our own monster with all of this institutional critique, and it went to another place where institutions started to embed some of that ethic, or were founded based on that ethic, but the public ultimately didn’t see the work that we do in institutions. While there’s frustrations that arise from these points of tension, revealing all of this and holding institutions accountable is really important.
‘No Human Involved’: Art by sex workers tells a complex story
The “No Human Involved: The Fifth Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show” turns the tables on a dehumanizing term
DECEMBER 6, 2019 // CULTURE, VISUAL ART // OREGON ARTSWATCH
By KYLE COHLMIA
“No Human Involved” is a slang term coined by Los Angeles police in the 1980s to signify the murder of sex workers, drug users, gang members and transients, the majority of those from Black and Brown populations. The term, while inherently used to dehumanize the violence inflicted upon these marginalized communities, has been turned around by artists in No Human Involved: The Fifth Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show to bring awareness to specific issues of oppression.
Spearheaded by STROLL PDX, a sex worker-led activist organization, this year’s exhibition is at Portland Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA), running through December 14. The exhibit features work by 16 artists, a selection curated from a competitive international open call by Kat Salas and Matilda Bickers of STROLL PDX and Roya Amirsoleymani, artistic director and curator at PICA.
Installation view of No Human Involved: The Fifth Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show. Photo credit Intisar Abioto, Photo courtesy of PICA
“The artists in No Human Involved rewrite the narrow narratives of sex work and sex workers, objects, and agents in art and activism,” Amirsoleymani says in her curator’s statement. “The resulting exhibition, publication, and symposium unapologetically insist that we question our assumptions, complicate our politics, reexamine our values, and recast our gaze.”
No Human Involved is an unapologetic representation of the complexities within the sex worker industry. Each piece of artwork stands out on its own, but speaks to the multiple narratives of sex workers—the desire for utopian societies, intersectional worlds, and the individuality and humanity of those in the industry.
The exhibit creates space for multifaceted artistic voices, sharing individual and collective stories through the exhibit design of exposed scaffolding which literally builds new walls and a hope for counter realities that dismantle systems of oppression in which all humans are involved.
While the artwork of No Human Involved includes a variety of 2D and 3D works, the videos stood out as dynamic narrations speaking toward the exhibit themes. For example, Evie Snax reflect her background as a queer, mixed Chinese-American/white femme in her compilation of new media-inspired GIFs, NO BAD WHORES JUST BAD LAWS, ¡Borikén Libre!, and I like your energy, I wanna experience it. Snax’s vibrant videos feature QTBIPoC and sex workers in a whimsical, colorful and luxurious world “free of binaries, shame, and oppression.”
Still from a film by Evie Snax/ Photo by Intisar Abioto /Image courtesy of PICA
In one scene, Snax depicts four nude women lounging on a colorful float in a bright blue pool of water, a repositioning of the canonized female nude. One of the women holds up a camera, which, from the bird’s-eye perspective of the film, points straight forward, recasting the gaze from herself to the viewer and shifting herself into the position of observer, not the observed.
In contrast, Amanda Lee, a queer artist based in Los Angeles, tells a more subdued story through her film Daughter, which features the experience of a mother and her transgender daughter as they navigate the world as immigrants from Hong Kong. Lee’s video interweaves images of the mother and her daughter as they stand on a scenic hill overlooking Los Angeles. Images of the daughter appear while the viewer is simultaneously able to hear and read their poetry on the screen. These images and texts are interspersed between the mother’s narrations of her love for her daughter and experience of bias in the United States.
Lee connects the two perspectives of the mother and her daughter in a non-linear, continuous manner, leaving the viewer with a sense of hope that is meant to celebrate, as Lee’s artist statement reads, “transgender resistance, gender identity, and the strength of the immingrant family across language and cultural boundaries.”
A still from “Daughter” by Amanda Lee/Photo by Intisar Abioto/Image courtesy of PICA
A third video installation, titled The Stripper Project, provides a documentary style, multi-narrative approach to storytelling, where sex workers are interviewed and given the opportunity to tell their personal stories about work, life’s successes and challenges, and personally hobbies and interests.
The varied voices in this documentary—Amira, a Palenstinian woman and spiritual healer; Jacqueline, artist and stand-up comedian; and Erin, pastry chef and social justice advocate—illuminate humanity, reminding viewers that people of the industry can be both sex Icons and humans. The Stripper Project, also a podcast and organization that supports sex worker led and/or supported businesses, addresses their mission on their website, stating, “we are creating connections and gateways to exisiting communities withing the industry, to dissolve stigma that has plagued this profession for centuries.”
Much of the artwork of No Human Involved, presented within PICA’s 2,200 square foot open gallery space, is displayed on drywall panels hung to newly constructed walls. The walls themselves are unfinished, exposing scaffolded wooden beams above and below the panels, providing a structural space that invites viewers to stop and view each work as if in a gallery. The transparency of the unfinished walls also allows visitors to simultaneously engage with the rest of the collective exhibit, a nod to the curatorial emphasis on the multiplicity and varied representations.
The biannual Fall 2019 publication of “Working It,” published through STROLL PDX is also available at the exhibit and includes a Q&A section, poetry, and an essay collection from the voices of Portland’s sex worker community. “We are continuing to explore the ways in which we function and adapt to the world around us and the structures of white supremacy we’re caught in but trying not to be limited or crushed by,” curator and editor Matilda Bickers writes in “Working It.”
The constructed walls of the exhibit become a clear metaphor for the creation of new realities, built in response to the structures of white supremacy of which Bickers speaks. The construction of the panels, while seemingly incomplete, correlate to the idea of a work in process and the DIY nature of the history of sex worker exhibits. The exposed wooden beams, whose scaffolding displays a sequence of vertical lines, are analogous to how, as Bickers describes, “we’re living in between the lines, in the crevices we can steal for ourselves.”
In Portland, An Annual Exhibition by and for Sex Workers
By amplifying the voices of those directly affected by the dehumanization and criminalization of sex work, No Human Involved has built a successful platform that highlights and challenges these intersections of oppression.
Originally posted in Hyperallergic
By Lindsay Costello
Ev Echovia and Bane Belladonna, ” “Azulum Sylph Episode 1: The Pearl 2017” (2017), video (all images courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, photos by Intisar Abioto)
PORTLAND—No Human Involved: the 5th Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show subverts homogenized narratives of sex work by showcasing critically engaged artworks by sex workers. NHI was collaboratively curated by Roya Amirsoleymani, the Artistic Director and Curator for Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA), and Kat Salas and Matilda Bickers of STROLL PDX, a harm reduction, outreach, and education group run by and for sex workers. The exhibition’s title reclaims the derogatory slang term No Human Involved, often used by law enforcement to reference violent crimes against sex workers and other marginalized groups (particularly in regards to Black and Brown populations). By amplifying the voices of those directly affected by the dehumanization and criminalization of sex work, NHI has built a successful platform that highlights and challenges these intersections of oppression.
Installation view of No Human Involved at PICA
“An annual sex workers’ art show was an idea I got from Danzine, a former sex workers’ non-profit in Portland,” Bickers explained. “They changed my life; they made a zine for local sex workers with resources and advice, they had a needle exchange and art shows, they did outreach and lobbying and advocacy. When they were gone, a chasm opened. I knew I wanted to live forever in this amazing community making badass art and social change.” So Bickers did, curating sex workers’ art exhibits throughout Portland with Salas before connecting with Amirsoleymani and PICA for the fifth iteration of the show.
“Conceptualizing the exhibition, it was very clear that we would all have equal stakes as curators and organizers,” Amirsoleymani said. “I was conscious of the perceived power imbalance between an established art institution like PICA and a grassroots group like STROLL, and I was committed to the project as an exercise not just in collaboration with new people, but in equity, resource redistribution, making space and time, and learning and growing as individuals and as an institution.”
Installation view of No Human Involved at PICA
The installation of No Human Involved makes full use of PICA’s expansive concrete space, with movable walls radiating around a hub of couches and soft spaces to sit. The centralized seating area is illustrative of NHI’s mission, creating room in the crowded gallery for genuine listening. A selection of 90s-00s DIY publications circles the seating area, revealing a dense and varied history of writing by and for sex workers.
The Fall 2019 edition of Working It, a zine of critical and creative writing by sex workers, is a vital contribution to this library. Within, a wide range of topics are covered in interviews and critical essays — white privilege in strip clubs, respectability politics, boundaries, care labor, the politics of “enthusiastic consent”, the aftermath of FOSTA/SESTA, surveillance and criminalization of sex work, and the media’s glamorization of sex work (the recent blockbuster Hustlers comes up more than once.) Working It provides important context for the artworks on display with raw, first-hand accounts of how the dehumanization of sex work directly impacts the individuals involved. In one essay, a sex worker named Tilly describes how popular stripper aesthetics are often adopted by non-sex workers as an opportunity for fleeting, performative sexiness, while sex work is still not widely accepted or respected. Tilly challenges the notion that sex work is innately degrading, demanding that we “reassess what qualifies as intimate … and most of all, what qualifies as work.”
Installation view of Evie Snax’s work at PICA
NHI was curated through an international open call, with sixteen artists ultimately selected. Although a wide range of mediums are represented in the exhibition, the video works are particularly strong. Evie Snax’s GIFs, “NO BAD WHORES JUST BAD LAWS,” “I like your energy, I wanna experience it,” and “¡Borikén Libre!” are technicolor, glitchy collages centering images of QTBIPoC and sex workers. Rapidly-shifting and mesmerizing, Snax’s GIFs reference texting and the Internet as intertwined entities within her fantasy scenes of shame-free millennial sex work.
Installation view of Brittany Marie Chavez’s “Eating Ass” (2018)
Brittany Marie Chavez’s short film “Eating Ass” depicts a sensuous breakfast scene with extreme close-ups of mouths chewing, syrup dripping, and fingers being licked and sucked. Amid this scene, a candle lodged between one actor’s buttocks slowly melts. The film grapples with power dynamics as its central characters operate between the realms of “ordinary” and “perverse,” challenging the viewer to find connections between the two. Meanwhile, Ev Echovia and Bane Belladonna create a moment of psychedelic ecstasy in “Azulum Sylph Episode 1: The Pearl 2017.” The film is described as an “esoteric erotic journey” wherein two sex worker characters find surrender and belonging through fantasy, hinting at sex work’s role in transformative healing. Partially shot on Hi-8, Echovia cultivates the film’s mystical aesthetic through soft, saturated color and image layering.
Two more standout works are sean chamberlain’s “explicit adverts for 2020 #1 (Falcon Studios)” and “#2 (Spunk-boys)” — both heavily pixelated renderings of gay pornography advertisements printed on silk and hung, flag-like, from acrylic armatures. While the display choice initially seems commemorative or celebratory, the pixelated imagery suggests an increasingly censored future due to FOSTA/SESTA legislation. As a result of website shutdowns, sex workers are struggling to claim space in the digital realm; chamberlain’s works concisely illustrate this suppression.
Installation view of No Human Involved at PICA
In conjunction with NHI, PICA hosted “Art, Activism, and Publishing in Sex Work,” a three-day symposium, featuring several performances, panel discussions, and lectures that built a wider contextual framework around the artists’ works. Emi Koyama, a social justice activist, writer, and “coordinatrix” of the Coalition for Rights and Safety for People in the Sex Trade in Seattle with extensive first-hand knowledge of sociopolitical issues surrounding sex work, was the symposium’s keynote speaker.
Koyama posits that anticriminalization of sex work is sorely needed to provide an active, effective response to issues affecting sex workers. Rather than looking at the issues philosophically, “anticriminalization” would focus on harm reduction in local communities and limit criminal justice involvement. Decriminalization of sex work, while a positive starting point, would only change laws. Anticriminalization could change a community’s relationship to sex work. Koyama advocates for both tactical and foundational harm reduction (direct actions like needle exchanges and safe consumption sites, coupled with nuanced social views and respect for self-determination). Her initiatives include the SESTA = DEATH campaign, Aileen’s (a safe space for women working along the Pacific Highway), and System Failure Alert, which collects stories of systemic abuse to hold institutions accountable for their behavior.
sean chamberlain, “explicit adverts for 2020 #2 (Spunkboys)” (2018), mixed media
Neither NHI or Art, Activism and Publishing in Sex Work are “about” sex work — rather, they intertwine to center the diversity of contemporary sex workers’ perspectives. The events are informative, highlighting the intersecting oppressions impacting sex workers daily, but they also twist dominant narratives around sex work toward a more dynamic and fluid definition. This reframing intends to challenge the assumptions of the outsider, and through presenting nuance, it succeeds.
No Human Involved: the 5th Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show remains on view through December 14, 2019, at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art in Portland, Oregon.
Amanda Clem interviews Kat Salas of STROLL PDX and Roya Amirsoleymani of PICA about the exhibition and symposium No Human Involved: The 5th Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show
Hosted by: Amanda Clem
Program: Art Focus
Air date: Tue, 11/05/2019 – 11:30am to 12:00pm
Amanda Clem interviews Kat Salas of STROLL PDX and Roya Amirsoleymani of PICA about the exhibition and symposium No Human Involved performance and visual art by 16 artists who are or have been sex workers.
On Tuesday November 5, 2019 at 11:30 a.m. Amanda Clem interviews Kat Salas co-direcor of STROLL PDX and Roya Amirsoleymani, co artistic director at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, about the exhibition and symposium No Human Involved: The 5th Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show, opening this week at PICA.
Curated and organized with Kat Salas and Matilda Bickers of STROLL PDX and Roya Amirsoleymani, co artistic director at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, for PICA’s Fall 2019 program, No Human Involved includes performance and visual art by 16 artists who are or have been sex workers, selected through a competitive, international open call, with prioritization of BIPOC+, LGBTQ2S+, and Disabled-identified artists. Running Nov 8 – Dec 14, 2019, STROLL PDX will be in residence at PICA throughout the exhibition, programming both public and private events, meetings, screenings, gatherings, and honorings.
More information from PICA:
The phrase *“no human involved” (“NHI”) is a slang term that has been commonly used by police to refer to crimes involving the murder or injury of sex workers, drug users, gang members, immigrants, and transient folks, with Black and Brown populations disproportionately affected. Use of the term spiked significantly in 1980s Los Angeles, its increased popularity a reminder of how the dehumanization and criminalization of sex workers and other marginalized populations is consistently enforced, normalized, and upheld by the interlocking injustices and oppressions of capitalism, racism, White supremacy, imperialism, settler-colonialism, nationalism, borders, carceral and police states, patriarchy, xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia, and gender-based violence.The phrase has since been used by numerous artists, activists, filmmakers, scholars, and writers across media, literature, and research to illuminate and bring awareness to targeted forms of violence.
No Human Involved: The 5th Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show speaks to dehumanizing socio-political systems and cultural conditions through the artistic voices and viewpoints of sex workers themselves. Far from just a show “about” sex work, and intentionally subverting or rejecting clichéd romanticized or pitiable representations, No Human Involved seeks to complicate narratives of sex work by showcasing artists’ projects that critically examine and engage–and deconstruct and reconstruct–dynamics of emotion, labor, landscape, language, humor, family, identity, and community. Curated through a competitive, international open call, multiple works by 15 artists span installation, video, photography, new media, sculpture, drawing, painting, printmaking, and performance. In proximity and in conversation, these artists’ conceptually and politically aware uses of material and form combine to question and destabilize our most socially ingrained perceptions and assumptions about gender, power, desire, economy, sexuality, feminism, labor, and love.
No Human Involved: The 5th Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show is co-curated by Kat Salas and Matilda Bickers of STROLL PDX, a harm reduction, education, and outreach group run by and for sex workers, in collaboration with Roya Amirsoleymani, Artistic Director & Curator, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA). It honors the history, spirit, and tradition of STROLL PDX’s annual sex workers’ art show and other grassroots exhibitions of, by, and for sex workers and their communities, while expanding the Portland project’s platform and possibilities through PICA’s space, visibility, and resources.
Brittany Marie Chavez, Dee Lyrium, Ev Echovia + Bane Belladonna, Evie Snax, Pxssycontrol, Julia Arredondo, Amanda Lee, Juicebox, Kathleen Boudwin, Mona Superhero, Pallace de la Garza, Philip Edward King, Sathya, sean chamberlain, The Stripper Project.
Age Advisory: 18+
Today on XRAY In The Morning:
(1)News With Friends with Emily Gilliland and Jefferson Smith
(3)Interview with Kyle Chown, President of Chown Hardware
(4)Interview with Roya Amirsoleymani and Kat Salas from PICA and SROLLS. They spoke about No Human Involved: The 5th Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show
CLICK HERE to listen to interview.
XRAY In The Morning- Wednesday, October 30th, 2019 by XRAY In The Morning is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Shining a Light on Portland’s Art Scene: 10 Exciting Venues in the Rose City
This compilation of venues ranges from stalwart museums to emerging artists’ collectives, offering a cross-section of the spaces defining art in Portland now.
By Raechel Herron Root, published in Hyperallergic
The Dope Elf, written and directed by Asher Hartman, Gawdafful National Theater, 2019, performed at Yale Union, Portland, Oregon (photo by Ian Byers-Gamber)
PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland, Oregon is a city characterized and caricatured as cultural, artsy, and hip — a reputation well-nourished by Portlandia’s parody of its hipster residents. Despite the city’s longtime association with and attraction of creative types, its visual art world has garnered little national acknowledgement. However, Portland’s museums and galleries deserve your attention as much as its roses, bridges, craft beer, and quirky restaurants.
Institutions such as the Pacific Northwest College of Art, University of Oregon, University of Portland, and Tin House have long attracted artists and intellectuals to Portland. Today, its art world is growing: several new galleries opened last year, the Portland Art Museum is expanding, and publications such as Art & About PDX and 60 Inch Center have emerged in response to this growth. The city even has an incendiary anonymous critic who publishes under Try Harder PDX and has been calling for honest, robust art criticism in order to help the city’s institutions better serve local artists and their communities.
This compilation of venues (while not exhaustive), ranges from stalwart museums to emerging artists’ collectives, offering a cross-section of the spaces defining art in Portland now.
View of the east entrance plaza of the Portland Art Museum (architectural rendering courtesy of Vinci Hamp Architects)
Portland Art Museum
Where: 1219 SW Park Avenue, Portland, OR
Hours: 10am–5pm, Tuesday through Sunday ($20 adults, $17 students and seniors, children free)
The Portland Art Museum (PAM) has been collecting and exhibiting since 1892, making it one of the oldest art museums in the United States (the oldest being the Wadsworth Atheneum founded in 1842 in Hartford, Connecticut). The permanent collection reflects the history of the city, with specialities in Native American art, Asian art, and American art and photography. The museum’s expansion project, the Rothko Pavilion, was announced in 2016 and will be completed in 2021, including a more accessible entrance, rooftop deck, sculpture garden, and glass-walled public viewing area.
PAM is the place to see everything from ancient Roman sculpture to a Monet, to a Wendy Red Star, to the doodles of visitors scribbled on interactive conversation boards. One highlight is the Center for Contemporary Native Art, which exhibits two rotating shows of living Native artists each year, and also integrates contemporary pieces into the other Native American galleries.
Don’t Miss: Hank Willis Thomas All Things Being Equal, on view through January 31, and its accompanying film series.
To complement his major solo exhibition at PAM, Hank Willis Thomas has curated a film series that contemplates race and mass media in the United States. Screenings include James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket (1989), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde (1995), and An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (2012), among others.
Blue Sky, the Oregon Center for the Photographic Arts
Where: 122 NW 8th Avenue, Portland OR
Hours: 12pm–5pm, Tuesday through Sunday (free admission)
Blue Sky is a nonprofit gallery that has exhibited contemporary photography in Portland for over 40 years, in which time they’ve amassed an extensive collection of Northwest artists. The space includes two galleries that showcase local photographers, and a public library and archive. Visitors can peruse flat file drawers of Northwest photography, with prints available for purchase ranging from $50 and up. Overall, the space is both decidedly unpretentious and filled with compelling work by local artists.
Don’t Miss: Blue Sky Ahead: Founders, an exhibition up through November 3.
This is the first installment of a two-part exhibition series exploring the past and future of photography in Oregon. Founders showcases the work of the gallery’s progenitors, and Blue Sky Ahead: Futures, opening November 7, will showcase emerging photographers.
Disjecta Portland Biennial 2019, curated by Yaelle S. Amir, Elisheba Johnson and Ashley Stull Meyers (photo by Mario Gallucci)
Disjecta Contemporary Art Center
Where: 8371 North Interstate Avenue, Portland, OR
Hours: 12pm–5pm, Friday through Sunday (free admission)
This nonprofit gallery exhibits contemporary art in the northern Kenton neighborhood, and has been an integral player in Portland’s art scene for 15 years. While Disjecta exhibits work from around the country, it’s especially known for its biennial that features all Oregon artists. The space has hosted the Portland Biennial since 2010, with its fifth iteration up through November 3.
Don’t Miss: Biennial Closing Reception and Panel on Saturday, November 2, beginning at 4:30pm.
Each biennial includes public events and lectures, and this year the program will end with a panel discussion featuring the middle school curatorial team who wrote the exhibition’s labels, followed by a closing reception.
Matt Bennett Laurents (image courtesy Carnation Contemporary)
Where: 8371 N Interstate Ave, Portland, OR
Hours: 12pm–5pm, Friday through Sunday (free admission)
Right next door to Disjecta, Carnation Contemporary is one of the newest spaces in Portland, just opened in 2018. Exhibitions present critical, provocative pieces across media, with an emphasis on conceptual work. They prioritize local art through a membership collective: a group of 14 Portland artists who both run and show their work in the gallery.
Don’t Miss: Faceland, an exhibition opening on November 2.
Carnation member Matt Bennett Laurents will have a solo exhibition throughout November. Laurents’s colorful, smiling ceramics engage with the history of craft to, in his words, “explore the potential of objects as vessels for spiritual and emotional energy.”
Yale Union, Portland, Oregon (2019), from the collection of Kumiko Matsuzawa (photo by Leif Anderson)
Where: 800 SE 10th Avenue, Portland, OR
Hours: Open hours are posted online, and offered by appointment
Yale Union is a nonprofit gallery founded and run by artists in an airy loft space in the Buckman area. Their exhibitions are particularly heterogeneous, with a recent show of installation and writing changed out for an ongoing performance. The organization prides itself on unconventional, experimental artists, and their most recent show The Dope Elf delivered: an ongoing theatrical residency that critically (and goofily) examined pop culture’s interest in magic and mysticism, which also live streamed on their website.
“Back to School Kiki Ball” (image by Amie Lee King, courtesy Portland Institute for Contemporary Art)
Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
Where: 15 NE Hancock St, Portland, OR 97212
Hours: Vary daily, see programming calendar
Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) is a nonprofit offering the most interactive and performance-based events and exhibitions in Portland. Program highlights include an annual sex workers’ art show and the organization’s flagship event: the Time-Based Arts Festival (TBA), a 10-day celebration of performance held every September. TBA spreads music, dance, theatre, and performance art pieces across the city, with performers (and visitors) coming from around the globe to participate.
Don’t Miss: Lecture by Emi Koyama, “Art, Activism, & Publishing in Sex Work,” on November 6, 6:30–8pm.
Emi Koyama is a feminist activist and writer who will give a lecture in conversation with the ongoing exhibition No Human Involved: The 5th Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show, showing at PICA, November 8–December 14.
Maria Antelman at Melanie Flood Projects (image courtesy Melanie Flood)
Melanie Flood Projects
Where: 420 SW Washington St #301, Portland, OR
Hours: 12pm–5pm, Friday and Saturday, and by private appointment (free admission)
Melanie Flood is a tiny gallery on the second floor of a downtown walkup, exhibiting contemporary art with an emphasis on photography. The project began in Flood’s apartment in Brooklyn, but in 2014 she relaunched it as a gallery space in Portland. Intimate exhibitions are curated by Flood and have expanded to include other media such as video and sculpture.
Don’t Miss: Incidental Gestures, exhibition on view through November 2.
Incidental Gestures compares and contrasts the work of New York–based artists Maria Antelman and Jules Gimbrone, both of whom combine photography and sculpture to construct and document moments of gendered and sexual fluctuation. Exhibited side by side, their work questions the ways bodies are shaped by technology.
Carter Mull at Private Places (photo by Jason Horvath, image courtesy the artists and Private Places)
Where: 2400 NE Holladay Street, Portland, OR
Hours: Gallery hours announced on Instagram, but mostly open by appointment
Private Places is another scrappy, smaller space which has come to be a hidden gem for local artists. Exhibitions vary from serious to tongue-in-cheek, finding creative ways to utilize the space that also serves as artist-founder Bobbi Woods’s studio.
Don’t Miss: Perverted by Language, exhibition open through November 8.
In this exhibition, roommate-artists Mark Flores and William E. Jones play off 1970s pop culture to collaborate on a series of magazine-style spreads.
Installation and details of A Thirst for Saltwater: Lehuauakea Fernandez at Fuller Rosen (photo courtesy Ryan Patrick Krueger)
Fuller Rosen Gallery
Where: 2505 SE 11th Ave., Suite 106, Portland, OR
Hours: 10am–5pm, Thursdays through Sundays, or by appointment (free admission)
Just opened in 2018, Fuller Rosen is run by two queer women who put emerging artists first. Their exhibitions range from regional to national and across media, and typically consist of solo shows. The small garage-front space has become a favorite of contemporary artists and critics in the city.
Don’t Miss: A Thousand Cuts, exhibition open November 16–January 10.
A Thousand Cuts is an exhibition that explores pop culture’s representations of trans people through a video collage of transgender characters played by cis actors. An opening reception will be held November 16, 6–9pm.
Jeffry Mitchell: Tyger Tyger at PDX Contemporary Art (photo by Mario Galluci)
PDX Contemporary Art
Where: 925 NW Flanders St, Portland, OR
Hours: 11am–6pm, Tuesday through Saturday (free admission)
PDX Contemporary is one of the city’s oldest commercial galleries, exhibiting in the Pearl District for over 20 years. Monthly shows vary between local and visiting artists, with a special vestibule viewable from the street dubbed the PDX Window Project.
Don’t Miss: Nationale presents Aruni Dharmakirthi | No Flowers in Eden, a PDX Window Project through November 2.
Aruni Dharmakirthi’s bright, colorful collages stitch together elements of myth, textile histories, and female archetypes to connect ancient narratives with the contemporary world.
Reports from TBA 2019: Eiko Otake
Linda Wysong reviews the performance artist’s long-awaited return to Portland
OCTOBER 1, 2019 // VISUAL ART // OREGON ARTSWATCH
by LINDA WYSONG
Eiko Otake’s return to Portland, after her memorable performance with her longtime partner Koma of Offering at Jamison Square in 2003, has been eagerly awaited. In 2014, Eiko began to create as a solo artist and has developed an impressive body of work in a short time. Her work has been a highlight of the 2019 Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time Based Art Festival (TBA at PICA) and Portlanders have immersed themselves in her powerful visions. Eiko’s Portland schedule included a segment of her ongoing performance series A Body in Places at PNCA on September 5; performances of The Duet Project: Distance is Malleable with Ishmael Houston and Iris MCloughan September 12, 13, and 14; a screening of her film A Body in Fukushima: Reflections on the Nuclear in Everyday Life at the Northwest Film Center on September 9; as well as an ongoing exhibition her prints, photography and videos at the Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at PNCA). The exhibition at PNCA is up through October 24. Additionally PICA arranged a noon-time conversation led by Portland artist Linda K. Johnson on September 13.
Eiko Otake, A Body in Fukushima. Yonomori, Tonomori. July 24, 2014. Photo credit: William Johnston
A Body in Places is a series around place with each performance unique in its response to the history and presence of the site. Eiko herself is the continuity and thread that activates and binds each place to the others. At PNCA, she first appeared on the upper balcony with her hair down and dressed in a kimono as she emerged slowly and silently from the folds of a purple futon. Although her slight figure might suggest fragility, Eiko emanates strength and determination. Her movements are not the stock vocabulary of modern dance but spring from the body’s core, as she reaches out and responds to the audience and the architecture. Touch is primary as her body forms both ritual-like shapes and those that evoke investigation and discovery.
Eiko’s vocabulary comes from her body and is often reinforced by a few simple pieces of clothing. The PNCA performance incorporated black and white kimonos, a purple blanket, and a dramatic red cloth. One could be tempted to call these items “props” but somehow that suggests a dusty item from a theater closet. These, instead, are Eiko’s personally resonant mementos. The tattered and patched red cloth that frequently serves as a wrap or foil is a piece of family history made from her grandmother and great grandmother’s kimonos and stitched together by her elderly mother, as she slipped away from this world and into another. This simple piece of fabric ties together four generations of women from Eiko’s family and by extension all women over time. A Body in Places at PNCA was not constructed as a linear composition but as a collection of provisional exploratory actions including plucking books from a library cart and seemingly impulsively sounding a piano. The performance culminated in Eiko fleeing the building entirely, racing out the door and crossing Glisan into the North Park Blocks.
Eiko Otake, A Body in Places. Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland. September 5, 2019. Photo Credit: Sarah Meadows
The movement vocabulary of A Body in Places: Portland is similar to the artist’s other offerings in Portland in 2019 (The Duet Project: Distance is Malleable and her powerful cycle, A Body in Fukushima: Reflections on the Nuclear in Everyday Life). These contemporary pieces are all remarkably different from the 2003 Jamison Square performance, Offering. Offering connected to the horizontal, non-hierarchical language developed with her collaborator Koma and familiar from previous works such as Fur Seal (1977) and Wallow (1984). In these works, a resonance with plants and animals and an underlying vibration infuses the slow macro movements with a life energy. Offering is performed by humans and for humans but equally refuses the vertical anthropomorphic stance of dominance. Eiko and Koma move in concert with terrestrial and aquatic creatures of the earth as soundless slowly evolving dance sculptures that feel both familiar and other worldly.
In contrast, the newer projects focus on the human experience, particularly loss, destruction and pain. In Eiko’s mainstage performance at PICA, The Duet Project: Distance is Malleable, the audience faced 3 large projections that illuminated and divided the space but equally allowed for the interaction of the three performers. Each of the three dancers, Eiko, Ishmael Houston-Jones and Iris McCloughan each have solo moments but Eiko directs. Houston-Jones wrestles with a cinder block confronting the physical wall as well as the angst of borders and separation. McCloughan moves with and creates text around memory and loss. Eiko screams with rage and sorrow at the death of both her mother and her dear friend, the poet C. D. Wright. The final scene of Distance is Malleable finds Eiko wrapped in fragments of flowers with a printed image of her deceased Mother, crystalizing the all too human experience of death as she mourns for others and contemplates our own.
Eiko Otake, A Body in Fukushima. Yasawa, Fukushima, No. 451. Summer 2016. Photo credit: William Johnston.
Death is also at the center of the film A Body in Fukushima: Reflections on the Nuclear in Everyday Life. Fukushima was a site of a triple disaster in March 2011: an earthquake, a tsunami and the nuclear meltdown of the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. After the tsunami caused by the earthquake, huge explosions sent plumes of radioactive debris into the atmosphere and contaminated all the towns in the wind’s path. It continues to be the worst nuclear disaster in history. The government established a 12-mile excavation zone and removed over 150,000 people from their homes. This regional and global disaster is very personal to the individuals who lost their lives and their homes but warrants attention from everyone who considers the future global consequences. The Daiichi disaster inspired Eiko to study and learn more about nuclear power including co-teaching courses on nuclear and environmental issues at Wesleyan University with William Johnston, a photographer and a specialist in History of Medicine and Public Health with a specialty in Japan and the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
A Body in Fukushima: Reflections on the Nuclear in Everyday Life records Eiko’s visits to the evacuation zone and is a living document built on scientific knowledge that speaks from the heart. She first visited this shattered land alone, only five months after the disaster in 2011. Since then she has returned with William Johnston four times, risking the danger of radiation so others can understand the dimensions of the disaster. Returning again and again to the same places, dressed in her kimonos with the purple blanket and the memories of the tattered red cloth, Eiko explores each site as it changes over time. Heroic but futile attempts to restore a land that has been irrevocably altered for millennia are shown against still images filled with beauty, frailty and sorrow. This living document of hubris and hope is now two-and-a-half hours long. An edited version was shown at the NW Film Studies Center. The entire film can be viewed at the Contemporary Center for Art and Culture at PNCA until October 24.
Eiko Otake, A Body in Fukushima. Yaburemachi. August 5, 2016. Photo credit: William Johnston.
Living a long and full life has its satisfactions but it also provides insight into the many destructive behaviors that spring from greed, profit, and short sightedness. Longevity inevitably brings death and loss. With this latest body of work, Eiko Otake courageously confronts these stark truths and invites us to share the beauty and sorrow of her journey.
Linda Wysong is an interdisciplinary visual artist whose work includes sculpture, environmental design and social practice. She has had the privilege of collaborating with a number of Portland dancers, including Linda K. Johnson.
Dancing the Dark
By Catherine Damman
Originally published in Artforum
Ligia Lewis, Water Will. Performance View, Performance Space New York, New York, May 25, 2019. Ligia Lewis. Photo: Maria Baranova.
“GOD TOOK NO PLEASURE IN HER.” A nod or some form of unbidden recognition ran through me. She was made to die, or allowed to die; in either case, she refused her fate, punching through wet earth from grave toward unaccommodating sky. Obstinate, the hand could be mastered only by the one who had borne it; the mother was swift and unhesitating with the rod—and so the buried girl stopped moving for good.
This story, The Willful Child, by the Brothers Grimm, haunts Ligia Lewis’s Water Will (in Melody), 2018. Water Will is the third in a trilogy of stage works, each of which wrestles with one color of the US flag; its tussle with white is preceded by minor matter, 2016, (red), and Sorrow Swag, 2014 (blue). New York audiences had the chance to see the former two at Performance Space New York in late May. Water Will opens in darkness. Far downstage, a curtain crowds us in the audience. We hear a chorus of frogs and cicadas, the nocturnal symphony of wetlands, and then the sounds of another, human animal whispering that menacing tale. Soon, that voice is accompanied by a body, irradiated by strobing light: the reedy Dani Brown, wielding every limb like a scimitar. Of the mother’s dispassionate strike of her dead daughter’s arm, the performer’s unctuous voice wheedles, “she was obliged.” Like so much common parlance, the grammar’s passive construction harbors responsibility for the violence it describes. Each vowel is pulled to its limit, a syrupy drawl that has hardened, the sugar burned. Brown hops laterally through the shallow space; her pelvis undulating, her expression an obscene rictus. Neither her movements nor her words are drawn directly from the first form of popular entertainment to sweep this nation in its youth—that is, minstrelsy—but it’s nearly impossible to separate the performed kernel from that historical, discomfiting shell.
Ligia Lewis, Water Will. Performance View, Performance Space New York, New York, May 25, 2019. Ligia Lewis. Photo: Maria Baranova.
Something awful lurks in this theater: that inexhaustible heart, white supremacy, beating here as everywhere. What else could a letter addressed to this country contain than its violence? A knock, slow and metronomic, commands the room as the curtain lifts; behind it is the rest of the ensemble: Lewis herself, Jolie Ngemi, and Susanne Sachsse. Heretical to contemporary mores and therefore seemingly unwise, the art of mime structures the group’s movement. The recusal from language is deliberate. My unthinking, cringed reaction to mime is, of course, precisely Lewis’s point, for its presence here urges me to remember that the qualities which I find so objectionable—the way it at once overperforms and underdescribes—are also true of my every utterance, even words labored over, such as those on this page. The communion language offers is only ever a false promise; we go on speaking anyway. On stage, the dancers’ tauntingly quiet gesticulations are met with a droned, subaquatic version of Rachmaninov’s “Isle of the Dead,” punctuated by the occasional squeak of their latex costumes. Opacity reigns. Ngemi pushes herself down, Lewis strings herself up by a rope—another one, not pantomimed, but thick and knotted, hangs from the rafters. Its gigantism is at once droll and foreboding: Is it an escape route, or reference to the collusion between fiber and gravity and terror that so often made a spectacle of black death?
At once presentational—oriented frontally so that the audience intuits a mode of direct address—and emphatically representational, the choreography puts mimetic action into overdrive. Miming requires, as does the movement of hip-hop, particularly in styles such as krump and clowning (there are tinges of both in the performance), that its performers master techniques of isolation. In a role originated by Titilayo Adebayo, Ngemi performs a captivating, semaphoric solo, each sweep of arm and stuttering lunge seemingly part of a vocabulary the audience does not have the tools to decode. The semantic effulgence of her dance could have easily been eclipsed by Ngemi’s unalloyed virtuosity: On view are the faculties of accented tension and release, the capacity to stop on a dime, and above all, the technique of fixed point isolation, in which the performer knows the cooperative physiological pathways of movement so intimately that she can maneuver each individual segment—controlling each glittering link of her body like so many jewels on a chain. Behind Ngemi, the other three make their own kind of mute Greek chorus, a glacially moving tableau. Their fingers end up hooked in one another’s mouths.
Ligia Lewis, Water Will. Performance View, Performance Space New York, New York, May 25, 2019. Ligia Lewis. Photo: Maria Baranova.
It’s been said that the tales set down in print by the Brothers Grimm are so potent precisely because they eviscerate anything resembling psychology. Their characters lack motive or cause; terrible things happen and time churns heedlessly along. There’s something of this effect in Lewis’s dramaturgy. Exemplary is the basic yet striking illusion, demonstrated ably by Ngemi, of alternating between a smile and an overwrought frown as the hand passes before the face such that the viewer misses the exact moment of transition. Does joy really sit so near to sorrow? Watching, it occurs to me that Lewis’s working method offers a compelling counterpoint to genealogy. Instead of tracing history’s fissures, she tugs at its contours, distorting them. The music of other centuries is mixed with that of ours, so too are the horrors; these infelicitous unions are effective not so much in the manner of juxtaposition, as in collage, but rather as a form of penetration or entwinement in which every element is both the thread and the needle’s eye all at once.
See, for instance, Sachsse’s kinkily depraved recitation of the fairy tale in German, her low, unholy growls swelling into a piercing caterwaul until she plummets into an inelegant swan dive that leaves her on the floor, foot sickled in the air. Later, the unmistakable, relentlessly upbeat plink of Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” comes in over the speakers; its wordless disco remix sets the score for a jazzerina’s nightmare—all thrust and pivot and plastered smile. Moving through a ghastly series of eager jetés, splits, barrel jumps, and paddle turns, the quartet of dancers offer this perverse reprieve in the manner of a sneer: “Are you not entertained?”
The amusement is no sooner given than yanked away. Lewis plunges the audience into darkness, then sets searchlights upon us to a soundtrack of cascading waves. Theorists of blackness have long mobilized oceanic imagery as a powerful locus, both materially and symbolically, for transatlantic histories of enslavement and colonization. Another monologue, delivered by Lewis, quotes from Edmund Burke’s “Why Darkness is Terrible” (1757), a text exemplary as any, to my mind, of the inextricability of evaluations of aesthetic form from the racist logics of empire. Her hand at her own throat, she rubs at her larynx and thrusts her fingers in her mouth, nearly retching—Burke’s words something to expel or exorcise. Misty, granular condensation spills from above; the ensemble slides around in the wet, their mouths opened upward to receive it, like a precious benediction. The performance ends without resolution. I think of a crucial insight from recent conversations within black studies about the interminability of slavery’s afterlives, for which there can and should be reparations, but which may not permit the catharsis of narrative closure.
Ligia Lewis, minor matter, 2019. Performance View, Performance Space New York, New York, May 21, 2019. Ligia Lewis, Corey Scott-Gilbert, keyon gaskin. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
Lewis’s interrogation of “will” is a philosopher’s inquiry. Its conceptual range holds not only desire and agentive action, but also their opposite—inevitably, or the resignation to fate. Explicit in Water Will, this analysis is also latent in minor matter, a performance no less oneiric than its successor. It too begins and ends in darkness, its core a scarlet haze. From the opening blackout, Lewis recites an excerpt from “Dreamtalk,” by Remi Raji, a love poem that figures desire as a kind of threat, not to the beloved, but to the prevailing order. As the lights rise, Lewis, keyon gaskin, and Corey Scott-Gilbert become visible in a series of angular freezes on the ground. Slowly they each rise and charge the audience, unhurriedly, moving through a succession of courtly postures. The trio comes together, entwining themselves in a private whorl of limb and effort. They move patiently, commanding our attention. Energy and antagonism soon begin to glimmer; Lewis and gaskin enter a sparring match, dodging hooks and jabs, torqueing one another into pins and stretches—wrestling’s submission holds. Meanwhile, Scott-Gilbert delivers a disquisition on being an assertive bitch.
What the audience will remember of this work, forever burned on the retina, is a middle section that reinterprets Boléro, a 1960 ballet by choreographer Maurice Béjart set to the 1928 Ravel composition of the same title. As in Béjart’s choreography, a spotlight directs the audience’s focus, its attention luxuriating on every splay of Scott-Gilbert’s fingers as he moves through a series of port de bras. Beaked palms rise and flutter, then sink down again, his fingertips grazing his chest. Then his arms flail across the spotlight’s golden disc; the music crescendos. The combined effect is of a shirred energy struggling to get free.
Lewis and gaskin join in, and the three move effortlessly in the pocket, then riff on the beat. Oscillating between partial transfers of weight, which keep the body stationary, and syncopated but full steps, which put the figure into motion, the ensemble ponies around the stage, gaining velocity and growing ever more ferocious. This thrumming, insistent core of the choreography is cut with elements of both step—a percussive dance originally associated with black sororities and fraternities—and gumboot, a South African dance sometimes used as a demonstration of protest, and from which stepping in part derives.
Around me: the quickening of pulses, the jiggle of thighs. There is pleasure in the room, infectious. I am suspicious of this arrogation of feeling, my own more than that of anyone else. This same device is so outsized as to be a caricature in Water Will’s Enya-tracked jazz dance, where the audience cannot be anything other than in on the joke. Here, however, in thrall to the boléro’s addictive throb, the question is posed at once more subtly and more gravely. What might it mean to be ravished, in thrall to the sensuous?
Ligia Lewis, minor matter, 2019. Performance View, Performance Space New York, New York, May 21, 2019. Ligia Lewis, Corey Scott-Gilbert, keyon gaskin. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
In Béjart’s ballet, a soloist is surrounded by a herd of corps dancers, who both genuflect to and imitate her. Shot through with tinges of the cultish—at once witchy and orgiastic—the dancers end as a militantly synchronized body, moving as one. (Most often the principal dancer is female and her followers male, though a deliciously queer 1982 version features Jorge Donn in the lead role.) Lewis, however, deracinates her source material. Not for nothing does the baseline of Ravel’s composition take the form of an ostinato—meaning obstinate, stubborn—though Lewis’s version, made in collaboration with Michal Libera, mixes the original Ravel with samples from Carl Craig, Mortiz von Oswald, Donna Summer, and Arthur Russell alike. Moreover, she distributes the solo across the three performers, who each take turns leading the others, the entire trio moving in and out of synchronization. One suspects that it is the audience who plays the role of the consuming, encircling swarm. The frenetic crescendo dissolves into a bellowed solo of shrieks and slaps by gaskin. It sounds like unadulterated rage. One must take seriously a creeping fear: What if this work is not for you, but against you?
One strain of political theater insists on the rejection of spectacle, suspicious of its seductive escape from the world. Lewis takes perfidy as the theater’s essential—and therefore enabling—condition. The entire apparatus is marshaled: the proscenium orientation, lighting cues, sonic overwhelm, and movement join together to exploit every available opportunity for affective rapture. That dishonesty, a betrayal of the consensus which we might conversationally call “the world,” is a form of willfulness.
The performance ends with Lewis, gaskin, and Scott-Gilbert in a series of gymnastic configurations, each of their three bodies alternatively heaped and wrapped around the others. They are trying to make new forms of themselves, but also to tear at the structure that contains them. They tug at the light rigs and crash into the black box’s walls. Like utopia, these body piles seem both enviable and nonviable at once: erotic, jovial formations that each time dissolve with a tumble or crash. Wobbly columns, asymmetrical stacks, acrobatic balances of neck and thigh and bicep—these are contingent models of anarchic support and mutual aid. They are not without injury.
— Catherine Damman
Ligia Lewis’s Water Will (in Melody) runs at On the Boards in Seattle September 19–22; minor matter will travel to Home Works: A Forum on Cultural Practices, Beirut, October 26–27.
5 Vibrant Arts Organizations In Portland
Text Validated by Ezvid Wiki Editorial on 25 Sep 2019
From painting and sculpture to theatre and dance, the arts are an important part of any culture. And in a creative city like Portland, there’s plenty of great art to see. Whether you live in the Pacific Northwest or are planning a visit there soon, be sure to check out the five vibrant organizations listed here. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.
Portland Organizations Dedicated To The Arts
Disjecta Contemporary Art Center
Build ambitious programs that promote artists and engage communities
Artists Repertory Theatre
Produce intimate, provocative theatre and provide a home for artists and audiences to take creative risks
Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
Acknowledge and advance new developments in contemporary art while fostering the creative explorations of artists and audiences
Support artists, propose new modes of production, and stimulate the ongoing public discourse around art
Western Arts Alliance
Promote and present performing arts throughout the western states and provinces
With incredible public parks, tasty street food, and abundant recreational opportunities, Portland, Oregon is a place full of diverse pleasures. It’s also a great city for art, with many different groups contributing to a lively, aesthetically vibrant cultural scene. Offering bold exhibits, programs, and events, the ones included on this list do their part to keep the city artistically thriving. Spanning museums and educational organizations, here are, in no particular order, five notable nonprofits that provide creative enrichment to Portland and its residents.
At #1 is Disjecta Contemporary Art Center. Featuring dynamic programs designed to stimulate ideas and inspire collaboration, Disjecta is dedicated to promoting challenging, forward-thinking work in the visual and performing arts. Through various innovative exhibitions and community events, it encourages introspection, creative risk-taking, and the exchange of new ideas among viewers and makers alike. As part of its primary mission, the center commits itself to advancing cultural equity by advocating for those who have been underrepresented in the arts.
Central to Disjecta’s programming is its Portland Biennial, a comprehensive survey of Oregon creators who are shaping the state’s contemporary arts culture. Also significant is the Curator in Residence program, which invites curators from around the country to organize themed exhibitions of domestic and international works. Culinaria, meanwhile, is a unique community event that combines art with food and drink. The center also offers inexpensive residency spaces for other cultural organizations, with which it partners to host talks, performances, and workshops. Assist with staffing, installation, and more by becoming a volunteer or intern.
The center also offers inexpensive residency spaces for other cultural organizations, with which it partners to host talks, performances, and workshops.
For #2 we have Artists Repertory Theatre. The longest-running professional theatre company in the city, this nonprofit aims to produce thought-provoking shows and provide an enriching environment where local artists can nurture their creativity. Significantly contributing to this are its resident artists, a diverse group of renowned theatre-makers from across the nation who create inventive productions and help drive the organization’s community and educational programming. Working with the residents, the company offers a rich catalog of plays, classes, workshops, and services.
Among Artists Rep’s notable programs is Table Room Stage, which provides professional development and creative opportunities to diverse, underrepresented local and national playwrights. ArtsHub, meanwhile, gives creators and cultural organizations access to low-cost rehearsal and performance spaces, as well as support services. The company’s many educational offerings, such as customized lessons, professional-level classes, and a student ambassador program, work to further cultivate the public’s engagement with theatre. To support the continued welfare of the performing arts, make a donation online to the group’s annual fund.
Arriving at #3 is Portland Institute for Contemporary Art. Founded in 1995, PICA seeks to champion wide-ranging creative perspectives and promote advances in the contemporary art world. Fueled by a progressive, cross-disciplinary vision, its adventurous programming supports the work of some of the most provocative and forward-thinking creators around the globe. Presenting everything from exhibitions to performances and lectures, as well as an annual festival devoted to multimedia, time-based work, the institute strives to galvanize productive conversations about modern culture.
Founded in 1995, PICA seeks to champion wide-ranging creative perspectives and promote advances in the contemporary art world.
Dissolving barriers between disciplines, PICA’s visual art program encompasses painting, sculpture, film, and hybrid productions. Equally experimental in sensibility are its performance events, which bring global dance, music, and theater to an array of venues such as streets, warehouses, and offices. To facilitate new work, the institute makes commissions and provides intensive residencies that give artists the space to push their creative boundaries. It also offers a host of educational activities such as workshops, conversations, tours, and screenings. Help keep contemporary art accessible by becoming a PICA member, and get discounts and other benefits.
For #4 we get Yale Union, which is located in Southeast Portland. Housed in a historic brick laundry building that has been repurposed into a contemporary art center, Y.U. operates to support emerging creators, proffer new modes of production, and spur discourse around the arts. With facilities such as a wood shop, a recording studio, and a screening room, the organization provides opportunities for incipient and under-recognized artists to create and showcase their work at exhibitions and events.
In addition to spaces devoted to artistic programming, Y.U. features other resources and facilities that aid community members and local creators. Among these are its print shop, which contains multiple models of old presses, and is used for printing the union’s own materials as well as requested external projects. There’s also a kitchen designed for community gatherings, and areas that are used to host programs and events with partner organizations. Consider renting your own space for a private event, and the proceeds will go to supporting Y.U.’s operations and building maintenance.
Consider renting your own space for a private event, and the proceeds will go to supporting Y.U.’s operations and building maintenance.
Finally, landing at #5 is Western Arts Alliance. A membership association of performing arts professionals, W.A.A. is committed to presenting and promoting the arts throughout the Western United States. Integral to its history and mission is its annual conference, which brings together creators, managers, and agents for four days of networking, exhibits, workshops, and performances. The event is designed to connect people working in the field, foster strong professional relationships, and provide a constructive forum for discussing and developing new ideas.
On top of its conference, W.A.A. offers a number of programs that provide training and education to career professionals. The Advancing Indigenous Performance initiative is designed to build networks for Indigenous artists working in the United States. Performing Arts Discovery connects global programmers from around the Pacific Rim with members of the association. A biennial four-day retreat, the W.A.A. Institute gives participants of all ages opportunities to learn, have fun, and engage in dialogue about issues pertaining to the field. Contribute to the association’s efforts by donating through its site.
High Femme Mind-bending Mashup at the Winningstad
By Christine Gwillim
Water Will (In Melody) by Leigia Lewis
As we settle into our balcony seats with glasses of wine, a foot wrapped in feminine ankle socks with lace trim at the ankle and pointy shoes jets out from the front curtain. The long, milky pale leg attached to the foot reveals a tall white woman with a cascading ponytail of lush red curls. She wears jean overall shorts, a tank top, and a clear vinyl jumper. The costume is childish, femme, and oddly edgy. In a vernacular loosely associated with the American South she tells and acts out the tale of Grimm’s The Willful Child. Immediately I think of race, of Beloved, of Paulette Jenkins characterized by Anna Deavere Smith in Four American Characters. I wonder if maybe Grimm was an unintentional feminist rendered docile by respectability politics in the 19th century and then repackaged as cautionary tales with which to police young people in the 20th century.
Credit Sarah Marguier
Before my mind can sort out any of these thoughts the scene shifts. The curtains open and a person wearing a black derby hat and white gloves moves to centerstage- signaling back to blackface minstrelsy through slapstick, pantomime, and my own racialized gaze. The citations are thick, opaque, and endless. The high production value of the performance is omnipresent- experimental, and nonnarrative. It’s the type of performance one would imagine seeing in a speakeasy warehouse at midnight, not at the Winningstad Theatre, a traditional space in the heart of downtown Portland. Director Leigia Lewis designed the work purposely to be produced in a proscenium theatre- it makes no sense- until the curtains flutter closed at just the right moment- or misty rain falls delicately onto the stage from the hidden grid behind the teaser curtain
In their talk with scholar and artist Bart Fitzgerald on Saturday, Leigia Lewis opened with a quotation about the swamp as a site for Black potentiality. Suddenly, the strange accent at the top of the show made sense, the misty rain less metaphysical, and the illegibility necessary.
Credit Maria DiRosa
One of the themes emerging from the programming at TBA 19’ is messiness. Lewis and others cite messiness and absurdity as aesthetics that feel and make the most sense in response to the overproduction of the ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ in live performance. Lewis leans into the artifice- pulling techniques from miming, Brecht, melodrama, slapstick, musical theatre, literary fiction, and contemporary dance. The ensuing mashup of technique is an unsettling, stunning work that doesn’t make any more sense at the end than it did in the beginning- but that doesn’t seem like that was ever Lewis’s intention.
Credit Sarah Marguier
How Performance Art Leans Into the Unknown
At the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival, performances by Mia Habib and Ligia Lewis stood out for their engrossing contributions to the ever-evolving medium.
By Lindsay Costello
Originally published in Hyperallergic
Ligia Lewis, Water Will (in Melody) (photo by Sarah Marguier, courtesy of Portland Institute of Contemporary Art)
PORTLAND — The Time-Based Art Festival (TBA), Portland Institute For Contemporary Art’s annual ten-day festival of performance, music, food, film, workshops, lectures, and late-night events, is renowned for its intensity and commitment to the experimental. This year, amidst a strong calendar of diverse performances, two pieces, ALL – a physical poem of protest and Water Will (in Melody), stood out as engrossing contributions to the ever-evolving medium.
Oslo-based choreographer Mia Habib purposefully chose the performance location for ALL; Pioneer Courthouse Square is a frequent site of nationally-broadcasted protests spotlighting conflicts between Antifa activists and right-wing white supremacist groups. Centrally located in downtown Portland, the square is surrounded by train lines on three sides and faces Pioneer Courthouse.
Mia Habib, ALL – a physical poem of protest (photo by Brittany Windsor, courtesy of Portland Institute of Contemporary Art)
In ALL, 50 performers, all local volunteers, manifest an unspoken objective. The performance consists of a series of cycles in which the group walks, jogs, and sprints in a continuous spiral. The spiral tightens and disperses; the performers find brief moments of meditative pause between rushes of extended action. Seamless transitions suggest a flowing machine generating continual energy. While cycling through movements, the performers’ expressions are neutral, their pace determined. Yet, they also communicate empathy and kindness — at one point, they touch each other on the shoulders, connoting a momentary offering of support. The performers later join in on a single note, harmonizing together as they continue to move in unison. The synchronicity intrinsic to ALL raises questions. How does the protesting body mobilize effectively alongside others? How can we catalyze lasting change together?
Mia Habib, ALL – a physical poem of protest (photo by Brittany Windsor, courtesy of Portland Institute of Contemporary Art)
ALL suggests that protest begins as an occupation of space. Bodies in space, when unified in movement, indicate an allied mission. In ALL, the continuity of bodies in motion is mesmerizing, almost hypnotic. Each performer bonds with the next through proximity and matched movement. This bond implies a commonality beyond ideology; the participants seem primally connected, their bodies melting together in a powerful abstraction of human mass. By choreographing a series of simple movements, Habib has located the force of the body as protest.
Habib has facilitated iterations of ALL worldwide. It’s been performed at a dance festival in New York City and at a feminist protest in France. Choreographer Jeremy Wade borrowed the score for a performance at a Berlin protest against the treatment of LGBTQ people in Chechnya. The performance can take place over the course of 45 minutes, as it did in Pioneer Square, but Habib aspires to someday facilitate a 12-hour durational performance of the work. Like the choreography itself, ALL is fluid, adaptable, and intuitive.
Ligia Lewis, Water Will (in Melody) (photo by Sarah Marguier, courtesy of Portland Institute of Contemporary Art)
Choreographer Ligia Lewis’s Water Will (in Melody) is a gothic, monstrous exploration of the body. The four-person piece, performed by Lewis, Dani Brown, Susanne Sachße, and Titilayo Adebayo, unfolds slowly. Each dancer peels back layers of increasing intensity and melodrama to create a deeper connection with the audience. The stage is dark, framed by dense black curtains; a thick climbing rope is the sole physical prop. Fog floats over the audience before the show begins. The room smells like fresh earth.
The eerie tone of the performance is set by Brown, who recites a Southern Gothic-style monologue about a willful child buried alive (adapted from a Brothers Grimm tale.) Brown’s costume (vinyl-covered white overalls, lace socks, and delicate shoes) suggests a stilted innocence. Her body jerks in unnatural, stiff movements. The gory image of a zombie is evoked — the embodied dead.
Ligia Lewis, Water Will (in Melody) (photo by Sarah Marguier, courtesy of Portland Institute of Contemporary Art)
An increasing sense of unease is cultivated with thrashing choreography, pulsing strobe lights, screaming, and whispers of distorted dialogue. Throughout the performance, the dancers dramatically mime expressions of sorrow, rage, and desperation. Body horror is implied in their puppet-like twitching and lurching gestures, as if they are creatures experiencing embodiment for the first time. The dancers engage in a grim, urgent fight against themselves, continually learning and unlearning how to move their foreign bodies. Yet, there are moments of comedic relief within the performance. This confusion is intentional. During a cut to Enya’s “Orinoco Flow,” the stage is lit with a rapturous white light while the dancers flitter in a brief, performatively feminine routine. After a few seconds, they collapse. Continually, the audience is left to grapple with the same sense of anxiety that the dancers experience in their own bodies.
During the final moments of the performance, water sprays delicately over the stage and humidity permeates the room. The dancers seem more comfortable in their bodies, even joyous, but a feeling of unease remains, and never dissipates. While the water creates a space of refuge, it’s also deathly, sensual, and natural, a radical shift from the inhuman distortions central to the previous sequences. It’s an apt metaphor for the changing body, both foreign and familiar.
Water Will completes a trilogy of Lewis’s recent work, preceded by minor matter (2016) and Sorrow Swag (2014). Color played an important role in the series of works — minor matter used reds as a central palette, while Sorrow Swag used blue. Water Will utilizes black and white, reflective of the show’s themes — darkness and light, femininity and ugliness, nature and death entwined.
The performance expertly negotiates the pain, uncertainty, and desire associated with lived embodiment. Lewis’s choreography leads the dancers on a journey within their bodies, highlighting the anxiety and unhinged terror that can result from exploring this landscape. The theater becomes a wet cavern within which nods to the natural world seep through; the sound of cicadas, frogs, waves, and water dripping all pipe in at different points. In this space, Lewis and the other performers are safe to explore unruly, monstrous emotions. Water Will (in Melody) exemplifies the intentions of the Time-Based Art Festival itself; it’s an invitation to lean toward the complex and unknown.
The Time-Based Art Festival takes place at various locations in Portland, Oregon from September 5–September 15, 2019.
a situation of relations: A Conversation with Adam Linder about “The WANT”
Laurel McLaughlin with Adam Linder
OFFEROR: One who gives and does not receive, takes possession, of one who receives to subsist and so cannot give back.
OFFEREE: There were desires, they fell all around us and have been kicked to the ground…
“The WANT,” Adam Linder, 20191
Photo by Andrea Rossetti
Towards the end of August, over the phone, Adam Linder shared the immense intellectual exchanges that contributed to his work, “The WANT.” Linder carefully parsed how value is volleyed back and forth in a “situation of relations”—rendered indeterminate amidst amorphous dual forces. Rather than a continuation of his “Service” works, Linder and his performers, Jess Gadani, Justin F. Kennedy, Jasmine Orpilla, and Roger Sala Reyner, delve into the poetics of transaction.
Laurel McLaughlin (LM): “The WANT” first premiered in 2018 at HAU Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin. What are your hopes for its West Coast premiere at TBA in Portland?
Adam Linder (AL): I think it’s always really rewarding to come back to a live work after a little bit of time. I feel that when a choreography is made, or “finished,” it is actually just the beginning. So, I guess what I’m excited about with Portland and LA is playing the work again and seeing how it shifts in that very substantial but fine work of how liveness plays itself out every night. It’s all in the micro-shifts, the flow of the performers’ energy and the vibe of different audiences. The more my works are performed, the more I get to know about them.
LM: The work is based on French playwright Bernard-Marie Koltès’ In the Solitude of the Cotton Fields, 1985—a play composed of a singular act between a “Client” and a “Dealer.” The transaction in which they engage engrosses the narrative, ultimately unveiling the struggle behind the psychological conundrum of knowing “the other.” As a means of entry to your work “The WANT,” which departs from Koltès, could you tell me about how this opera came about, and also about your interaction with Ethan Braun, who scored the work, and Shahryar Nashat who staged it, and how this developed into an opera?
Photo by Andrea Rossetti
AL: Well, I guess, it started with an itch of mine to tackle the form of opera. My work addresses all forms within the performing arts and quite actively jumps between them. I make costume, I compose text, I incorporate vocal forms in my works, but I am a dancer at heart; so somehow making an opera was the next card to play.
As the stars aligned, I learnt of this work by Koltès and it sparked a desire to take this play that has always been performed in a conventional way—a very straight theater mode—and turn it into opera. Ethan and I met because I was looking for the right composer to work with me and, as he is an irregular fit for the classical music world, that made him a natural fit for me. Shahryar is a different story. We’ve been in and out of each other’s work for years and he’s my boyfriend. Read the BOMB article; says it all.2
LM: Could you walk me through the two acts of the opera?
AL: In “The WANT,” following the Koltès original, there’s not exactly a plot development in the conventional sense. In Act 1 there’s a raising of stakes, a facing-off between the Offerors and Offerees. This makes you think: is this about desire or a one-time encounter? Or, is this about two people from very different cultures trying to understand each other and negotiate? There’s a tension in Act 1 that gets established. And then what happens is the whole MO shifts.
In Act 2, the players start to unify, at the beginning they flirt with the signification of the historical figure of the Hassidic Jew: the archetypical merchant of Europe. It all starts to become much more fluid—in terms of what qualities are determined by what side of the argument—you no longer have this kind of division between the two sides. Somehow, everyone becomes the Offeror and everyone becomes the Offeree.
I think what also arises toward the end of the work, is that there’s an acknowledgement and giving over to a whole other kind of transaction or negotiation, which is the actual situation between the performers and the audience. And eventually the work heads closer toward abstraction, with much less solidity in terms of the characteristics of the two sides.
LM: The opera features singers, dancers, and actors, Jess Gadani, Justin F. Kennedy, Jasmine Orpilla, and Roger Sala Reyner, as “Offerors” and “Offerees”—groups which embody the client/dealer types. How does your innovation of collectivity operate in the transaction, as opposed to “the individual”?
AL: The work in its original form had just two people. My work is a very unfaithful reworking, so there is little of the original Koltès text in my libretto. It has always been staged as a two-person—two guys—play. In the way I have structured the work, Jess and Justin are the Offerors, and Jasmine and Roger are the Offerees—but it becomes quite fluid. Just like the original play, it is never determined who wants what from whom and what it is they want and what it is they can offer. It’s always meddling in grey area. But I push the grey area of sexuality, race, and gender (and spiritual identification) far more than the original.
LM: The play has been described as the process to know “the other.” How do the performers wrestle with this irresolution between client/dealer?
AL: What is revealed is that perhaps the sensibilities that seem to be in opposition between the Offerors and Offeree actually constitute each of them individually. It’s not exactly a conclusion—because Koltès’s work and my work are both very inconclusive—but I think what is understood is that neither of these sides can be defined as characteristic of any certain qualities. In the beginning, Koltès’s Client and my Offerees, are more rational, vulnerable, defensive, whereas the Dealer, or my Offerors, are more gregarious, flirty, cunning. But, in turn, both sides at one point or another, exude all these sensibilities: negotiating desire for each other, negotiating a way of seeing the world, or even how polar sensibilities can negotiate each other. I guess you could say “the other” becomes the “other” of yourself.
LM: You mentioned earlier that other texts—whether embodied or literary—were formative for the work. And your libretto references many, such as Missy Elliott and Derrida. So, could you talk more about how language functions through these samples and citations?
AL: What I did was basically take Koltès’s work and reduce and reduce and reduce so there was a very small amount of the original that would simply be the skeleton for this encounter. Then I took the skeleton and I fleshed it out by patch-working texts from various thinkers or artists that helped me get deeper into this work.
But maybe some of the most important are: a text called Living Currency by Klossowski—it’s a really complicated text that talks about desire, or what he calls the voluptuous emotion, and speculates on how it could be extracted and commodified as an economic force.3 Then there’s the Poetics of Relation by Glissant which could be understood as a text about the transactions of power, language and poetics as a result of the (predominantly) French colonial impact.4 Then there’s a third important primary text for my reworking which was, “What is a ‘Relevant’ Translation,” by Derrida.5 These three were the game-changing texts for me, but there was a lot of other thinking and patch-working that went on, like lyrical lines from Tricky or Missy Elliot. These three texts were very formative because they were dealing with post-colonialism, the fallout of the Western Enlightenment project, economy and desire, and the power of language.
LM: You’ve worked with the concept of transaction in previous works, such as your “Service” series, which you’ve mentioned, including Choreographic Service No. 1: Some Cleaning, 2013; Choreographic Service No. 2: Some Proximity, 2014; Choreographic Service No. 3: Some Riding, 2015; Choreographic Service No. 4: Some Strands of Support, 2016; and Service No. 5: Dare to Keep Kids Off Naturalism, 2019. These works made choreographic labor not only transparent, but also traced the economic terrain surrounding performance within art spaces and museums.6 “The WANT” feels like a continuation in some ways of this previous work, but from an interior perspective—as if we’re seeing the internal adjudications of the performers. Do you see it building on this previous work, or pivoting from it?
AL: Let’s just say I’ve dealt with questions and operations around value in a lot of my work. In the Services, there was a particular formulation of how choreography would be framed and put forward. So, I think you’re right, I think “The WANT” is bringing it person to person, or people to people. Those questions around economic value are there, but “The WANT” is not as geared toward that. “The WANT” exists much more as an affective, poetic response to these ideas, rather than a conceptual approach.
What is more apparent in “The WANT” is that the question of transaction is more a question of relations. And Koltès says—and I don’t have this quote exactly correct—that as soon as you put money into the equation, you cancel out relations. As long as there is a concrete measure of value, you diminish the need for ongoing relations between parties.
Ultimately what I’m invested in with all these works, is not “choreography is worth this, and in relation to objects, and you should treat it like this.” Yes, okay, there’s a pride for the form, but I am more interested in setting up a situation of relations that have stakes, rather than producing a form of critique.
LM: Along those lines of revealing stakes without pointing to a conclusion, could you tell me about the interaction between performer and audience? It’s been said that much of your work pushes the boundaries of the social contract of theater between audience and performer—do you see your work in this light, and namely, “The WANT” in such a way?
AL: I do not believe my work, in general, pushes the boundaries of the social contract of theater, but there is an element of addressing this contract in “The WANT.” I think my work tends to rub incongruous forms or sensibilities together with tension, plays games with conventional value measures, and blurs the edges of what performing form, or format, belongs where. I am interested in an overarching and meta question of “who can perform what?” and how categorising is a very normalising mode of value production.
1 Adam Linder, Libretto for “The WANT,” Co-production: HAU Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin, Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, Los Angeles, Kampnagel, Hamburg. Funded by: Hauptstadtkulturfonds, 2018.
2 Aram Moshayedi, “Shahryar Nashat and Adam Linder by Aram Moshayedi,” BOMB 145, 24 September 2018: https://bombmagazine.org/articles/shahryar-nashat-and-adam-linder/.
3 See Pierre Klossowski, Living Currency, Daniel W. Smith and Nicolae Morar, eds. (London: Bloomsbury, 2017).
4 See Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, Betsy Wing, trans. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997).
5 See Jacques Derrida and Lawrence Venuti, “What is a ‘Relevant’ Translation,” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Winter 2001): 174–200.
6 For more information on Linder’s “service” conceptualization and choreography, see: Uri Aran, “‘I WANTED TO TEACH THE WHITE CUBE HOW TO TAKE THEATRICALITY: An Interview with Adam Linder,” Spike Magazine, 1 November 2017: https://www.spikeartmagazine.com/en/articles/i-wanted-teach-white-cube-how-take-theatricality; Emily Wilson, “A Choreographer Bills His Dances as ‘Services,’” Hyperallergic, 23 January 2019: https://hyperallergic.com/481094/adam-linder-choreographic-services/; and Ryan D. Tacata and Adam Linder, “In Conversation// In Repose, we can hold the room: Adam Linder with Ryan D. Tacata,” Performa Magazine: https://performa-arts.org/magazine/in-conversation-adam-linder-with-ryan-d-tacata.
Some people in Portland might remember seeing Eiko & Koma at Jamison Square 16 years ago on September 11…
Laurel McLaughlin (LM): Welcome back to Portland! Before we delve into the myriad works you’re presenting at TBA that encompass numerous themes, practices, and embodiments from your career, could you reflect on Offering, the first performance that you presented in Portland with collaborator Koma back in 2003 at TBA?
Eiko Otake (EO): I remember the show very well. We created Offering in post-9/11 New York and premiered it in 2002 summer, near where the World Trade Center was. We also performed the work in six more parks throughout Manhattan that summer, as well as touring it throughout Poland and other eastern European countries. Then we came to Portland. As with the other places, we asked PICA to order a mound of dirt, with which we were going to perform a ritual of mourning. Dirt was a metaphor of collective graves. But when we saw the site, Jamison Square, Koma and I wanted to perform in the fountain. The seeping and pulling tides of the water felt meaningful to us. We all come from water and our tears are water too. Water connects not only we humans, but also humans with other beings. The night was chilling with wind, water, and wet fur dresses, and that made some common memories not only for Koma and me but also for many viewers. I was reminded about that by so many people I met during my visit this past spring. It is profound for me to learn that what we did became many common memories for this group of audiences.
LM: You’re returning to present multiple works during the run of TBA19 including, an exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Art & Culture, PNCA, entitled, A Body in Places, curated by Kristan Kennedy and Joseph Scheer, a solo performance in the PNCA galleries on opening night, with a screening at the NorthWest Film Center of A Body in Fukushima: Reflections on the Nuclear in Everyday Life; a new three-channel video at PICA; and the TBA performance of The Duet Project: Distance is Malleable at PICA as well. Could you talk about presenting these many works and how they relate each other?
EO: Because I started to perform professionally at the age of 30, I have a long career. As you know, the most of which—42 years—was as Eiko & Koma. And during these years, Eiko & Koma performed here four times. I have been working as a soloist since 2014 and began the Duet Project in 2017. And I have been going to Fukushima through these years. So, instead of showing one recent work, I wanted to share a dialectic trajectory since Eiko & Koma, which is Eiko, “the half” of Eiko & Koma, learning to work alone, and then to also realize she learns in working with others and interested in creating “we” through art making. And my work in Fukushima grounds me in realizing how being human is so fundamentally dangerous, so I also wanted to share that altogether. People can enter to my house from different doors and be with me in different rooms, but can then be motivated to visit another room and thus get to know the whole house of this artist (though I literally do not own a house, even an apartment).
LM: The performance, A Body in Places (2014), engages with the specificities of place—and I saw part of the 12-hour performance at Philadelphia’s 30 Street Station. How does the exhibition of the same name engage with the specificities of place in other sites?
EO: Wow you were there!? Thank you. That was my debut as a solo performer!! Five years from that debut, this exhibition highlights my solo works in differently significant places: particularly Fukushima (video created from photographs), Hong Kong (prints from photos of the performances at the very site the umbrella revolution took place a year ago and thousands of people camped out to protest and block seven-lane highways), and Alfred (New York, where I danced with countless number of the moths and collaborated with a few artists). These can be seen as artifacts, created from archives of my solo performances; but these can also be seen as collaborations of different kind—A Body in Fukushima, is a collaboration with a photographer and the irradiated landscape, A Body in Hong Kong is a work that would not have happened without a particular presenter/curator and a massive, historical event, and A Body in Alfred, is the result of my newfound eagerness to seize upon possibilities of encounter, in this case with a moth specialist, printmakers, and videographers—all the members of IEA (Institute for Electronic Arts)—so they also belong to my duet projects. All of these works might look like solos; but in fact, in my long history as Eiko & Koma, I have been trained as a collaborator, so these works in the exhibition illuminate that a solo is a duet with someone whose body is not necessarily seen.
LM: Turning towards how you’ve used movement in the past, which might have bearing on these upcoming works, you said in a previous interview: “I am using my body as a constant.” Yet, your work inhabits many spaces that are mobile—sometimes within neoliberal structures, such as a train station, sometimes with eroding landscapes, like in Fukushima. So, how do the concepts of “constant” and mobility co-exist in your work?
EO: I can also rephrase the quote as “I want to use my body as a conduit,” or “I want to present my body as recognizably, intentionally, and aesthetically the same person… oh that is Eiko (a name here is not important), a body of the same person, a mind of the same person, who goes to Fukushima, who is in front of a viewer in Place A, who performed in place B how many days ago, and where another viewer saw her. This performer might be at first very strange, as she looks so miserable, but in time, she becomes familiar and her audience breathes her miserableness. Then through watching her body, a viewer can not only see this place but can IMAGINE other places.” So, yes, we are all sort of mobile compared to trees and mountains (and they too are of course moving ); but at the same time, I feel intentionality of performing makes dancer’s body familiar and willing, not only connecting the mind of an artist and that of a viewer but also the pains and beauties and dangers of places. And that willingness does not have to take a shape of strength. If anything, I want the inner strength in the bodies that are compromised, hurt, and in pain. I want to honor the gaze and the sense of constant with a body as it moves toward non-existence, which we all do in slightly different speeds. A body has autonomy and decision making even if it is in small ways. So, my use of constant is a life with its movement.
LM: Could you share more about the solo that you’ll be performing at the PNCA galleries?
EO: My solo at PNCA is to activate the exhibition and leaving some mental traces into the space. I make visual arts and media works from a point of being a performer. I also use my performance to make an event for people to gather. Not only might there be some people who come to the gallery because I am performing but, hopefully that is not the only time they see the exhibit. In fact, I sincerely hope, and I will say this at the opening, each viewer will come back to the exhibit, to be alone and to really see what I, the curators, and collaborators are presenting.
LM: The exhibition at PNCA will also feature a screening of A Body in Fukushima (2014–2017), which, in some iterations, features photographs by Japanese historian and artist William Johnston, that you edited, and a performance. Could you describe your dialogue with the landscape of Fukushima, and then the post-production process of editing the photographs?
EO: I conceived the project A Body in Fukushima as a photo exhibition that would tour with my solo performances, A Body in Places. While I was conceiving the solo work to be premiered at Philadelphia Station, I thought I would like to bring with me very different stations from the splendor and business of the Philadelphia Station. But even in our first visit, it became clear Fukushima is the subject itself, a large complication, an inevitable human failure and not a subject to be avoided.
And Fukushima includes many Fukushimas. There are many places within Fukushima that have varying degrees of radiation, history, and ways of life. So again, I present my body as a visitor, as a conduit between the places I performed within in the U.S. and the places I performed in Fukushima. I also felt, though I am an outsider visiting Fukushima. I am still a part of humans who assault environment and other species. It is a bit confusing, but nature looks more vibrant and powerful in the time and places in which people were gone. That does not mean they are not irradiated. Irradiated, but the things continue to grow and blossom. And, unlike humans, trees and mountains cannot walk away.
Yes, the films and photos I show become a performance, in the way that they are presented to the audience and each viewer can take what they want. This is particularly the case about my dancing in Fukushima. I cannot not bring audiences there, so I need to bring my performances there to audiences far from Fukushima. And editing is like a choreography I do for the performance. It is a preparation of a performance. For me, neither choreography nor editing is a performance. Presenting it with intention and how people see it is the performance. So, as a performing artist, I offer that and for that reason I prepare by choreographing the photos, designing and creating sound and most importantly the film uses words. This is the first time I used words in my media works. That was challenging and I wanted to create a style that weaves words, visuals, body, and time. The words I chose are important to me and hopefully people also feel that the words have been carefully selected, composed, and timed.
I consider my Fukushima work as my later work, and so are my solos and the Duet Project. Not only did these come later than Eiko & Koma, but they reflect that I am in a later period of my own life. I try to grapple with that and find ways to work. In one sense, it is my regrets that drive me to work; but the irony is the more I work I also find more regrets, so I have been even more driven.
Certainly, I would not have done this if I were younger, when our children were young and we were creating many large-scale theater productions. It would also have been different if I were younger and dancing in Fukushima. There are so many photographs of young women standing in front of the ruins… The fact that I am now 67 years old takes into account my being in Fukushima and in people seeing me in Fukushima.
When I dance in Fukushima, I do not represent the people who were forced to leave. They have their own voices. In dancing there, I think of their ancestors who lived there many decades ago as well as other species, trees, mountains and sea. Land and sea are contaminated but they are… oddly beautiful after the people were gone, however irradiated… This is not to say I have any positive opinion on nuclear matters, however.
LM: A Body in Fukushima, as with many of your other works, strikes me as pointedly urgent. But it references recent and difficult history, one society doesn’t want to face, with regard to environmental awareness. But you nevertheless improvised and danced in the evacuated and devastated terrain of the Fukushima nuclear disaster at the Daiichi plant in the town of Ōkuma. Part of this zone is referred to in Japanese as the “zone that is difficult to return to” (帰還困難区域)— during five different trips to the site with collaborator William Johnston. The resulting photographs, register these affects of urgency and difficult return, and I’m hoping you can speak more about this.
EO: These photos have ranges of different urgencies. First, nuclear matter is urgently dangerous and morally wrong. I feel strongly about that. Nuclear power is a Pandora’s box. So, being so close to the site of the meltdown is itself a highly emotional experience. Radiation does not have color or smell. So, the knowledge of high radiation is unsettling and upsetting. And I know I should not be there too long and I should not put my body in that exposure. All of these concerns make me move more urgently, faster in some cases, more intensely in other cases. Often upon arrival to a place, I am first muted. Then I begin to observe and make notes. Then I begin to dance. Sometimes it is minimum movement, and other times I move faster for longer distances, in ways I never have done on stage. This is a lot to do with the fact I am in dangerous places and I am emotionally exhausted. I also return to the same place to notice the changes and sense of the time passed… so I return to Fukushima to notice more, to breathe more, to think more…
LM: A new three-channel video work will be on view at PICA during your performance, The Duet Project: Distance is Malleable for TBA. How will these two works interact in the same space?
EO: I am actually not sure yet how and if they will be continuously shown. The important part of this new Duet Project is upon arriving in the space, I redesign the contents and how contents are placed and sectioned. So yes, I hope I can keep the media works but I cannot promise. The good thing is I am the director so I can always betray my past decisions and plans…
LM: And how would you characterize your Duet Project—what was your intention for creating the work?
EO: I work with a diverse group of artists, living and dead. Collaborators come from different places, times, disciplines, and concerns. Together, we try to maximize the potentials of our various encounters so as to reaffirm that distance is indeed malleable.
The Duet Project does not result in a set work that tours in the same shape after its premiere in July at the American Dance Festival. As is the case at PICA, future performances of this project will be designed specifically for the performance site and community that the project travels to. Not every artist I had an “encounter” with has become a named collaborator, nor will I share with the public every duet that I experiment with. Every encounter, however, regardless of outcome, allows me to live my life with the concept of The Duet Project. I learn a lot from each of the encounters, even when such experiences do not lead to actually having a duet I bring to the audience. And some learning can apply to how I can process the next encounter. This endeavor is as much about conversation as it is about self-curation, developing instincts, desires, strategies, and tools for encounters with or without words. It is also about developing urges, hesitations, and resistance by looking at each other and taking time. Being physically and mindfully together is memory making. Every encounter is to affirm living and also to prepare for one’s inevitable leaving. My body is always leaning forward to the next encounter.
LM: Keeping with that particular work, The Duet Project activates a “practice” of dying, that’s manifested in your body and outside of it with your collaborators. How does this practice evolve, especially as sometimes death is thought of as an end?
EO: Not many people enjoy thinking about death. But it is a fact and one of the few common, equal realities we have. One can die a difficult death or a relatively good death. And while one can die alone, I also saw it is often helpful to have a help in dying. When I say I practice dying I, I mean I can imagine dying as an inevitable destiny. Though I love living. But when I work with, and become friends with younger artists, and have honest conversations, I recognize deeply that I should go first. Let us keep the order. So, working with younger people is one way to practice/imagine dying.
LM: The Duet Project performance also conjures a juxtaposition between eternal stillness and the movement that is the world. How do you see these two impulses unfolding?
EO: In my work, as it is performed, there is no stillness. There might be relative stillness. That is relative… and yes, the world is moving and in that way I feel a bit panicky. So, through not being still, I use certain movements, might be impossible to be recognized as movement, to calm myself down so I can observe and think… both are the reality and every life is moving toward non-existence. The problem is some of us, and humans as a whole, make tremendous damage in the process of disappearing.
by Laurel McLaughlin
This introduction is already a failure. But are we okay with that? I don’t want to assume for you; but for my part, I’ve never been more okay with it. If introductions are supposed to “set the tone,” contextualize, or provide grounding of some kind, then forget it. The following conversation, composed over emails (too many from me), with the generous, wickedly witty, fierce wielder-of-pen-and-paper Anthony Hudson/Carla Rossi tunes its own tone, historicizes its own voice, and levitates to grounds of its own imagination—only to twist all of our expectations in the best, most necessary way.
Laurel McLaughlin (LM): Carla Rossi and Anthony Hudson will be performing Looking for Tiger Lily (Solo) in TBA19 in collaboration with Risk/Reward. The TBA festival is known for the way in which it brings together local and international performers. So, before we get into the work, could you share your thoughts about performing in the same place where you make work?
Anthony Hudson/Carla Rossi (AH/CR): I love touring and am tickled I’ve gotten to take my work to Dartmouth, New York, Canada, Australia, and more places on the docket, but I’m a Portland clown through and through. I’m from here (OK, “true” Portland natives would say I’m from Keizer, but I’d ask them what Tribe they’re from). My Kalapuya and Chinook ancestors were here thousands of years before that. I’m tethered to this place in a way, and Carla’s tethered to Portland’s whiteness. It powers her and gives her something to talk about, like fuel. If Portland is a lighthouse of white privilege and fragility, she’s the beacon burning within.
LM: You have a history of performing in the Portland community, could you share what’s been formative for you and perhaps share impressions from previous TBAs in which you’ve partaken?
AH/CR: TBA19 is wild for me in how full circle it is as I approach ten years as Carla. I’ve wanted to be a TBA artist since I started going to shows as a PNCA freshman in 2009. One of Carla’s first big nights out was at TBA’s Art Party at The Works in 2010, back in the Washington High School days—Carla jumped on stage (much to my present-day self’s horror) during Light Asylum’s set and, luckily, got asked to stay. From 2012 to 2017, I was ecstatic to collaborate with my bestie Pepper Pepper as their video maker (videatrix?) for Critical Mascara, and to open Critical 2013 on a ladder lipsyncing a Bette Davis monologue from All About Eve. Carla got to send off Critical in 2017 with a tribute to Valerie Solanas, Aileen Wuornos, Divine, and Satanic witchcraft. Now I’m bringing my international solo show back to Portland for the first time—and for the last time—since its workshop in 2016, back to where this whole story began at TBA.
LM: Turning to Carla Rossi more closely, she identifies as a “drag clown,” a Coyote trickster—which refers to both a lineage of Native theater and innovation within the drag form. Could you share more about this moniker of identification?
AH/CR: I’ve never done drag to “put on” woman or femininity, whatever that may mean. Yeah, sure, I auditioned for RuPaul’s Drag Race once, years ago, and that experience showed me how little interest I have in “female impersonation,” even if I see a power in some performers’ ability to channel and challenge that illusion. Carla’s a clown because I’m not trying to be a woman. I’m trying to explode gender and negotiate my own gender confusion with her. For her, she absolutely is a woman, she’s trying to be a woman, but I like to think of her as a shapeless form, a blob, a Mr. Potato Head of Lies. I think of that scene in The Man Who Fell to Earth when David Bowie takes off all his human drag—clothes, hair, eyebrows, pupils—and comes out as a naked alien slate. That’s like Carla. She’s a trickster spirit—my trickster spirit—who’s made itself up to look like a clown, and, hey, clowns and tricksters happen to have remarkably similar objectives: saying one thing while doing the opposite. She’s spent all of human history trying to become something special, something important, and in today’s world in Portland, Oregon, she thinks that special something is a famous white woman.
LM: Keeping with Carla then, you said she is a “persona, body of work, and occupation.” So often within art or festival contexts, the drag form is reduced only to critique; but given the storytelling that you engage as/with Carla, in your writings, and your Queer Horror screening series, there’s so much more to this work. Could you talk about the vitality in Looking for Tiger Lily (Solo)?
AH/CR: I regret ever calling Carla a persona, and I’m trying to find other words for what she is. I read an interview with Taylor Mac where the interview brought up that word—persona—Taylor responded that “‘persona’ is a misnomer,” and that, instead of a persona, drag is what happens when Taylor’s insides explode outside. I couldn’t have found better words for it. I fought the idea that Carla was in any way or shape me, or something more than a character, for years. Looking for Tiger Lily (Solo) has flashes of this—she opens the show, then I take over, then she haunts me here and there and challenges me and my qualifications as author/performer (after all, she’s “the famous one. Nobody even knows who you are!”). It’s taken Tiger Lily for me to realize that Carla, like Taylor’s drag, is my ultimate form—my ultimate gender expression. She’s when I feel the most me—who or whatever that is—and the most free and fearless. The play version of Looking for Tiger Lily, making its world premiere at Artists Repertory Theatre next May, is even more about this. It opens with Carla and I breaking up, and my whole sense of self and reality goes out the window as she takes the world by storm. In other works, like at Queer Horror, or my performances of Girl with a Cigarette at the Portland Art Museum, Carla becomes sort of a hybrid—I look like her, but I break character to flesh out the world of the performance and the commentary I can offer. The lines between us blur and we wax and wane from one to the other. Carla’s not smart, but I am, and sometimes I have to come through to add footnotes and context. And sometimes she has to come through to make a doody joke because I’ve been pontificating too long and the audience has fallen asleep.
LM: But let’s also talk about the critical edge to Looking for Tiger Lily (Solo)—because it’s present, but I wanted to acknowledge the complexity of it with you. For instance, the work lampoons the 1960s production of Peter Pan, which features Sondra Lee, a white woman, as the “Indian Princess” Tiger Lily, which you said you saw as a child, alongside a host of other harmful cultural references. It’s layered. So, how do you compose this critique? What’s your process?
AH/CR: This show started as a dare—I was afraid to perform without the clown paint, and I also enjoyed a degree of anonymity. I’m fairly private, or I try to be as private as a public person can, and not many people knew anything about Anthony until Looking for Tiger Lily (Solo). They only knew the clown. People would boo at cabarets when Carla would make jokes about being the ghost of white privilege or the whitest woman this side of Lake Oswego. So, I made this “coming out” show about myself and my family and what it meant to grow up looking white but also being Native and queer, and I knew I had to start with Mary Martin’s Peter Pan, my four-year-old favorite. That was the root of it all—the “Indians” in that show are played by white people who looked more like my Mom and me than my Dad and my Grandma and Aunties and cousins. I loved it as a kid, but how did that image impact my own sense of self, conflated furthermore by how people project whiteness onto me? In setting off in this story about confronting one of my favorite stories, and wondering what to do with it—and redface—I knew I had to confront the rest of the American canon of redface. Actual Native representation is so limited in pop culture, and most Americans don’t even know Natives are still alive—instead they think of Westerns, Disney’s Pocahontas, Cher’s Half-Breed (another childhood favorite), Coachella headdresses, and cigar store statues, and that history hasn’t just invented an American myth of the Indian, it’s invented a whole Bizzaro-universe funhouse mirror that constantly hangs over the self-image of so many Native Americans. It’s all a rich and imaginary and fucked-up history, and in Looking for Tiger Lily (Solo) it becomes a candy store for Carla and me to draw from.
LM: Keeping with this rich critique, your work also particularly features whiteness—in all of its privileged glory. Carla seems to portray, as Jenna Lechner wrote, the “awfulness” of it. It’s awful in its subjugation of difference. And yet, it’s awe-full, as in, charmed by itself. How do Carla and Anthony negotiate this?
AH/CR: Carla’s line that always used to get me in trouble (and sometimes still does) with particularly fragile audiences is, “I’m the ghost of white privilege, and that’s hilarious because white privilege will never die.” Carla isn’t white, and she isn’t human, but she wants to be. She’s taken “white” literally and paints herself like a clown. In Looking for Tiger Lily (solo), I explore being Native from the perspective of also being half white, and feeling less-than because I grew up without traditions, and because people walking down the street encounter me and address me as a white man, because of visuality—because we’re hunting animals who see another and have to identify it—regardless of what I may actually be. And in Looking for Tiger Lily (Solo), I talk about wishing it could be that simple, and wanting to be one thing: wanting to be a pretty white girl like Lana Del Rey, wanting to be a vaguely-ethnicized white woman like Cher, wanting to be a worldly, pan-cultural (in collection at least) white woman like Madonna. White is treated as default in American society, and anyone who isn’t, or who is more than, constantly measures themselves against this default. That’s double consciousness. It’s not just Carla’s aspiration—sometimes it’s mine. She’s my way of lampooning whiteness and its awfulness, the violence and the dehumanization that it’s caused, but she’s also my way of holding myself (and my place in it) accountable. After all, my brothers are much darker than I am, and they grew up and still live on the Rez, and I’m living a very different life. The way I look has absolutely opened doors for me, I’m sure of it. So, I take that as a responsibility to act as a sleeper agent, a Manchurian Candidate, an infiltrator, whenever I can. I hear the terrible things white people say when they think “the others” aren’t around, and all that gets transmuted into the coal I shovel into Carla’s mouth.
LM: This awfulness is “charming” because we recognize it. In Carla’s critique, does she offer a way to address it? Call out? Combat?
AH/CR: Everything she says, even when she’s “sincere” (it’s an important character note that she’s incapable of sincerity, and everything she says is a fraud, an act), is meant to point to its own failure, to expose the cracks in whiteness, myths of racial purity, and essential, fixed identities. When we opened Queer Horror’s screening of Candyman, she told Kimber Shade “I’m not a racist! I’m colorblind. I listened to En Vogue once.” A thinking audience should hear the satire in that line, even if Carla’s convinced herself that she believes it. She’s kind of like Trump in that respect. Every word he says should be a parody of itself, but for some reason people believe in it and empower it and inflict violence at its call. But critical thinking is dying in the age of Russian bots and headline journalism, and some people bizarrely take Trump’s words as fact. I guess he’s also not in drag or in clown makeup, which benefits my aims if not Carla’s—drag tells people, or at least it should, that what we’re seeing and the tools we’ve been taught to see with are lies and illusions and constructions, so that definitely helps drive the point home.
LM: Doubling back to a point from earlier, Looking for Tiger Lily (Solo) recounts your childhood experience—what is it like re-performing that formative time each time on the stage?
AH/CR: On one level, it’s bizarre. I’m casually obsessed with the idea of memory and the fact that no memories are truly real—they’re always reinventing and reconstituting themselves each time we “remember”—so I sometimes wonder how much of this show actually happened (it all did, right?). On another level, it’s also a tribute to the child and teenager I used to be, each very different people in their own respects, and I’m grateful for having this space to honor them; in many ways they’re braver and much more creative than this version of me will ever be. Back to the bizarre end, the play premiering at Artists Rep is a trickier beast—it’s semi-autobiographical, and a fiction taking place after this piece, but still set in the past—and in that version Carla starts as a clown doll belonging to young Anthony. As a kid I remember pretending to go to Neverland with my stuffed animals, but as I was writing and rehearsing and workshopping the play’s script, I found myself wondering if that actually was Carla’s origin—did I have a doll of her that eventually became a chunk of my psyche?—even though I knew it wasn’t. I’ve spent a decade writing and charting this history of Carla’s existence throughout time, and sometimes I wonder if she is actually a trickster spirit who’s tethered herself to me. Being an artist is always going to be weird because we create new and alternate realities for the world. Whenever it gets autobiographical things get even weirder because we’re creating new and alternate realities for ourselves, new and alternate versions of ourselves. I find myself losing track of these things as I get older—the play is also entirely about this—but I’m also less obsessed with keeping track, and more welcoming of not knowing, of doubting and questioning any idea of an origin or core or truth. It’s all a soup.
LM: Vital soup. You’ve discussed the difficulty of Looking for Tiger Lily (Solo)’s reception, as white progressive audiences can “share in a vulnerable moment and feel like they’re part of the solution—that they’re doing the work.” How else could you envision its reception? Perhaps as a practice?
AH/CR: I was feeling particularly salty the day I wrote that, that white audiences feel like they’re championing a cause by watching me talk about identity confusion. But to the flipside of that saltiness, to some extent they are. White, or straight, or otherwise “normative” people (or Baby Boomers) who come to this show—and do the work of listening—are challenging themselves to connect to someone else’s experiences. That’s challenging for any of us. That’s empathy. And empathy’s the only way we’re truly going to get out of the mess we’re in (it’s also what the Internet is teaching us to ignore, and what Trump is trying so hard to make us forget as he shocks-and-awes his way across all forms of government, policy, and ways of living). When I was first developing this show, I always worried over who could possibly connect with this piece. I worried you’d have to be a half-Native, half-white, from a small town, gay, gender confused, queer, fat kid obsessed with Peter Pan and Cher to get anything from this show. But when I first performed the workshop here as a preview at Risk/Reward and then as a premiere at the Hollywood Theatre, so many people told me I was telling their story: they were bi but they felt invisible; they were Mexican but they inherited their father or mother’s fairness like I did; they didn’t know how to identify, like I don’t. They all felt less-than. And so many of us feel less-than. American capitalism tells all of us—truly, all of us, except maybe a few campaign donors at Mar-a-Lago, and even then who knows—that we’re less-than. And I think acknowledging that less-than and questioning what motivates it and where it comes from—and what power is telling us we’re less—is a crucial step to building ourselves and each other back up.
LM: This last question might sound trite, but it’s totally real if we’re really thinking about transformative experiences: What is Carla’s wildest dream for TBA?
AH/CR: The year is 2050 and the earth feels like it’s on fire. Carla descends from the heavens on a giant hot dog blimp above the open-air stadium of TBA50, wearing a Follies-style headdress made entirely of hot dogs. Calliope music and a jolt of wailing electric guitar heralds her arrival as spotlights cut back and forth across the sky. She lifts a microphone to her lips while the water-scavenging iPeople of DisneyWorld™ scurry on the ground, anxiously awaiting a declaration that she’s come to save them, their future, and the earth. They drag dry tongues across chapped lips hoping for precious water to miraculously pour forth from her sausage zeppelin. Instead she takes a breath, instantly chokes on her own saliva, drops the mic, fumbles for it, and slides right off her blimp, hurtling breathlessly toward the ground and belly-flopping onto the barren soil with a SLAP and a clown horn. Her impact triggers the supervolcano at Yosemite, the sky erupts into flame, smoke suffocates the earth, and everything turns to char. Millions of years later blue skies break out of the clouds and a body of water below reflects this spectacular hue. Just off the shore, the hopeful squeak of a tiny beast tells us it’s found its food, and something green sprouts out of a clown-shaped crater.
Anthony Hudson (Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde) is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, performer, and filmmaker perhaps best known as Portland’s premier drag clown, Carla Rossi, an immortal trickster whose attempts at realness almost always result in fantastic failure. Together they host and program the bimonthly Queer Horror—the only exclusively LGBTQ horror screening series in the country—at the historic Hollywood Theatre. In 2018, Anthony was named a National Artist Fellow by the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, a Native Launchpad artist by the Western Arts Alliance, and an Individual Artist Fellow by the Oregon Arts Commission in 2019. Anthony’s first solo as Carla Rossi since 2014, Clown Down: Failed to Mount, will premiere at PNCA this November, and Anthony’s first professionally-produced theatrical play—a multi-actor version of Looking for Tiger Lily commissioned by Artists Repertory Theatre—will make its world premiere in May 2020.
Laurel McLaughlin is a writer and curator from Philadelphia, currently based in Portland, OR. She received degrees from Wake Forest University, The Courtauld Institute of Art, and Bryn Mawr College, and is currently a PhD Candidate in the History of Art at Bryn Mawr College. Her research examines the intersections of contemporary performance, new media, and migration. She has presented her research at the University of California, Berkeley, the College Art Association, New York, and the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present, Hong Kong, among others. Additionally, she has held curatorial fellowships and research positions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Slought Foundation, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the ICA Philadelphia.
by Robert Ham
Originally published in the Portland Mercury
It’s impossible to do anything quietly within the Portland’s nearly 130-year-old First Presbyterian Church. Everything inside is made of wood: the pews, the seats, the floors, the doors. And that wood creaks and groans with the slightest shift of your body. Or if you want to leave the sanctuary unobtrusively—after listening to an hour of experimental music on the church’s massive pipe organ, played by composer Kara-Lis Coverdale, as part of PICA’s Time Based Art (TBA) Festival.
Coverdale didn’t give those folks much concealment either. Rather than overwhelming with booming drones and huge triumphal swells of sound, she played with the instrument’s subtleties and emphasized overtones that emerge when otherwise conflicting notes and chords are played simultaneously.
Her composition, titled “DIAPASON,” was written specifically for First Presbyterian’s organ—which was custom built in the ’90s from designs first conceived in the 17th Century. It wasn’t clear whether Coverdale knew the specifics of the instrument before she arrived in town, but whatever the case, she coaxed some delightfully unusual tones from it.
In the opening section, her left foot held down a pedal that drew out a low throbbing drone, like wind pressure on the ears when driving with a window cracked. She played cycling melodies that shifted and adapted throughout—dropping a note here, adding a few there. They effect sounded synthetic, as if sampled from a Perrey-Kingsley album or Messiaen’s ondes Martenot. The work swung like a slow pendulum between those two poles, with long drones that utilized as many single notes as her fingers could reach, and lighter more fluid segments that combined rather nicely with the noise of traffic and crows outside the church.
Coverdale treated the pipe organ with reverence. She sat down on its wooden bench with care and just as carefully removed her body from it 90-minutes later. Every movement of her hands and arms looked fluid and meticulous. At the same time, she put her whole body into the performance, swaying back and forth or rolling her head and shoulders in response to the smoothly sweeping chords.
The audience (those who stuck around past the 60-minute mark, who were the majority) responded with an equal amount of piety. They leaned forward to rest their heads on the back of the seat in front of them or, in some cases, laid down completely in their own pews, but they were rapt. So much so that, beyond the occasional cough or the whine of wood, it was pin-drop-quiet in the church’s nave. I’m not sure Coverdale was expecting that, and between two movements of “DIAPASON” she sat silently, twisting her hands in circles on the organ’s bench. Was she waiting for applause, or for the audience to give themselves over to coughs and mumbles? Neither arrived, and it lent a quiet tension to those brief moments, which unraveled the moment her hands landed on the keyboard.
When aesthetic, ethical, political, and poetic dimensions coincide. A Conversation about NEXUS 1 with Adela Demetja
Adela Demetja with Laurel McLaughlin
Over a shared document, Adela Demetja and I had the chance to collaborate on the following conversation. Back and forth, we sent one another edits, rephrasing, and commenting on various portions of the conversation—at other times, pausing to consider a particularly resonant concept (many times for my part). What was not occurring in real time for convenience sake, was imitating the kind of expanded performance that Demetja implements within the exhibition structure of NEXUS 1, featuring the work of Dante Buu, Raluca Croitoru, Adela Demetja, Emily Henderson, Adrian McBride, and Selma Selman. The contours of the conversation, much like the oft-presumed temporally linear, individual, and medium-specific borders of an exhibition, were reconceptualized outside of their normative bounds, in disparate times and spaces, individually and collectively.
Laurel McLaughlin (LM): Could you tell me how the collaboration of NEXUS 1 began?
Adela Demetja (AD): NEXUS 1 emerged conceptually in this constellation in the beginning of 2019. I just had gotten back from Portland, where I spent 5 weeks in a residency at PICA. During my stay in Portland, I had the chance to meet a lot of artists and curators, and visit different institutions. Among the practitioners I got to meet were Portland-based art historian, curator, and writer Emily Henderson, and sound artist Adrian McBride. With both of them I had done a small collaboration for the project 9 Hours Away that I presented at PICA in November 2018, where I combined together in a 90-minute program, four video works of European artists Silva Agostini, Chto Delat, Anna McCarthy, and Damir Očko, part of an installation by American artist Abigail DeVille, and an audio conversation between Emily and me. At the same time, I had just met Raluca Croitoru in New York, as both of us where part of the Artslink International Fellowships organized by CEC Artslink, an amazing program that offers to artists and arts managers/curators from overseas countries a five-week residency at an established, non-profit arts organization in the U.S. Through a call for projects, CEC Artslink gives former fellows the opportunity to apply for co-production support to undertake projects in the United States as a way to continue and deepen the relationships that emerged during the residency. I saw this call as an opportunity to continue the collaboration with PICA and the artists that I met in Portland; and this time, to involve Raluca Crotirou, Dante Buu and Selma Selman as well, whose practices I knew, but had not had the chance to work with directly yet. While thinking about the nature of this project, I looked for a definition that would reflect the process and the nature of this undertaking. The Latin word “nexus,” meaning “a binding together,” “a connection or a series of connections linking two or more things,” was, for me, the perfect definition for my conceiving and curatorial approach. NEXUS 1, therefore, is the format or the structure in which the practice of these European and American art practitioners and different media of performance, video, installation, sound, and language bind together. In terms of content, it was important for me to combine the works of these specific participants in NEXUS 1, in order to create a piece that would reflect on relevant issues for both the current situation in the U.S. and Europe.
Courtesy of the artist.
LM: NEXUS 1 also emerged from a residency—at PNCA and PICA. What were the structures, aims, or questions that the residency posed?
AD: NEXUS 1 was put together for the stage during a 10-day residency where all the participants came together to Portland to create in collaboration the final presentation. For me, NEXUS 1 functions structurally like a group exhibition, where different art works come together and need to be placed in space and, in this case as well, within time. I call this format a time-based exhibition. For example, Raluca and Selma are participating with performances that they have created and performed before, but here, they had to make a different version of it. Dante Buu has developed a new performance which he will be showing for the first time in Portland. Apart from the performances, I have asked Selma, Dante Buu, and Raluca to create or adapt video works, which are projected in the space. Some of the video elements have been developed during the residency as well. With Emily, I have been developing a written conversation, and during the residency we continued to write together in order to include thoughts more related to the immediate experience and we finally recorded it. I asked Adrian to create a soundtrack which has been prerecorded and runs in the background of the entire piece. During the show, he is intervening live with instruments and, during the residency and the rehearsals, he had the chance to develop his approach in relation with the movements of the other performers. In a way, during the residency, we had to combine and re-adapt all the pre-produced elements together, while including new ones that emerged during the process and supporting each other technically. It was important as well that all the participants get to know the practices of one another and meet in person. Taking into consideration that the piece combines the format of exhibition and stage, the Mediatheque at PNCA and its experimental environment, offered the right conditions for us to meet and to rehearse during the residency and the final shows.
LM: What was your curatorial methodology for this project?
AD: My curatorial approach combines and explores interdisciplinary methods of working together and gives priority to collaboration, exchange, and process. I believe that it is possible to have a curatorial practice that is not based on a specific methodology but on performative discourse while aiming at producing meaning. Through my practice, I aim at breaking with temporary and unique features of the contemporary exhibition and propose enduring ways of working together. I am interested in the idea of an exhibition in flux, that continuously keeps developing and changing in time.
LM: Could you discuss your processes of collaboration with the artists and perhaps give us insight into their working processes with one another?
AD: An important aspect of the collaboration has been the concept that each artwork/element should keep its identity and integrity. By this, I mean that each of the elements in the piece is developed so that it can function by itself even if taken apart. When combined with other elements, it contributes to a greater meaning and understanding.
The first layer we concentrated on has been text/language and content; the second layer was moving images; the third layer was movements on stage; and the fourth layer has been sound and music. For these four layers I have discussed, exchanged, and collaborated with each of the participants separately so they could create the single elements first. During the residency in Portland, we then all worked together as a group to bring the single elements together according to a script I proposed. Each overlapping or interaction between the aforementioned layers is the result of a collaboration between the participants.
For the most part, the collaboration happened on-site during the rehearsals, where the shared stage has served as container where each of the participants had to perform his/her own work while respecting the others. By having worked on a set of elements separately, we also have the possibility in the future to combine them and rearrange them every time different and in smaller groups. For example, the soundtrack, combined with the audio conversation with Emily, and video material, can create a new work. Collaboration, therefore, is presented and understood as an option not an obligation.
LM: The exhibition then culminates, in a way, in a singular work by all of the practitioners. As such, it challenges the concept of authorship, but medium-specificity as well. Could you describe their collective and intermedial approach?
AD: My idea from the beginning on was to create an exhibition for the stage and one of the questions that I was interested in was, how to include different performances as part of one exhibition. Most of the time, performances are not really part of exhibitions but events in conjunction to it. My interest in performance is due to its power to communicate, transmit, and inspire, especially within the engaged art discourse. When I invited Selma, Raluca, and Dante Buu to perform simultaneously in the same space, they were challenged by the idea but saw this as an opportunity to try something new. By proposing an understanding of authorship as a collective act, the piece does not challenge the concept of authorship per se, but its relationship with hierarchy. What I like about NEXUS 1 is the intelligibility and transparency that it enables, while at the same time being an exhibition made of different works/elements and a singular work/piece. The “singular work” though becomes such only through its enactment—its performativity in time and space. And it is through this enactment that the binding and a unity (rather than a singularity) is achieved. The practice of all the involved practitioners evolves beyond the post-modern, medium-specific discourse and so does NEXUS 1. For us, aesthetic ethical, political, and poetic dimensions coincide.
Courtesy of the artist.
LM: The artists come from the United States (specifically Missouri and Oregon), Montenegro, Romania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The concept of international exchange is salient, and even radical, within the project. Could you discuss this strategy historically within SEE (Southeast Eastern European) countries and what you hope a “binding” exchange can bring to this exhibition situated in the turbulent and divided U.S. context?
AD: Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, international exchange, collaborative projects, and initiatives have been informing the cultural scene of SEE and Europe in general. Especially in the independent art scene of countries like Albania, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Romania. They are independent and financed solely from foreign international exchange project grants. There is still a lack of structures and financial support on national levels, which makes survival for young and emerging artists difficult. While within Europe, the commune culture policy of European Union makes it possible to keep international exchange alive, but it is much more difficult to find ways to collaborate with U.S. artists and institutions. CEC Artslinks is one of the few initiatives in the U.S. that fosters the collaboration with overseas countries, especially with Central and Eastern European countries.
During my first visit to Portland, I was very surprised to realize that socially and political people here are facing similar problems as in Europe, although the context may be different. This is a fact that we can use to connect and unify in fighting, resisting, and overcoming these problems together. We hope that through this collaboration we can use the different perspectives brought up by the participants to communicate with the public while creating awareness and inspiring viewers. We hope to continue this collaboration and strengthen it in the future, involving other colleagues and institutions from the U.S.
LM: How does the project resonate with TBA19’s missive to celebrate artists of our time, collectively gather in real time, and venture into the unknown?
AD: Taking into consideration the form, content, and process of NEXUS 1, as discussed above, I feel like we are at the right place and at the right moment in time. PICA and TBA put a lot of effort in supporting engaged and experimental artists and productions. By being open and visionary they have become one of the most important hubs for engaged contemporary art discourse. We are happy to be sharing and experiencing this gathering with a great number of other practitioners. In this coming together, and through practicing what we believe, we unite, reaching our potential in the present, and creating our future.
LM: How does NEXUS 1 align or deviate from your curatorial work as the Director of the Tirana Art Lab—Center for Contemporary Art, Albania, and independently?
AD: At Tirana Art Lab (TAL) our curatorial and managerial approach is based on the concept of the rhizome. With our program, we try to resist politicization, polarization, and neo-colonial practices in contemporary societies. Therefore the curatorial practice of TAL takes into consideration various approaches like inside-out, bottom-up, polyphony, transparency, and inclusion.
In NEXUS 1, I have used similar approaches and have been interested in creating a relevant conversation binding together the voices of European and American practitioners. The voice of the artist of Romani origins, Selma Selman, is representative of her life struggles and the struggles of her community. The voice of Dante Buu is rooted in intimacy, and addresses today’s brutal sociocultural environment and questions concerning gender roles, identities, sex, and stereotypes. Raluca Croitoru’s voice reflects upon individual and collective corporeal memory and the social symptoms of neoliberal capitalism. The voice of Emily Henderson reflects poetically upon our relationship to nature and the intangible. The “voice” of Adrian McBride, in the form of sound/music, functions as an abstract connector and creates harmony between all the other voices. Although NEXUS 1 is the first in the series, and it was derived from a similar format that I initiated at Tirana Art Lab under the name of the Performative Exhibition. This format intends to disclose exhibiting and to make public through performativity not only the processes of artistic creation and curating, but also find ways to include in the exhibiting process the means of production behind and beyond the event itself. NEXUS 1 is intended as a series that I will continue to produce in different constellations and contexts.
LM: How do you hope audiences will encounter NEXUS 1?
AD: I am very happy that an experimental collaboration, bringing such different perspectives and characters, has been welcomed by PICA and TBA, and we hope as well that the public will appreciate it the same way. To me, as a curator, and for the all the practitioners, the public and relationship we build with them are crucial to our work. In NEXUS 1, the public sits in the middle of the installation and, in this way, it becomes part of the piece. To be acting and presenting publicly is both an honor and an obligation to use the exhibition as wisely and carefully as possible. We have the opportunity to communicate, to inspire, to empower and we hope to be able to transmit an uplifting experience.
LM: Your thoughts were so insightful and I’m very grateful for your participation in this interview project. I think TBA audiences will really value the chance to read about your perspective in depth here.
AD: Thank you dear Laurel, for your challenging and inspiring questions and point of view.
Adela Demetja is a curator and author born in 1984 in Tirana, Albania. She holds a Master’s Degree in Curatorial and Critical Studies from Goethe University and Städelschule, Frankfurt/Main, Germany. Demetja was first trained as a painter and studied from 2002 to 2006 at Academy of Art in Tirana, Albania. She is the director of Tirana Art Lab–Center for Contemporary Art, Albania’s leading independent art institution, which she established in 2010.
Laurel McLaughlin is a writer and curator from Philadelphia, currently based in Portland, OR. She received degrees from Wake Forest University, The Courtauld Institute of Art, and Bryn Mawr College, and is currently a PhD Candidate in the History of Art at Bryn Mawr College. Her research examines the intersections of contemporary performance, new media, and migration. She has presented her research at the University of California, Berkeley, the College Art Association, New York, and the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present, Hong Kong, among others. Additionally, she has held curatorial fellowships and research positions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Slought Foundation, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the ICA Philadelphia.
By Kyle Cohlmia
Lucy Cotter, artist, curator, and writer sat down with Adela Demetja and collaborators Raluca Croitoru and Emily Henderson to discuss their upcoming performative exhibit, Nexus 1, which also includes work by Dante Buu, Adrian McBride and Selma Selman. The conversation was held at NW Documentary on Tuesday, September 10th, 2019 at 12:30 p.m.
During the conversation, Adela Demetja, artist and curator currently based out of Albania and Frankfurt, dove into to the collaborative process of her most recent project, Nexus 1, a time-based exhibit including herself and four other artists from Europe and the US. She outlines this experimental exhibition as a “development of my work over the last ten years,” and an expansion of the traditional exhibit format. Raluca Croitoru and Emily Henderson followed to introduce their involvement with the project.
Demetja met Croitoru, visual artist and performer from the Netherlands, in New York last year during Croitoru’s residency. The project includes Croitoru’s performative work, as she describes as a mix of choreography as an aesthetic practice and social commentary. Additionally, during her residency at PNCA and PICA, Demetja developed a relationship with Henderson, art historian, writer and curator from Portland. The exhibit will include an auditory layer of the conversation-turned-long-form-poem between Demetja and Henderson that discusses their public and personal lives as well as art in the context of their current locations.
Two other Nexus artists were in the audience, Dante Buu from Rozaje, who stated that he utilizes embroidery to symbolize the importance of storytelling in otherwise voiceless communities and Selma Selman from Bihac and NYC, whose work, she describes as, connecting to the theory of quantum physics called superposition, representing her own identity and the possibility of all people existing in all spaces. Not present was Adrian McBride, an artist and musician from Portland, who was at the site creating sound for the performance.
The term nexus is Latin for binding or binding together. Nexus brings together these artists, a “constellation of individuals,” as Cotter expressed. Additionally, Cotter explained the process of creating this unique form of exhibition, whereas the five artists have six days to collaborate intensively with the starting piece that they initially brought with them; the final product working collectively, while each piece can separately exist on its own.
While listening to the four women on stage discuss their work, the direction of contemporary curation and the collaboration of Nexus, I kept thinking about the term vulnerability. For the artists, the vulnerability to step into the space of uncontrollability (Croitoru illustrating as, “at times, the work controls me,” and where Henderson expresses as the “not knowing”) positions them into a new realm of artmaking where their work is not only ephemeral but contextually dependent on one another. Additionally, curator, Demetja invites vulnerability by creating a non-traditional exhibition form, pushing against old artifices and leaving behind long-established notions of how and how long artwork should be displayed. For the public, the viewer can be vulnerable to experience something new, the additive layers of text, movement, aesthetics, sound, and poetics, combine the practices of these artists whose perspectives come from various locations and socio-political contexts but simultaneously collide into one piece.
This delightful and inspiring conversation between Demetja, Croitoru, Henderson and Cotter was saturated with the theme of vulnerability, which is required by all to collaborate, curate, and view this exhibit in totality, to take in the separate and multifaceted layers that expand and contract into the embodied experience that is Nexus 1.
Nexus 1 performances will take place at Pacific Northwest College of Art on Thursday, September 12th and Friday, September 13th at 6:30 p.m.
by Ellen Robinette
Prior to the film screening, Eiko Otake takes the stage to speak a moment. She gives context to her project, of the tragedy experienced by collective populations and her personal witnessing — the incidents of September 11th in the US and the triple disasters that hit Fukushima. Otake had participated in an artist residency, located in one of the Twin Towers, just a year prior to 9 / 11. “Seeing the towers fall… I actually lost my mind, entire body to the floor”. She speaks steady, with an occasional pause, but with a passion behind her words. “The things we build are bound to break and no one expects it”, Otake says of human structures; that we don’t carry the same expectation for smaller things (ie. radio or dishes) but expect it of buildings. Two years later, on March 11th, Fukushima was hit with a tsunami, an earthquake, and a nuclear accident. It was, as Otake describes, the “second biggest shock, not as a surprise but because it happened”.
The film begins, consisting of a series of photographs taken at disaster sites in Fukushima. The name of the location and distance from a disaster point is listed on the screen at the beginning of each sequence. There is some additional text between that is narration, personal insight from Otake. Many of the shots included Otake, laying, dancing, interacting with the space. Her movement is implied by the positions captured and the speed the photos are changed. Playing throughout the film, there is a soundtrack made up of ambient sounds coordinating with the images. It includes insects buzzing, birds chirping, the wind and other elements, string instruments, machinery–a mix of nature and man made.
Otake visits sites such as the remains of a home (both in 2014 and 2016). She is dressed in traditional japanese robes, with bold patterns and often bright colors. When she returns at the later date all evidence of the house is gone; once a pile of rubble and ruins now just a pile of dirt. Otake wonders if it has been buried underneath, or demolished entirely. She does this for all the locations, coming multiple times over the course of years to bear witness to the changes. A transit station (2014 then 2017) — “My body remembers this place. My body remembers the remorse” reads in white text on black, then shows Otake laying alongside the platform, heaviness to her body.
Entire towns were destroyed, never to return to their entirety. Photos show their lifespan, first decimated by disaster, then cleared / decontaminated, and sometimes repopulated; or more often, not and left to sit baren. Later in the film, it is explained that unused land not common in Japan, so there is significance of empty fields, and abandoned spaces. Photos of Otake play, eyes downcast as if mourning, a sadness running through her whole body. She is standing near a tangled mess of boats, the sound of waves crash, as text informs that the water is contaminated. “Things humans create resemble humans” Otake notes. The remaining structures standing are described with words like ‘exposed belly’, ‘ribs’, and ‘spilled guts’. A shot of Otake, red against blue sky, on a station platform where nothing else remains. A makeshift memorial has appeared, grows over time / with each visit, and a garden is planted. A few years later, in 2016, it is all gone. Otake moves through the empty space with a dance that appears to grieve loss, and loss again. Another year passes, and an entire new station has been built. Text flashes: “staging normalcy”.
Otake’s figure appears, dressed in all white against the backdrop of a wall built of black trash bags. Later, an inverse shows as Otake stands in a dark robe against a pale wall holding contaminated debris. Her smallness is evident, magnified by the mass amounts of ruin. In the final sequence of photos, Otake is on beach 4 miles from one of the fallen power plants. She is dangerously close for exposure, acknowledged in her narrative text that she should not be there. Her body seems slightly more calm here, in her expressions and poses. The alternating text reveals Otake’s thoughts on human desire and praise to make things quickly without thoughts on consequences. “We are breakable” she reminds — a description of our structures as well as our individual selves.
Afterwards, Otake shares a little more about her process. The red cloak seen in the film is silk, dyed a vivid vermillion hue, and was made from ancestor’s kimonos with help from her mom. The photos were taken by William Johnston, and were never staged or posed. She danced / moved, and was documented in the act. Otake’s hope was to bring Fukushima to the public so no one would have to go themselves. She understands the severity of the situation, the risk of radiation. She is very serious and sincere in her intentions, but also displays her sense of humor, and is self-claimed to be ‘timid’. Nothing is rehearsed or pre-planned — “Going to Fukushima is my choreography”. Otake explains that somethings you can only know by going to the place, to feel remorse. Other things you don’t have to see for yourself, and are not necessary if it can spare you harm. That we need to trust others and what they say, to stay informed; that reading is an experience. Otake made the film for people to experience, and for her it was a chance to process loss and regret.
Miguel Gutierrez’s This Bridge Called My Ass Seeks to Destroy the Relationship Between Bodies and Objects
by Andrew Jankowski
by Andrew Jankowski
Searching for a way to connect choreographer Miguel Gutierrez’s performance This Bridge Called My Ass to the book from whence it takes its name This Bridge Called My Back, I found myself returning to a poem in the collection by Donna Kate Rushin, “The Bridge Poem.” “I’ve had enough,” Rushin declares, “I’m sick of seeing and touching / Both sides of things / Sick of being the damn bridge for everybody.” This Bridge Called My Back was a groundbreaking 1981 anthology by women of color, critiquing white feminism. Both the anthology and Gutierrez’s work clearly express frustration. Gutierrez uses the language of theatrical dance to convey the anthology’s ethos with light, sound, body, fabric, stools, electric power strips, clamps, and Mac laptops. It’s a challenging work—two people walked out of the performance I attended—but if you give it a chance, My Ass has a lot to say about the weariness of building impermanent connections, borders, and boundaries.
Performers Alvaro Gonzalez, John Gutierrez, Xandra Ibarra, nibia pastrana santiago, and Evelyn Sanchez Narvaez open the presentation by chanting in Spanish. They’re all clad in varied day-glo negligees. They alternate between stripping down—some changing into new garments—and dragging objects across PICA’s theater stage. With six bodies to focus on, its up to the viewer to prioritize order of observation. The dance is frenetic and the dancers are never dull—whether they’re dragging fabric with their feet, climbing through step ladders, slapping themselves, or humping speakers playing a mix of atonal noise, folk, and Pitbull. What matters is how you interpret these happenings—and in my case, I saw the laborious decontextualizing of how we understand the body’s interactions with objects and other bodies.
by Andrew Jankowski
My Ass contains moments where nude bodies interact in ways that are normally coded as sexual (like rubbing bearded faces on asses), but on the stage they lack eroticism. The forms of nude brown bodies and multicolored fabric is reminiscent of queer LA photographer Rakeem Cunningham’s work. As the lighting cues switch from blue-white tones to bright lights to seconds of total darkness, the audience sees Miguel Gutierrez and his fellow performers work in vain to form new connections between their bodies and cloth strung from the ceiling. Like the speaker in Rushin’s poem, Miguel and the other dancers are constantly at work: forming communicative labors, sick of seeing and touching, but unable to stop.
by Andrew Jankowski
Not even death marks the end of My Ass. In the last third of the show, the performers restore the stage by laying out the wrinkle-free fabrics like a politically-colored map and taking on lines that sounds like telenovela dialogue. As the audience is deprived of context, it’s hard to know what’s going on. Earlier the the audience laughed at scenes that didn’t seem humorous. This final scene seems like the most appropriate place for laughter. Every character dies by gun violence as they profess the undying connection of eternal love. A dog made of industrial clamps is slowly dragged across the stage as an esoteric, humorous monologue plays.
Both My Back and Miguel Gutierrez’s My Ass are immersive works, rich with meaning that will likely resonate deeply with viewers who aren’t traditionally represented in the world—not just literary and performance communities. While there’s an undeniable absurdity throughout My Ass, it’s not a work of comedy. It makes us question how we’ve built the values that have gotten us to this point, and leaves the viewer almost as weary as the performers—but better for being so directly challenged.
In Concert: Laura Ortman with Marcus Fischer
By Laurel McLaughlin
TBA19 Co-Artistic Director Erin Boberg Doughton welcomed the ample audience gathered in Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall to this opportunity to see musician, composer, and artist Laura Ortman (White Mountain Apache) and Portland-based musician and multimedia artist Marcus Fischer. When asked to perform for TBA19, Boberg Doughton recalled, Ortman was given the opportunity to work with a collaborator and immediately chose Fischer.
Photo by Sarah Marguier
I had seen works by Ortman and Fischer on view at the Whitney Biennial—Ortman with My Soul Remainer, 2017, a 5-minute video from her album of the same name, featuring Apache violin improvisations in the Southwest terrain with dancer Jock Soto (Diné), and Fischer, with a monumental sound sculpture, Untitled (Words of Concern), 2017, that recorded artists’ reactions to the inauguration of Donald Trump, layering their words on a monumental reel from floor to ceiling. Both artists are known for their collaborative approaches, and indeed Ortman would be joined by long-time collaborator, composer and installation artist, Raven Chacon (Navajo), for the next TBA performance, but, as with all improvisational collaboration, I wondered beforehand about this seemingly simple idea of being in concert—supposedly aligned.
Photo by Sarah Marguier
Together, the two walked on stage in darkness, approaching two separate sets. Ortman’s had a rug, armchair, looping pedals, microphone, loudspeaker, violin, bow, and wooden flute, and a variety of amps. Fischer’s had a synthesizer table, drum set, electric guitar, a spinning reel, and microphone. Wielding tuning forks, they began to “tune” the amps, bringing them into a gravely harmony against a neon pink, orange, and yellow background. With Ortman’s whispers and the grating of her bow against the electric violin, Fischer seemed to respond, echoing her with the strumming of his guitar strings against drumsticks. This echoing exchange continued, layering a kind of fabric between the two. Permeating beyond an alignment or echo, their concert ebbed and flowed in directions beyond two-dimensional metaphors. At times, a lyrical interlude from Ortman would cut across and through the undulating tapestry with that Fischer maintained throughout. In other moments, the two would speak in polyphony—Ortman over a loudspeaker and Fischer vibrating the edges of a spinning cymbal, looping back on one another. Having just relished Thomas Tallis’s 16th-century, 40-part choral work, Spem in Aliem in Ligia Lewis’s work Water Will (in Melody) an hour before, I couldn’t help but return to that bodily feeling of a wash of sound—one that displaces the artifice of concert and audience. One that, like the performers’ negotiations on stage and contrapuntal interaction, manifests within the vibrations seeping into my ears, despite my rational thought or not. One that when it ended, when the amps hummed as the only audible noise on stage, I was not left with the deafening silence of my own thoughts (thank goodness). It was one that two, and that was many, in countless directions, through limitless directions, and heard, felt, and experienced differently by every person in the room.
Photo by Sarah Marguier
by Kala Zanis
Sunday’s panel on hospitality, moderated by Spencer Byrne-Seres, began with an acknowledgment of the native land on which PICA was built. Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Cowlitz bands of Chinook, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla and many other Tribes were displaced by seizure and violent colonization. The displacement extends to the present. The warehouse space where the panel took place was introduced as a space that wasn’t designed to regard the human body as assembly and individual, but as a warehouse made for large trucks. Panelists remarked on the ongoing effort to translate a space for all bodies as an essential practice towards cultivating a sense of safety, hospitality, and belonging.
Beyond minimal accommodations legally proposed for the body, the directors and guests described their commitment to honoring the artistic body, singularly and communally. A crucial component of curating a space which expresses respect and reverence for bodies requires a critical look at the labor economy in artistic institutions from the people who administer them. The hope is to initiate artists, audience, and community into the space. The phenomenon of belonging is realized by an institution’s success in embodying an unconditional positive regard and sustainable interdependence with artists. The specific groups that panelists consider in this process include facilitators, museum audiences, and artists.
Panelists expressed a value for decentralizing power in institutions, moving forward through curation with “as little hierarchy as possible.” The task of curating artistic spaces in residential homes was said to present a sort of crisis in communicating the artistic intention of the space as the dominant mode over the domestic functions. The legitimacy of the domestic space seemed, to some, as a failing foundation for artistic community. Other community art directors discussed how they source and use second-hand material to furnish otherwise substandard spaces, like a dark basement, as spaces that welcome the body with all its needs, all its creativity.
A central effort in shifting the gaze of institutional hospitality has been offering communal meals and increasing access to food and personal goods throughout programming. The festival convenience store, open during program hours, was created to cater to miscellany and essentials. Historically, artistic institutions are spaces that cater exclusively to the white mind and body. The directors discussed their effort to solicit feedback from marginal communities that have been widely underserved and separated from integrating their experience in designing and participating in programming. Contemplating this insight was important in developing an idea of how the bodies of oppressed people read space, and how the resulting understanding either facilitates or hinders connective experiences.
Looking towards the future of hospitality in art, the directors questioned what the exact qualities of contemporary gallery are and who assumes the role of “arbiter” in establishing these norms. The imprint of such norms can be seen in the homogeneous publicity materials mailed out from museums. An imagination for hospitality in institutions is one step towards diverse, accessible, and nourishing creative spaces. As the panel came to a close, Director Roya Amirsoleymani addressed the audience and the panel, asking everyone to take what was discussed and use it to influence the spaces they occupy. The audience applauded before entering the festival’s outdoor common space. They gathered to sit at lunch tables, sheltered together, sipping cheap drinks in the rain.
Dystopian Cyberpunk Interpretive Dance With Notes of Blade Runner: Ligia Lewis’ Water Will (in Melody) at TBA 2019
by Ben Coleman
Photo by Ben Coleman
There’s a scene in the 1982 film Blade Runner where futuristic bounty hunter / cop-with-a-cool-jacket Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) shoots Pris (Daryl Hannah), a renegade “basic pleasure model” android with a penchant for violent gymnastics. In life, Pris is animated, sensual, and dangerous. But in the moment of her death she is reduced to a writhing tangle of jerking limbs, a broken toy wrapped in artificial flesh. If you have ever felt like that segment could be expanded on with (say, an hour of) interpretive dance, boy do I have the show for you.
Water Will (in Melody)‘s staging is kept to four women dancers on a black stage: choreographer and director Ligia Lewis performing the work “in creation with” Titilayo Adebayo, Dani Brown, and Susanne Sachsse. The set dressing is a single climbing rope. The lighting direction employs strobes, backlit fog, and even the house lights on occasion. The dancers wear a range of outfits: silk robes to plastic coveralls. They writhe and pirouette in harsh spotlights, moving through a series of routines, and occasionally interjecting a bit of spoken word here or a musical interlude there. At times, the performance felt frustratingly enigmatic—in particular, an extended German monologue that felt like a parody of high art obfuscation. But, in general, Water Will moved quickly, and few segments overstayed their welcome.
Most of the performance’s parsable dialogue has the quality of a DJ fixated on a particular sample: seemingly innocuous words and phrases looped and progressively distorted to hypnotic effect. There’s an element of performative femininity to many of these sequences, with the dancers spontaneously adopting chirpy voices, wide eyes, and mechanical smiles—as though they’ve temporarily become malfunctioning beauty pageant robots. Layered onto that mix is an almost Cronenbergian obsession with mouths, groins, and distorted physicality. The dancers move and are moved, often against their wills, displaying expressions of panic and disassociation in their eyes. They writhe on the ground, groping themselves in ways that might seem sexual if they weren’t so mechanically off-tempo.
Water Will is described in the program notes as “dystopian,” but I’d go a step further and say it’s distinctly cyberpunk. It invokes the image of a landfill for malfunctioning female bodies who were designed to be used up and discarded. Many are resigned to their fate, others are terrified, and some are seemingly complicit. The dancers wrestle, scream, pull hair, and reach for guidance, all of this inter-cut with frequent mechanical, inhuman tics and jerks.
Teasing out a narrative from a mostly non-verbal and, at times, deliberately abstract movement is either the fun part of interpretive dance or what makes it impenetrably vague. Water Will probably won’t make any new converts on that front, but there were some interesting through lines that even I, a relative neophyte, found intriguing. On a technical level, the dancers were agile, emotive, and either in concert or deliberately out of step with each other. The incidental music’s Brutalist baseline, sometimes augmented with angelic choral elements, complimented the mood of the piece effectively. The rope I could take or leave, but I don’t think it got in the way of anything.
by Ellen Robinette
People slowly trickle into a studio of cream walls and golden wood floors. They either take a seat or begin stretching / moving about slowly. Chatter flows freely, a friendly air established. As more join the space, it feels like a performance in itself as people scatter in various locations and poses. Daniel Giron enters and assembles everyone in a circle for an icebreaker — asking for people to share their name, preferred pronouns, and why they are there. A range of answers are given; some people love voguing and the culture, or come from a dance background; some are a part of PICA and were curious, while others come with a history in the club scene, and even some to perform in the kiki ball that evening.
Giron is dressed in a black sleeveless tank, patterned 80’s muscle pants, tube socks, and a gold chain. His voice is warm, his body expressive as his hands and arms gesture about gracefully.
He gives a history of ballroom and vogueing, distinguishing the two by explaining their origins. The three styles practiced are Old Way, New Way, and Vogue Femme, which is Giron’s expertise. After, everyone is led through a group stretch starting with the neck, rolling out the shoulders and chest, and finally arms out and down into a yoga-like lunge. Music is playing, people begin responding to it with free form movements as they observe themselves in the large mirror extending the length of one wall.
Giron pauses the music and takes a moment to acknowledge the privilege to learn vogue; something born in the streets and from marginalized groups that is now learned in a structured environment. He encourages people to be informed, to check out growing resources available on the culture. Giron is careful to explain everything — from the breakdown of the body going through poses, to the history of the poses themselves. He stresses that moves need to be made with intention and identity.
Hand mechanics consist of circles, taps, and waves. As Giron introduces each one, he is mindful of the differing skills levels while cracking jokes to keep the atmosphere fun. The room is filled with beautiful ripple of synchronized arms. Everyone practices the various mechanics with quiet focus, only Giron’s voice sounds with instructions or encouragement. He explains that you use movements to form a narration, maybe tell about yourself. “That’s what you can play with, and then you can tell a story with it.”
Music on — people start to wiggle to find their groove, starting at the hips per Giron’s lead. Arms alternate between out and tapping the shoulders, first slow then double time. Expressions on people’s faces are of concentration mixed with joy of moving, learning, pride, and energy found being a part of a group. Smiles crack as people really start to get into it, then reset into serious focus as new moves are introduced. Now comes the catwalk. Giron demonstrates by moving forward, slightly crouched and on tip toes, popping out a hip with each step. The participants are instructed to line up on the back wall, opposite of the mirror. The line moves forward in unison, a wave of snapping legs and pointed feet, until they reach the mirror to turn around and catwalk back. Each passing lap brings more comfortability and confidence, individual personalities come forth. The group is then broken up into threes to walk, with immediate support in response from those observing through clapping, snapping, and whooping.
The next piece taught is the duckwalk, in which you sit in a low squat and pulse / move to the beat. As people navigate the new move, or opt to sit out, Giron proposes to see who can last the longest while duckwalking. He explains that competition often is where the real magic of vogueing can occur. After the last participant is left ‘standing’, a water break is called. Music is left on and people openly move about, practicing, feelin’ themselves. Giron encourages “If you’re having fun with it, you’re doing it”.
Moving on to floorwork, which utilizes all of the body on the ground, Giron pushes that this is experimental and to try out anything. He demonstrates a slide / dive move that is met with a mix of confusion and laughter; people testing the boundaries of their body and mind. Giron notes that femme queens were also commonly sex workers, so you can see floorwork appear in other acts such as stripclubs. But floorwork is about confidence, not neccessarily sex appeal or being sexy, and he encourages to do what feels best. His demonstration of his personal floorwork style is met with ‘oos’ and cheers. Music on — the floor is open for free practice and a medley of different movements transpire. They are free yet calculated, again returning to that mix of focus and playfulness.
Lastly are dips, the sudden drop people are often familiar with in vogueing. Giron teaches them how to safely go about the move, gradually from standing to deep squat, a pivot, then lowering the rest of the body down with one leg and arms extended. People follow, cautiously but determined to reach the full dip. Once everyone is down, someone asks “How do you get up?” — to which another responds, “You never get up”. Giron is careful to show many variants / modifications to the move to have it be accessible. In the few remaining minutes people drop into their dips, and eventually it melts into movements encompassing the entire lesson. People are tired, but still eager to push on and continue expressing themselves through their newly learned vogueing practice.
TBA 2019: Photos of Cannupa Hanska Luger at c3: initiative
by Briana Cerezo
Photo by Briana Cerezo
Last night Cannupa Hanska Luger’s A Frayed Knot, AFRAID NOT exhibition opened at downtown art gallery C:3 Initiative as an offsite performance/installation, presented as part of this year’s Time Based Arts Festival (TBA). Luger is a New Mexico-based artist and was raised on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. He works with mediums as varied as ceramics, fiber, steel, cut-paper, sound, and video in his installations and performances. Mercury photographer Briana Cerezo captured images of the performance at the installation’s opening and the installation itself, which will remain on view through Friday, October 18th.
Photo by Briana Cerezo
Photo by Briana Cerezo
Photo by Briana Cerezo
Photo by Briana Cerezo
Photo by Briana Cerezo
Photo by Briana Cerezo
Noche Libre DJs at TBA 2019: There’s More to This Multi-Disciplinary Collective Than Meets the Ear
by Sebastian Zinn
Photo by Marin Hesely
The opening night, late-night performance of PICA’s Time Based Arts Festival (TBA), featured three members of the Noche Libre—a radical Latinx DJ collective—spinning records and new sounds for two glorious hours, throughout PICA’s cavernous mainspace. Festival attendees danced with friends and strangers after a long day of engaging with challenging performance art from the likes of Cannupa Hanska Luger, Eiko Otake, and Holland Andrews.
The three DJs representing Noche Libre were DJ Mami Miami (Chicana writer and regular Mercury contributer Emilly Prado), DJ Lapaushi (Ecuadorian DJ and visual artist Inés Paulina Ramírez), and DJ La Cósmica (writer, artist and DJ, Dez Ramirez). You can read their mission statement, discover upcoming shows, and find a full list of their members on their Facebook page. Stellar visuals for the performance were provided by Anabel Uyana (AKA Mofractal) a 2D and 3D motion graphics artist.
Photo by Marin Hesely
Speaking with Prado (a founding member of Noche Libre) a few hours before the show, Prado told me that the collective’s mission—to create space for Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, both on stage and among their audiences—extends beyond the DJ booth. All of the group’s members have aspirations besides DJing, but being part of the collective gives them a platform to support each other in other aspects of their lives. “Knowing you have a community, that has your back, makes us more powerful,” Prado said.
Around the world, dancehall music scenes try to create space for people to share embodied experiences safely, regardless of barriers like language, race, ethnicity, age, or gender expression. The members of Noche Libre, which translates roughly to “free night” or “night of freedom” strive to expand that endeavor and that “free night” to their audiences. Noche Libre’s eight members include writers, visual artists, entrepreneurs, activists, and music industry professionals. Their performance, opening this year’s TBA Festival, provided the perfect opportunity for them to further their expansive socio-political project: fostering diversity and inclusivity in all of their creative circles.
Photo by Marin Hesely
Good Food and Good Conversation: Two Essential Ingredients for a Block Party
By Christine Gwillim
What does it take to transform dinner into a party, and a party into a block party? For this year’s opening night at TBA, it was affordable tickets, BBQ, and some loud energetic tunes playing at the festival’s yearly half-block street-turned-beer garden. I showed up early, notebook in hand, expecting vendors, games and other usual block party activities. Instead, I met a simple buffet line, eager attendees, and electrified PICA staff for a simple, communal meal- and it was perfect.
The food was filling and tasty, there was plenty of seating, and most importantly folks were there to be with one another. Strangers sat alongside one another at long wooden tables, groups of friends convened in pockets near the bar and water cooler. Everyone talked, even when the music was so loud we had to yell. We smiled at one another through bites of coleslaw and ribs (or jackfruit) trading plans for the festival and sharing how and why we came to the festival.
A long, steady line snaked through the tables well into the party. At 8:30 there were still folks waiting to exchange tickets for a plate of BBQ. A person sat down next to me shortly after with a plate full of jackfruit, beans and rice and salad. I mentioned that I had eaten earlier, he asked if there had been meat- or if it was a vegan BBQ- there had, but it was gone- and he seemed fine with it.
I imagined a BBQ in my home, Austin TX, envisioning enraged attendees begrudgingly eating jackfruit instead of ribs. We talked about how we’d come from far- Texas and Arkansas, or near- Seattle and Portland locals- and why we came- to see new performances, to perform, to work, to stretch our imaginations. We were excited that the opening night meal was affordable, casual, and made space for us to meet people to connect with for the rest of the festival- and maybe, hopefully, beyond.
running, walking, standing: A Conversation with Mia Habib
Laurel McLaughlin with Mia Habib
Photo: Yaniv Cohen
Sitting with Mia Habib at Tiny’s Coffee near PICA, she tells me about ALL – a physical poem of protest. As she speaks, her curved gesticulations at one point embody the circle that she tells me is the operative choreographic shape of the work, and her voice automatically tunes to the background music—incrementally louder when the shop was rocking out, and settling quietly when languorous vibrations took over—micro-adjusting based on environment and people. These seemingly everyday gestures of sociality actually compose the real-time negotiations at the crux of Habib’s choreography. And in our conversation, I liked to think that perhaps these performative movements opened an iota of the bodily “micro-politics” of running, walking, and standing amongst the community performers in ALL – a physical poem of protest.
LM: At TBA19, you’re presenting ALL – a physical poem of protest at TBA:19 in collaboration with Shantelle Courvoisier Jackson, Tommy Noonan, and the Portland-based artist collective Physical Education. How did this this work come about, and how has it manifested in other spaces?
MH: The work originates from another work that premiered in 2015 named A song to…, where we worked with 16 professional dancers and 30 to 50 extras. So, we were about 60 people on stage. That piece for me, began when I was living in Tel Aviv when I was doing an MA in Conflict Resolution and Mediation. And this was at the same time when the Arab Spring started and the Occupy Movement began in the United States, and in southern Europe there were protests there as well. So, the summer of 2011, the protests started in Tel Aviv for social justice. It was a special moment because it was the first time that Israeli society openly said that they were positively influenced by the Arab world, and inspired to protest. So, people were out in the street and it was interesting to see how the protest turned into spectacle. And there was this belief that by being together and doing together, we can actually change something. There was this energy going on and I got interested in that energy created by the mass and bodies coming together in a physical space. This energy, then, is possible in a mass and is not possible with just a few bodies alone. I was fascinated in questioning what can a theater be, and then a performance, what space can that have when what’s going on outside is so powerful.
So, I started to work on a solo work at that moment, of trying to see how I could use what was going on with this energy that was going on outside and move it into a small theater. Then I was wondering how I can I find some ways of working with this that would create energy when the protests were over. That turned into something I called a mass solo, where basically it’s a solo that begins with one body in a two-space theater—there’s a stage and there’s an audience—and then it ends up being a one-space built-down theatre where the solo performer’s body is gone and the audience has taken over the performance. It’s called HEAD(s). With the terror attack on the 22nd of July in Norway, I saw these thousands of people coming together in public space and grieving, so I shifted my focus into the power of the mass, coming together in public space not only for protest, but the urgency to grieve together when the collective grief is, in a way, personal and collective, and they start to merge.
So, while working with the solo, I realized that for the next piece, I wanted to start with a mass on stage. That was the beginning, which led into A song to…, where I felt that a mass could be 16 dancers on stage. Then while we did some auditions, and at one point we had about 50 people running on stage, I was like, “Oh wow, we need at least 50 people to get this feeling that there could be hundreds or thousands more together.” These were the emerging points—the energy, the protesting body, and this ping-ponging between the singular and the mass—and this led us into thinking about the mass as being monumental.
It’s so big that somehow the human is erased, and it’s not about the nudity. The mass becomes abstract when you zoom out, it has a shape, then when you zoom in you see the different individuals. In the zooming out, it has this unifying, mass of lines and movement. The most unique we have is our bodies. The body is then like a projection screen where, through this repetition and ongoing insistence on this one score, for the audience there are many associations with which to travel when there are naked bodies, such as schools of fish, abstract lines, images of naked bodies—some of which aren’t pleasant historical images. But it’s this flow of association. In France when we did it, we had Kurdish female activists. And nudity there would’ve been an exclusionary choice. In some cases it makes more sense to be clothed, to be more inviting to more people. So, in looking at the monumentality of the mass, I also started to work on monumental body ideologies, and how these ideologies from the ‘30s and ‘40s, such as the New Soviet man, the New Jew in Zionism, the Übermensch in Nazism—they are these bodies that cannot be defeated. These ideologies that are coming back into focus. I think there is a way to touch these body images and crack them up somehow. There is a park in Oslo called the Vigeland Sculpture Park, and it opened in Norway during German Nazi occupation. It opened in the ‘40s and it portrays the monumental moments in life, like birth, death, aging, through these sculptures that portray the body ideology of the time. I worked with this question of: what would this park look like if it were made now? In a way, even though it’s stone, it’s white bodies portraying an older version of Nordic identity; so what would it look like if we worked with that information and really wondering what is the vulnerable body? What does the multiplicity of bodies mean? What about different bodies that are in the world, and what happens if those bodies build these monoliths that are so different from those from the ‘40s. Because this park is really seen as the jewel of our national heritage. That’s a lot of information, but those are the strands that came together for it.
And the end of that piece, there is a score that could go on forever—we call it the “radar”—and it’s a spiral that could keep on going for a long time. Doing the end of that piece, it has the potential to generate energy, and people both doing and watching it have very emotional reactions to it that can only happen when there are a certain amount of bodies. So, I chose to isolate that score and make this into the piece we have here now, which is ALL – a physical poem of protest. And the title, in some places works and in some places is maybe provocative like, “who is all? What does that mean?” In some ways, I have a problem with the title and I’d like to keep it that way. It doesn’t add up in a way. What for me is very exciting with this work is the fact that the work changes depending on every place in which it comes in contact with. For me, it’s research. It can be 10 minutes long, or for longer. Here, we’ll try it for 3 hours at PICA. So, first, it’s the duration. The second, is the placing of the audience—we’ve done different things, looking frontally at the work, around the work, or participating inside it. And third is the place—it can be in a gallery, as part of a protest, and then in other public spaces. We never know the work before it happens; so, in that sense it’s a premiere each time. It touches an urgency that occurs in public manifestations. You know, you don’t rehearse public manifestations—you can facilitate. You’ll see, it’s quite formal, with a clear shape. That also relates to calling it a physical poem—creating this distance to think about what a public manifestation can be. But within that formality and pre-set score, there is real-time negotiation with those that are participating. And I will say, that it is really a negotiation of difference, because we are gathering people who we don’t know in advance and many of them don’t know one another. Even though we follow the same directions of walking, running, standing, we walk differently, we have different perspectives of speed, and we take information differently. So, there’s really a real-time negotiation between strangers of doing this together and accepting that we do it differently, but allowing ourselves to build this energy together and engaging in something bigger than ourselves. And then we leave each other, and we’re still strangers to one another. We still don’t know each other. That’s very interesting in looking at public manifestations. There’s this huge emotion and belief that the world can be changed in a second, and then we leave each other and that was it somehow. Of course, change can happen, but in that moment, it’s something else. This is what I’m hoping the piece can tap into.
And then, by going into different contexts, it’s the idea that we connect to local artists and there’s a trace of each place that way. Here, it’s Physical Education with keyon gaskin, so there is a sense of bringing community into it, and of course, also PICA. When we did it in New York, you could see the Movement Research community, also with Shantelle Jackson’s community. In Europe, in Bordeaux, we’ve been a part of a feminist protest outside the opera. There it was serving under a cause. Then the American choreographer in Berlin, Jeremy Wade, and another artist, Jo Koppe borrowed the score and protested against the treatment of LGTB people in Chechnya. So. they did it in front of the Soviet Memorial in Treptower Park, and also in front of the Russian embassy. There, the score was the protest. The extreme opposite was when we did it at the Théâtre de la Ville, where we did it for 10 minutes. It was a performance where people were sitting, where you come in and then go out. From that I realized that that’s not the frame I’m interested in for this work. It’s clear to me that it needs another kind of meeting in the community, so I’d say more and more that it’s a kind of community project. This took me time to realize because it came from A song to… and that was a performance on a big stage. So, we’re discovering what this piece is and what it cannot be, in a way. One of the exciting things about being in Portland and working with PICA, who has this amazing festival project, my work might fit very well.
Photo: Sarah Marguier
LM: I think they’re complementary situations. And you’ve delved into the work so beautifully here, so thank you. I’m curious about the language that you use in the title that you mentioned. Could we return to what “ALL” means and embodies for you? I use both terms in the dual sense that Susan Leigh Foster does when referring to social choreographies—in that we cannot parse thinking from the body, or physicality from thought.1
MH: If you think of the physical aspect of it, when we did A song to… my initial idea was just, “we need 50 more bodies on stage,” and I thought, “Oh, they should look different,” as if the body and who the person is are different. Then when people arrived I thought, “Oh, it’s people, with histories, who talk differently, take space differently, move differently, have different communities, have different conceptions of society.” And slowly, that took over for me, who people are, rather than what it looks like. Through doing A song to… in different places, we had some amazing experiences that, in the beginning, was just a default. In Germany, for example, we had a homeless man and then a former policeman running and walking together and we didn’t realize until after. We had, for instance, also at some point, several performers, and then those that are isolated from people. Somehow there was a large variety of backgrounds of people and how they function in society. That became important. Then also how people negotiated the space. And then also bringing in people who perceive the world and information differently, like someone who is 55 but lives at home—but not to point this out as different, but finding a way of facilitating the group—to find a language for everyone, rather than doing something special. So, in that work of negotiating difference and creating space that wouldn’t signal out people, that became the methodology. Bringing in the word “all” became about who can that person be. In the world of dance, when you have different bodies on stage, I hear my colleagues saying, “wow, it’s so diverse.” And I say, “What do you mean, ‘diverse,’ when everyone on the stage is between 25 and 35, and just because they look a little bit different—what is diversity? It doesn’t take much before we say, “Oh, they’re all on stage.” But I think no, which bodies aren’t on stage? So, I thought bringing this word “ALL,” makes you think of those that aren’t on stage, because there is always someone who is not on stage. You will never get everyone on stage. How wide is that idea of who that can be? Also then, when it comes to nudity, since we’re naked on stage—there is this thing in dance that even within dancers there are certain bodies that are more easily undressed on stage than others’ bodies. In a way, we should be past it but we’re not. There are still questions about what dancer’s body should look like. You can be trained as a professional dancer all your life, but still not look like some idea that people might have. With the idea of a dancer or body in general, there are so many bodies that are hidden, or choose to hide themselves because of this pressure from society. That’s important in this work—not pushing that, but allowing it. Then to take the problematic side of it—an example of the failure of it in a way—was when we did it in Paris. We had to find the volunteers in Paris ourselves, but the outreach part of it wasn’t strong enough. So, we ended up with mainly only white bodies on stage. And in the European context, Paris especially, has had many protests concerning how non-white bodies are treated. You cannot, not anywhere, and especially not in Paris, come and show a piece called ALL – a physical poem of protest, and only come with white people. That’s not acceptable. However, in a way it becomes a mirror of a society, and who the network of these venues are. but on the other hand, in that sense the title was problematic. I wanted to cancel the piece, but it wasn’t possible. In retrospect, I really thought about how you manouever that. I don’t have an answer, but it’s to give an example of when the title is a bit dangerous.
Photo: Sarah Marguier
LM: This notion of collectivity begins in the workshop phase, so could you share your working methods and strategies with volunteers and collaborators?
MH: Before we start working, we lay out some rules, which worked out great since Physical Education read them out loud, so it almost became kind of a performative act, which I thought was really nice. In a way, it might feel a bit strict to start by mentioning rules, but it’s a way of setting up a safe space and protecting people from each other, so that they can really feel safe. It’s simple rules about what’s acceptable and what’s not in the space. Then, what we do is that we work in a circle from the beginning and do something that might look like a folk dance step, and we talk while we do this. I talk about the piece a bit. This holding hands, creation of a circle, and talking, is about how we can only do this together—it’s not possible to do alone, or with two, or even, I would argue with three. Then part of it is also that when we do this, we will always step on someone’s feet. It implements a space of “it’s okay,” we’re not here to do it perfectly or synchronize it, but we’re opening spaces, and taking down certain nerves in the space. Slowly we work through the different elements in the piece. Sometimes we try to give as little information as possible so that it’s more through doing, and slowly, for the group to grow with it. The main tool we work with is listening. So, if you can listen to the group, you’re good, and you can just do it.
LM: And, what does a “physical poem” mean to you?
MH: I think that for me, there is something about the piece being only bodies—there is no sound—only our breath and feet, and repetition. This relates to something I didn’t mention yet, but the locomotive of protest is walking, standing, running, and that’s the basis of the piece.2 Through the physicality of all of these bodies, the audience can transcend into different places. They can associate and see and get into different states. But it’s all through insisting in physical action. Then also, because of its formality and basic physical actions, it turns into a poetic space. Through time, it opens onto many other spaces. It’s not pointing directly at something you should look at. This word of poem can speak to how there’s not a direct link between protest and cause. It’s not one cause.
LM: Could you discuss how you’re envisioning that this physical poem will unfold within the space of PICA, and perhaps more largely within the city of Portland?
MH: First, I think why I think it’s interesting to come to the U.S. with it in general with it, is this history that the U.S. has with protests, coming together, and community dances. The history here very interesting to see how the people join in contrast to Europe. And then the political moment that the U.S. is in now—it’s not a coincidence that many people from the U.S. have an interest in this work. It’s the work I wanted to come here with. I’m not so interested in coming with a random piece and touring it, but somehow, from what I understand from a lot of curators here, is that they want to use their spaces as an act of protest. They want to give visibility to those that the current leadership works against. So, I think that maybe this piece, rather than being about Mia Habib coming, that actually the piece can offer a frame for people who are already here, so that they can take space. For Portland specifically, my interest was not about the city specifically, but about knowing keyon gaskin. He worked on A song to… and since I started working with dance, I like to tour to places where I get invited. I like to go where I’m invited and where I know someone—to go with this idea that things can come of connections and friendships that are not purely professional. I’ve been curious about Portland and the TBA festival because of keyon’s work. Then I also got curious about PICA, and understanding that they have a certain generosity in how they operate. That interests me, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere, these spaces that are interested in more than just showing the work, but links to the local community and this generous inclusive approach. And now I’m understanding as well, more about the protests in Portland too, and the history here with its hippie roots.
LM: Yes, the history here is multilayered and merits embodied investigation in terms of its protest histories, especially in light of recent protests by Antifa and the alt-right group Proud Boys. So, turning to protest, I read that some of your operative words for the workshop are notions of plasticity, mobility, site-sensitivity, and soft borders. Thinking of these ideas and hearing you speak about the work, it seems that ALL – a physical poem of protest carries much relational weight that then affects the political and social realms and I’m hoping you can elaborate upon this directionality of protest.
MH: I think this comes back to the practice that I’ve developed over many years in other works, through insisting on an action or physicality, this develops a micropolitics. Through this pointing at something political through a very clear or simple action or intervention, which for me, always comes through a body, but maybe from the outside it’s not always apparent that it’s from the body which is there. It might trigger or reveal some power structures that are already happening outside. A very obvious example would be my work from 2007 with two other artists that’s informed a lot of what I do—it was with Swedish Indian dance artist Rani Nair and French Palestinian artist Jassem Hindi—on a project called WE INSIST. I still work with Jassem Hindi on a project called Stranger Within, but one of the things we did was make a mirror installation on the border of Mexico and the U.S. in 2009. It was in Mexicali, and we thought that we were going to do something with our bodies, but when we were there we wanted to stage another kind of intervention. So, we put these 3-meter high, 6-meter wide mirrors on the border wall, it look as if there was a whole in the wall, with the image being distorted because there were different mirrors. That was the installation, but it was more the act of making it and what happened around us in making it that was important. Even though we had a permit, I remember this moment when I was hanging over the fence to drill from the American side, the American border police came in a helicopter and hung over me. They wanted to show that this was not okay, even though we had a permit. From this action, we got in close contact with the neighbors and we also saw these professional jumpers crossing so that others could do that too. It started conversations for the people living there. Our presence created a kind of third party—like a mediation or stretch—where people could talk about something in a slightly different way. This is something we’re exploring in different ways—Jassem and I just did research in the north of Norway where we traveled in a camping car and we performed in people’s houses during dinner. So, we perform and they cook for us and then we eat dinner. We come into the house and the performance is always on the verge of the unknown, or an uncomfortable place for the people who invited us. It’s kind of unsettling. Then during the dinner, because it’s unsettling, it opens space for completely other conversations. In one house we started talking about witch burning after 5 minutes into the dinner. So, it’s this working with opening spaces where other conversations can appear. So to answer your question, it begins with a micro interaction that can open something which touches macropolitical or social questions. Then, sometimes other works begin with the big questions, but they’re all concerned with the physical somehow.
LM: How do you imagine the audience’s relationship to the work in this iteration—that perhaps views, stands alongside, or is in solidarity with the work?
MH: We’re talking a lot about it. What I’m understanding here is that the audience can be quite participatory and active, so for now with the inside version, we’re imagining the audience not sitting frontally, but surrounding the performance a bit. Then, how or if we’ll work with participation—we’ll work out over the next few days. There’s so many ways to open that up and we don’t know yet. This, for me, is what’s both scary and great, that we have to make it again. But I would like to get to a place of participation.
Photo: Kaare Johannesen
1See Susan Leigh Foster, “Choreographies of Protest,” Theatre Journal, Vol. 55, No. 3 (October 2003): 395–412.
2For more on the everyday movements in the work, see Gia Kourlas, “A Protest Dance of Everyday Moves and Volunteer Nudes,” The New York Times, 1 May, 2019: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/01/arts/mia-habib-la-mama-moves-dance-festival.html.
Portland Monthly’s Top Picks for TBA 2019
by Kiva Hanson, Fiona McCann, and Conner Reed
Published in Portland Monthly
Nudity, group screaming sessions, and an intense soundscape: This Bridge Called My Ass is pure TBA.
Ready for some mind-exploding, head-scratching, gloriously boundary pushing contemporary art and performance? Then you’re in luck: TBA is here and has all manner of goodies lined up for its 17th iteration. Bringing in bold work from all over the globe, this year also boasts oodles of local talent: catch Anthony Hudson/Carla Rossi’s Looking for Tiger Lily—Cher, Pocahontas, Peter Pan, and more—while YGB Portland’s Feeling of Home features art installations, video projections, live performances, and lounges, reconstructing “what home and healing can feel like for local, intergenerational Black and Brown artists and communities.” And if you’re mourning the loss of TBA’s long-running and beloved Critical Mascara, you’re not going to want to miss Brandon Harrison’s Back to School Kiki Ball, showing off Portland’s bold and beautiful ballroom scene. Beyond that, we’ve perused the program and picked out the five shows that have us pumped this year.
Holland Andrews (Like a Villain), Hello, I’ll See You Later
9 p.m. Thursday Sept 5, PICA (15 NE Hancock St), Free
TBA opens with the ethereal soundscapes and eerie, vulnerable vocals of composer, vocalist and erstwhile Portlander Holland Andrews. Electronic ambient music, operatic vocals, and a clarinet meet with the solitude of Andrews on stage, like some indie film dream sequence. Get ready to get vulnerable.
Fin de Cinema: Marcel Camus’s Black Orpheus
10 p.m. Fri, Sept 6, PICA on Hancock, $9–15
Marcel Camus’s 1959 Oscar and Palme d’Or winner relocates the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice in the favelas and carnival streets of Rio de Janeiro in glorious high drama. Famed for its bossa nova soundtrack, the film gets a new live score from local musicians Amenta Abioto, POPgoji, and Akila Fields with Noah Bernstein.
Miguel Gutierrez, This Bridge Called My Ass
8:30 p.m. Sat-Sun, Sept 7-8, 4 p.m. Sun, Sept 8, PICA Annex (15 NE Hancock St), $16-$20
Inspired by the anthology of feminist essays by women of color, This Bridge Called My Back, this performance grapples with identity, Latinx cultural tropes, and the white avant-garde. It’s got LOTS of nudity, group screaming sessions, and an intense soundscape. We aren’t entirely sure what’s going on, but the telenovela ending, done entirely in lingerie and complete with choreographed fight scenes, seems worth the entrance price alone.
Ahamefuele J. Oluo, Susan
6:30 p.m. Fri-Sat, Sept 14-15, Winningstead Theatre, $20–25
The Seattle musician-slash-standup takes on his mother in a new musical “about the failings of men and the endurance of women.” Now I’m Fine, Oluo’s last stab at musical theatre, earned high marks from Ben Brantley at the Times, who called it “dizzying,” “engaging,” and “a grand hybrid” of comedy and autobiography. Susan promises “a tragedy about the most comically optimistic person on Earth,” set to original compositions by Oluo and other members of his band Industrial Revelation.
Kara-Lis Coverdale, “DIAPASON” for Pipe Organ
6:30 p.m. Sun, Sept 8, First Presbyterian Church, $20–25
Wanna hear a Canadian shred on the pipe organ in a High Victorian Gothic church? We thought so! Coverdale is a bona fide genius (a student at Toronto’s Royal Academy of Music since she was five years old) and her last full-length LP (aptly titled Sirens) is a treasure chest of drippy, time-bending delights. For TBA, she’s hauling out an all-new composition written specifically for the First Presbyterian Church’s Jaeckel pipe organ.
We don’t have illusions that absurdity isn’t the ground floor: A Conversation with Miguel Gutierrez
By Laurel McLaughlin
Miguel Gutierrez spoke with me over Skype about his forthcoming West Coast premiere of This Bridge Called My Ass for PICA’s TBA19. Act 1: Neon lights, stretched spandex, furious typing, skin rubbing against the contours of the floor; Act 2: a telenovela with twists on twists—these were just some of the riveting and disparate movements that I half-expected to slink in the corners of the screen as we spoke. Miguel generously shared more than a modicum about this elastic work that generates connectivity in the room amongst performers and viewers alike, while also clearing the ground floor for the possibility of disconnections, and even absurdity.
Laurel McLaughlin (LM): This Bridge Called My Ass, 2019 was co-commissioned by The Chocolate Factory, Centre National du Danse in Pantin, PICA/TBA, The Walker Art Center, Wexner Center for the Arts, Bates Dance Festival, Kelly Strayhorn Theater, and Montpellier Danse, and premiered at the American Realness festival this past January. What are you looking forward to in this iteration at the TBA19 festival? And how might this experience differ from your previous premiere, Last Meadow, at TBA in 2009 with the Powerful People?
Miguel Gutierrez (MG): This is our first tour in the U.S.—we did the piece in New York in January and then France in June—and what was very apparent for me in performing this piece in Europe and France specifically, was that for the first time in my work, this is a piece that lives inside of its own terms. Without putting too fine a point on it, or using this language in a trendy way, I was definitely aware of the way in which the work resisted or confronted a colonial gaze and confounded that gaze. Or, at least, that’s my perception—maybe I’m projecting. I don’t know what people in the audience actually thought. But the way that the audience was in France versus New York, the work was existing in a realm of values that is “other” than what those audiences normally see.
To then bring it back to the U.S. and then go to Portland is a really interesting shift. It’s been about 6 years since I performed at TBA, and so I imagine there’s been a demographic shift in Portland, but I don’t know. It’s rep is that it’s a really white place and I’ve been sniffing a bit through social media to see if I can identify at least a Latinx community—which it seems like there is one. I hope they’ll come to the show! And even if they don’t, there’s both a kind of conceptual expansion that occurs by bringing the work to different audiences and then there’s the logistics of a spatial expansion in a space that’s quite different from where we did it in New York. That was part of our bringing the piece to Europe—learning about how we can adapt the work.
LM: This next question segues into something you just mentioned—the legacy of colonialism. So, in the work, Alvaro Gonzalez, John Gutierrez, Xandra Ibarra, nibia pastrana santiago, Evelyn Sanchez Narvaez—are “mapping” an “unstable terrain of bodies,” as you say in the description. The first action, “mapping,” struck me as a colonialist impulse—as a means to contain or circumscribe within Western knowledge—and yet, the work composes a prescient resistance with its instability. Could you discuss these concepts of mapping and instability?
MG: Words that came up a lot when we were working were landscape, ocean, islands—these land or terrain-like terms, or earth-based terms. A lot of that was coming from Stephanie Acosta, the dramaturg, who was in a privileged position of watching us, endlessly, through a zillion improvisations that we did and continue to do—because the first chunk of the performance is improvised. I think that for a while now, independent of this piece, I’ve been getting at a practice improvisationally and choreographically that is about reframing values or expectations about what a conventional visuality might be. I think earlier in my career I was position-y, or saw this as my platform or whatever, but now I just see it as my work. And so, I think there was already an interest in illegibility.
With this piece, because it was about bringing this particular group together really consciously, and the way in which that was, for lack of a better term, a turning point, it foregrounded Latinx identity and very quickly the conversations turned to, “well we can’t force unity amongst us.” One of the strange histories about the history of that term “hispanic,” is that it’s a governmental term almost, which is about conglomerating disparate cultures within one term, inside the political and social context of North American convenience. That’s true, but it’s also true that I’ve looked to other Latin American people and cultures for affinities. So, there’s that double bind when you’re existing in a minoritarian culture where you’re fucked by the terms available, but also you use them and you work in and across them. Something about that kind of inability to arrive at a singular representation of identity, or to arrive at a singular representation of people being together—that became critical to have in the piece. And, you’re not asking this, but I’ll offer it, my own desire to move past—that’s maybe insulting or patronizing maybe—but my desire to situate my relationship to these questions outside of a conventional discourse of testimony, or pride, or resistance in this kind of way that, let’s say This Bridge Called My Back really claims, and really necessarily so, was important—and in the way that all minoritarian identities have these discourses running through them where people assert a certainty from another position. I have a lot of understanding of that, and the appropriateness of the time and place for that discourse; but inside the studio and inside the art-making practice, it becomes more confusing for me to live in that certainty. Everything about my relationship to artmaking has always been about taking an idea and knocking it off of its podium.
LM: Going back to the term hispanic and how that was an impetus or departure for the work, you mentioned in the context video for the piece that you all recognized failures or ruptures in the term, which was then followed by unbridled “play” in rehearsal with boundaries and limits. Do these negotiations take place prior to every performative iteration?
MG: Yeah definitely, it got woven into the piece. I pushed us into an improvisational practice. I resisted directing in a conventional way—to the chagrin of the performers. I think halfway through the process when we were finishing up a residency in France last summer there was definitely a pushback from the performers when they were like, “No really, what are we doing? What are we moving towards and what is the shape of this?” And what I was sort of interested in, and what kept coming up was, that I didn’t want to shape it, or that I didn’t want to put my hand on it in this legible way of a choreographer. It felt important to me that we could live, in as long as we could stand to, in the hell of not-knowing. In doing that, ironically, what did happen, because we did the practice so many times, was that these other systems of communication came up and took over. Within that, I could make distinctions between this and that. And we came up with a list of words that led the improvisation. And for each run we focused on four or five of those words, and then the next time it would be another set. They’re not esoteric terms. They’re really action-based. And that was coming out of me observing what we were doing with each other, not what I was demanding of the group. I would watch and think, “Well it seems like we kind of lean into this action and that,” so let’s foreground that. It was this reverse engineering process. Part of that was being a person that performs in the work—for better or worse—I can’t hold a compositional sense of the whole thing, ever, when we perform the first chunk of the piece. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking taking that chance, but also liberating. It’s not about me dictating, but us negotiating in real time, the possibilities. In that part of the piece, we’re committed in engaging this practice, not about arriving at a singular image—and this can be confusing for an audience. We kind of have that, but it doesn’t resolve. For me, that felt beautifully analogous to the experience I was having, of irresolute searching that’s committed to itself.
LM: Part of that searching came through the atmosphere that’s created by the fabrics connecting and disconnecting performers to one another, and the neon lighting, designed by Tuçe Yasak, that cast sickly and simultaneously beautiful glows across the performers. How did this set—or terrain—create a sense of chaos, but also understanding among performers?
MG: The materials and fabrics came out of a response to our first rehearsal space in New York and people were using yoga mats and covering themselves. And I thought that was interesting. Then we were rehearsing across from ABC Carpet & Home, so we did a field trip one day and I noticed that carpets and shags that were very colorful really compelled all of our attention—I mean that’s what the store fucking is! And then the next day I said, “Okay, let’s meet at Spandex World,” a fabric store in the garment district in New York and we spent a couple hours there thinking about the color palette. We wanted materials to feel like little territories—they’re abstract enough but really tangible. I had written this essay about abstraction and I was at war with myself and continue to be about abstraction and content as this binary. So, I was interested in that in the fabrics. I was resistant to using the materials in this graphic, beautiful way. There’s a version of the piece where we could’ve made it beautiful, but I quickly was like, “No, I don’t want to have some stupid reverence.” It’s not about intending to destroy, but it’s not about some stupid, body-object thing because we’re people with stuff, and it showed a negotiation between us and the world. I really hate fake objectification of “the body”—even that term makes me nauseous. So, it evolved and you know, you just follow it.
LM: Turning to the title of the work, it comes from This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, a third-wave feminist anthology featuring scholarship by Audre Lorde, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, the Combahee River Collective, among others, and edited by Cherrie Moraga and Anzaldúa. The anthology challenged the preceding legacy of white, heterosexual feminism. How does This Bridge Called My Ass build upon, react to, or depart from this pivotal scholarship?
MG: Well it’s funny, I went to see Cherrie Moraga read a couple of weeks ago and I mentioned my show and she was like, “Huh,” and then was like, “send me information,” and I still have to do that; but I was nervous. It’s a fraught question for me. I’m a dude citing this feminist text—let me be really clear about that—but I used to walk around San Francisco as a 19-year-old, carrying that book around. Pre-phone, whenever I had a moment, I would just sit and read things. There were certain people in that book—for example, Audre Lorde with “Open Letter to Mary Daly”—who were so powerful for me. This was inside of a context when I was super involved in queer activist stuff and there were particular delineations around race, identity, ethnicity within that city. My sister was involved with a very butch, Mexican dyke, who was really embedded in the Chicano queer scene. I was kind of lost, I think, in the world of white punk queerness. So, there was a lot happening, and I was trying to assert myself in that world, but I was also confused and 19. But some of those feelings and questions continue to roil me and the culture.
I was aware a couple years ago, with the phenomenon of the Facebook rant that some people employ, that this language and writing has been with us for some time now. And now, as a 48-year-old fag, I can read this rant, both as testimony and the reality of what this person’s experiencing, but I also see the art historical, cyclical nature of it. And a lot of that is because shit’s still fucked up. And part of it’s that we have a narrow conception of how to talk about certain things. We’re limited by language, while at the same time it gives us voice. And working in dance and performance, I incorporate language into my work, and I don’t see dance as non-verbal language. I see dance as a mode of perception, and a way of enacting multiplicity and interiority. And my experience with my interiority is that it’s conflicted all the time. I’m always in a sturm und drang internally and emo all the time. So, I can be in the studio and imitate a million voices and dance like a pig and all of these kind of things at once and there’s a kind of lawlessness for me in the studio practice. And I also understand that that idea is critique-able, because who has the right to think that they can do anything? But I think it’s incumbent upon me as an artist to hold an awareness of how these conversations exist in culture and also be aware of my own feeling about it. A lot of times when I align myself with certain political positions, it’s a strategic solidarity. I don’t necessarily agree with all of it, but for all intents and purposes I stand on the fucking line and try to understand the nuances. I’m always in this conversation about how these things co-exist because there’s a way in which politics is extraordinarily un-imaginative and extraordinarily boring. So, there’s only so much of that kind of thinking or enacting that I’m interested in, before I get really fucking crazy, and I want to take my clothes off and poop on the floor.
LM: Alongside that anthology paratext, the work also incorporates Latin-American songs and the melodramatic form of telenovela in what I believe is Act 2—could you share how these operate in the work?
MG: Sure, well the songs are really present in the first chunk because we use the computers to generate the soundtrack in real time and we manipulate them with DJ programs and Ableton. Then the telenovela is in a section where we arrange the space in a different way and do the telenovela. It’s often the case for me that I really hold these two different perspectives on something. I’m a triple earth sign, so I’m very blunt and unsubtle about the way I think about things and I’m interested in something for the way it can be blown apart, and then also for the way it can be sewn together. I see these both as fictions, and frameworks for presenting something. And I mean fiction, not as a lie, but a way of telling a story.
And, you know, while all this is happening in the studio, my boyfriend, who is not Latino—he loves Mexican telenovelas. And he often watches an hour a day just to practice Spanish and I started watching one with him. My mom watches telenovelas and I used to watch when I was younger, although they were never a huge part of my childhood. And I just started—I was into the ridiculousness of it, because it’s so stereotypical with gender and power, and also it was so wonderfully absurd. This also happens in American soap opera, but there’s an extremity in telenovela—for example, this motherfucker was broke and now she’s rich, and she fell from a helicopter, and landed on a coffin, she stays alive, she wears a wig, she escaped the thing, she shot her captor who she had a kid by… So, there’s these insanely elaborate choreographically complex narratives that just really don’t trouble themselves with reality or continuity sometimes. And I thought, this is a really amazing avant-garde text. Here’s a perfect example of this incredibly weird cut-up, but it’s so situated in identity, language, form, and role. We all know, the actors know, the audience knows, that these are all just roles. But we surrender to it. And again, there’s this double-consciousness when you engage with it, and this is a pretty sophisticated mode. It’s not as simple as suspension of disbelief where this person becomes that thing, because it’s ridiculous and we laugh. Some of the old ones are really nutzo, pre-CGI, and really thrilling. So, I felt strongly about honoring that legacy of absurdity that exists in Latinx culture and that I hold within me.
And, I haven’t foregrounded this aspect of myself in previous work, but I’ve always felt that that kind of interest in magical realism or ridiculousness is a kind of outgrowth of my Latin American identity. I mean, if you’ve ever driven in Bogotá, you’re aware of the disorder. There’s no lines and everyone fends for themselves. It’s a logic that I understand. I get that insanity. If you’re in Brazil and you stop at a red light, you go, why would you wait? If you’re in any Germanic country in Europe and you do that, they look at you like you’re the anti-Christ. For me, this ridiculous logic reflects the world. And for me, the logic of North America doesn’t hold. Any South American or Latin American person is so not duped by overbearingness of imperialism. They’ve experienced it first-hand and been fucked-over by it. So, it’s like we don’t have illusions that absurdity isn’t the ground floor. Like here, people are like, “Oh my God, Trump, things are so crazy.” But it’s like, bitch, things were always crazy. And yes, this is next level crazy, but it was always here. Sorry, I’m going really far away from the question, but it felt interesting to me to welcome this literal product of Latin American culture into the room because it was a way for me to address and acknowledge the dynamics that were happening within the room. Instead of avoiding, I was just like let me exaggerate the fuck out of it. And again, Stephanie asked, “What happens if you take literalism to its end point? You’re back in abstraction.” And it really landed when she mentioned that one day in rehearsal. I completely heard that and it felt really generative.
LM: The combination of these references you’ve described creates a dense spatial, embodied, and temporal configuration—oscillating between exhaustion and pleasure, exhausted pleasure, and pleasured exhaustion—for both the dancers (I would imagine), and the audience. So, could you tell me a bit about this interplay between audience and dancers, exhaustion and pleasure in This Bridge Called My Ass?
MG: Yeah, that’s interesting. I don’t know that everyone is pleasured in watching! I definitely never use the word exhaustion in the process, even though it does happen in the practice. I don’t use it intentionally because it’s tempting to perform exhaustion as a kind of marker, or value, or effort, in dance.
I delight in the audiences that are delighted and that stay with it, but I feel like it’s important for each person to have their own ride and that includes being pushed away from what they’re seeing. In this particular piece, it’s literally because one of us has draped a big, stupid curtain in front of them. And again, that’s very intentional. That’s an ethic of the piece. Not to frustrate the audience, but to acknowledge that you’re not going to see the whole picture here. We don’t even know what the whole fucking picture is, so neither do you. So, I think for the person who thinks dance is a series of images, it’s a very confusing piece. And I think for the person who wants to understand the piece, it will be confounding and I hope it will be confounding. This idea of audience—it’s always moving. We look at the audience and sometimes it’s playful, sometimes it’s seductive, sometimes it’s just looking back. Sometimes I feel, especially after doing the show in France, really aware of the ways in which I don’t want to make assumptions about the audience, and I’m really committed about the practice of the group together. So, there is this real feeling of, you are invited to observe, witness, and if you feel like it’s including you—cool. Maybe that inclusion exists across cultural, ethnic, or racial lines, but I don’t presume that it always does. I know Latin Americans who saw the show in New York and they were like, “Oh my God,” and then I know there were some who were like, “meh.” In a weird way, I’d love to say that every Latinx person who would see it would be affirmed, but I don’t think that’s true. It isn’t meant to be a universal Latinx piece by any stretch of the imagination. So, it’s a dynamic question and I don’t have one answer for it in the same sense that I’ve ever felt that any one audience has one response. The ecology of the audience is so different from show to show. And this piece really foregrounds that, even though it’s always true. There are going to be the people who are with it and the people who are like, “what the fuck.”
LM: Your point about certain things being available and others not for the audience, and the variance within that, feels revelatory to understand about contemporary performance.
MG: Definitely. As we’re seeing so many artists of color claim their space within the avant-garde—for lack of a better term—the inclusion and exclusion gets really heightened, but those questions were always there. When the white avant-garde was claiming universals, we know that this is a naïveté, we know this is a fiction. For me, it’s not as simple as, “I’m only able to identify with this kind of work and not that.” No. Because I think desire is really hard to legislate. And there is plenty of super-fucking white art that is gorgeous, and I claim as a forebearer to my practice. But I also understand that the value assigned to a certain way of being within a form has everything to do with power, has everything to do with supremacy, has everything to do with tradition, and has everything to do with who was the critic at that time, or who was the hot dude who everyone wanted to fuck at that time—or woman that everyone wanted to fuck. I understand how art unfolds in the world. That is playing out in the audience, too, in each individual person’s conception of what they were coming to see and what happens when they actually see the work. Whether their idea of illegibility is an open space for interpretation or their perception that illegibility is a wall—all of that’s in there for me. I don’t need to land in one place about it, but the audience might.
The Five Visual Arts Shows We’re Most Excited to See This Fall
By Shannon Gormley
Published in Willamette Week
Time-Based Art Festival
Every year, Time Based Art Festival floods Portland with 10 days of wild contemporary art. This year’s lineup is a characteristically eclectic mix of performance art, workshops and installations. There’ll be choreography inspired by protests, a kiki ball, an atmospheric pipe organ concert, and a play about a psychopomp in a trailer park. Various locations, see pica.org/tba for full schedule. Sept. 5-15. Festival passes $45-$500, individual tickets available.
Downstream a Shining Wire
Portland artist Tabitha Nikolai creates virtual worlds that address unexpected subject matter with a deep sense of empathy. Her exhibit Utopia Without You turned a Pearl District gallery into a disheveled gamer’s den, and looked at video games as a means of isolation and a necessary retreat from a hostile society. For her next exhibit, Downstream a Shining Wire, she creates an interactive game set in a now-demolished shopping mall from her hometown, where players can act out a Lord of the Flies-inspired scenario. Open Signal, 2766 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., opensignalpdx.org. Sept. 17-Nov. 1.
Earlier this year, Portland artist Lisa Jarrett and Santa Rosa, Calif.’s Lehua M. Taitano co-founded Art 25, an international collective aimed at examining the history and future of black and indigenous art. For Future Ancestors, Art 25′s first exhibit, Jarrett and Taitano collaborated with Honolulu artist Jocelyn Kapumealani Ng to create a series of large-scale portraits and audio recordings that document the artists’ cross-cultural conversations. Ori Gallery, 4038 N Mississippi Ave., oriartgallery.com. Oct. 5-Nov. 24.
A Thousand Cuts
BG Osborne’s A Thousand Cuts depicts pop culture’s pervasive misrepresentation of transgender people to dizzying effect. Across three screens, the video collage plays 10 minutes’ worth of cisgender actors playing transgender characters, including David Duchovny as Denise Bryson in Twin Peaks and Carrie Bradshaw referring to “transexual hookers” as “half man, half woman, totally annoying.” The fact that at least half the clips end in a laugh track makes the deluge of offensive tropes even more sobering—the title of the piece doesn’t come from the number of clips, it’s a reference to the phrase “death by a thousand cuts.” Fuller Rosen Gallery, 2505 SE 11th Ave., Suite 106, fullerrosen.com. Nov. 16-Jan. 10.
Portland Art Museum is hosting a fabricated, untruthful retrospective of one of this city’s most legendary art institutions—the short-lived, long-defunct Portland Center for the Visual Arts. The center showcased the likes of Robert Rauchenburg and Andy Warhol, and helped spark the city’s regional art movement. This won’t be the first PCVA retrospective, but unlike previous tributes, this one will be made up entirely of fake archival material, created by iconoclastic curatorial duo Triple Candie. It will also grapple with the less-flattering parts of PCVA’s legacy, including how it failed to live up to its own progressive ideals. Who knows how much one of the city’s largest art institutions is actually willing to dig into contemporary art’s messy history, but hopefully it will at least break through the seal of reverence. Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave., portlandartmuseum.org. Nov. 16-Jun. 14.
Our Picks For TBA 2019
by Robert Ham and Suzette Smith
Originally published in Portland Mercury
Myles de Bastion WILLIAM DODD
If this is your first TBA, welcome! Everyone has a first. Mine was in 2008, and I just followed someone I had a crush on for the entire event—a fine approach. One of the reasons I love the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s (PICA) Time-Based Art Festival is that, year after year, they always strive to mix academic, fine conceptual art with fun, challenging performances that deserve to be included in our considerations of “art.” Last year there was a big emphasis on recognizing food as art. This year my psychic art senses feel a strong intention toward exploring bodies in space—be they human or heavenly. Here are our picks! And keep an eye out for our Time-Based Art (TBA) blog, portlandmercury.com/tba, which will review the festival’s performances as they happen. -SUZETTE SMITH
The return of Eiko Otake to TBA is a centerpiece of this year’s festival, as evidenced by her multiple performances, a screening of photographs documenting her work, and—easiest to identify—her presence on the darn festival program cover. Otake performed at the first TBA in 2003, as a part of Eiko & Koma, her longstanding performance duo with Takashi Koma Otake. But in 2014, she branched out into a solo project called A Body in Places, of which she has performed variations at more than 40 locations, most notably in contaminated landscapes impacted by the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Otake’s dance isn’t butoh, although Eiko & Koma studied with Kazuo Ohno (an early butoh figure) and cited him as an influence. Otake is known for her ability to move slowly, with critics noting that, in her solo work, her slow gracefulness feels even more intense. Otake will perform A Body in Places on TBA’s opening night. Later in the festival, she will unveil an iteration of her newest work, The Duet Project: Distance Is Malleable, with choreographer Ishmael Huston-Jones, poet Mark McCloughan, and filmmaker Alexis Moh. (A Body in Places, Thurs Sept 5, 6 pm, Center for Contemporary Art & Cultures, 511 NW Broadway, FREE; A Body in Fukushima: Reflections on the Nuclear in Everyday Life, Mon Sept 9, 7 pm, Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park, $8-10; The Duet Project: Distance Is Malleable, Thurs Sept 12-Sat Sept 14, 8:30 pm, PICA [Annex], 15 NE Hancock, $20) SS
Eiko Otake WILLIAM JOHNSTON
Back to School Kiki
Last year House of Flora father Brandon Harrison gave out a serious education in ballroom dance as he emceed the late-night TBA show The Beautiful Street. Locking, popping, waacking, vogue fem, dancehall, and even krumping were included in his tutorial. If what I wrote doesn’t make any sense to you, then this Back to School Kiki is something you need to see. Best known thanks to the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, or FX’s celebrated TV show Pose, balls and ballroom culture have long been a home for queer communities to showcase their fashion, dance, and performance art. This year, Harrison hosts a Back to School Kiki (drag or ballroom gathering) and benevolently invites “spectators and first-time ball attendees to join in the fun.” Read the whole invite and don’t be late for class. (Sat Sept 7, 10 pm, PICA [Mainspace], 15 NE Hancock $5-15 sliding scale) SS
While Kara-Lis Coverdale’s studio works are conceptually grand and musically spellbinding, some of the Canadian composer’s most fascinating and gorgeous material has been site-specific—determined by the instrument or location. That’s why her appearance at TBA, facilitated by the curators of sound art gallery Variform, should be one of this year’s festival highlights. Coverdale will create a work specifically for the First Presbyterian Church’s pipe organ, which was custom built in the late ’90s by Dan Jaeckel, using designs first conceived in the 17th century. If the sound of the organ and Coverdale’s previous recorded work are anything to go by, the music will be huge, soul stirring, and skull shaking. (Sun Sept 8, First Presbyterian Church, 1200 SW Alder, 6:30 pm, $20-25)
When I see Looking for Tiger Lily at this year’s TBA it will be my third time seeing an incarnation of Anthony Hudson’s drag/dance/spoken-word exploration into his First Nations identity, which Hudson says was formed somewhere between watching keynote presentations his father gave as a social worker for the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde and repeated viewings of the 1954 Broadway musical Peter Pan. Hudson was especially impacted by the song “Ugg-a-Wugg,” which featured a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Sandra Lee as Tiger Lily. It’s a curious and dynamic show. Watching Hudson incorporate his drag clown persona, Carla Rossi, into the fine art world (the idea that she’s a white lady from Lake Oswego kind of fits with the concept) has been fascinating and I’m grateful for his perspective, which is so entertaining you almost forget it’s an education, too. (Thurs Sept 12-Sat Sept 14, 6:30 pm, PICA [Annex], 15 NE Hancock, $20) SS
Myles de Bastion
For the past five years, Myles de Bastion and the braintrust behind Cymaspace have been developing technology aiming to help the deaf and hard-of-hearing access music and sound art through their other senses. You may have seen their delightful LED piano at OMSI, which translates the sound of someone playing the keys into light, movement, and color, or the sound-reactive light display that twinkled behind Esperanza Spalding when she played on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2015. For TBA, De Bastion and Cymaspace will present a night of experimental music that will hopefully carry on the spirit of their recent collaboration with sound-art gallery Variform, which made use of low-frequency vibrations to help any and all feel the music being played swim through their muscles and bones. (Thurs Sept 12, 10:30 pm, PICA [Mainspace], 15 NE Hancock, $5-15 sliding scale) RH
In 2015 Ahaamefule Oluo unveiled Now I’m Fine, an autobiographical live show focused on his relationship with his absent Nigerian father and the year following his father’s death. (You may have heard Oluo tell a side story about his long-lost half-brother showing up at his wedding on the “Put a Bow on It” episode of This American Life. Now I’m Fine was hailed with rave reviews for its combined elements of stand-up comedy monologue and live jazz music performance (co-written by Oluo). Oluo’s new work Susan is his next foray into his family history (a family that includes his sister, author Ijeoma Olou, and his wife, Lindy West) this time focused on his white, Midwestern mother. (Fri Sept 13 & Sat Sept 14, 6:30 pm, Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, $25) SS
In his statement announcing the creation of Memento Stella, experimental filmmaker Takashi Makino writes that he titled this work “to remind me to ‘remember the stars’ and ‘never forget that we too reside among the stars.’” Like Carl Sagan’s reflection on Earth being nothing more than a “pale blue dot” floating in the cosmos, it immediately cuts the ego down and makes one feel light-headed at the immensity of the universe we reside in. That comes alive in Takashi’s new film through gorgeous abstract images, soundtracked by stirring ambient music. For Memento Stella’s West Coast premiere, PICA and Cinema Project are offering up two different screenings: one, with an original score provided by the director, and another with a live soundtrack by composer, pianist, and experimental artist Reiner van Houdt. (Sat Sept 14 & Sun Sept 15, OMSI, 1945 SE Water, 4:30 pm, $8-10) RH
Liz Harris’ latest project Nivhek arrived in this world much like her music, with minute but concentrated intention. Her recent album After its own death/Walking in a spiral towards the house was a surprise, dropped without forewarning, but it immediately beguiled anyone who fell into its orbit. Not a far cry from Harris’ work as Grouper, Nivhek leans deeper into soundscapes—drones, pinging bells, and tape hiss swimming together. To close out this year’s TBA, Harris reckons with the ancient region of Mesopotamia through new Nivhek compositions with Requiem, her collaboration with fellow sound artist January Hunt, and visuals by LA artist Dicky Bahto. (Sun Sept 15, PICA [Mainspace], 15 NE Hancock, 6:30 pm, $20) RH
Robert Ham is the Mercury’s Copy Chief and writes regularly about music, film, arts, sports, and tech.
Suzette Smith is the Arts Editor of the Portland Mercury where she writes about books, comics, performance, and anything else that looks like it might be art if you squint at it right.
By Amy Wang
Originally published in The Oregonian/OregonLive
This year marks the 17th annual Time-Based Art Festival, hosted by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art. TBA19, as it’s called, will showcase artists from across the globe who will present contemporary performance, music, visual art, film and more in events throughout the city Sept. 5-15.
Here are eight TBA19 events that caught our eye.
Po’Shines Cafe De La Soul, an ebullient eatery in North Portland’s Kenton neighborhood, will cater this year’s TBA opening party. Pictured here: Ribs, chicken and hush puppies. (Eder Campuzano/Staff)
TBA Block Party BBQ & Noche Libre Collective
In the past this welcome dinner has been invitation-only, but this year it’s open to the public. The Block Party BBQ will feature cuisine from Po’Shines Café De La Soul. After dinner, members of the Noche Libre Collective – DJ La Cosmica, DJ Lapuashi and DJ Mami Miami – will spin a free show that spans genres from cumbia to dancehall.
Dinner 7 p.m., music 10 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 5, PICA, 15 N.E. Hancock St.
A still from the film “Black Orpheus.” (Courtesy of Erik-Anders Ni/Advance Local file photo)
French director Marcel Camus’ 1959 film retold the Greek myth of doomed lovers Orpheus and Eurydice in a 20th-century Rio de Janeiro at Carnival time. The Academy Award-winning film became renowned for its bossa nova soundtrack; local musicians have composed a new score that will be performed live as the latest installment of Holocene’s “Fin de Cinema” live film score series.
10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, PICA, 15 N.E. Hancock St.
Brooklyn-based artist Ligia Lewis brings her critically acclaimed devised choreographic work, “Water Will (in Melody).” This work embodies “entanglements of nature, the feminine and Blackness” and features themes from the Brothers Grimm.
6:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday, Sept. 6-8, Winningstad Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway.
PDXBall, a collective that’s a key player in Portland’s ballroom nightlife, will present “The Back to School Kiki Ball.” The kiki ballroom scene centers LGBTQ and black and indigenous participants and voyeurs in an environment of free expression. Anticipate decor and costume that matches the “back to school” theme while contestants compete in various categories.
10:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, PICA, 15 N.E. Hancock St.
Kara-Lis Coverdale, an experimental composer who works in acoustic and electronic media, has written not just a site-specific but an instrument-specific composition: “Diapason,” for the Dan Jaeckel pipe organ, hand-constructed with 17th-century designs, at the First Presbyterian Church. An experienced church organist, Coverdale will perform the solo acoustic piece herself.
6:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, First Presbyterian Church, 1200 S.W. Alder St.
Eiko Otake. (David Michalek)
After the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, photographer William Johnston made thousands of images of artist Eiko Otake amid the devastation. The photos became a film, “A Body in Fukushima: Reflections on the Nuclear in Everyday Life,” which is part of a two-part presentation in Portland. Eiko Otake: A Body in Places” runs Sept. 5-Oct. 24 at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, with Otake performing a solo during the opening reception at 6 p.m. Sept. 5.
Film screening: 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9, Whitsell Auditorium, Portland Art Museum, 1219 S.W. Park Ave.
Carla Rossi, the drag persona of Portland performance artist Anthony Hudson. (Nancy Mankin)
Anthony Hudson/Carla Rossi
Later this season, Artists Repertory Theatre will present the world premiere of Hudson/Rossi’s new play, “Looking for Tiger Lily,” which relays their experience of growing up as a “queer mixed Native person” in an America where a blue-eyed blonde could portray an “Indian princess.” Get a sneak preview during TBA.
6:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 12-14, PICA, 15 N.E. Hancock St.
Time-Based Art Festival 2019
When: Sept. 5-15.
Where: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, 15 N.E. Hancock St., and other venues.
Tickets: Festival passes start at $60; individual tickets range from free to $25; pica.org or 503-224-7422.
A Protest Dance of Everyday Moves and Volunteer Nudes
By Gia Kourlas
Published in New York Times
Walk with a loose neck. Take steps without making a sound. Try acknowledging another person using only your eyes.
In preparation for Mia Habib’s affecting “ALL — a physical poem of protest,” 16 performers sat in a circle in a studio at Movement Research in the East Village to talk about the choreography they had recently learned and rehearsed: a mix of walking and running in a circle. It seems simple. But as with all things in contemporary dance, the magic comes from approach, subtlety, nuance.
“How can I move in a soft way?” Ms. Habib asked the participants, all of whom are volunteers. “When there are soft feet, a softness enters the rest of the body.”
The choreography is a mix of walking and running in a circle.CreditGeorge Etheredge for The New York Times
“ALL — a physical poem of protest,” which opens on Friday as part of the La MaMa Moves! dance festival, explores what Ms. Habib, 38, refers to as “the protesting body.” It can be performed for up to 12 hours, though the New York iteration will clock in at a brisk 45 minutes. And there’s one other integral component — all the performers are nude. For Ms. Habib, a Norwegian-Israeli choreographer based in Oslo, the result illustrates group strength: What is the power of bodies meeting together in a public space?
The work, intended to showcase people of all ages, focuses on the pedestrian actions of walking and running. While repetitive, it’s not robotic. Shantelle Courvoisier Jackson, a dance artist who is helping to stage the production, told the performers, “Your natural movements are welcome”; don’t treat “them like they shouldn’t be seen.”
In the end, the group effort is meditative. “For me, what’s really exciting with this piece, but really scary, is letting go of control,” Ms. Habib said. “I never know when I come to a new place: Will there be enough performers? Is someone going to cancel at the last minute?”
But giving the work over to strangers — stage experience is not required — is part of the piece, too. “And that’s also what we do when we meet in a public space to protest or to grieve together,” she said. “We share this moment with strangers and we leave and we’re still strangers.”
Ms. Habib recently spoke about the work, her United States debut. What follows are edited excerpts from that conversation.
“The longest we’ve done it so far is only three hours,” said Mia Habib, the choreographer. “I’m waiting for the moment.”CreditGeorge Etheredge for The New York Times
What is so powerful about walking and running?
It’s something we share with almost everyone, so it’s very primal and very basic. We can experience something together, which can quickly bring us to another energy because we don’t have to concentrate so much on this action.
Why is it important that they’re naked?
For me, the nudity serves almost as a projection screen. The viewer can create an association with schools of fish or bird or animal flocks in one moment; and there are the hard collective images or memories we have from the Second World War. When you zoom out, the multiplicity of naked bodes has this ability to almost become abstract — as if it just becomes lines or moving shapes.
And when you zoom in?
You see really unique details — our bodies are the most individual things we have, right? But when you zoom out, it all looks the same and I think that’s really interesting: A mass unifies, but it still consists of these singular personalities. But having said that, it’s also very important that the context and communities come first.
In Bordeaux, we had a Kurdish women’s activist group join us and that was more important than the idea of being naked. So we did it clothed. It’s not about nakedness. That’s just one layer of it.
What does this piece come out of?
From 2010 to 2012, I was living in Tel Aviv and I was doing an M.A. in conflict resolution and mediation. That was exactly the time when Occupy Wall Street was here. The Arab Spring started and the so-called protest for social justice in Tel Aviv was happening so people moved out in the streets.
How did that inspire you?
I got really interested in what the role of theater can be in times when the spectacle is taking place outside. What is that energy? Also, what’s going on in the belief that together we can change something and what happens when these structures fall? At the same time, there was a huge massacre in Norway. People gathered together in a public space but as an act of mourning.
What forms has this production taken?
It’s been a part of protests. It can go on for many hours in a theater space. You can be sitting all around or watch it frontally. There is also this idea that the piece can serve different causes.
How has it?
In Bordeaux, France, it was part of a feminist protest. In Berlin, the choreographer Jeremy Wade borrowed the score and did it as a part of a protest against the treatment of L.G.B.T. people in Chechnya.
Where have you done a 12-hour version?
[Sighs] That’s still a dream. The longest we’ve done it so far is only three hours. I’m waiting for the moment. Here in New York, I actually had a dream of doing it for 12 hours in Judson Church. [Laughs] Maybe we’ll have an Act 2.
A version of this article appears in print on May 1, 2019, Section C, Page 2 of the New York edition with the headline: A Protest Dance With Everyday Moves. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
Like A Villain: Artist Holland Andrews’ Boundless Emotional Range
by April Baer
Published on OPB.org
To see Holland Andrews perform is to witness the channeling deep reserves of light and darkness, for the benefit of audiences battered by all manners of emotional trauma.
“I am offering a prescription with my music,” Andrews said, “to help the potential unease in their life at that moment. What do I have that you need?”
A composer, vocalist and visual artist, Andrews (who uses they/them pronouns) is one of the most beloved figures in Portland’s contemporary performance scene. Over the past 11 years, they’ve performed in gallery settings, clubs, even with the Oregon Symphony, making Portland a base for international touring. Their extended vocal technique, which can pivot from soaring operatic runs to a feral growl, can bring audiences to a standstill. Even those who don’t count themselves as fans of avant-garde music will follow Andrews on their music’s emotional journeys.
After spending the last 11 years in Portland, Andrews (a California native) is preparing a move to New York City. But not before one last performance kicking off Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time Based Art Festival.
The date, Sept. 5, is also the vinyl release one for a new Like a Villain album, “What Makes Vulnerability Good,” on Accidental Records.
Andrews has made several albums over the past decade, but calls this the closest yet to replicating audiences’ live experience of Like a Villain.
“As an artist progresses, you get to see them unfold. And I think that happened with me. I think that shows in this album,” they said.
Holland Andrews performs as Like a Villain, fusing extended vocal technique, composition, and visual elements. Courtesy of Accidental Records
Andrews recorded with Arjan Miranda at Color Therapy Recording Studio in Northeast Portland. The challenge they faced, Andrews said, was conveying a recorded performance that could carry the same depth and emotional power fans have grown to expect at live performances.
“Doing one line out of my [effects] pedal chain and a room mic just wouldn’t have really cut it,” Andrews said. “We were thinking of ways that transform and keep the listener interested without sacrificing who I am as an artist.”
The answer included some synth effects and bigger arrangements with guests like saxophonist Joe Cunningham (Blue Cranes).
Touchstones for this emotionally charged collection of songs range from intimacy and connection (“My Hands”) to emotional liberation (“Free Now”) to several songs drawing on the fraught life and death of Andrews’ mother.
“The relationship with my mom was a little challenging. She was someone who was diagnosed schizoaffective and struggled with alcohol abuse, drug abuse, bulimia,” Andrews said. “I would see all these things as a child — and I would also see a sense of love and caring I’ve never felt from anyone else alive.”
Andrews was 16 when their mother committed suicide. While much of their songwriting has been informed over the years by this erratic, complicated history with someone so loving, so musically gifted and yet so profoundly ill, they say it was only recently that these experiences manifested as specific songs like “You Got It” — a searing expression of the fury Andrews’ mother felt at losing custody of her children. “What Makes Vulnerability Good,” Andrews promised, is only the tip of the iceberg. They expect to spend a lot more time exploring the relationship on their next record.
“Having an opportunity as an adult to excavate my growing up with this incredible women who was just as much loving as she was dissonant in her own way, I possess that as well,” Andrews said. “I can express these states within music.”
As Andrews comes near the end of their time in Portland, they call this time both sad and exciting.
“I’m so grateful for the opportunity I had here, the community,” Andrews said.
Andrews has moved into composing for dance artists and theater, and hopes the proximity to the intense concentration of performance artists in New York will make possible new collaborations.
In Portland, at this particular time in their musical development, Andrews said, “I couldn’t have had it any better. And because of that, I am now ready to move on to someplace different.”
Female Disruptors: How Kristy Edmunds has shaken up contemporary art
While it may sound cliché, artists disrupt our conscious and unconscious tendency to feel complacent about any number of things going on in society writ large. They can do so by challenging, rather than reinforcing, formulaic approaches to all kinds of fixed assumptions. Their efforts can result in a sublime interference that asks for reimagined […]
By Authority Magazine, Stories that are beautiful to the mind, heart, and eyes.
While it may sound cliché, artists disrupt our conscious and unconscious tendency to feel complacent about any number of things going on in society writ large. They can do so by challenging, rather than reinforcing, formulaic approaches to all kinds of fixed assumptions. Their efforts can result in a sublime interference that asks for reimagined possibility, or a provocation to reconsider a firmly held position, or, it can take the form of an advance warning that inspires empathy and change.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristy Edmunds. Edmunds was the Founding Executive and Artistic Director of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) and the TBA Festival (Time Based Art) in Portland, Oregon. She served as Artistic Director for the Melbourne International Arts Festival from 2005 to 2008, and was appointed the Head of the School of Performing Arts at the Victorian College of the Arts/University of Melbourne, and after one year became the Deputy Dean for the College. Concurrently, Edmunds worked as the inaugural Consulting Artistic Director for the now critically heralded Park Avenue Armory in New York (2009–2012). Curating the initial three years of programming, she established the formative identity of the PAA with commissioned work by artists such as Ann Hamilton, the final performance event of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company; the Tune-In Festival with Philip Glass and many others. In recognition of her contribution to the arts, Edmunds was named a Chevalier (Knight) de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government in 2016. She is the Executive and Artistic Director of UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, one of the nation’s leading presenting organizations for contemporary performing artists.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path
Part of carrying a surplus of creativity is that you find the process of identifying solutions to problems deeply energizing. In my late twenties (living in Portland, Oregon as an artist and emerging curator), I recognized that the art institutions at the time had settled on mission-priorities that would follow the conventions of art-historical successes which were long proven and regionally familiar. This left a rather large gulf between the ideas and work of living artists, and the towering significance of the established canon.
I was motivated by the idea of catalyzing the role of contemporary living artists and making a platform that would elevate the visibility of their work. So I rolled up my sleeves, enlisted the simpatico-passions of others and we invented an organization dedicated to bolstering the impact of contemporary artists across all genres. It was a creative collaboration with everyone I knew or could reach, and we used the ethos of the city itself as the framework for the organization (as well as its empty warehouses and available theater venues). My learning curve for establishing and leading a not-for-profit was directly vertical and I was regularly advised against taking the risk of trying. As an artist myself, I was necessarily undaunted by the ample obstacles. PICA (Portland Institute for Contemporary Art), exists to this day and has made an indelible mark for nearly 25 years. In creating PICA I inadvertently assembled the professional bona fides of an Artistic Director.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
While it may sound cliché, artists disrupt our conscious and unconscious tendency to feel complacent about any number of things going on in society writ large. They can do so by challenging, rather than reinforcing, formulaic approaches to all kinds of fixed assumptions. Their efforts can result in a sublime interference that asks for reimagined possibility, or a provocation to reconsider a firmly held position, or, it can take the form of an advance warning that inspires empathy and change. Because I work at a high level with artists in all art forms to support their projects and practices, along with the impact their ideas can usher forth — the organization that I run has to work within the same spirit of acting from the position of integrity, compassion, and the usefulness of disruption.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share how they made an impact?
Long before we access a professional mentor, there are those who forge the elemental foundation of one’s character and it’s facility. I don’t think we mention this time in life often enough, but I think it is the period that sets you on a course for what you will become. On that front, the women in my family have been the unflinching mentors in the fiber and weave of my life. As I entered school and then university, I encountered several reverse role models — those who demonstrated everything I did not want to be — which in my case was a form of mentorship because I embraced the value of not becoming that (as learned from the women in my family).
I had a softball coach in the 8th grade who had no arms. He drove his car, ate his food, and kept statistics and scores on written notecards with his feet, which taught me that there is always a way forward. He was derided when we would have games in communities that didn’t know his formidable capacity, which taught me to never underestimate the potential of anyone — ever (while introducing me to ignorant cruelty). He led us to championships by inspiring us to use what we had uniquely within us. That technique and skill unto itself was not the sole arbitrator of achievement. Rather, there is a caliber of the heart to exercise fully. It can shatter statistical odds.
Professionally, I had a professor who introduced me to a world of artistry and global creative heritage that made me realize I was aligned to maverick sensibilities from decades and centuries earlier. By showing me their contributions, I recognized that the popular and iconic culture of the day, however, celebrated and economized, was not always the signature hallmark for leaving an enduring mark. I apply this recognition regularly.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
“Tonight there will be someone that has come to the theater for the very first time and we perform for them. There will also be someone when tonight will be their last, and we perform for them.” — Arianne Mnuchkin.
“The most political decision you make is where you direct people’s eyes.” — Wim Wenders
“Tell the truth.” — ubiquitous
How are you going to shake things up next?
We have recently purchased a small theater and are raising the money needed to put a long-dormant cultural asset back into use in Los Angeles. How we are shaking things up, is that instead of expanding the profile, economy, and footprint of CAP UCLA, we are establishing partners to conjoin us in sharing the venue for our collective work. Instead of growing our organization (the “go big or go home” expansion principal), we are using the venue as a stop-gap against market pressures that put other organizations and emerging artists at risk. It’s a form of collaboration with the ‘competition’ that reduces everyone’s economic vulnerability in service to sustaining the long view of culture as an accessible right. A form of affordable housing that sustains ideas that are meant to be shared with the public on stage, rather than an investment in a property that drives expansion and gentrification.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
Lewis Hyde. Everything that he has written.
Brain Picking- this is a website/blog/newsletter that is a dose of useful genius every single week. I am not overstating the word genius here — what she does is a measure above the word, by her use of words.
Marvel Comic books from the 1970’s — Frank Miller’s “Daredevil” epics, the X-Men era now being depicted in the film but staggering in the print edition, and the complex collaborative (yet flawed) dynamic of the Avengers (then).
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I am not convinced that the most important movement we can inspire towards “good” would be grounded in the idea of benefitting the ‘most amount of people.’ The prompt above implies that human beings should inherently benefit if a movement is “good.” But in the spirit of your question: My movement would have humans benefit less, in order to radically reduce the unbridled pressure upon everything else on the face of the earth. The natural world would be my acute priority — which requires a reduction in catering to human greed, exploitation, comfort, and an irrational sense of unevenly distributed progress.
I’d start with the redistribution of the US military budget by at least $2Billion per year — and funnel the moola into education as a principle INALIENABLE right.
I’d stop robbing Patricia to pay Paul.
I’d develop a platform for the 1% to re-direct half of their annual monetary accruals into deeply inspired purposes that leave a profound legacy.
I’d make sure that there was an artist in residence in every bureaucracy we’ve established to date.
I’d ensure there are seeds, water, air and the generous predisposition to share them with others along with song, dance, paint and shelter.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I was at a definite fork in the road at a particular juncture in my early career — one that would inevitably cast the die for what color and contour my life’s work would take. I sought the counsel of a respected patron who had been instrumental in my work, as she had been involved in the arts for many decades and I knew that she not only understood the weighty contexts for the professional decision I found myself having to make, she had perspective and I, at 28 could not possibly claim. Her response was not a linear nor pragmatic answer to my conundrum. She did not say, “If I were in your shoes, I would do ‘x’.” Instead, she provided me with a far broadened scope than my lens of consideration was focused on. An enduringly relevant adage that I had not encountered. She said, “A life well-lived is the greatest revenge.” I instantly knew what to do.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.
— Published on August 12, 2019
First Encounters: A Brief Interview with Performers of Through and Through and Through
Written by James Knowlton
In a passage from OVER-BELIEFS, the book of essays and interviews published on the occasion of Gordon Hall’s Through and Through and Through at PICA (June 8 – August 10, 2019), Hall states,
“the space between, where the furniture meets your body, that little gap that closes when you sit down or touch something– that’s what I get excited about. With this object, I didn’t go out searching for a bench. It’s like having a crush on someone or the way you can imagine exactly what the body of someone you’ve slept with feels like even when they’re not there.”
The sculptural pieces serve as active participants that encourage movement and dialogue in relation to them, as well as potential future and past memories. The experience of wandering through sculptures that are indicative of thresholds, rest spaces, moments of encounter with an object before the entry and exit of a space– all these points of contact help us question how the materiality of our daily lives impacts us.
This passage–and the anticipation of a water fountain’s offering right before it hits your lips in mind–made me think it would be interesting to conduct an interview of sorts about a performers “first date” with one of the sculptures. It is with an understanding of the anxieties that come with a first meeting; the hope, desire, and anticipation that can be found in the moment before the encounter that Gordon hopes also can reveal an opportunity for care. Gordon often speaks about care, and how it “is an articulation of an ethos for encountering one another.” The interview questions are meant to be silly, didactic, and ultimately utilize a contemporary sense of dating to get to a deeper understanding of the work. As a performer with some of the works, I’ll also engage these questions.
First Date with Takahiro Yamamoto, Maggie Heath, James Knowlton and Anonymous
Why were you drawn to (SCULPTURE) initially? What were the physical, mental, or emotional attributes that drew you towards wanting to meet them?
T: Parallelogram Bench (for Dennis) looked familiar. Probably because I’ve seen a similar structure from past projects [of Hall’s]. I was curious about the [previous iteration of a similar sculpture] past project, so it was making me want to get to know more.
M: My first encounter with Facing Ls was after a long night on a red eye to New York. I was sleep deprived and over stimulated by being in the city. We had extremely large sandwiches that we brought into the building that Gordon had been staging his sculptures in. I was overwhelmed ordering the sandwich and was trying to appear professional and friendly. The building was a disaster, but Gordon’s room was peaceful. It was some mixture of cemetery and sanctuary. The room must have had lights, but I feel like when we first walked in it was more cathedral like. Though maybe I was too tired to really remember. Everything in the room looked like it had been asleep and covered in dust.
J: I saw Stoop Ornament from afar first, I wasn’t sure if they could see me, but I certainly saw them. There was something about their height that drew me to them. I really appreciated the circle top, the curly hair upon their head.
A: I tap on everyone I wanna fuck, but I knew after seeing their [Floor Door (For Freds)] photos and reading their profile that I really wanted to meet them. They seemed like a fun person to hang out with, not just bang and go.
What were the thoughts and emotions that arose when you first saw them?
T: Geometric is a very peculiar way. I could not place any logic, spatial logic to it.
M: I immediately saw Facing Ls. They seemed so tender together. I thought they were pale blue. Gordon explained they were painted two shades of grey. They really looked blue.
J: I was nervous to talk to them, I always am to meet a new Stoop. I felt uncertain how they would respond to me. I felt shy about engaging because they seemed so put together, held, and astute.
A: I think the usual – how do they look so cute? Do they like Tim Hecker? Who’s topping?
How did you work through any initial anxieties, in order to approach and introduce yourself? If you didn’t feel nervous to meet them, how did you find that confidence?
M: They sat on the opposite side of the room from us. We on the empty canvas “rug”, the Facing Ls with the rest of their sculpture friends on their canvas “rug”. I didn’t take off my shoes and saw footprints I left from the dirty warehouse on the linen and immediately tried to brush them off. I was still holding a giant sandwich. I kept looking over at the Facing Ls which felt as though they were in forever suspension of wanting to nestle in with one another. Lovers in anticipation? Or of anticipation?
J: I realized that although they looked pretty stationary, life is so fleeting and I didn’t want to miss the chance to communicate with them. It helped that I knew they were leaving town in a month and this would be my only chance.
A: Chatting on an app helps with that awkward anxiety about chatting with someone initially. It also helps to gauge someone before you agree to meet them. I don’t think I can truly feel 100% confident about meeting someone, especially when you have internalized so many expectations about how to appeal to someone or get their attention. You kinda just have to dive into it and see what happens. That’s what it’s all about, right? Just figuring it out as you go along.
What did it feel like to first talk with (SCULPTURE)? Who spoke first? Did they seem interested in the things you said? Were you interested in what they had to share?
T: The piece spoke first, telling me how the size is not what it seems from outside. Also, it spoke to me how fragile and precarious it is. That’s when I realized that my involvement (the involvement of my body) is more of a conversation than one-way approach.
M: They looked so sleek… but when I went over to inspect them I was pleased to see they had so many hints of a human touch on them. Not in fingerprints, or obvious markings. But in … ugh… I don’t know how to say it. The way you try to sculpt something out of… say… clay. And you try to make it smooth with your hand, but maybe there is a little bulbous moment that happens? Which lets you know it was made from human not from machine. It strives towards that machine finish, only it will always show its human-ness by that one bulbous moment. Does that make sense?
J: I approached first. They were so still, I didn’t know who would speak first. I decided to introduce myself. They didn’t seem particularly interested in what I had to say, it seemed more they wanted to be close with me in silent ways. I was interested in their fortitude and I learned that they had held so many people before through this exchange.
A: Kinda like before, there’s always anxieties about initially chatting with someone. There’s a big difference between messaging someone and chatting with someone in person. It’s nice though when it moves from being more formal and proper to us just sharing memes.
Did you have physical contact? What did that contact look, feel, taste, sound like?
M: We ate our sandwiches.
Afterwards, we began to pack up the sculptures. Moving them from the secret warehouse into the truck that felt like some sort of hibernation chamber once they all were strapped in. I expected the Facing Ls to be lighter than they were — they seemed to defy gravity. But of course they are made from concrete, so really, what was I thinking? I didn’t pack them, though I felt I wanted to protect them more than the person who was packing them did. I really didn’t trust that they were secure. I was too tired to put up a fight that wasn’t worth it, plus, worrying when no one else is, is a sure sign you might care a little too much. They seemed to travel fine.
Packed up, they sat next to one another, L next to L. No longer Facing. No longer holding that tenderness they once held as they sat in that apprehension, that tension, that suspension, with that space, that gap, that slit between them. Their tenderness turned into something else. Less like lovers and more like companions. How fast a relationship can change, just by how we stand opposed to one another.
J: Consent is vital. I learned that they wanted me to delicately touch their head. I slowly let my hand graze the spirals and curves of their body. They responded by showing me their shape and materiality.
A: Yeah we did. Don’t feel comfy going into it but we did listen to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”
Would you say that this contact was driven by desire? If yes, please explain. If not, what drove the physical element of your relationship?
T: It’s always a negotiation. I was nervous every single time I got in contact with it; however, I also knew that the costume, the socks, looks great with it, which motivated me more to be in contact with it.
J: I would be lying if I did not want to touch them from the moment I saw them. There was something about their shape and their ornateness of face, while having a minimal and strong body that really compelled me toward them.
A: Define desire.
How often do you think about this first date?
T: It reminded me of the first date every single time I was in contact with. Quite lovely.
A: Pretty often. I enjoy a fun fuck.
Would you go on more dates? If yes, what would you like to do with them? If no, was this a matter of chemistry? Or simply, why not?
T: Yes sure. I would be careful, as much as I can. :)
M: Though I came into direct contact with them in installation and though I desired to know them, and perhaps even do know them with a different type of intimately than some, now that they sleep in PICA’s warehouse they feel more off-limits. As though, it’s better to look from afar, always in relation to, orbiting around, adjacent from the Facing Ls and never with.
J: I appreciated what we shared in those moments, but I feel that the more they’re experienced in this way– the duller they potentially get.
A: Probably not, since they kept saying “spirit animal” during the date.
An Intimate Dance of Objects: Gordon Hall
by Lucy Cotter
Published in Mousse Magazine
New York–based artist Gordon Hall’s new exhibition THROUGH AND THROUGH AND THROUGH, on view at PICA (Portland Institute for Contemporary Art), offers an encounter with objects that invites us to reexperience the (gendered) body.
“Through and Through and Through” at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, 2019 Courtesy: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and Evan La Londe
Gordon Hall’s sculptures are small delicacies, placed ritualistically in space like carefully punctuated words on a page. To encounter THROUGH AND THROUGH AND THROUGH without prior knowledge is to be pleasantly surprised by an invitation to be intimate. This overture bypasses thought and nestles itself comfortably in the elongated curve of an arched foot, the cavern of an armpit, or the crevice between two buttocks. Although presented in the rational object-derived language of abstraction, Hall’s work is intensely sensual, with its sherbet-colored palette and softer-edged vocabulary of serious play. It speaks back to Minimalist sculpture in ways that overlook the commercial reification of the interim period, embracing instead its early phenomenological dreaming. Their oeuvre dreams further, however, asking questions that speak to the transforming corporeal imaginaries of the present moment: If an object holds a body and a body is not a thing, how might we move or be still together in the same space? Are you curious about my being? Can I imagine you to be everything you are, with no boundaries? Can you see me, too, as an open-ended possibility?
Hall’s sculptures act like a successive iteration that unexpectedly summons the floor of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, calling to life the traces marking the building’s former uses as a site of industrial fabrication, skateboarding, and art making alike. This all-encompassing drawing in space invites viewers’ encircling bodies into a collaborative dance, echoing the way that each sculpture has been developed from the exploration of a body with a found object. In fact, Hall first trained in ballet, moving into gestural abstractions accompanied by increasingly precise and ambiguous costumes and props until there were no bodies left in the dance. In their writings, published as a collection for the first time on the occasion of this exhibition, Hall recalls that this transition took place in parallel with a more personal and political transition into ambiguity.
Gordon Hall performing for Sitting (Brick Object) (III), 2019, “Through and Through and Through” at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, 2019 Courtesy: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and Evan La Londe
While all of Hall’s “extremely precise objects of ambiguous use” imply movement and demand a response by bodies, the exhibition opening is interspersed by moments in which the crowd grows silent to watch solo performers engage in physical exercises; small corporeal vignettes that act in parallel to, or directly engage with, sculptures in the dancers’ environs. In one such performance, local dance-trained artist Takahiro Yamamoto balances his body on the triangular edge of a sculpture base resembling a low lectern. In another, Payton Barronian gently holds two feet in midair so that the body becomes a triangular form that meets the floor on its axis, echoing a nearby graphite-covered wedge. These performances will continue at intervals throughout the exhibition, following the tradition of Hall’s recent shows at the MIT List Visual Arts Center and the Renaissance Society.
Echoing the subtle material sensibilities of Richard Tuttle’s assemblages, the works gather a range of tactilities that have a poetic persuasion. Their titles—Stoop Ornament, Kneeling Object—mingle utilitarian objecthood and human interactions, which resonates in turn with their making process: cast concrete, carved brick, waxed poplar. And yet, even in their titles, the memory of touch and the fact of human presence are near. Floor Door is for Fred; Parallelogram Bench is for Dennis. One of Hall’s earlier works involved them seeing the photo of a handmade bench in a friend’s grandmother’s home and traveling there to replicate it. Months of research confirmed that the bench was the work of artist Dennis Croteau, whose AIDS-related death in the 1980s lends Hall’s work a melancholic layer. In their book, Hall writes about their grief at the unbearable vulnerability of the nontraditionally gendered body and suggests that the pushback against misrecognition, objectification, and aggression lies in care. THROUGH AND THROUGH AND THROUGH cares for objects in ways that offer us a renewed experience of the (gendered) body, “so that in the moments we encounter one another, we are actually able to see differently than the way we have been taught.”1 The exhibition, too, is the result of care, following the artist’s three-year conversation with its curators and the collaboration of many. The radiant result makes this labor of love worth every ounce of effort.
 Gordon Hall, “Reading Things: On Sculpture, Gender and Relearning How to See,” in OVER-BELIEFS: Gordon Hall Collected Writing, 2011–2018, ed. Spencer Byrne-Seres (Portland, OR: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art with Container Corps, 2019), 9–13.
Gordon Hall: THROUGH AND THROUGH AND THROUGH, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA), Portland, Oregon, June 8–August 10, 2019, commissioned and curated by Roya Amirsoleymani and Kristan Kennedy, artistic directors (with Erin Boberg Doughton), PICA.
at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
until 10 August 2019
At ADF: Moving Performances by Eiko Otake and Friends
By Andrea McKerlie Luke
Published in CVNC
July 8, 2019 – Durham, NC:
Guest performer Eiko Otake appeared at the 2019 American Dance Festival in collaboration with painter Beverly McIver and Otake’s students-turned-collaborators. The evening was performance art at its most intense, a personal expression of Otake’s loss of her mother as well as outpourings of confusion, disillusionment, anger, and love by her collaborators. While the works played with the relationships between physical and emotional space, each duet challenged our perception of love, loss, silence, art, history, and interpersonal relationships. Otake is known for her site-specific works, and although this iteration of Distance is Malleable is performed in a relatively standard black box theater with a thrust stage, elements of it certainly could not have been possible at any other location. The collaborators had worked to integrate painting, movement, music, and video in interesting and sometimes challenging ways, and their performance certainly was interesting – and, at times, challenging.
This episode of Otake’s series The Duet Project was born organically out of Otake and McIver’s friendship and then filled in with collaborations with others, but the overarching theme is Otake’s loss of her mother. The piece opens with a recording of McIver, discussing a phone call she had with Otake concerning Otake’s ailing mother in Japan, whom she needed to move out of the nursing home and into hospice care at Otake’s home. McIver was struck with the everyday ritual of the process and decided she needed to come to Japan. While Otake’s mother passed before McIver could arrive, Otake and family opened their home to her and invited her into the ceremonies of a traditional Japanese funeral.
Images McIver saw and photographed from this experience led her to paint, and McIver’s paintings led Otake to conceive a performance art work. Much of the piece is intensely personal to Otake, and, as she confessed during the post-show talkback, seeing McIver’s paintings of her mother’s funeral “obliged” her “to deal with it.” During the show, she spoke about how her mother had “a good death,” surrounded by family, flowers, and the meticulous ritual of helping someone die. Otake’s movements throughout the show are therefore usually measured and solemn, representing the lingering of a long, illness-wrought death.
The two women entered the stage in slow, deliberate movement, flanked by several of McIver’s paintings displayed in the performance space. McIver’s work is colorful and realistic yet stylized. There is a scene from the funeral: a colorfully shaded image of Otake’s mother in an open casket, surrounded by daisies, with faceless mourners gathered behind her in all blacks and grays. Other works appeared later on, sometimes on easels and sometimes shown in videos taken by Otake in McIver’s studio. After a brief duet of slow, magnetic movement between the women in which they ceremonially shared sips from a large bowl of water, McIver sat, and Otake took the stage for a beat before performing a variety of duets with Alexis Moh, DonChristian Jones, and Mark McCloughan, punctuated by intense solo time.
Moh, a filmmaker concerned with global issues like climate change, has been creating dance films and video installations with Otake since 2015 and now appears in a video portion as well as onstage in a live performance in The Duet Project. Moh and Otake introduced themselves as Korean-American and Japanese, respectively, briefly touching on what that means to them and discussing the relationship of their generations; one generation has passed down apathy towards climate change to the younger, one generation must carry on the older one’s legacy. Moh’s narration was understated and matter-of-fact – it was easy to tell how uncomfortable the filmmaker was in front of a camera – but it came from a place of honesty and genuine concern.
Jones played a more visual part in the performance, participating in a duet of movement with Otake that ranged from the slowest possible gestures to frenetic running in large circles around the performance space. He lent his plaintive voice in fragmented song that evolved throughout the duet until he was lost backstage and his voice could barely be heard. The use of incredibly slow movements permeated the evening, and it was especially beautiful to appreciate the inconsistencies of the human body: the slight hesitations, wobbles, and twitches were a part of the aesthetic. The performers demonstrated beautiful motions and also uncomfortable, awkward positions, illustrating life’s many unpleasant and uncertain emotions, along with the pleasant.
From Jones’ duet, McCloughan emerged immediately for another movement-based duet, featuring their scrawling words on large sheets of paper while Otake gathered them up to either hand to the audience or interact with. The pages contained statements and poetic fragments, such as “I refuse,” “I know,” “White flowers,” and “You Can.” Both performers interacted with the paper sheets in different ways: McCloughan carefully gathering them up like precious treasures before exiting, Otake waving them and hurling them up at the screen upstage. They shared a moment of movement together that appeared to reflect first Otake comforting and raising McCloughan up, then McCloughan taking on Otake’s weight as Otake gradually collapsed. The show ended with Otake as a soloist, often very plaintive in her speech and movements, but she did release primal, guttural wails in grief.
There are more important moments in the show other than these, but it does no good to analyze every single one. Watching all of these outpourings of such complex emotion was not easy, but sitting back and taking in each moment as it came ignited just as many varied emotions, based on the current space, cultural context, and personal experience. There are moments of empathy scattered heavily through the work, and some of them emerged through something as simple as watching an old woman drip water over a young man’s face. As one audience member commented during the talkback, “it was scary, it was cathartic, it was everything. I’m going to sit with this for a long time.” Otake’s work is about opening up to another person’s experience, which is how the performers challenged each other and now challenge us, the audience.
Motherhood, Memory, and Mortality in Eiko Otake’s “The Duet Project”
By Linda Belans
Published in Indy Week
EIKO OTAKE: THE DUET PROJECT: DISTANCE IS MALLEABLE
Monday, Jul. 8 – Wednesday, Jul. 10, 8 p.m.
Rubenstein Arts Center, Durham
Eiko Otake and Beverly McIver had never heard of each other until a mutual friend, American Dance Festival director Jodee Nimerichter, suggested that the New York City-based dance artist and the Hillsborough-based painter explore the possibility of working together. After a whirlwind first encounter that included a viewing of McIver’s work at Durham’s Craven Allen Gallery, their intuition said yes. But they had no idea what form their collaboration would take, because Eiko had to catch a plane for Japan. The process would reveal itself through twists and turns on two continents and result in The Duet Project: Distance Is Malleable, commissioned by ADF and co-presented by The Nasher Museum of Art. The piece is a collaboration with McIver and three of Eiko’s former students: visual artist, rapper, and singer-songwriter DonChristian Jones, dancer and poet Mark McCloughan, and filmmaker Alexis Moh.
In the thirty-five years I’ve been writing about and conversing with Eiko, from her early work with her husband Koma through her solo work, it has always been clear that she interrogates big human ideas. This new work is anchored in questions including, “How can two artists collide and return changed but whole? How can two individuals encounter and converse over their differences with or without words? How can we express both explicitly and implicitly what each of us really cares about?” Eiko thinks and speaks like a poet, and whether her work occurs in silence or is accompanied by sound, it has an inherent score. McIver speaks with the same clarity and boldness found in her paintings. I wanted to capture the music of their collective spirit in anticipation of The Duet Project’s July premiere at The Rubenstein Arts Center.
Duets with the Living and the Dead
“Another sense of otherness.” —Beverly McIver
Snow drifts over the procession. Onlookers line the path. White flakes slowly blanket their umbrellas, the wooden box, and the people who carry it. Eiko walks in mourner’s cadence among them. It is scored by silence.
Perhaps Eiko Otake has been preparing for this all her life, combining the existential drama of forty-seven years performing with her husband Koma (who is in the procession) with her more recent solo series, A Body in Places, where she interacts with elements in unexpected spaces: in Fukushima. On Wall Street. At the Durham Farmers’ Market. Except this is real life. This is the street in front of the family home in Japan. This is the death of her ninety-three-year-old mother.
Beverly McIver is no more astonished to be part of this intimate family procession than the neighbors who respectfully stare at her. It is particularly astonishing because she and Eiko (pronounced A-koh) had only met for forty-eight hours in Durham.
McIver’s paintings of this experience will be integrated into The Duet Project: Distance is Malleable, which premieres at ADF in July. Eiko tells me: “I have lost many important friends at sixty-seven. Working with younger artists helps me practice my dying. I don’t want to die anytime too soon. When I work with extremely young people, it makes sense. I die first. In order. If they die first, it’s a tragedy. I miss my mother. It’s not a tragedy.”
“Thrusting forward is contagious.” —Eiko
Collaboration for Eiko requires a conversation—usually an animated one, often over a meal that she prepares in her tiny, well-stocked New York apartment kitchen, where a hunk of ginger sits next to the constant pot of rice. The meal is consumed at a rectangular table in the small adjacent dining room that also served as Eiko’s video-editing station for A Body in Fukushima. Eiko: “Sometimes talking makes it harder to jump over the distance.”
So, the conversation might spill over into a sudden improvisational movement session on the well-worn parquet living-room floor, a surprising oasis of open space in the otherwise fully lived-in apartment she shares with Koma. It also houses a piano, a lifetime of costumes, videotapes, computers, nests of cords, memorabilia, and remnants of their two grown sons whom they raised there.
Or, the collaboration might begin at 10:45 p.m. on the Hillsborough doorstep of McIver, who greets her in pajamas. Eiko was making a quick detour on her way to see her mother. But first, she is following ADF director Jodee Nimerichter’s intuitive suggestion—that these two artist and scholars, who have never met, should work together.
Eiko, who brings the same intention to relationships as she does to her art, has a long history with ADF. I can still conjure Eiko & Koma’s 1984 Reynolds Theater performance of Elegy, their naked bodies drenched in pools of water and light, all dripping and luminous. And the gasping impact of what they did with all that rice in Grain. The duo returned frequently over the years, performing in a Duke Gardens pond, under giant oaks, and other outdoor settings. Always with glacial slowness.
Eiko began her solo work a few years ago when Koma injured his foot. (He has since recovered and performs his own work.) It is her trusting relationship with Nimerichter, whose vision brought A Body in a Farmers’ Market to Durham one May morning in 2016, where Eiko interacted with people and produce, darting through startled crowds.
McIver had never seen her work. What might she make of Eiko’s four-hour mesmerizing Fukushima film where she illuminates irradiated ghost towns and immerses herself in radiation-soaked water? Coming from opposite sides of the world, experiences, and cultures, at first glance, the two couldn’t seem a more unlikely match.
Eiko chose to drop out of college in the 1960s to join Tokyo’s political revolution. Her work is ephemeral and transitory. She asks people to fill in what isn’t there. “We develop our imagination to get smarter,” she tells me. My own experience with A Body in a Farmers’ Market became stronger as time advanced, compelling me to write about it for no one but myself. And, for Eiko.
Fifty-seven-year-old McIver was born into activism in Greensboro’s housing projects, where the Klan infamously killed five people in front of her house. She was seventeen. Her portraits, permanently visible on canvas in thick, bold, here-I-am strokes, confront us with identity and unify us with family, sometimes at the same time.
Eiko describes herself as frugal: She carries her futon prop on subways and flies economy. McIver refers to herself as high maintenance: She lives alone in a large house in the woods and flies first class.
What connects them is their willingness to be vulnerable through their art. Their fearlessness about confronting death and dying. And their mothers. That’s where their stories converge.
McIver: “I do get called to do things. I must pay attention even if I don’t understand it. But this was probably the most extreme.” Two days after meeting and departing, she felt compelled to photograph Eiko’s mother. But she died two days before McIver arrived.
“In some ways, it was like reliving my mother dying [twelve years ago]. Eiko was just how I was at my mother’s funeral. She cried. But for the most part, when my mother was sick and dying, I decided I was going to be an artist and make paintings. I was not going to be emotional; I could capture this moment with some sense of clarity. Eiko was like that. It was easier for me to direct than to be a daughter. Eiko and I are similar in that regard.”
“Collaborating with the dead.” —Eiko
“In the afterlife.” —McIver
Eiko coached McIver on the Buddhist rituals of kneeling, chanting, bell ringing, and incense. She also fed the community who came to pay their respects. The body was at home, packed in dry ice, waiting five days for cremation. There was no embalming. The grieving daughter made sure her mother’s body was never alone, instructing McIver: “Go talk to my mother.”
“It’s the closest and most time I have ever spent with a corpse,” McIver says. “No one gets this noble honor.”
At the cremation, McIver’s English-speaking partner instructed her to pick up a remaining bone with chopsticks and place it in the urn. But she had never held chopsticks before. She managed the moment by resting hers on the bone with her partner’s and following it to the urn. At dinner, the urn was placed at the head of the table. There was laughter and storytelling.
McIver photographed her entire experience, including the body, family-crafted origami, photographs, and other non-metal objects to accompany Eiko’s mother into the afterlife, as well as the cotton slip that Eiko bequeathed her when the two women cleaned out the apartment. And the food. McIver will transform some of these into paintings for the performances.
“My mind is going forward so my leg is going forward.” —Eiko
Eiko says that she has become bold. Become. What might we expect moving forward from this fearless woman who has been naked in performance, who plunges into nuclear-disaster water and renders it exquisite. Who stops Wall Street pedestrians in their trading tracks. Who perches atop buildings and crows over the city. Who stands nose-to-nose with a stranger and holds their gaze. Who challenges us to reconsider definitions and boundaries. What will “bold” look like for this woman who will be written about long after she’s gone?
Eiko: “When I die, I don’t need a Buddhist funeral. Just show the Fukushima movie and have a good meal.”
interviewed by Catherine Damman
Published in BOMB Magazine
The recent conclusion of the choreographer’s trilogy, Water Will (in Melody), employs mime, gothic imagery, and a Grimm tale, to consider entanglements of nature, the feminine, and blackness.
Ligia Lewis in Water Will (in Melody) at Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin, 2018. Photo by Studio Julien Barbés. Courtesy of Hebbel Am Ufer.
A theater is perhaps a kind of vise, a mechanism for durational holding. The best artists working in the form understand that whatever is placed between the proscenium’s jaws—sound, light, language, bodies, movement—is so clutched to facilitate the material’s irrevocable transformation, often via brute force. Ligia Lewis is one such artist. She has spent the last five years at work on a monumental trilogy, comprised of Sorrow Swag (2014); minor matter (2016); and Water Will (in Melody) (2018), which will have its US premiere at Performance Space New York in May. Dominican-born and Florida-raised, Lewis made these works while living and working in Berlin, and from this vantage, has made something that I can only call distinctively, brutally American. This is not least because each of the three is saturated in a hue wrung from that nation’s flag (blue, red, and white, respectively), and because they foreground transformation, illegibility, and diaspora, but even more so, because of the enormity of their ambition, itself scaled to address the vastness of the country’s immiserating project.
To borrow from Gertrude Stein, each work alone manifests “a single hurt color”; the triumvirate is, together, a spectacle and everything strange. Sorrow Swag, drawing on Samuel Beckett and Jean Anouilh, is built around the melancholy wailing of a single performer, a white boy who spars with everyone and only himself within an ultramarine fog. minor matter features three performers, including Lewis, in a fiery blaze of entanglement and exertion. Together, they are an unstoppable force in the face of an immovable object. In her most recent work, Water Will (in Melody), Lewis appears alongside three other female performers for an exploration of melodrama, demonstrative gesture, and the limits of legibility. Within the notion of will, expressions of futurity, inevitability, and desire are nestled together, however uncomfortably, with the faculties of determination and transformative action. We spoke about the power of black thought to work within and against spectacle, the possibilities of antagonism, and the urgency of collectivity.
Performance view of Water Will (in Melody) at Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin, 2018. Photo by Katja Illner. Courtesy of the artist and Hebbel Am Ufer.
Tell me about your latest performances of Sorrow Swag at the studios of the Kaaitheater in Brussels.
Sorrow Swag is so dark, but the last two nights made me fall in love with it again. It’s interesting to revisit this first part of my recent trilogy. I have a different performer now, Andrew Hardwidge. My twin brother [George Lewis Jr., also known as Twin Shadow], who arranged the music, joined on this occasion and played live. It was everything.
This spring, you’ll be touring all three parts of the trilogy individually at different venues in the US and Europe.
Yeah, this is the first time they’ll be playing simultaneously. Each piece attends to the theater in different ways. There are definitely overlapping sensibilities, light being the most obvious. I have a fantasy of one day staging the whole trilogy back to back, in one evening, maybe in a warehouse, somewhere slightly off the grid of the usual touring circuit.
Yeah, you’d need a massive space. I was just watching footage of Sorrow Swag and the second part, minor matter, as well as an earlier work of yours, Sensation 1 (2011). You’re so attentive to what the proscenium does and can do, and what you and the performers can do to it. Particularly in minor matter, the use of the perimeter of the theatrical space, especially upstage and downstage, is crucial. There are these great moments where the performers come toward the audience or retreat away, staging an encounter of proximity and charge.
I always consider the audience when I construct a work. And I’m very busy with the feel of it, how it might be experienced. My work indulges in the sensate and operates through this field of perception. The first work I made was Sensation 1, a sculptural choreography with the gesture of singing rendered mute. The gesture of song animates the seemingly static body, giving form to an intensified interior and exterior space of the body. Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” the VH1 Live! version, plays in the dark, after the choreography is performed. I was playing with a sensorial choreography, illuminated by sight and sound, presented separately.
After that I decided to work more theatrically, fully assuming the theater as dynamic and supportive of experientially rich work. I continued with my interest in figuring the body in space and time, which is visible in the rest of the pieces of this trilogy. I’m interested in how bodies come to mean something or make things meaningful, together. In minor matter, we used the walls of the black box as another arm or leg, another body of support for us to climb. Sorrow Swag is more isolating, so the body kind of appears and disappears in the fog. My framing devices are informed by the space I have to work in. The theater, which feels distant and cold, at times overdetermining and overwhelming, also invites the potential to create transformative work. Charge and retreat, saturation and intensity, and the unruly unfolding of activities and embodiments allow me to deal with the hardness of the theater. The interplay of light and sound are crucial.
Your work unseats the position of mastery that a spectator in a proscenium theater might assume will be given to them. That’s achieved through these moments of illegibility, where perception and knowledge slip away. Scenographically, dramaturgically, or choreographically, movement gets interrupted or shifts midway; just at the moment the spectator is starting to get a handle on what’s happening, something dissolves or transforms.
I like producing a slippery relationship between the audience and performers. How do I build a fugitive choreography, one that’s always in the process of escaping itself, then coming back to reaffirm itself, only to slide away again? The act of interpreting a choreography is made live by the performers, which is the invitation in my work. I’m fortunate to work with brilliant performers, and this kind of dynamic interpretation is present in the pieces.
Alongside their interpretations, there’s a logic for how movements or embodiments unfold in space and time. Light and sound undergo a similar process. In Sorrow Swag, light and sound produce qualities of immersion, and at times distance or disappearance. And in minor matter, light and sound offer a feeling of seemingly endless unfolding. In Water Will, light is more hypnotic, fantastical. The unsettling qualities emerge out of different choreographic proposals that always include sound and light. I like when something familiar suddenly touches upon the uncanny, or a series of activities or movements is interrupted, or sonic and visual shiftiness disrupts the flow of things and creates a hiccup in perception.
I indulge in nonlinear thinking and allow myself to riff or go in multiple directions in a piece. This lends itself to going sideways versus straight forward. I’m an intense reader of my own work, but not in an analytical sense. It’s an intuitive process.
Your work is a kind of theoretical object in its own right. You’re a keen reader of Saidiya Hartman, Hortense Spillers, and Fred Moten, among others. How do you see your work in dialogue with the discourses of black studies?
Tiran Willemse, Jonathan Gonzalez, and Ligia Lewis in minor matter at HAU Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin, 2017. Photo by Martha Glenn. Courtesy of Hebbel Am Ufer.
That’s an incredible bunch. Saidiya Hartman and Denise Ferreira da Silva are among many inspiring thinkers and writers who particularly move me at the moment—beyond my comprehension, beyond my possible illustration, and at times to tears. I don’t want to force a relationship between theory and dance because the practice of dancing is already producing its own theoretical framework, its own sets of rules, and its own ethos, coherent to itself.
In my work, I often start with something more obscure, like an image or a sound, or a sense of movement. Maybe later I’ll invite texts into my process as a way to elaborate further on what I’m intuiting. Having a strong political will, as I do, often sets me up for failure and lots of creative impossibility. Being able to think next to a text or another person becomes crucial to understanding how I want to be working. Within this trilogy especially, the oscillation between hope and hopelessness inspired me to think more deeply about my practice and what I wanted to privilege inside of it. The pieces work through so many of my own thoughts, experiences, affects, and impressions, and those of my collaborators. Additional texts that seem conducive to the work are also present. A key component of this trilogy is its antagonism toward white supremacist logics—the logics of empire—and their hold on the body. The audience becomes witness to this.
Your work is antagonistic, yet it also gives so much.
Thank you. Last night my brother was like, “The people here are really loving your work, which is cool. It might not be the right people, but…” And I just had to laugh. I could be busy with the fact that a large portion of my audience is white bourgeois viewers. It’s something I wrestle with. But at the same time, generosity enables me to take hold of the space and try to make it mine, even if only for a moment.
Generosity acknowledges that the work doesn’t have to be for everyone. You can speak to and with different audiences, beyond those in the performance space.
I used to have this naive and romantic idea about making work for a general public, having had a kind of populist disposition. I wonder about that now. (laughter) I think I was attracted to this idea initially because I wanted to avoid making dance only for a community that specializes in it, which is not so exciting to me. But as you said, different audiences are meeting the work, which doesn’t neatly fit into the category of dance, and all of this is important to me. Also, through my work, I’ve met other artists and folks who are really inspiring, and ultimately that’s what it’s about.
Who have some of those encounters been with?
So many, but to name a few that ended up in collaborative processes: Nkisi, founding member of NON Worldwide (with Chino Amobi and Angel-ho), a DJ collective comprised mostly of members from the black diaspora. I joined her and NON a couple years ago on a project at Hebbel Am Ufer in Berlin, and since then we’ve maintained an artistic dialogue. She and I also contributed to the work of visual artist Paul Maheke, for a video entitled Levant. Working with Wu Tsang on the film We Hold Where Study was pretty amazing. And of course I continue to work with my brother, Twin Shadow. I joined him at Afropunk; he joined me for Sorrow Swag, and we’ll continue to work together. I have an upcoming commission at the High Line, and he will likely be part of it.
Oh, importantly, a young scholar and performance maker, Mlondi Zondi, and I have a very fruitful exchange. He wrote about minor matter, picking up on things I would have potentially overlooked. It’s rewarding to have my work interface with such brilliant people.
What were some of the things that came out of these dialogues?
With Mlondi, we’ve been tripping a lot on the limits of what choreography can do and be in relationship to politics and representation. As this is all very complicated, he and I reflect together—he as theorist, me as practitioner. I’m busy trying to enact these limits; he reflects deeply on them.
How does one respond to this seemingly intractable problem of institutions wanting the work without doing the work when it comes to black artists? All in the name of “diversity” or “inclusion,” with the motivation being at once exculpatory—a way to atone for previous exclusion—and rooted in the logics of cultural capital, wherein blackness is trendy or cool. This is not a new phenomenon.
Well, I have a kind of allergy to visibility politics. I take a pretty pessimistic view toward institutions, particularly those that don’t enter a space of self-reflection, or more importantly, self-critique, when they program work by artists of color. Friends share their stories of dealing with institutions both in Europe and the US, still having to explain things that seem obvious. Like, do people think we’re silly enough to believe that our own visibility is actually the goal? I’m critical of visibility politics because it’s in the name of inclusion, often in a bland liberal project that I don’t want to be committed to. I’m curious what will come of this moment, how it will be written about, and what else is to come. Hopefully more noise.
Perhaps one antidote is to luxuriate in specificity, so let’s turn to the specifics of your work. Rewatching the Bolero scene in minor matter this weekend, I was thinking about Maurice Béjart’s ballet and how you—perhaps not destroy, but definitely transform it. The movement is the original choreography, yet it also becomes a groove that’s not present in, say, Sylvie Guillem’s performance of this dance.
I love Béjart’s Bolero; it’s epic. I prefer Jorge Donn’s version to Guillem’s. His uniquely queer articulation is more fascinating to watch. Approaching Bolero, I wanted to imagine a version that’s not about the soloist, so my version quickly transforms into a trio, an ensemble work. Our syncopated rhythms as performers meet the syncopated rhythms of Carl Craig and Moritz von Oswald’s ReComposed, Vol. 3, featuring the Bolero. Something happens when I’m busy with rhythm. Both the body and the performative situation operate together in a way that I don’t experience as autonomous or unique. CDYou’re also drawing on the tradition of stepping, among other things.
Andrew Hardwidge in Sorrow Swag at Kaaistudio’s, Brussels, 2019. Photo by Dieter Hartwig. Courtesy of Kaaitheater, Brussels.
Yes, the choreography is derived from step, which we understand in America as something performed in fraternities and sororities. But it finds its root in Gumboot, the South African folk dance that also became a protest dance. This might be the most iconic moment of minor matter; but, I think it’s great in large part because of what succeeds it—the virtuosity of Thami Manekehla’s soliloquy, precariously placed in the periphery of the black box. It’s beautiful to see diaspora enacted in real time: Thami’s performing this as something he learned as a folk dance, and then Jonathan Gonzalez, an American who studied step, is performing his version, while I dance alongside them. Its value emerges out of the process. Performers Corey Scott-Gilbert and Tiran Willemse have since joined the tour, and I’m so grateful for their energetic contributions. I see this moment not just as a cultural referent and what it signifies, but for its material potency and its blur, created by the sound score that moves from Ravel’s Bolero (Craig and von Oswald’s version)—which slides into a house track, with samples from Donna Summer to Arthur Russell—to more obscure musical inserts introduced by musicologist Michal Libera. I can’t think about this dance moment outside the sound score, its energetic push and pull. The piece was conceived through how sound would operate within it—an investigation in futurity.
It becomes social, collective. At the end, you’re all wrestling and sparring, and these precarious reconfigurations of extreme exertion start to crumble and begin again, up the walls and in different places in the arena. You end on these different ways of being together, leaning on each other, and trying again and again.
The last section is called “Apocalypse.” It’s my favorite part. (laughter) The house lights come up; you hear the clamor of us—jumping off one another and falling, really falling, and trying to get back up, basically building these precarious, and at times impossible, assemblages that lend themselves to falling. The clamor is important because the sound has been so active throughout the piece, and then suddenly it’s just us and our laughter and our—I wouldn’t say pain, but sometimes it does hurt. You’re like, “Damn, you just hit me,” and someone else yells, “No, you did!” And all of that becomes part of the play. This section disassembles the fantasy of the body as whole and organized. I was trying to get to the point when a body transforms into flesh. How do we read flesh versus a body? In this clamor and noise, there’s the capacity to understand flesh as vulnerable yet binding. Our bodies falling up against the walls of the black box builds this complicated relationship between us and the object we’re up against and, in part, supported by. I was interested in the instability of that.
That collectivity is necessary and urgent in the face of what Hortense Spillers would call the “zero degree of conceptualization”—these kinship structures that exist outside or before the white supremacist recognition of subjecthood.
Yes! And it’s really difficult to be together. I definitely felt that in the process of collaborating with Thami and Jonathan. It was challenging. What was beautiful was that we were all committed to the process. Consensus erases a lot of possibility. Maybe I’m posturing toward anarchy.
Tell me about your newest work, Water Will (in Melody), which concludes the trilogy.
Well, it’s an ambitious proposal—I’ve reinforced the proscenium with a Victorian style theater curtain adorning the stage. It’s the opposite of Brecht’s vorhang—ours is used for its more sensual qualities, although its material presence does heighten the fiction. Reflecting on the dubious entanglements of nature, the feminine, darkness, and blackness, this piece uses the “nature” of the theater to think through such themes. It’s gothic, erotic, and borders on the absurd. A black and white melodrama ensues through mime. We basically mime for our lives. (laughter) The work is a hybrid, sort of nineteenth-century Southern Gothic meets German Romanticism meets early silent film. It uses the Brothers Grimm tale “The Willful Child” to think through notions of willfulness and when this is rendered legible or illegible. And of course, this is gendered and more importantly, racialized. The use of the fairytale was inspired in part by Sara Ahmed’s reflections in Willful Subjects. The piece departs from there and moves relationally into a poetics I’m very excited about, with the audience being the general will and wall against the four performers onstage, Susanne Sachße, Dani Brown, Titilayo Adebayo, and myself. We perform with incredible light design by my oft artistic collaborator Ariel Efraim Ashbel and sound arranged and designed by S. McKenna.
How do you join these disparate elements—the fantastical, the history of terror, and the playfulness?
In the first half of Water Will, everything is made explicit, exteriorized, exposed. Mime functions well for this. There’s an oversaturation of signifiers, so the work operates on excess and abundance. Overlapping speech stutters, chokes, and swallows itself, becoming a sonic screen from which our bodies are either further exposed or later veiled. Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead, the primary source of music, is made unrecognizable—droned out, at times pitched and slowed down—to the point that it sounds as if submerged in water. This music plays overtop parts of the illegible speech, which is the opaque counterpart in the piece. Through these choreographic procedures, the work becomes monstrous, tragic, and strangely beautiful.
Through this trilogy I’ve been processing all of these different things in relation to race, asking how can I bend the theater to my liking in order to create space for something else? I don’t think that question will ever disappear.
The Select Equity Group Series on Theater
Catherine Damman is an art historian and critic. Her writing on experimental dance, theater, film, music, and the visual arts can be found in Artforum, Bookforum, Art in America, Art Journal, and elsewhere. She is currently an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Wesleyan University’s Center for the Humanities.
Meet Marcus Fischer, the Portland Sound Artist Invited to the 2019 Whitney Biennial
by Robert Ham
Published in Portland Mercury
Marcus Fischer’s sound installation art is as impressive to look at as it is to hear. His piece “Canopy/Harmonic Chorus,” which was on display at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) last year as part of The Snake exhibition, ran tape loops from floor to ceiling and through small plastic spindles suspended in the air. The syrupy and intoxicating looped sounds—an overlapping array of guitar harmonics—broadcasting from small round speakers (also hanging) lent the installation a resemblance to a beautifully balanced Alexander Calder mobile.
“Canopy/Harmonic Chorus” was Fischer’s latest step away from recording and performing music, and toward creating site-specific work. It was the piece that likely tipped the scales for Fischer, and got him invited to participate in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, the prestigious modern art exhibition that happens every two years at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art.
“I still don’t quite know how they found me,” Fischer says, over beers near his home in Northeast Portland. “I almost deleted the email they sent, letting me know that one of the curators was going to be here in two days [and wanted to meet with me]. I didn’t have time to get stressed out about it, even though I’ve never had a studio visit from a curator before. From there it was a series of emails and Skype calls. No one addressed the elephant in the room until they offered me the spot [in the Biennial]. I’m still in shock in a lot of ways.”
The nod from the Whitney was a well-earned imprimatur for Fischer. Since moving to the Northwest in the late ’90s, Fischer has become one of the region’s most celebrated experimental artists. His albums are beautiful and enveloping, evoking widescreen images of the natural world and revealing deeply personal expressions. On his 2017 record Loss, Fischer uses degrading tape loops, watery guitar chords, and crackly samples to wrestle with the passing of his father and, as his label 12k Records put it, “the permanence of absence.”
Loss was completed during Fischer’s stay at the Rauschenberg Residency, a Florida property once used by celebrated painter Robert Rauschenberg. It was there that Fischer also finished one of the two sound art pieces that will be in the Whitney Biennial. As the 2017 inauguration loomed, Fischer recorded other artists at the residency reciting their chief concerns regarding the then-forthcoming Trump administration.
“I collected all these voices,” Fischer recalls, “and wound up making edits so that, if everybody said the same thing, like ‘the environment’ or ‘sexism,’ I would stack the voices. It was like a chorus.”
The finished piece was a three-minute tape loop that ran from the floor to the ceiling. Fischer played it nonstop in the residency’s main studio space on Inauguration Day in 2017, so people could wander through and meditate on these issues. The piece will also play during the entire five-month run of the Biennial.
The Whitney also commissioned Fischer to create a sound piece for the museum’s stairwell, which runs from the sub-basement to the building’s fifth floor. The work, called “Ascent/Dissent,” will feature 10 channels of audio, broadcast from 29 different speakers attached to the stairwell. The sound changes as the audience walks from the bottom of the stairs to the top, the tones bleeding together along the way.
“Depending on which elevation you’re at, there are different kinds of tonalities,” Fischer says. “The sounds below are subterranean and more earthy. As you get higher, it becomes more ethereal. It’s a little bit about the path of life, whether you enter and rise up, or you go into the ground.”
While recognizing that the Whitney selection will likely open doors for him and his work, Fischer seems surprisingly reticent to leave his day job as a photographer and photo stylist to pursue art full-time.
“I feel completely fine working in order to live and have my creative endeavors separated from it,” he says. “I kind of fear what would happen if I were to turn art into something that I would have to depend on.”
Robert Ham is an arts and culture writer and a regular contributor to the Mercury.
Manuela Infante Makes Space For Ideas
The Chilean theatremaker, now touring the U.S., works at the intersection of spectacle and philosophy.
BY FABIAN ESCALONA
A municipal guard walks onstage and starts describing the causes of an accident involving a motorcycle and a tree. He somehow manages to blame the tree for the accident—or, more precisely, he singles out the dissonance between the temporality of the tree and that of the life around it as the cause of the collision. The speed of the world surrounding it, the guard suggests, made the tree’s slow movement almost disappear. “A tree takes centuries to grow, it is slow…so you could say, ‘You should have seen it coming….The storm was coming.’ But I could say, ‘Yes, officer, but you could not see it, this is a coming that cannot be seen.’”
So begins Chilean writer/director Manuela Infante’s Estado Vegetal (Vegetative State). Is this a procedural thriller? Are we going to find out more about the accident? Not exactly. Instead, like that tree, the play slowly starts to grow in multiple directions, bringing onstage a polyphony of voices in a very controlled chaos. While exploring the nuances of the accident through the eyes of the many involved, Infante mines a quotidian anecdote for what it says about the limits of human perception and knowledge, the coexistence of species on our planet, and the possibilities of non-human communication.
A mixture of simple anecdotal events and deeply philosophical inquiries is a signature formula Infante has developed throughout her career, and in the more than 10 plays she’s written and directed. American audiences are getting a chance to see for themselves as Estado Vegetal makes the rounds of several U.S. venues, starting with Austin’s Fusebox Festival (April 17-18), FUNDarte in Miami (April 20-21), Portland Institute for Contemporary Art in Oregon (April 26-27), New York City’s Baryshnikov Arts Center (May 2-3), and Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (May 9-12).
Infante, a leading voice in Chilean theatre for nearly 20 years, began her career with the company Teatro de Chile, then went solo when the troupe disbanded in 2016. She is among a cohort of Chilean theatremakers, which also includes Guillermo Calderón, who mark a generational shift. Born during Pinochet’s dictatorship, which ran 1973 to 1990, she and her peers started their formal artistic education during the first decade of the transition to democracy, and began producing plays by the dawn of the new millennium. Positioning Infante’s work within recent Chilean theatre history not only provides context for her productions; it also serves as an entry point for unpacking her artistic language, her philosophical questions around mimesis and representation, and her explorations of non-human entities.
She made a splash immediately with Prat (2002), her first work as a playwright and director. Indeed the show remains a milestone for Chilean theatre, chiefly because of the scandal that dogged it, making it the most polarizing piece of theatre in recent decades. The play is a fictionalized version of the historic events of the Battle of Iquique in 1879, in which a national hero, Arturo Prat, gave up his life at the age of 31 for the motherland fighting the Peruvian navy. Though the eponymous character is a historic figure, Prat does not aim for historical accuracy, depicting Prat as a frightened teenager on a ship, where he faces the decision to sacrifice himself for his country.
The play evolved from an exercise performed by a group of young acting students, and won a college theatre festival in 2001; only then was it developed into a full-length play with the help of public funding. While very few people actually saw the show, its less-than-hagiographic portrait of a purported national hero generated an intense public debate on national TV and in Congress, sparking questions about the value of an identity based on a militaristic past, the heteronormative construction of historic narrative, and the fragility of the transition from dictatorship to a democracy. When Infante and her colleagues later dubbed their company Teatro de Chile, the official-sounding name was meant ironically, and the subject matter of their subsequent work was less concerned with the nation per se than with some of the same questions they’d explored in Prat.
Juana (2004), for instance, underlined the fictional invention involved in writing history. Set in France in 1920 on the day that Joan of Arc is canonized, the play depicts a gang of poor children who decide to play a game in which they pretend to be the French martyr and reenact moments of her life. Through this trifold mediation—moving the action to a different country and epoch, telling the story through the eyes of children reflecting on their country’s past—Juana, like Prat, interrogated the construction of national myths, the role of history in creating nationalism, and the effects of war in the lives of simple people.
ESTADO VEGETAL de Manuela Infante
For Infante, theatremaking sits between two other interests: philosophy and music. She received an M.A. in cultural analysis at the University of Amsterdam, and in 2010, she formed the indie-pop band Bahía Inútil. “I think theatre brings together music and philosophy,” she told the writer Alejandra Costamagna in 2018. “Because theatre is pure rhythm, it happens as an unfolding of rhythm through time and space, and at the same time theatre is pure idea. Theatre is a complex system.”
Infante thus conceives of plays as a way of thinking, a path to an irresponsible philosophy that puts intellectual discourse to the test onstage, making it sensible—in the Kantian sense of apprehensible, legible. A specific mixture of complex ideas explored through bodies, rhythm, and storytelling onstage often results in compelling and attractive scenic compositions that can tackle philosophical questions without didacticism or preconceived answers, inviting the audience on a journey of performative thinking.
This intellectualized physicality, or physicalized intellect, if you will, was the driving force behind another very ambitious project by Teatro de Chile. Using a system of collaborative creation that the troupe had developed over the years, they embarked on scenic research about Jesus as a historic figure that was heavily mediated through writing, visual arts, and film. The result was Cristo (2008), which on the intellectual plane set out to test the limits of reality and representation, thinking through the ideas of such philosophers as Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze, and Jacques Derrida. On a performative level this was delivered in an anecdotal tone, via naturalistic acting, making the play highly diverting, visually attractive, and relatable for audiences.
As you can see, Infante’s intellectual references are mostly European philosophers. But her relationship with Europe and theatre has been built primarily in practice: in touring, receiving multiple commissions from European entities and festivals, and doing artistic residences at international cultural centers, such as Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center in New York in 2011 and 2015. In 2012 she was invited to create a play in Germany on the occasion of the bicentennials of several Latin American countries. Infante and Teatro de Chile produced Don’t Feed the Humans, a play mixing theatre and lecture performance (as they had a year earlier in Loros Negros) in which a scientist brings the last surviving specimens of a fictional tribe from the south of Chile to Germany. The play premiered at Berlin’s Young Latin American Theatre Festival, alongside the work of other Latin American theatre artists, including Argentina’s Lola Arias, but it challenged the very frame of its presentation. Don’t Feed the Humans suggested uneasy parallels between the colonial practice of creating human zoos and the contemporary international circulation of thea-tre from non-European countries. In 2013 the play Zoo expanded on one aspect of this comparison, looking squarely at the history of those human zoos—i.e., exhibitions of Indigenous people in cages in Europe and the U.S. at the turn of the 19th century. Zoo zeroed in on the paradoxes and limits of theatrical representation, the place of language in the production of knowledge, and the construction of Otherness.
The company’s last play was 2016’s Realismo, which emerged from a series of artistic residences, including one at Watermill. Realismo began to point the way to Infante’s current preoccupations. In attempting to address the question of how theatre might be done within a post-anthropocentric paradigm, Realismo connects different generations of a family by means of a serial dramatic structure. Each scene deploys variations of the realistic acting tradition, while the disturbance of what can be understood as reality gradually escalates, until the final moment, when humans are displaced from the stage and the scene is fully controlled by inanimate objects.
Even when Infante was billed as the playwright and director, the methodology of Teatro de Chile was deeply collaborative. The dramaturgy of the troupe’s spectacles was the result of scenic exercises, explorations, and improvisations by actors under Infante’s guidance. While this might be understood as a natural consequence of her using the stage to reflect on and test ideas, it also means that her plays contain a multiplicity of voices.
After the dissolution of Teatro de Chile, Infante started writing texts for other people to direct: In 2017 there was El corazón del gigante egoísta (The Heart of the Selfish Giant) and Ayudándole a sentir (My Condolences), both directed by Juan Pablo Peragallo. And she in turn has recently directed plays by others, such as Luis Barrales’s Xuárez (2015) and Roland Schimmelpfennig’s Idomeneo (2019).
Even without her longtime Teatro de Chile collaborators, Infante has continued to push the limits of an epistemology centered on the human experience in performance. It was during a residency at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in 2016 that she began to create Estado Vegetal, a one-woman show in which actor Marcela Salinas brilliantly incarnates the array of characters, human and non-human, involved in that motorcycle/tree accident. Expanding on the writings of Michael Marder, whose work focuses on phenomenology and environmental philosophy, and the plant-neurologist Stefano Mancuso, Infante has created a performative reflection on pressing and timely questions—about the challenges of living on our planet, understanding the human species as just one among an infinite number of species on Earth, the existence of non-anthropocentric languages, the production of knowledge by species other than humans, and the improbability of communication between humans and plants.
You might say that her work, cultivated over years in many kinds of soil, is continuing to grow.
Fabian Escalona is a Ph.D. candidate in theatre and performance at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.
Originally published in American Theatre
A publication of the American Theatre Group
by Ellena Basada
Peter Simensky has a longstanding obsession with gold. His 2015 project Surface Contents 1 & 2 uses 14 karat gold in a series of materials and actions that are meant to exploit gold as a literal marker of value and influence. Simensky’s latest project unearth is a continuation of his critical dialogue around gold’s influence in American history and culture. Inspired by a collection of old photographs published in the Sandy Gazette of ill-fated mining expeditions in the Oregon wilderness, Simensky aims to recreate gold’s seductive yet deceiving allure. Miners in this region were drawn into the depths of the earth by glimmering flecks on stone’s surfaces. Years of intensive labor and even death only exploited these miners’ lives and resources—as the mineral they chased was not gold but pyrite, also known as ‘fool’s gold.’
PICA’s black box theater doubles as a cave-like mirage, in which Simensky creates an abstracted simulation of the desire and loss that haunts the unearthed mining archive. Two large screens play video captured by Simensky’s collaborator Rubén García Marrufo, portraying manipulated clouds of gold glitter comprised of pyrite dust caught in the light rays that stream down from holes in a cavern’s ceiling. The footage suggests the manipulation of air, as the clouds of fool’s gold morph and swirl inorganically. Marrufo’s filming objectifies the spectral, documenting the shimmering clouds as something more sinister than fleeting. Accompanying the ephemera on screen, Jesse Mejía formulates live ambient sounds that resemble the sounds of stone and metal colliding.
A break in the complementary visual and aural display forces the audiences’ eyes upwards to the ceiling of the “cave,” where small reflective stones rotate in spotlight, emulating disco balls. It is unclear whether the stones are handcrafted or organic, which further entrenches the audiences’ sensibilities in both mystery and illusion. Mejía’s pause in sound making leaves the room silent, except for the sound of the machinery behind the rotating disco ball rocks. The mechanical sound in combination with the transitory spectrals of light reflected by the rocks’ surfaces only suggests further a greater system at work beyond the allure of sparkles.
A performance begins at the curtain situated at center stage. Projected onto the curtain is a rock formation illuminated by neon lights: yellow, magenta, deep blue. Dozens of fingers decorated in red glitter gloves emerge from small holes worked into the fabric of the curtain. The fingers dance sensually, evoking phallic imagery, which pairs with the concealment of the performers to produce a glory-hole effect. The evocation of the glory-hole speaks to the lecherous nature of the desire for gold. Also, as glory-holes maintain the anonymity of the participants, Simensky imitates the desire of the miners at the beginning of their journey, when the golden flecks represented an entire body of potential pleasure.
The denouement of unearth is a solo act of two gloved hands that represent the master and orchestrator of the fingers. The two hands, belonging to performance artist Allie Hankins, create a display in front of a microphone, generating ASMR-like sounds as they rub glitter on glitter, forcing shivers to run through people’s spines. Through theatrical movements, the hands evoke laughter. The interactive, response-driven aspect of this last act plays on our own instinctive desire for spectacles. As the show comes to a close, as dance music begins to play and the rocks hanging from the ceiling become actual disco balls, Simensky employs the absurd to reconfigure the cavern into a dancefloor. The reimagining of the space still maintains it as a location for gluttons, but it also obscures the locus of desire with noise. This move suggests that perhaps noise is all there is and that the endeavor to obtain the object of desire will always be a Sisyphean one.
Ellena Basada is a cultural critic, writer, and editor based in Portland. She received her BA in English from Pomona College and is an MA candidate for the Critical Studies program at PNCA. Please email her at ellena.basada[at]gmail[dot]com for questions, comments, or criticism. Find her on Instagram @_ellenanelle_ and Twitter @vaginihilism.
Abigail DeVille: The American Future
Exhibition closes: January 12, 2019
The American Future by Abigail DeVille is a monumental installation, or as the artist puts it, “a model for reflection” comprised of foraged materials, publications, time, labor, uprooted histories, research, politics, and poetry.
Wed / Thu / Fri, 12:00 – 6:00 PM
Saturday, 12:00 – 4:00 PM
OPB, Artist Abigail DeVille’s Critique Of The American Paradox
Street Roots, Portland’s Story of Oppression Through Art
Oregon Arts Watch
The American Future is generously supported by The Robert Lehman Foundation, Jeffrey Thomas and Laura Cooper, Sarah Miller Meigs and Andrew Meigs, and PICA’s Visual Art Circle.
PICA thanks Street Roots, Outside the Frame, and the filmmakers of Arresting Power for their openness to partnership and collaboration.
Image courtesy of OPB
As Radical, As Mother, As Salad, As Shelter: What Should Art Institutions Do Now?
In light of recent political shifts across the globe, have you sensed a change in the position of the art institution vis-à-vis political activism?
Can an art institution go from being an object of critique to a site for organizing? How? Should the art institution play this kind of role? What other roles can or should it play?
What other institutions, curators, or publics do you look to in formulating your own institution’s position?
Recent controversies over curatorial choices have foregrounded the different ways in which institutions envision their audience(s). In your experience, is this process changing? How should it proceed?
How can an institution address the dichotomy between art as cultural entertainment and art as political inquiry? What is the role of the curator in mediating this? How does this compare to the artist’s role?
How can art institutions be better?
With contributions by: Regine Basha, Chloë Bass, Dena Beard, Zachary Cahill, Ken Chen, Lori Cole, Anne Ellegood, Anthony Elms, Deborah Fisher, Zanna Gilbert, Namita Gupta Wiggers, Larissa Harris, Pablo Helguera, Megan Heuer, Kemi Ilesanmi, Mary Jane Jacob, Alhena Katsof, Kristan Kennedy, Alex Klein, Jordan Martins, Amanda Parmer, Risa Puleo, Laura Raicovich, Sara Reisman, Chris Reitz, Nicolás Rodríguez Melo, Stephen Squibb, Elizabeth Thomas, Gilbert Vicario, and Anuradha Vikram
Available now at papermonument.com
Image courtesy of Paper Monument
By Andrew J. Brown/Sister James
jumatatu m. poe has long been interested in the vocabulary of J-Sette dancing not only for its presentational exuberance, but for the seemingly contradictory energetic qualities of the movement—a tension created by big, explosive energy articulated through sharp, contained, precise gestures. This tension is perhaps doubled in the spatial context of J-Sette performance, which is traditionally performed by groups of cisgender women at historically black colleges and universities in the South in the confined bleachers of large football stadiums. The movement has simultaneously been taken up by black queer men performing in intimate domestic spaces and eventually on gay club dance floors. In prior interviews, poe has discussed first discovering J-Sette through homemade YouTube videos and expressed his fascination with “this huge, combustive energy in these really small spaces…the garage, the living room with the table pushed back, the kitchen sometimes, or in the bedroom, behind the bed.” At the same time, in this tension, poe sensed and experienced joy. poe’s current performance series Let ‘im Move You develops out of this fascination and out of a creative partnership formed with one of these YouTube dancers and captain of the renown J-Sette line Mystic Force, Jermone Donte Beacham.
These qualities of movement and spatial contexts are referenced throughout the two sequential pieces of the Let ‘im Move You series shown at TBA—This is a Success and A Study. At the level of the body, poe and dancer William Robinson repeat phrases of J-Sette movement in rounds to the point of near exhaustion. Between each round, the performers’ affect drops from the forced smile of presentational dance to a focus on recuperation and preparation for the next round of movement. Together, these breaks in the emphatic polish of the choreography reveal not only the affective, emotional and physical labor of performing, specifically performing black joy and virtuosity for a primarily white audience, but simultaneously the ways in which the body is physically conditioned by such performances—literally through choreography and metaphorically through the everyday performances of excellence demanded of black people and the perpetual struggle to carve out moments of black joy within such contexts. Spatially, the performance begins in a black box arranged in proscenium style, then ambles through and between multiple spaces in the performance venue, until eventually exiting the venue altogether, finishing outside and in doing so, connecting this exploration of the struggle of/for black joy to the institution of primarily white performance venues as well as everyday environments.
During our public conversation about the performance at TBA, poe and Beacham reflected on poe’s experience of learning and Beacham’s experience of teaching J-Sette movement. They recalled one particular evening when Beacham took poe to a gay club to practice his J-Sette skills in public. poe, still relatively new to the form, was nervous as these public demonstrations typically take the form of battles in which individuals or small groups try to out-perform one another on the dance floor. He remembers, however, the relaxation and joy he felt when the entire club eventually joined together in performing the same phrases in rounds all facing the same direction—a unified J-Sette line performing for no one but themselves. As they learn from each other and from their past repetitions, they simultaneously strengthen their technical skill set and manifest a shared joy, even within the potential difficulty and fatigue of the movement. J-Sette choreography, then, allows for the intentional engagement with the ways in which black queer bodies are conditioned in relationship to confinement, intimacy, visibility, and consumption while also facilitating a visceral and shared joy. This is perhaps the contradiction of conditioning suggested by the Let in Let ‘im Move You—through form comes both a restriction and a release.
Form allows for repetition. Repetition through rounds is built into the J-Sette vocabulary with one individual initiating a phrase and repeating it until the entire group is performing in unison. And, this is reflected in Let ‘im Move You when, at the end of the performance, a number of local performers join poe, Beacham, and Robinson on stage one by one, repeating and expanding the movement in bodies and space. At the same time that J-Sette’s combustive energy accentuates the conditioning of the body, it also demands a collective, pedagogical spatialization of the body. Through J-Sette, the performance carves out interpersonal and embodied approaches to black queer joy even within the everyday institutional and social architectures that are built to stage black queer joy only as a validation of black queer pain or as access to knowing, claiming and consuming a proximity to blackness and queerness. Yet, in Let ‘im Move You, the shared struggle for black queer joy itself facilitates a king of black queer joy that is palpable throughout the space. And, while this pedagogy of both struggle and joy or perhaps joy through struggle is not for white audiences, it does perhaps have something to teach us if we let it.
Andrew J. Brown/Sister James received their PhD in Performance Studies from Northwestern University and is Assistant Professor of Performance Art at Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Western Washington University. They are currently working on a book project titled Staging Statelessness: Queer African Refugees and the Limits of Belonging, which draws on seven years of in-depth performance collaboration with queer asylum seekers in South Africa and argues for quotidian and aesthetic performances as strategic practices of unbelonging that propose alternative configurations of citizenship, subjectivity, and community. Their work has been published in Women and Performance,Theatre Survey, Performing Arts Resources, and Theatre Research International. As a research-based performance artist, their practice ranges from ethnographic, socially engaged ensemble work to conceptual solo performance to question and trouble conventional delineations around what is human, animate, natural, or valuable. @sisterjames
Vinyl Equations is an experiment in non-fiction narrative and storytelling; an opportunity for reminiscence and nostalgia; and a moment of genuine appreciation for sound and physical media. It illustrates our multi-faceted relationship to music and its role in the life and development of the artist. Summarizing storytelling is like slowly deflating a helium balloon, so instead, here are six memorable moments and sounds heard during Robin Deacon’s Vinyl Equations presented at the Winningstad Theatre as part of PICA’s 2018 TBA Festival.
Clicks and Crackles
The clicks and crackles heard throughout Vinyl Equations are intentional grooves that the artist put on the record used as background noise. A metronome, a ticking clock, a dripping noise, or an allusion to sleep, as Robin describes falling asleep while listening to records as a young man and dreaming over the leftover sounds at the edge of every album. A reminder that everything we are hearing is in the past and bordered by noise. The present is always dissolving away; the future has yet to arrive, and so our lives are made out of the days they’re made of and nothing else.
Paying homage to Isaac Hayes, who spends a whole eight minutes talking while a simple bass riff plays and a ride cymbal rings and sizzles against that deep and iconic voice, right before he starts singing “By the Time I get to Phoenix.” The clicks and crackles heard during Vinyl Equations are the foundation upon which the performance is built. A reminder that even what is happening on stage is a version of the past and the only way the artist’s past can be shared with an audience in the present is as artifact.
“I am not a dancer”
At the beginning of the performance, Robin speaks into the microphone and says, “I am not a dancer,” and later follows, “but you will watch me dance on this stage tonight.” Watching him run around on stage while listening to Joy Division like some amped up teenager, and very much channeling that energy, serves as such an effective reminder that for many of us the beginnings of our relationship with music were utterly visceral. Much of what we remember has little to do with knowledge or record keeping. That before any of that knowledge existed, most of us, including Robin, just wanted to jump up and down and run around.
From Soulful to Soulless
There is no pleasant way to bring up Richard Nixon. If the present ever creeps into Vinyl Equations, this is when. As we listen to Mr. Nixon say, “Last June 17th…” one cannot help but wonder what other awful things happened on that date this year. Or any other year in American history. When we think of offenses forgiven. Of individuals pardoned. And the war crimes of America in Vietnam and elsewhere, we are reminded that all of this has happened before. And will happen again.
A standalone tone arm and stylus allow Robin to play Richard Nixon on top of Isaac Hayes. So we hear Nixon’s speech over that same bass riff and ride cymbal. No amount of good vibes can undo Nixon’s voice. Some sounds, it seems, are impervious to artistic intention. Yet the soulless drone of Nixon’s voice fits in with everything else in the performance as a whole, because everything in the past is already written and must be accepted even if profoundly unpleasant.
Climbing the Furniture
Physical media is front and center in Vinyl Equations. Imagine a room, a table, a record player, and a tall shelf with a small collection of records. Vinyl Equations reminds us that physical media isn’t just about the act of holding a record, or playing a record, or adjusting a turn table. Physical media reminds us of the physical activity that comes with having a personal relationship with music. Even if it means literally climbing on the furniture. So watching Robin climb atop the shelf holding a microphone is a reminder that one’s visceral relationship with music can be rekindled at any time. Furniture not included.
Oh no, is he really going to cut that record in half with a circular saw? Yes, yes he is.
Earlier in the performance, we watched Robin take sand paper to a mint-condition reissue of Nina Simone’s Black Gold. But it was not until Robin retrieved the clamps and the circular saw from the opposite side of the stage that I realized how unique and hard to replicate this performance was. Like our memories, analog media is so finite and yet its resolution is endless. And so our relationship with media used to be not only physical, but inherently material. It is here, in the material world, that we can recognize that power tools and a little elbow grease could ruin a record forever. In our current relationship with media in the digital era of copy-and-paste culture, digital rights management, and cloud storage, it is important to remember that art used to be something so frail that you could break it.
Memory and Story
Deacon himself introduces Vinyl Equations as “the pathetic nostalgia of a forty-five year old man.” Yet, he delivers specific moments and stories that feel so important and lived-in, being mixed-race, having a mother from Trinidad and a British father, his mother leaving Trinidad a year before it gained independence from Britain. All without explaining what any or all of it means, Vinyl Equations centers less on the history than on specific moments of lived-in life and the sounds associated with it.
Watching Robin tell of his desire for an individual story. Him wishing that the album of Trinidadian Folk Music he found on an online auction site, would feature his mother as a soloist, only to discover that she was part of a choir or group, and that her voice is buried along with the voices of so many other women. This longing for individuality against the collective is a null desire, a moment in belonging rather than standing out, a reminder that the past, especially the past before our own birth, belongs to everyone, not only our ancestors.
A.M. Rosales is a multidisciplinary artist from Cochabamba, Bolivia presently based out of Portland, Oregon. They hold a Literature degree from George Mason University and their favorite rodent is the capybara. A Pride Foundation Scholar, a Teacher Apprentice at Writers-In-The-Schools, and an MFA Fiction candidate at Portland State University, they draw on the liminality of their immigrant and transgender experiences to create visual, written, and performed works of art.
A Note from PICA Staff: PICA accepts and honors a multiplicity of interpretations and responses to our curation and presentation, including feedback, critique, call-outs, and call-ins, in addition to affirmation and praise. A.M. Rosales’ response to TBA Festival performance Contralto, with lead curation by Third Angle New Music Ensemble and co-presented by PICA, is unpacked below with eloquence, thoughtfulness, criticality, rigor, and generosity. Their sentiments toward and critiques of the piece are shared and have been conveyed to PICA by many others in the trans community and by audiences at large. While we support artists’ freedom of expression and curate with the understanding that not every project, performance, or exhibition will be received identically or event positively, we will specifically strive to more carefully consider in future how we present, describe, discuss, and price/ticket work by trans artists to a majority cis-gender audience, and invite trans community members–including artists, audiences, and advocates–to be part of that process with intention, ethics, and care. We appreciate that Rosales’ assessment of CONTRALTO is wide-ranging, and that while they had sound criticism, they also found many aspects of it to empathize with and praise. Finally, we wish to acknowledge the time and labor that went into writing this piece for Rosales. While we do provide modest compensation to our writers in exchange for TBA blog posts, the education and emotional labor that trans individuals and communities provide and perform on a constant basis to cis-gender society is impossible to compensate or economize, and we wish to name this and express our gratitude for it.
- Roya Amirsoleymani, Artistic Director & Curator of Public Engagement, PICA
A Note from the Author: Before responding to this performance, we need to reconsider how art venues and festivals curate, promote, and present art and artists that draw from the transgender experience. The experiences of transgender people – our identities, our gained insights, and our lived-in moments – are experiences that we carry in our bodies and exact effort from us every day of our lives. Monetizing these experiences comes with a high risk for exploitation. When such performances and events become inaccessible to the trans community itself – especially trans women of color who empirically face a lot of barriers to financial stability – it contributes to the radical othering of trans people. When this performance was first announced, tickets were set at $35. This in spite of local corporate sponsorship. Contralto, as it was initially offered by Third Angle and the PICA’s TBA Festival program, was an exploitation of transgender experiences.
When members of the trans community voiced these concerns, including Kerry Yamaucci, an accomplished vogue performer and a feature of the local ball room scene, PICA responded by engaging the co-presenters, establishing a sliding scale, and offering comp tickets to members of the LGTBQ community. While this was swift and corrective action, it came a day before the first performance was scheduled to occur and no doubt left many members of the community scrambling. It is necessary for Third Angle New Music Ensemble, PICA, and the composer Sarah Hennies to seriously reconsider why this event was initially curated as it was and be very concerned for how this work may be presented in the future.
- A.M. Rosales
Contralto is an experimental work of music and film with a score for percussion and strings and a non-narrative documentary element with a cast of transgender women performing a series of speech feminization therapy exercises. The work of composer Sarah Hennies, a trans woman herself, was co-presented by Third Angle New Music Ensemble and PICA as part of the 2018 TBA Festival.
Contralto exists outside the confines of traditional music; it is inherently anti-capitalist by rejecting commercialization. Sarah Hennies belongs to a whole subset of musicians that ask the audience to reconsider songs and consider all intentional sound as music. The score relies heavily on repetition and endurance and offers a dense sound palette. Its instrumentation features a collection of found percussion and a deliberate use of strings that mimic the vocal exercises being performed by the women on the prerecorded footage.
The sound vocabulary in Contralto is enigmatic and certainly contains allusions and associations. Some of the percussion used include: keys being tossed (doors, locks, travel, cars); coins being dropped in a bowl (money, cost, expense); paper being crumpled (drafts, mistakes, bills, receipts); cards being shuffled (chance, luck, randomness); a chain being picked up and dropped onto a metal plate (attachment, confinement, burden, weight) among others. The strings appear to mimic the vocal exercises, as they play specific notes and tones – a cold reminder of the brutal exactitude of our idea of pitch and key. I enjoyed the contrast offered by the two-dimensional movements of the cello players against the three-dimensional movements of the percussionists, although a cluttered stage obscured the element of music as choreography. All of the sounds in Contralto work in conjunction with the sounds made by the cast of trans women. These are sounds not commonly found in performances, recordings, or the public space. These are the sounds of trans women undergoing vocal feminization therapy. The title Contralto is a reference to the lowest female singing voice as socially constructed in the classical and liturgical traditions of western music (soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone, and bass) although no single system of voice classification is universally accepted.
The women in the footage are projected onto the screen, their faces detached from their bodies, in a documentary view that borders on voyeuristic as they repeat these sounds, bits of phrases, and tones. The performers on stage provide all of the physical movement dislocated from the facial expressions of the women on screen. It is this iconic and problematic feature that perhaps would take Contralto out of the realm of experimental music and onto wider audiences. It is impossible to witness the footage of transgender women performing exercises designed by speech pathologists to “feminize” the range, resonance, and intonation of their voices without calling attention to the long history of pathologization of the transgender community.
It may be useful to establish a timeline, so that we can summarize quickly. The Stone Wall Riots occurred a year after the first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was published. It is crucial to note that while “homosexuality” was removed from the manual four years later in 1973, various clinical criteria to diagnose and treat “transvestism,” “transsexuality,” or “gender identity disorder” remained in the manual thru all future editions until 2012. One cannot watch these women on screen without acknowledging that the modern gay rights movement was launched by trans women of color, the very same women that would not benefit from the psychiatric normalization experienced by the gay community in the early 70’s. Those women would be subjected to a variety of “therapeutic interventions” rife with mistreatment, abuse, and violence for an additional forty (40) years. While the medical community, including speech pathologists, have recently acknowledged that transgender identities are a matter of diversity—not pathology—progress has been slow and many forms of clinical intervention remain as intrusive and as problematic as ever. In a society where artistic expression is often the only means by which marginalized people can participate in the social discourse, it is artistically irresponsible to present Contralto to a majority cis-audience without any context.
The subjects of the film are so vulnerable, yet unable to verbalize their stories. They exist in the words of others, in the words of pathologists. I wondered, where is the composer’s voice? Where is Sarah Hennies’ voice? Why are these women recorded instead of performing with the musicians? As I watch these women on screen, their humanity hangs by a string. I wondered, have those women found community? Are they being compensated for sharing their likeness? Are they being paid as much as the performers on stage? I was especially concerned for trans women of color. Do they have stable housing? Have they found a source of income? Are they safe?
Contralto arranges these women and their voices as just another component of its score, which centers percussion at the core of its arrangement. As a sound composition, it carries a lot to its merit, but art that centers trans people needs to acknowledge that transgender people exist in every culture, come in every shape and size and every skin tone, belong to congregations of every faith, and are born to families of every social standing and economic position. Our community as a whole intersects and samples the most diverse range of human experiences – but especially amplified experiences with the ills and injustices of our society. If poverty is harsh, it is harsher for a transgender person. If having a disability is tough, it is tougher for a transgender person. If racial profiling is bad, it is worse for a transgender person. If immigration is hard, it is harder for a transgender person. If the industrial prison complex is brutal, it is even worse for a transgender person. It is even more brutal. And if the inclusion of transgender artists and their voices is an attempt to include and center trans people, then that work must come with some deep introspection about race and equity because these matters aren’t marginal or peripheral for the trans community.
With 80% of Americans reporting that they do not personally know a transgender individual, our community is not very visible in the public eye; certainly not in our own terms. Beyond stories of awe and shock-value reserved for daytime television, our community is often the subject of documentary features that offer us the same reverence afforded a defunct cult or a species of sea slug never-before photographed in the wild. I can think of no other group in the history of digital media that has been more publicly vilified than transgender people. Our humanity is constantly being called into question, with trans women being projected as proto-rapists during election cycles all over the country, regardless of which party controls our political institutions. Progress has been so slow largely because of that long history of pathologization. And while transphobia hurts us every day, it is this culture of indifference and callousness towards trans people that in the end kills us. It is important that we come together, have conversations, and struggle collectively, in order to acknowledge that the intersectionality of our experiences does not come from sharing a label, but from encountering, surviving, and enduring the brutal hurdles that come from living on the underside of American life. Contralto fails to address this is any meaningful way.
As for me, a transgender immigrant from South America, I wondered where speech pathology could take me. If exercises created by pathologists could transform my accent, a tell-tell sign that English is my second language, and allow me to speak perfectly unaccented Standard American English like they do on NPR; and if exercises created by pathologists could feminize my voice so perfectly – what would I sound like? And what does a transgender immigrant from Bolivia sound like, anyway? And what is this relationship we have with ourselves, our trajectory through life, and our voices?
Sarah Dougher, professor of music and gender studies at PSU, interviewed Sarah Hennies, on Thursday afternoon and I was able to hear some of their exchange. I found myself learning about Hennies, and empathizing and identifying with her experiences. I, too, survived my adolescence by making sounds. I spent hours recording an old guitar on a four-track recorder with a cheap microphone. As I picked up other instruments, I too developed my own unique and intentional relationship with sound. When I was learning to play the drums, I remember practicing rim-shots on my snare drum. I would just sit there for a long while. Counting in time. Repeating this motion. Attempting to produce the right sound. Time after time. Day after day. Week after week. Those of us who also developed a relationship with performance, with rehearsing something until it becomes completely natural to do it in front of strangers, must ask ourselves: when did we discover that we were musicians? Do sounds have a gender? And what does every instrument sound like? And aren’t our voices just another instrument? And what is to be said about our difficult relationship with silence? For most of my adolescence, I was speechless. I had just emigrated from Bolivia and I couldn’t speak English, I was essentially voiceless in America. But even in my native Spanish, I couldn’t very well explain in words how come it was that I was transgender. Even to myself. All I knew is that I was profoundly unhappy. It is here, at this very personal level, that I connect with Contralto. This musical composition comes to me as a profound meditation on voice and a prolonged exercise in discomfort. Which is an apt and very valid metaphor for dysphoria.
As for the cis gaze – what would I want the general cisgender audience to take away from this performance?
I hope they heard something that unsettled them, that unnerved them, that maybe even unhoused them a little. Because there is no new knowledge created, no maturity or growth gained, without an intense experience of discomfort.
A.M. Rosales is a multidisciplinary artist from Cochabamba, Bolivia presently based out of Portland, Oregon. They hold a Literature degree from George Mason University and their favorite rodent is the capybara. A Pride Foundation Scholar, a Teacher Apprentice at Writers-In-The-Schools, and an MFA Fiction candidate at Portland State University, they draw on the liminality of their immigrant and transgender experiences to create visual, written, and performed works of art.
By A.M. Rosales
NIC Kay’s PUSHIT! [exercise 1 in getting well soon] is a mobile performance, an endurance ballet, an hour and a half demonstration of resistance and struggle presented thru the streets of N. Williams Ave, as a reclamation and re-occupation of spaces that were once the hub of Black life in Portland.
NIC’s performance begins in the residential area near the intersection of N. Rosa Parks Way, where moss grows silent on stone-fenced yards and Pacific madrone and poplar trees still line the throughway. Along its three-mile journey down to the PICA space, we will encounter uneven sidewalks, narrow cross-streets, and red-shingled hints of the Spanish Revival colliding with the invasion of New Urbanism, mixed-use buildings, and designated bike-lanes. It’s the end of summer. The breeze offers a nice contrast to the warmth of the sun with an occasional patch of shade. NIC’s performance is moving theatre. The audience that amasses and huddles itself to follow along is amorphous as a whole, but takes on the role of a curtain, or a stage prop, as the performance advances. NIC’s most distinct prop is a set of helium balloons, one of which looks like disco ball, all tied to a string, which remains securely tied to their neck. Secure, like a choker necklace or a noose. The crowd, too, follows in step, enjoying the safety of numbers. Safe, like a religious procession or a lynch mob.
As the performance continues, NIC’s body expresses through a series of movements and contortions. Sometimes they walk. Sometimes they strut. Occasionally, they float as if the balloons tied to their neck were being carried away by the breeze. Volition or happenstance. These are soft, lilting movements that become abruptly disrupted by running. Along the way, NIC stops at specific intersections and sets each of these moments in the performance against the various urban landscapes of North Portland.
Past the intersection near N. Ainsworth, we find ourselves walking past yards where the corners of the lawns have been yellowed by the summer sun. Leaves are strewn about. Fall is inevitable. From the driveways, all-wheel-drive wagons and pickup trucks are witness to the performance as much as they are a background. Along the Craftsman and Foursquare style houses we also see the occasional Tudor or Dutch Colonial home. NIC’s movements are intentional, precise. They squat in place to drink a bottle of water. Hydration. It’s not posing, their movements are restrained, but calculated. Motorists and residents out on their porches look bewildered. “What’s going on?” They ask.
“It’s a performance.” I answer with the same voice that I would use at the library.
By the time we cross N. Skidmore, the backdrop has changed dramatically. NIC’s performance, for all its variety in movement, hasn’t changed, but the five-story mixed-use complex with a modern brick facade shines in contrast as if the building had been recently unwrapped by its owners. Luxury cars beep their doors locked or unlocked, their engines start quietly and efficiently, as the performance party joins the weekend foot traffic with expensive bicycles cruising along its passage. ”What’s going on－did something happen?” A shopkeeper shouts. He demands to know.
“It’s a performance.” I answer, a little annoyed this time. Worried perhaps, that a crowd of mostly white people following a black performer along a busy street, could trigger a police call.
One of the last “stops” before arriving at PICA is the empty lot near the intersection at N Russell St, a reminder that not long ago, Albina Park was nothing, but a dirt lot. One can project pain and suffering on NIC’s facial expressions, but I am not sure if that’s what they are. Maybe they are simply tired. The length of this performance is the average length of a ballet, but the word ballet feels inertly less serious than this. Even if I fail to find the right words to describe each step. Each movement. Each contortion. Every time NIC inches or lunges forward. They creep. They tumble. They fall. They struggle to get up. Their work is labored at this point. By the time we enter PICA, there’s music, a stage, and all the impossibilities of an art festival. Here, while I am sitting down, I begin to recognize their movements as something akin to modern hip-hop. Here the expectation is to watch NIC dance to the music. So the crowd does. Finding their seats. Arranging themselves into the shape of the last prop. A sitting audience. But all performances must come to an end and so this does, too. Instead of a curtain it is the mechanical warehouse door that drops down after NIC Kay has exited the stage. The performer is seen no more.
Paramount to witnessing this performance is that we ask: how are black bodies allowed to exist in public in America? When, how, and how come have black bodies become suspect? Are we complicit in normalizing or enticing that suspicion? And what specific meaning is one to glean from following NIC Kay along the length of N. Williams Ave, to watch them hold the space between the curbing and the wall of a gentrified neighborhood? Perhaps the same that we are to glean from any street, or neighborhood, where black bodies have become suspect amid new luxury apartments and the threat of police that looms with boutique employees and restaurateurs. Perhaps we ought to consider that murals and electronic kiosks do not replace a living culture. Perhaps we ought to ask when exactly will America stop prioritizing the boutique wants of wealthy whites against the basic well-being of black folks.
A.M. Rosales is a multidisciplinary artist from Cochabamba, Bolivia presently based out of Portland, Oregon. They hold a Literature degree from George Mason University and their favorite rodent is the capybara. A Pride Foundation Scholar, a Teacher Apprentice at Writers-In-The-Schools, and an MFA Fiction candidate at Portland State University, they draw on the liminality of their immigrant and transgender experiences to create visual, written, and performed works of art.
By Dao Strom
A woman in white walks down a New York City sidewalk. Her dress is a construction of paper strips, fragments layered into a plumage, each strip inked in Korean script. The woman is Korean. As she walks she performs a ritual that involves waving red paper. She moves down the street toward a building. A building with an alleyway. Bystanders turn their heads. She kneels in the doorway, in the alleyway. She seems to be wrestling with the red paper, either to wrest something from it or signaling with it. She appears emotional. A police vehicle arrives at the end of the alleyway. This is when the woman gets up from her ritual and walks off down the sidewalk.
In 1982, another woman–also Korean-American–walked down the same New York City sidewalk. She was an artist. She had moved to NYC a short time before from the SF Bay Area, where she’d been developing her practice as an experimental writer, video-maker and performance artist, working in the hybrid arena between genres, in the poetic area between shores and losses, languages and cultures. She was 31; her career, one might say, was on the rise: a book about to be published. She couldn’t yet know, but in a decade this book would go on to be quietly seminal among scholars of Asian American avant-garde and for other women artists like herself: women of color, working between established spaces. This artist was Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. On that evening Cha was on her way
to meet a man, her partner, at a certain address. She reached the address but didn’t make the meeting. Someone intervened; her life ended that evening, tragically.
Dohee Lee’s MU/巫 theater performance opens with Lee, in her white costume, beating on a set of traditional Korean drums beneath a video projection of the performance ritual she conducted in front of the building where Cha was murdered nearly four decades ago. That Cha’s body was violated and then strangled, and that Lee uses her own body and voice as vessel of invocation, now, are no coincidence. The lineage of Korean diasporic women making art in the Americas is a short one, and traceable to a diasporic circumstance connected to decades of violations, namely involving U.S. (and other) military presences in Southeast Asia. In this New York City sequence, Lee picks up the truncated thread of Cha’s life and art, acknowledging the cost and also the invisibility of it. Her
ritual in this location is a gesture toward repair: revisiting a site of trauma, wearing on her body Cha’s poetry, she mourns and vocalizes in front of the very building where (we might surmise, if we believe such things) Cha’s ghost may still be caught. But now Lee is calling to the spirit, letting it know it is heard. As evidence, as provocation, she wears the dead artist’s words on her own live, vividly expressive body. Then the police car arrives at the end of the alley. The police car has shown up several decades late perhaps; but time is mysterious. As is ritual. At this point
Dohee gets up from her movements on the sidewalk, her work in the alleyway done.
I begin this essay reflecting on Cha, and Lee’s place in the Korean diaspora, because much will already have been said about the most dramatic and apparent delights of Dohee Lee’s performance work, her sheer power to engage performers and audiences alike, and her immense range—musically, vocally, bodily. Over the past year I’ve had the pleasure of several conversations with Lee in which I’ve gained greater insight into her art and intentions. The way she absorbs her surroundings while retaining the potency of her heritage is singular. In one conversation she mentioned that when she first began playing music in the Bay Area she would improvise Korean percussion with Bay Area jazz musicians, for instance. As a performer Lee is a force—able to rouse, engage, adapt. She is warm and fiery, humorous and provocative, vulnerable and deeply, clarifingly emotive.
For myself, another woman of Southeast Asian descent, I find Dohee Lee’s dialogue with Cha’s art to be an apt context through which to understand Lee’s performative ritual work. She is an Asian-bodied woman making art in America; the history of this relationship—U.S. presence in Southeast Asia—is rife with transgressions, violations, military occupations, and violence. The existence of a Southeast Asian diaspora in the U.S. cannot be separated from this complex web of political and war-related histories. Meanwhile, Lee has arrived carrying with her a deep vein of spiritual-aesthetic tradition, from her Korean ancestors and a musical-performative tradition rooted in Korean shamanism: a tradition that recognizes the power of spirits, and communing with them. Art in this vein
isn’t merely for consumption or vanity or glory, nor just storytelling. The purpose, rather, is rooted in relationship: between people and land; people and ancestry; people and other people. On Dohee’s native Jeju Island, the keepers of this tradition perform rituals to promote harmony between people and the environments they occupy.
MU/巫 is still a work-in-progress, Lee tells me, and may be different wherever performed. In Portland, Oregon for the TBA:17 Festival, she enlisted a small workshop of volunteers to join her onstage for the group-drumming parts of the show. Within three hours, she taught us not just a fairly complex choreography, but also impressed on us the true motivating aspect of this performance form: to tap into a connection, a conduit if you will, to one’s ancestors, whomever they may be. The point is not performing to be seen, but a participatory process by which your performative actions open—something—into the space. Later, over breakfast with Lee, I learned that her process for working with communities is usually spread over weeks of ongoing workshops. This culminates in a
community and audience engagement that is deeply felt and personally realized. In the Bay Area she works with immigrant and refugee groups, communities with, doubtless, many wounded ancestors. What we experienced as her Singing Body workshop participants in Portland for TBA:17 was just a glimpse of the wider net this work casts.
Lee’s MU/巫 performance embraces elements and elemental directions. The piece evoking water—built on a vocalization of weeping—is especially striking. Lee begins this sequence kneeling onstage reading a scroll, which unfurls from her skirt. Is this a history of violations she is reading, we wonder? At first she is just a single voice weeping, but then, through the use of vocal effects triggered wirelessly via hand movements (her gloves are rigged with sensors), the gesture of an arm raised or lowered, fingers spread or closed, build her weeping song into a tsunami of sorrow-sound, layers of echo and delay that transform into an ocean—a whole population’s sorrow perhaps, yet harnessed and orchestrated through a single performer’s body. Lee inhabits several more characters, including a bird-like being who seems to traverse seduction, trepidation, mirth, fear; to the final personage we meet, in a multi-colored garment and striking red-feathered headdress. This character breaks the language barrier—the whole show has so far been conducted in Korean—and addresses the audience directly in English. Her message desperate, adamant: The mountain is on fire. Do you understand me? Several times she repeats this: Do you understand me? She is challenging the audience about our environmental consciences, no doubt, but in this I glimpse, too, a shove against perceptions of the inscrutability of ‘the Other’, a stereotype that has plagued countless Asian/Western interactions, and been used to excuse western excesses in many non-western parts of the world.
In short, Lee doesn’t let the audience rest in the comfort of spectatorship. As one of the volunteer performers in the last act, I observed from the stage as Lee moved through the rows, the audience looking silent and stunned, and I admit at first I doubted Portland, I doubted us, feared we might choose to stay in our seats rather than stand up. But in the end Lee’s magnetism won over. The room woke to its collectivity.
The message in Dohee Lee’s art is in truth quite simple: Reconnection—connection itself—are crucial. Between ourselves and others; between ourselves and all the bodies of the earth. And Lee suggests we can start by paying homage to ancestors—in our own cultures, in the land. We can start by recognizing what has been wounded, and hear it sing.
by Sara Lyons
Photo by Eric Long
Subtitled “A Post-Realness Drag Ball,” Critical Mascara celebrated its fifth and final presentation at Time-Based Art on Saturday night with an expansive queer showcase of vogue, drag, and fashion. Previously a competitive drag ball, this final installment was decidedly a celebration, featuring a showcase of previous ball winners followed by performances from local vogue houses and drag stars. “I feel full and empty at the same time…which is sexual, morose, and precious, just like all of you,” producer and host Pepper Pepper crooned into the mic at the top of the evening. This slippery sense of simultaneous celebration and grief flowed through the entire program, carrying the leather-and-lace-clad audience through waves of irony and sincerity, political despair and euphoric sexuality, embedded histories and queer futurisms.
Critical Mascara has clearly been a mainstay of Portland’s burgeoning vogue community in recent years, collaborating closely with a small group of artists who are working to bring the dance techniques, competitive balls, and history–driven by and for primarily trans women of color–to Oregon. Throughout this family affair, House of Luna, House of Ada, and House of Flora offered performances rooted in the technical roots of vogue femme, while asserting a contemporary queer ethos expanded to include some ciswomen and a range of racial representation. This broad spectrum of femme performance inspired by the legacy of vogue femme continued to be a highlight of the evening. Critical Mascara’s high concept fashion showcase included artists of many genders experimenting with looks ranging from classic high femme glam to off-kilter pop-culture irony to unapologetic confrontation to sexual hyperreality.
The drag performances that followed ushered in a glittering, raw, fabulous mess of American identity, with the most powerful numbers harnessing the sublime aesthetic power of drag towards sharply critical, unapologetic political commentary. Horror queen Carla Rossi’s satanic ritual of a performance urged the audience to BURN IT ALL DOWN and MAKE ART. Kourtni Capree–who is African-American–brought down the house with a startlingly raw and explosive a cappella performance of The Star-Spangled Banner. “Grieving is a skill,” Pepper instructed us near the end of the show. And with all that queer people, folks of color, and women have to grieve in this moment of American history, Critical Mascara was simultaneously our communal catharsis, salvage carnival, and rallying call to–as projections repeated to audience members dancing into the night–“Get Sharp, Be Loved, Stay Critical”.
Sara Lyons is a queer feminist artist working as a director, writer, and occasional performer in theatre and performance. Recent projects include an original adaptation of “I’m Very Into You,” the published 1995 email correspondence between Kathy Acker and McKenzie Wark. She is currently a John Wells Directing Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University. www.sara-lyons.com
by Ashley Stull Meyers
What if TBA were a space for rage? Dead Thoroughbred (Portland artists sidony o’neal and keyon gaskin) propose the question through a beautifully gestural performance in PICA’s newly minted annex.
The performance begins with silence and dark—the audience steeped in a coded anticipation that is never quite alleviated through the entire hour of the work. o’neal and gaskin, stacked, form a towering figure that enters the room with an otherworldy air of grace and superiority. They saunter, methodically but improvisationally, appearing barely to notice the packed house of onlookers underfoot. o’neal cautiously dismounts gaskin’s shoulders, transforming from a queered, stilted, androdgyne to the posture of a horse—a thoroughbred. The two continue their mazed movements, o’neal leading a blinded gaskin, until they separate—o’neal becoming language and gaskin becoming form. The two halves of a whole use the environmental self-consciousness they’ve created through the dark to work in tandem, giving body and word individual utility within the shadows.
As Gaskin dances, o’neal recites verse that proposes (among other things) that PICA’s annual Time Based Arts Festival could fulfill its critical and experimental mandate should it also allow space for rage. The language, movement, and deafening sound require an unquestionable endurance from both artist and audience, as the majority of the work takes place in near pitch Blackness. Many audience members shifted in their sets, covered their ears, and squinted—attempting to force their eyes to better see something they were being denied. The subtlety of Black bodies moving in collaboration with the darkness is beautiful in both aesthetic and refusal. The crowd’s necks craned in frustration—mine included. But, this bodily anxiety is what Dead Thoroughbred produces best. The innate refusal in their work is a physical admonition that not every gesture of Black creativity, Black labor, Black physicality or Black publicness should be accessible for the price of a pass. What we received instead is the rhythmic whisper of o’neal’s voice, obscured by warbling static and ear plugs distributed at the annex door. We get gaskin’s elegant frame, floating and crawling through negative space with only the faint scent of lingering smoke as proof of where they’d been.
The duo exit, unceremoniously, and take the darkness with them. Their audience is left in a stupor—blinded by the harshness of yellow lights and ongoing noise that’s lost its substance. Rage within Black performance work manifests most radically as defiance; or in Dead Thoroughbred’s words, “evasion”. Dead Thoroughbred is “post-ratchet”; and post-ratchet is what is left when the institution is only given the ephemera of the turn-up.
by Keith Hennessy
TBA 2017 gave me 10 to 14 hours of art experiences each day. I drank it up. With friends, festival performers, and guest scholars we discussed and debated, questioned and re-considered. Certain moments will never be forgotten, including the free outdoor performance by Bouchra Ouizguen’s flock of women in a compellingly repetitious trance ritual of female power and grief. Others will be not so much forgotten as woven into a lifetime of memories of performance viewing and making. Here are a few thoughts or observations I had along the way.
1. Exaggerated version of an exchange between TBA guest scholars Lydia Brawner and myself.
Lydia: I am not a fetishist for live performance over the document. You don’t have to be there.
Keith: I am a fetishist for the live performance. You have to be there. I am a dissident in relation to those who fetishize documentation especially when they deny that it’s what they’re doing.
2. A friend talking to his mom in Florida as Hurricane Irma approached:
Mom, you have to evacuate.
Mom: The goddess will protect me.
Friend: Irma is the goddess.
3. Racial segregation is always happening but it seems that current activist and artist scenes are marked by an increase in temporary separatist spaces – POC only space, Black only space, queer/trans only space. In response there is also a new wave of intentional white only spaces for working through issues of racism and anti-racism without expecting BIPOC folks to do the intellectual and emotional labor, again, unpaid, for white people’s consciousness raising. During TBA I wondered about the limits of our allegedly liberal/neutral but almost always predominantly white spaces as sites for critique and debate of Black art, blackness and anti-blackness in art and art production. When Black and Black queer artists and scholars are more than multicultural tokens (one or two out of 50), another discourse and sociality emerges, where centering Black aesthetics and Black lives is less exceptional, more nuanced, and for some white or non Black folks, more disorienting.
4. Listening to dramaturg Katherine Profeta I thought: Maybe I’m going to add a part time career as dramaturg. Will anyone hire me?
5. Witnessing the panel on Dance Dramaturgy it seemed like I was watching the end of an era, a becoming irrelevant of previous canonical modes of supporting performance makers. The casting of the panel set up a series of binary frames with respect to age, race, gender, and culture. Two middle aged white cis women sat in conversation with two younger genderqueers of color. The former were both trained academically as dramaturgs to ground their work in history and written text. The latter did not identify their specific training but both exhibited a more cultural studies approach, in which their own bodies and experiences of difference ground their critical reading of performance. I don’t intend a totalizing misunderstanding here. Both of the trained dramaturgs resonated with the contributions of the younger artists, who were more intentionally and tactically ambivalent about identifying as dramaturgs, and it was evident that all of the panel are broadly engaged in critical reading, writing, thinking. I wondered how the panel might have been different if there had been a younger person of color with specific academic training in dramaturgy, and/or if one of the older women had been a more post-disciplinary queer outsider. But all these considerations aside, it was like we were watching a polite version of a generational shift characterized by the increasing redundancy of text based modes of analysis, and of white and cis analysts (and historians…), expanding the critical perspectives that emerge only from the participation of Q/POC histories, bodies, readings.
This is just one of the thoughts I had during KP’s talk and the following panel, both of which were smart, generous and generative. Other insights and points of departure:
Research in the tension between library and laboratory.
The artist as professional mourner.
The invisibilized gendered and racialized labor of everyday dramaturgy in situations of white supremacy and anti-blackness (sidony o’neal).
The problematic potential of foregrounding not knowing or not fully knowing, especially for white liberals who can’t distinguish cultural appropriation from intercultural inspiration.
Write with your whole bod (Suzan-Lori Parks).
If we’re fucking, and reading or seeing work together, when I’m working on a new piece, then that person is also a dramaturg (sidony o’neal)
6. Fragments from Morgan Bassichis’ Daily Meditations
• Ex’s, a growing community.
• We want you, even when it’s hard.
• A song:
I know you’re scared.
look what we can do
7. At the very beginning of Notes of a Native Song, a musical theater performance by The Negro Problem, Stew came out on stage, sitting at the edge as close to the audience as possible, and said something like, “If you’re sensitive, please take this time to move to the aisles so you can walk out with disturbing anyone else.” He waited. No one moved. One man called out, “I’m not going anywhere.” Later some people in the audience clapped when Stew said (or sang), “This isn’t a safe space.” I’m troubled by these moves and what they mean, aware that they don’t mean the same thing to different people and from different social positions. Since Trump’s election I’m acutely aware of how distinguishing oneself from the politically correct, from the politically “sensitive,” is a point of pride and identity. I wanted Stew to find another way to say that he was pissed about certain critical readings of his work, or that he wasn’t going to soften his positions just because they might challenge or offend someone else’s. Instead he affirmed a Trump-ist practice that eschews criticality and nurtures macho tribalism. The terms “sensitive” and “politically correct” are primarily used to dismiss and ridicule critical challenges grounded in anti racist, queer, and feminist activism. How is it not obvious that “sensitive” (as a qualifier of someone’s political position) is misogynist and/or anti-gay?
This is not a review of an otherwise complicated and generous performance in which an artist works through his ambivalent relationship to the legacy of James Baldwin, especially within Black communities. The song tribute to Trayvon Martin was particularly poignant, troubling, righteous.
8. There were so many good moments in the conversation between Lydia Brawner and Will Rawls that I’m tempted to transcribe all of my notes. I expect that PICA recorded the conversation and will make it available online or at least to those who ask. Most of the following was said by Will, or something close to it.
What is time?
Why be precious (about your life)?
I am an unstable material.
How can this malleability be present.
Performance is work.
The racialized history of (dance) labor in this country.
How do I put the mark of my body in a mechanized process?
How do I reveal my hand in the work.
I was horrified. Then I almost started crying. I thought, this is the end times. This is the end of the performance. Was this the political part?
How to die on stage?
How to die by one’s own choreography?
I would like to choose how to die on stage
All choices are political.
Jump the gap.
9. Following the extraordinary communal expression of Critical Mascara (a post-realness drag extravaganza!) on Saturday night there was a beautiful and inspiring conversation hosted by madison moore, featuring an all QPOC panel of vogue and ballroom artists from Portland and Seattle. Critical Mascara founder and diva host Pepper Pepper gave a brief intro to the project and then gracefully bowed out. Pepper’s 5 year (etcetera) contribution to the underground queer, drag, trans, and ballroom scenes in the Pacific NW is the stuff of legends.
Critical Mascara has been a gateway. It exploded a fire inside myself. (Brandon Harrison, Father of House of Flora)
If you’re not going to get vulnerable you’re not going to grow. That’s just the T. (Yuko)
Ballroom and vogueing saved my life. I owe a lot to the culture. (Jade Vogelsang)
How to help?
1. Teach financial literacy.
2. Help transwomen access healthcare and health insurance, traversing the landscape of survival.
3. When a transwoman is broke, give or loan her $20.
4. Makeup is expensive and some of us need it for survival.
5. Show up. Buy a ticket. Don’t be disrespectful.
by Tyler White
Making my way up the elevator to the PICA office, I envisioned the doors opening and a dramatic scene from Portlandia would be on full display—a multigenerational meeting ground of old art connoisseurs and young millennials on their latest culture trip. Instead, I was greeted by two sincerely genuine and engaged women. Roya and Kirsten introduced me to their space.
It was quite odd to think of an art institution dedicated to providing a space for the untraditional artist to express the experiences of a life more nuanced than the narratives reinforced by a narrowed presentation of their lives across media platforms. But such an art institution lives in PICA. This seemed to be encompassed in Bob Nickas’ 100 Years/100 Paintings.
The event was started off by the fantastic, longtime PICA Visual Art Curator, Kristan Kennedy. Her mention of putting on shows as early as the spring of 2017 in PICA’s new location at 15 NE Hancock, surely struck a chord with the audience, along with myself. To imagine a major art institution, having roots on Portland’s east side, especially in North Portland, is not quite hard to fathom, given the recent barrage of gentrifiers, but instead, the new space is large and inclusive. Roya and Kirsten explained to me their meticulous establishment of the space. Starting as a donation, there is a sense of responsibility to uphold the history of the physical warehouse, that the space is occupying, but also to be transparent with the surrounding community. For so many of us there, we would now be able to enjoy an abstract dance interpretation without having to cross a bridge.
Nickas crossed a plethora of bridges, transitioning from one year to another. He dived straight in. Beginning with a lead painting, that had been the face of the screen for the initial mingling moments before the program had begun, by a black female artist in the White House and one of the only present by artists of her identity in the President’s home. Joking, Nickas made a comment, saying, “hope the painting is still hanging next year.” One must keep in mind, this was the Monday before the election, and the results had not been solidified. Now they are. And Nickas may be right, it might not be hanging next year.
100 Years/100 Paintings is Nickas’s collection of some of the most personally resonating and memorable art pieces from 1915 to 2015. In some way, each piece conveyed a greater sense of significance to the curator than many others of the time. Deferring from the clichés, Nickas incorporated pieces from some of history’s most prominent artists that few had been introduced to. For me, the incorporation of Grant Wood’s portrait of the sheer simplicity of the American landscape, with distant and near rolling green hills, transported me to American Midwest. I was able to envision life in the 20th century, in the rural foothills of Iowa.
Defying strict, structured time periods and artistic movements, Nickas provided a visceral truth: “all art is made at all times.” This resonated with me. Forced me to question, what made this 100 Years/100 Paintings list? Who decided each artistic movement and categorized the raw, indicative representation of that artist’s world, that artist’s self? The late Jean-Michel Basquiat—an abstract weaver of political and social artistic architecture—who was a dear friend of the equally, but more prominent, visionary Andy Warhol—was not taken seriously during his tenure as an artist. To this day, almost no major museums or institutions hold his work. MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art, turned down his work on numerous occasions, until recently, when they purchased some of his pieces for 14–15 million dollars. Yet, they refrained from purchasing his 1980s work. The irony of this situation plagues me. At the time of gaining success and popularity, Basquiat could not be taken seriously. His work was not thought of as worthy to MoMA, until it was. What caused that shift? Who has the power to dictate the popularity of artists? Basquiat is not considered in some artists’ movements, and yet is considered an artist. He himself created a reality. One that did not need the validation of a traditionally white field to verify a young black man’s expression on a condition true to him. A similar sentiment is shared by Norman Lewis. Lewis entered the list in 1947, with a piece that took well over sixty years to receive its due recognition. Occupying the identities of being black and an artist, prove to continually contradict a place of recognition in the artistic canon.
Stories like these are the ones so widely left out of the conversation. Nickas opens this space up.
1927 was dedicated to Frida Kahlo. Her portrait of a grand, white woman, beautiful and starkly set against her dark background was an outlier of Kahlo’s work. Usually professed her paintings as being of herself, self-perpetuating. This painting came before Kahlo’s fame, illustrating Nickas’s notion that artists always produce their best works before they reach fame. Kahlo further embodied Nickas’ idea that Frida would not make it in the art world.
Commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller in 1933, Diego Rivera was asked to create a mural for the Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller himself had been asked, as the third artist consulted after Matisse and Picasso could not take on the project. Rivera created a mural or fresco, by the name of Man at the Crossroads. Before its completion, Rockefeller ordered the piece to be destroyed. One would wonder why, of course. Man at the Crossroads was an anti-capitalist mural that was composed of strong multicultural themes, featured Engels, Marx, Trotsky and Lenin, possessed complex examples of human’s influence on civilization, humanity’s progress, and throughout time, the destruction of war, as told through the impacts of World War I, encompassed people of all shades and backgrounds. The beauty and individualism of each character is almost other-worldly. Rivera’s talent is strongly conveyed in this piece. However, the pieced was covered and destroyed by the dismayed Rockefellers. Not deterred, Rivera finished his mural in Mexico City, renaming it Man, Ruler of the World. The piece lives on as legacy, as a physical embodiment of not conforming to the ideals of the majority, of those in power.
The pieces of Georgia O’Keefe, Picasso, and others contained a level of complexity. O’Keeffe’s The Lawrence Tree of 1929 provided great confusion over its orientation. When she came across it at an exhibition, she discreetly turned it to its correct position. The confusion ceased. Picasso’s work of 1923, which featured a solider, caused many to question whether or not it was unfinished. The other paintings featured criticism from Nickas. The 1941 Grandma Moses painting, Catching the Thanksgiving Turkey, was said by Nickas as having a great upper half and the bottom being less than.
Throughout his lecture, Nickas made a point to further explain the less conventional story of the artist. Many masterpieces came from troubled Mexican women, Cuban cubists, Black men who had no place in the canon of contemporary art greats, artists devoted to using their talents to comment on their current social climate and paintings misleading in title, but inclusive in interpretation. I found myself continually questioning whether or not I was hearing from an art historian.
Nickas, a more than well-accomplished figure in the art world, made every word and idea so accessible. Having had very little formal experience in the language and verbiage of art, I was able to follow along. Beside the occasional mention to ‘pre-realism’ art or ‘post-modernist paint strokes,’ I could connect ever so easily with the story of the painting projected on the slide. Once again, PICA has come to defy the usual art event as being the stigmatized paintings of random red lines, followed by an overly complex analysis of its meaning. Instead, I could follow. I could understand and even, learn. How amazing of an idea.
With the depth of each painting and year, it was almost impossible to understand every aspect of each respective painting in the two and a half hour lecture. Yet, each piece has a distinct place in my memory. The years harmoniously come together into a symphony of art’s dynamic power, to heal and anger, to articulate and interpret, to orate a story that has yet to be told and told differently with each person. That is the power of art.
Thank you, Nickas.
As 2016 draws to a close with the world changed, we remain steadfast as ever. PICA is and will always be a sanctuary for people of all faiths, nationalities, religions, and gender identities. We’re always working to present artists, host community events, and be allies to those who need us. The world needs art more than ever, and we need you more than ever to help us present it.
Thank you for being a loyal friend to PICA. Please take a moment to look through at the momentous, unique, and always eye-opening work we presented in 2016 with the video below. Then, use the link below to help us bring important work like this to the Portland community in 2017 and beyond with your gift before the year ends.
Click here to give now ›
As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with a few groups from our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. This update comes this month from People’s Homes, a collaborative project from Molly Sherman and Emily Fitzgerald.
As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with a few groups from our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. This update comes from FRONT Ed.05 in June 2016.
What’s up, PICA blog? FRONT Ed.05 is out in the world, so grab a copy if you see it at PICA, FLOCK or PWNW.
For our fifth edition, FRONT invited five leading US-based choreographers to reformat a period of artistic creation past into a series of questions now. The result is a publication with the spirit of a toolbox, through the lens of contemporary dance. The text—veering from poetic to pithy to peak muse—is set in an elegant, toothy bifold and wrapped in a glossy fold-out poster. The poster is a geometry dosed collaboration between photographer Chris Lael Larson, FRONT’s fabulous Ed.05 designer Justin Flood and four beloved Portland dancers.
We released on January 30th at FLOCK, where Danielle Ross and Robert Tyree had a blast leading an all-levels Question/Dance workshop. The workshop was sprung from the format, content and spirit of our recent edition. In addition to movement and writing prompts, participants were guided through the question-based reformat exercise that Ed. 05’s core contributors used as the basis of their writing for FRONT. Basically it was writing and thinking and moving and good times! In February, we also went to LA to sunbath—and offer the Question/Dance workshop at Pieter Performance Space along with an evening of performances by Danielle Ross and Robert Tyree (team FRONT) and FRONT contributors Milka Djordjevich (Ed.05) and Jmy Kidd (Ed.01).
For the remainder of 2016, and with our whopping $100 of remaining budget, we plan to strategically roll out an online iteration of FRONT Ed.05. Presently, we have an awkward web presence between Robert’s portfolio archive and a tad outdated Tumblr. In the fall, frontpaper.org will begin to host Ed.05 content. Sign up to our email list here, and you’ll be the first to know when we go live!
Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with a few groups from our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. This update comes from home school in June 2016.
home school is a free pop-up art school in Portland, OR founded by Victoria Anne Reis and manuel arturo abreu. The project honors the casual rigor of the etymology of “school,” from the Greek skholē, meaning leisure, rest, free time, in order to create welcoming contexts for critical engagement with contemporary art and its issues. We want to provide a diffuse, vernacular alternative to marketized art education. Our curriculum consists of classes, talks, exhibitions, poetry readings, and more.
We were inspired first by the low-stakes resource sharing that can often characterize online friendships, and second by previous alternative arts education models like BHQFU, Anton Vidokle’s Night School, Conceptual Oregon Performance School, University of Trash, and others. However, unlike many of these projects, which identify as art (and thus potentially subsume pedagogical concerns under aesthetic concerns), home school is not art. Our hope is that this increases the project’s pedagogical usefulness and centers the experience of whoever identifies as a home school student. We also stream every event in order to provide distance learning opportunities.
We launched at composition in November 2015 with a pop-up group show accompanying a set of performances and a screening of Hamishi Farah’s marginal aesthetics (2014). After receiving our Precipice Fund grant, we did our first poetry reading in January (online), then began the first semester of our 2016 curriculum in March. Our first event was a remote talk by Melbourne-based artist Hamishi Farah delivered in the workshop of Creative Paper Crafting, titled Better than Jordan. For April, Eunsong Kim skyped in from San Diego to Duplex to deliver her talk, Whiteness as Property & Found Object Art.
The first semester of home school featured two classes which met monthly. The first is Victoria’s class, Mom Art, which invites participants to imagine and examine Mom Art, a counterpart to Pop Art. In her call to center process over product and the everyday over the epic, Victoria reorients the oppressive erasure of reproductive and domestic labor both in and outside art. Classes took place at Lightbox Kulturhaus, the Northeast Portland home of Prequel facilitators Alexis and Ryan, Compliance Division, and a friend’s house, in Damascus, OR.
The second class of first semester was Contemporaneity: building a better white supremacy. In it, manuel details contemporary art’s racially exclusionary practices, how the art world adapts to/exploit the ascendancy of identity, and how to circumvent this paradigm. Classes took place at their garage in Southeast Portland, the home adjacent to fellow Precipice grantee Cherry & Lucic (where two of its directors live), and the Creative Paper Crafting workshop.
In May, home school worked closely with Compliance Division, a project space in an Everett microloft. We curated a group show there for first Thursday called snap, and they hosted a remote talk called Trauma Cache by Rosemary Kirton, as well as an in-person artist talk by Demian DinéYazhi.
June featured the concluding sessions of Victoria and manuel’s classes, as well as an in-person talk by Jamondria Marnice Harris at Duplex, titled toward a decolonizing poetics. We also hosted our second online reading. Semester 1 concluded with an artist talk by LA-based artist Jasmine Nyende, Marble.
Semester 2 of 2016’s home school curriculum ran from July–Oct 2016. It featured a class titled project space industrial complex, co-facilitated by Carmen Denison, Eleanor Ford, Devin Ruiz, and Chloe Thompson,. Sessions took place at the Cherry & Lucic house, dCompliance Division, and the Yale Union Neighbor’s Open Studios. Semester 2 also featured as well as a movement-based class taught by Portland performance group Physical Education (keyon gaskin, Allie Hankins, Lu Lee Yim and Takahiro Yamamoto). Sessions took place at Lightbox Kulturhaus, LACUNA, and the People’s Food Co-op. Semester 2 also featured talks from Devin kenny, damali ayo, Giovanna Olmos, and Winslow Laroche. We also hosted our third reading, this time in person at LACUNA.
Upon the conclusion of the 2016 curriculum, Victoria and I reflected on the successes and failures of the project. We accomplished our goal of navigating Portland’s project space scene and the fraught politics that accompany this; however, the rigorous weekly schedule drained us and, to some extent, impeded our ability to seamlessly facilitate aesthetic engagement as time went on. Nevertheless, we feel very happy to have explored the pedagogical potential of the emerging event economy in an increasingly austere and speculative art market, and to have widened the scope and context of artistic practice in Portland by showcasing local talent as well as bringing in outside voices.
The work and contexts we are facilitating for our 2016 curriculum would not be possible in their current forms without the help of the Precipice Fund, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and the Calligram Foundation / Allie Furlotti. The grant is has not only allowing allowed us to realize our project in the scope we imagined, and pay everyone involved; it also provides us room to experiment and discover a sustainable model for the 2017 curriculum, for which we are not expecting funding from anywhere. Thanks!
Our tumblr serves as our site. We’re also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with a few groups from our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. This update comes from The Global Table in May 2016. To learn more about The Global Table, visit their website or download a copy of their recipe book as a PDF.
When we create a meal together, we open up a sacred space to connect with others who on the surface might seem very different from ourselves. Through breaking bread together we share our stories, our knowledge, our strengths, our struggles, and our talents. Gathering around the table we lay the foundation for a resilient community.
This project grows from friendship and the recognition of the power of food and community. Our communities are stronger when we can all work together toward a shared goal, but we often lack spaces to meaningfully come together and connect with people who are different from ourselves. A thoughtfully prepared meal and setting can provide that space and invite us to sit down, open up, and learn and share with those around us.
Our hope in curating these dinners is to create and hold space for folks to come together. These dinners invite participants to share our (food) story, find commonalities, and learn across differences. It is a collaborative process and one we hope will continue beyond this series.
The Global Table is a series of four performative, programmed dinners in East Portland created in collaboration with chefs from local cultural communities. Each menu is formed and prepared by two chefs from recipes that are personally and historically significant. Activities throughout the series include ceramic plate glazing, directed conversation, recipe swaps, shared rituals, and the forming of a small publication. The Global Table seeks to create an opportunity for creative practice, dialogue, and community building between groups who may not typically have the opportunity to engage with each other. The project explores familial food narratives as a way to view our own migration stories, celebrate our community’s knowledge, and begin to address larger systems of access in Portland.
The project is a collaboration between Krysta Williams and Amanda Leigh Evans and was presented throughout East Portland, OR in 2016. It was produced with community chefs Farida Hadid, Blanca Hernandez, and Paula Hernandez. Photos by Anke Schüttler.
List of Dinners
Led by Krysta (California) and Amanda (California)
Menu: BBQ lemon pepper chicken, beans from central California, Norwegian lefse, and sides dishes
Activities: Breaking bread & glazing of handmade plates with our food stories
Location: Performance Works NW
Led by Blanca (El Salvador) and Paula (Oaxaca)
Menu: Tamales, wrapped in hoja de plátano, tacos de barbecoa, and sides
Activities: Sharing recipies & food stories
Location: Zenger Farm
Led by Farida (Algeria)
Menu: Algerian Arechetta pasta, berber couscous, and side dishes
Activities: Sharing recipies & food stories
Location: APANO Jams
The Global Table Finale
Led by all chefs
Menu: A tasting menu of items and recipes from the previous three dinners
Activities: Exhibition of plates, live music, recipe demonstrations, sharing stories, and release of recipe book
Location: Zenger Farm
Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. The update below comes from Projection of B-Format Signal Set Waves into Cathedral Park in May 2016. Their event, described thusly on their Facebook, was held for 10 hours in Cathedral Park on Saturday, August 20:
Utilizing contemporary techniques in acoustics and sound design, seven artists have created sound installation pieces meant for a six-speaker array. The speaker array will be located in Cathedral Park, filling the space as well as interacting with its architecture. Attendants are welcome to stay for the duration and enjoy the pieces within the tranquil setting of the park’s landscape.
Our project is currently wrapping up the bureaucratic stage of project planning. The date for the installation will be August 20th, a Saturday. Just last week I met with the Friends of Cathedral Park Neighborhood Alliance to present the installation, and was warmly greeted with enthusiasm for the project. Our next stages for the bureaucratic side are presenting the installation, with Neighborhood Alliance approval, to the North Portland Police precinct, then sending all of that information to the insurance agency representing us during the event.
The members of the project are well underway in composing for the installation. A few weeks ago some of us took a field trip to complete the site map for the speaker array, as well as testing the acoustics of the space. It helped inspire composition, and we are getting more and more excited to show our work!
As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. The update below comes from the team behind Women’s Autobiographical Artists’ Books in May 2016.
Women’s Autobiographical Artists’ Books Project is currently nearing the end of its research phase, which, without a self-prescribed deadline, would never end! Sometimes it feels like we’re just scratching the surface, and as we dig deeper, so many new avenues of research and conversation re: autobiography and artists’ books open up. Finding more experimental works has been so exciting in how it challenged what we initially thought was a pretty straightforward genre. Finds like In Memory of My Peelings by Jessica Susan Higgins has pushed a lot of new blood into our search for compiling this book.
This research has led to new discoveries, discourse, and questions regarding the reach and scope of women’s artists’ books. It’s been so rewarding to speak with some of the local and national artists and learn more about their process or intentions for making artists’ books and and their impact. The definitions or parameters of autobiography and for the artist book are wide, and we’re trying to be as open as possible in our inquires and inclusions. We’re starting to organize and develop a website to serve as a public reference point, and are already well into laying out the book. The process of creating a physical object through material practice is so different than the research phase, but it all seems to be so perfectly cohesive—making an artists’ book reference point book compiled of artists’ books.
As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. The update below comes from echo/hecho in May 2016.
echo/hecho has resonated deeply with our community, across cultures and generations. Since the inception of this project we have been interviewed by several radio series, including but not limited to KBOO & OPB with the intention of outreach and promotion. These interviews have also presented themselves as a platform of process for our collective; what challenges we have met and the actions taken to successfully move forward considering capacity & community engagement.
We released our first podcast for echo/hecho on Friday, February 14th. This day in the U.S. is observed as Valentine’s Day but in many Latin American countries the 14th is celebrated as ‘El dia del amor y amistad’, which translates to the day of love and friendship. Since then we have released 4 podcasts, 3 of which include guests from the community that were invited to speak on their practice and/or activism and how that intertwines with our manifesto: a Queer Xingona Theory. What we are hoping to accomplish with these podcasts are ways in which artist collectives can cultivate & sustain not only their collaborative work but how they can support one another as individuals living in a capitalistic, patriarchal society.
As of the first week of April we have purchased an RV trailer, about 18ft long to begin the 2nd phase of echo/hecho, with the intention of having a mobile gallery with curated exhibitions throughout the summer. We faced some challenges in regards to parking and neighborhood complaints but remodeling has now begun after the relocation of our vehicle. We hope to have the RV ready for exhibitions in July. We will hold a call for submissions to our community by centering work done by women, people of color, youth and those that identify as LGBTQ. The purpose for this is to showcase the work of individuals who are largely underrepresented in the art canon and/or who have not had the space or means to have their work exhibited. In regards to our end of the year event, we have confirmed that S1 will be the site for our final exhibition, which will include music, visual work, and performance. We are so thankful for all the support and encouragement we have found along the way. But most of all we are thankful for the support and validation expressed from PICA members, local artists and the other 2015 grantees.
For more information about echo/hecho, like their page on Facebook, follow them on Instagram, or visit their Soundcloud to listen to their podcast.
As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. The update below comes from Cherry and Lucic, a curatorial project based in NE Portland at 4077 NE 7th Ave., from the beginning of summer 2016.
Cherry and Lucic began its second season of programming with the first-ever Pacific Northwest exhibition of monochrome painter by Henry Codax. For 2016, the artists Arnold J. Kemp, Lydia Rosenberg, Emily Goble, Matt Morris, MK Guth are presenting projects at the gallery. Each project is accompanied by print ephemera, which is usually presented as a takeaway artwork for our audience. We provide documentation for each artist’s project with the help a stipend that is awarded to photographer Cristin Norine.
In late 2015 we were invited to participate in the 2016 Portland Biennial as an artists/curatorial project. For the biennial, we are presenting a project in collaboration with British artist Merlin Carpenter. In early 2016 we auctioned off a curatorial project at PNCA alumni art auction, helping to raise scholarship funds for students at the school. For our part of the auction, we are developing a one-month exhibition with Jordan Schnitzer for at an undisclosed space. Artists Claire Redman, Alisa Bones, Naomi Reis, and Paula J. Wilson are participating in this project.
Finally, part of our Precipice funding has gone to support printmaker Sammie Cetta, our print coordinator at Cherry and Lucic. Sammie is responsible for the production for all print ephemera at the gallery. In 2016, Sammie will head up the production book projects on behalf Cherry & Lucic—helping to print a novella that will accompany Merlin Carpenter’s exhibition for the biennial. Sammie is also working collaboratively with artist Hayley Barker to produce a limited edition book that will be released at the end of our 2016 season.
For more information about Cherry and Lucic, visit their website.