It’s hard not to be won over by Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s peculiar brand of dance theater. Last year, Poetics: a Ballet Brut was the talk of the festival with its simple premise: the easiest everyday gestures, delivered off the cuff, were woven together, repeated and amplified beyond even the audience’s wildest possible expectations. A spell was cast in the theater. I remember walking out of Lincoln Hall and suddenly, everywhere I looked everyone around me was participating in a massive dance, sharing some secret choreography inside us all.
No Dice also tries to spin straw into gold, taking hours of the ensemble’s taped telephone conversations, the mish-mash of their ordinary chat, and elevating this regular material to epic. Each of the performers has an earbud, presumably feeding them the tape recordings. They perform these words for us as they get them, turning them into the lines of dialog from the strangest play you’ve ever heard. And this is dinner theater so they dance a choreography that borrows all of its moves from bombastic melodrama. The actors leer at the audience and give each other freaked-out glances. They wear fake mustaches, shift constantly between odd accents and, literally, chew the scenery.
But to describe the project and to convey the experience is two very different things—the charm of Nature Theater is not in the meticulous conceptual work but the spontaneous playfulness of the performance. The amazing cast members bend everything they have into an aggressively physical delivery, like theatrical rock stars. While they are translating for us what they hear over their headphones, they are simultaneously trying to make sense of it all through the fistful of gestures and conceits they are allowed. It becomes as much a marathon as a piece of theater or dance.
At one point in the performance, I found myself ruminating on the worst piece of theater I had ever seen (with a running time of four hours, No Dice allows for, even encourages this introspection). It was an original work by a local author, produced by an unknown company that was never heard from again. The show had the same trappings as No Dice: the limited staging positions occupied serially by performers, the self-conscious mugging, the harsh lighting, the wigs and prop business. The only difference was a particularly self-important script that was slowly slanting into perpetual collapse from all of the “meaning” it had to convey. The trick for NTO is that the show happens in between and in spite of the lines, a growing dance and a growing sense of music in everyday life. That and the fact that, even with the limited bag of tricks mock melodrama provides, the show never falters, always mesmerizing and surprising the audience.
And it has to, considering the length of the piece, even though the intense duration is arguably key to the transformative success of No Dice. The “everyday” is just that: long, continuous and repetitive. There are small increments of change and it is only with great accumulation of experiences that a pattern can be found. Over the course of the evening, I could feel my own distance from the words and the fierce style of expression wearing down, my laughter replaced with a flexible concentration taking in every element of the drama around me.
As with Ballet Brut, the most memorable moment in an exhilarating evening comes when the cast sheds most of their performance trappings and walks into the audience to engage individual members. They are speaking to us honestly, in unison but making a real individual connection to someone, repeating the words that two hours earlier had left us in a fit of mocking hysterics. Now, however, what they have to say, ever so much more simply, rings true. Abruptly, everything comes into focus and hours of banality delivered with fury gels into, dare I say it, transcendence. And I feel so privileged to have spent the evening growing older in this room with these people.
Posted by Kristan Seemel
I discovered William Kentridge early last year, when I picked up a book in the art book sale bin at Powell’s. Since then, he’s influenced me to get back into making animation and inspired me to tell a fellow MFA student to see his work. I have to say the Whitsell Auditorium is one of my favorite venues to see films. I thought to myself it’s a beautiful Sunday evening and only a few people will be there––no way, it was just about a full house.
I like to sit close so I can fill my visual field to the extent that it feels as if I’m watching the film in my head, like it’s a dream. I got a nice seat in the second row and right before the films started, somebody sat down in front of me obstructing the bottom right corner of the screen. His drawings, which filled up the screen, felt like if you touched the screen you would smear his drawing materials. When I thought I should be able to smell his studio, and the art materials on the screen, all I could smell was the perfume from someone behind me. What a draftsman Kentridge is! Here is an artist who knows how to draw perspective, anatomy, and animate in lush black drawings with only the most minimal color. Adding, erasing and making marks from the pages of his drawings as the camera moves along pulling the audience along for the ride over the giant paper. Rarely, there was the addition of blue to emphasize water with its symbolic meaning from our dreams, filling up here, there, everywhere, everything drowning––sex, money, capitalism, and death all intertwined. Water. There is something intriguing about water as a chaotic element. His drawings remind me of other artists in their subject matter and visual graphic look––Kathe Kollwitz, Sue Coe, William Groper, and another current South African artist, Marlene Dumas who coincidently works with similar themes and palette. Although Kentridge’s films were very political and took root from growing up in an apartheid and post-apartheid country, for most of us sitting in the theater so many different metaphorical interpretations can be explored in present day life in the U.S. Kentridge has that rare gift to be able to create beautiful drawings and tell a story (I love how he has created the character of Soho Eckstein in all his films). With the nostalgic look of old black and white films styles of the 1920’s combined with the music––I never wanted the film to end. The overlooked art of drawing beautifully is something you don’t want to miss. The timing is right to show these films now, and if you missed out seeing them Sunday, catch them Thursday, September 13th. We’re lucky we get to see more of Kentridge when his traveling show comes soon to Lewis & Clark College this fall.
Posted by Ben Killen Rosenberg
I love Taylor Mac. Portland loves Taylor Mac. Or at least the 200 people I saw him with did, and the hundreds more I saw him with last year. What is it we love so much? When I asked my dad, as delicately as possible, why Priscilla Queen of the Desert made him cry so much every time he watched it, he responded, “There’s just nothing that makes me feel so much as a tragically aging drag queen.” Taylor Mac isn’t tragic, nor aging, as far as I can see. No way—he’s bold and wonderful and vibrant and alive. And yet his songs are sad, a bit “slit my wrists” as an old dandy apparently told him. They are about missed connections, failures of love, of identity, and the funny, tragic little lives we all lead.
I think the thing that struck me most at this year’s show was the absolute outpouring of love toward Taylor at the end of the show. Is it because he’s such a good figure for us (whatever the collective us may mean)? A little beaten down, really sad about the stark isolation of this life, and yet bowled over also by the delicate beauty and the absurdity of it. Still trying, always trying, and furthermore, being fabulous while doing it. That, I think, is what I hear from Taylor Mac—be a little more gorgeous, a little more wild. “Nothing’s worth doing unless it makes you nervous,” that same dandy said, and Taylor Mac encourages taking risks. Until we dip a little into mylar (which some of the audience got to do), we’ll never be safe from “dwindling down into homogeneity,” he insisted.
Taylor Mac reminds me of something that’s bounced around in my head for a long time, from Nelson Mandela’s inaugural: “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. . . . We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? . . . We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. . . And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” And Taylor Mac liberates us, little by little, with a bit of Mylar and an explosion of glittering synthetic fabrics.
But why, Taylor, why did you do the same show we got from you last year? With the addition of “find the mylar” I remember all this quite clearly from that show at The Works. It’s wonderful stuff—that’s why it stuck, but I wanted more, something new, a little further jaunt along your strange highway. That was my only complaint, except for the venue. Sure it’s ironic to have a drag show (or what have you) in a Christian Science Church, but I miss the nighttime world that Taylor Mac seems to belong to. Is he looking to be heard with more seriousness, as his remarks about “Catty Cathies” imply? Or is this just a scheduling issue? I have no qualms about calling Taylor Mac high art, but he’s the type of high art I like to experience in the dark with a drink in hand. Still, as he said, “We’re muddling through.”
The wise, above-mentioned dandy inspired Taylor Mac because he “believed wholeheartedly in beauty and not at all in perfection,” and that, I think, is the moral of this show. Taylor Mac shows us his own striking and curious beauty, which he maintains in the face of real and humorously imagined tragedy, and inspires in us our own. He affects us. After quipping that we were a diverse audience with “so many different kinds of white people,” he said “I’m not trying to bite the hand that feeds me, just wanting to get a little lipstick on it.” And so he did. From what I could see, we all left a little smeary, a little sad, a little less perfect, and a little brighter and more beautiful.
Posted by: Taya Noland
There is a dilemma at the core of The BE(A)ST of Taylor Mac that any self-aware snob has had to contend with before: what to do when the subculture moves to the mainstream, or rather, when an act from the subculture strives for the mainstream? The later seems the more damning of the two as one may forgive an artist for the mythical ‘accidental discovery’ but to set out with the intention of appealing to a mass audience? How dare he?
posted by Amber Bell
Although I had to work early the next morning, I did not want to miss going to The Works Monday night. I was looking forward to Anna Oxygen’s latest all natural psychedelic concoction. Even more, I was enthusiastically anticipating work by Miwa Matreyek, who, I heard, used animation in an incredibly elaborate interactive way the likes of which has not been seen before.
Indeed, the collection of performances I watched last night were spectacular; comprised of not-necessarily-equal parts space-out, outer space, precision, incision, and jazzercize. Live people meet computer doubles meet shadow selves in various versions of a dream world.
Intriguing to me were the intersections of ideas, styles, and aesthetics. Having seen much of Anna Oxygen’s previous work, it was interesting to note familiar elements and themes. I also noticed new amped-up technologies and meticulous technicalities. In Matreyek’s solo performance, Anna Oxygen’s musical composition contributed a dynamic dimension, and although I have not seen Chi-wang Yang’s individual work, I can only imagine that his layers of visual and organizational care run deep. It seems clear to me that the Cloud Eye Control collaboration is a beneficial artistic booster all around.
Unfortunately, the technology ran aground prior to the final performance of the evening, and restlessly I waited as they toyed with computers, counting the minutes until I had to return the flexcar and get to sleep. I stayed until the last possible second. Onstage dreams were bottled, squads of advisors were multiplied and planets were overtaken with aerobic force. Heeding the wisdom of the performance, I went home to catch my dreams.
I came home Saturday afternoon from the On Sight opening to find a postcard filed in between the bills and magazines in our mail slot. Thumbing through the stack, I almost passed it over as an ad for a dental office or realtor before recognizing the image. The I-405 overpasses looked familiar, but the yellow Penske trucks grounded the image immediately in the industrial edge of the Pearl. In the lower corner, a young man crosses into the frame – presumably Paulsen. To a Portlander, the image initiates a game, a photographic “Where’s Waldo?” of the local landscape. I turned the card over and confirmed my suspicions about its sender. And there, below his name and mailing address, I saw the quiet statement : “I’m Searching Too”.
It stands as such a simple, but enigmatic phrase. These words at once include the recipient in Paulsen’s search, acknowledge the commonality of searching and leave the search open for continuation. Apparently, the recipient isn’t who (or what) Paulsen is searching for, but by receiving his card, you are invited to be a companion-in-arms. My search was for the connections between this tiny bit of mail-art and his exhibit at PNCA, from which I had just gotten back.
Along with Anna Gray, Paulsen has created a room for the searcher, the sleuth, and the explorer. At the center of the room is a small toy boat, moored away from water in a mound of gravel. Just in front of it, a pencil-drawn map of the world spans two adjoining walls. The trade routes and ocean currents are replaced with scrolling script recounting failed explorations and early navigators. Up until this point, Gray and Paulsen’s work seemed to romanticize the adventure and allure of seafaring exploration, but upon turning around, I make the connection that I believe Paulsen intended for. Paulsen embraces all of the iterations of a search – the literal explorations, the euphemistic meanings, the puns. And there I am facing a wall-sized word-search.
I took a printed-out copy of the word-search from the exhibit and now at home with Paulsen’s card, I have begun to seek out the words and search for the relationships and histories behind them. The list of phrases range the entire spectrum of the searchable. Words include objects (comfortable shoes), the paranormal (UFOs, Atlantis, Loch Ness), qualities (satisfaction), jokes (Waldo), and lost adventurers (Earhart, Slocum). Amongst the names of those lost-at-sea, Paulsen makes the tellingly sly choice of including Bas Jan Ader, a Dutch conceptual artist who disappeared from his boat in the midst of a solo performance piece entitled, “In Search of the Miraculous.” A wry nod to history and influences sure, but also a slightly dark aside about the nature of performance.
Looking at Paulsen’s list of words, all of the varied meanings that we assign to the word “search” begin to overlap. Is it an internal search for a quality or is it a matter of finding a misplaced or hidden item? Can these two types of searches ever be fully separated? What happens to the explorer who devotes a lifetime to looking for that which can’t be found? What of those who are lost in their own searches, only to become themselves objects of a search? At the root of his project, it seems that Paulsen is searching for what it is that he should be searching for, compiling an encyclopedic array of searches. In the process, he makes it clear that we have a very hard time being content with what we know and have. Searching, whether for a place, an object, an individual, or a concept seems to be one of those elemental qualities of the human mentality.
I wonder if anyone who traveled from out of town for TBA will return home to a card, and if so, how they will read it? Perhaps it will seem like a postcard not from Portland, but from the festival – an elusive and temporary space, a Shangri-La. It will likely be a bit of a search just to remember where the card came from.
posted by patrick l.
Feeling sorry for who?
Note: If you haven’t seen the piece yet, you might wait reading this post until after you saw it as I reveal some parts of the piece that are essential to the experience this wonderful play might offer you…
I was looking forward to seeing Kommer by Kassys for a really long time. I had the world premiere in my hometown (Ghent, Belgium) more than four years ago. I missed it back then and eversince there must be a curse on me making it impossible for me to see that show. After having seen their latest piece ‘Liga’ which I totally adored, I just had to see Kommer too. A reason by its self to buy myself a roundtrip airfare to the US. Still, it almost went wrong again. This time in Portland it was Taylor Mac’s -too- long applause that gave me a really hard time getting at Lincoln Hall in time… Luckily -15 minutes late- they still let me it.
During the first fifty minutes of the piece we see a stripped down scene of mourning, sad people set in a minimal -equally sad- artificial stage design of brownish plantboxes full of dead plants. Nothing significant happens. They condole eachother, they try to comfort eachother, but all in the most unpersonal way you can imagine: “I can feel what you feel” or “I would love to help you but I think I can’t”… The whole scene breathes distance, indifference, discomfort, but pushes it into extremity, making these sad happenings highly amusing. After a while all empathy with the ‘mourning’ performers has made place for malicious pleasure in the misfortune of the people on stage. “Why feeling sorry? They’re just actors, making fun of themselves in a lovely show!”
This seems more than true when the performers leave the stage and a ‘live’ video starts on which we can see the performers backstage having fun and getting ready to go home again. But as fast as we thought Kassys confirmed our feelings about the ‘play’, the group smacks it right back in your face. The extreme sadness of the initial play -”Something horrible has happened!”- makes place for the more subtle, daily ‘tristesse’ of many people’s lives that turns out to be much harder to bear than many of the worst events that could happen to you. In reality TV style, this video follows the sad and lonely lives of the actors, their lives when not on stage. The theatre turns silent again. When the video ends, the performance is finished as well. People go home, looking around, seeing the homeless, the single mothers, the detached… of Portland, thinking about these people’s ‘horrible’ lives, feeling sad…
For a moment even I got caught in this misleading hyperemotional, empathic mood. But I know Kassys, and I know they are not at all emocore-theatre-makers. No, they are a witty bunch of conceptualists fooling you by toying around with the parameters of theatre and performance. There’s no doubt that the misery shown in that ‘reality movie’ about actors’ lives was just as fake as the misery in the funny, ironic theatre piece that preceded it. It’s all part of one big ‘show’. By juxtaposing two ways of presenting fake sadness, it shows us how theatre is able to fool with our feelings of empathy.
As in their latest piece ‘Liga’ (phonetically meaning ‘to lie’ in dutch), ‘Kommer’ is all about the theatrical lie and how we let ourselves fool not only by movies, theatre, but just as well by reality TV and even what we assume to be real such as spectacular newspaper pictures of the Iraq war that are in fact just locals organizing photoshoots for the international media… It’s true that -as Baudrillard puts it- that we can no longer distinct the real from the unreal. By making many people believe something is real, it maybe also becomes real… And this, my dear fellow readers, might be the magic of theater… and our disturbed minds…
by Wouter Bouchez
Wowza, The Works has been fun this year. Between the PICA beer garden outside and the late night Wonder Cafe menu, I’ve logged a lot of hours and had a ball. If you’re new to TBA, this is the venue to get a feel for the festival, meet artists, and take in the world of PICA. If you’re a TBA veteran, you know The Works as the place to decompress, discuss the shows of the day, and finish the night off right. Tonight is yet another great chance to get a drink and settle in for the sounds of the Portland Cello Project with a hot lineup of guest local musicians. If you’re looking for the right TBA event to take a date to, I highly suggest this one. If you’re feeling a little tuckered out, there’s nothing like some cellos and indie folk rock to give you sweet dreams and revitalize you for tomorrow.
I didn’t realize how many awesome artists will be a part of tonight’s performance until I looked at the Portland Cello Project’s own website. Here’s what they have to say about tonight:
“Sept 11, the Portland Cello Project will be putting on it’s largest cello extravaganza yet! We will have a full contingent of 12 and sometimes 13 cellists on stage, and the program will be more diverse than ever at Portland’s beautiful Wonder Ballroom. 128 NE Russell, Portland, OR 97212. Call 503.284.8686 for more info.
On the program:
Justin Kagan will be performing the first and second movements of the Elgar Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (Arranged for 12 cellos and soloist).
We will feature new or re-worked collaborations with Bright Red Paper, Nick Jaina, Heather Broderick, Laura Gibson, John Weinland and Musee Mecanique.
Ok, wow. That’s a ton of rad Portland musicians and 13 cellists for the price of one event.
Bright Red Paper has been cello rockin’ for years and has a new singer who put on a great show at PDX Pop Now. Nick Jaina’s silky voice is backed by a band that seems to grow with every show. Heather Broderick is in local fav’s Horse Feathers and Loch Lomond (also on Hush Records). John Weinland is twangy and sweet and also made up of very nice people. I once drank some top quality absinthe with several fun members ofMusee Mecanique, and that’s all I know about that.
Laura Gibson is a nationally acclaimed songstress and one of the nicest people in town. I’m always psyched to see her in person and in concert. She’s been featured on NPR’s All Songs Considered, played SXSW this year, and has an album that makes the coming winter seem bearable and even romantic. Actually, I would say that all of the above bands produce music perfect to get you through the rainy months with just the right amount of introspection and warmth.
Check out some of their albums (no Cello Project, sadly) on local label Hush Records, which is also run by an incredibly nice local person and was the first label of the Decemberists (some of their first LPs are available there, on sale!). The Hush Site is having a ridiculous summer sale , with albums by or including many of the people referenced above plus downloads of free studio sessions, and this You Tube performance by Laura and the Cello Project:
Check out more Portland Cello Project music at their myspace site.
Blogger, member, enthusiast
-Posted by Patrick Alan Coleman
The world’s culture has become obsessed with its demise. According to Reggie Watts wonderfully absurdist prophesy, Disinformation, that demise will come in 2012, when the Mayan calendar ends. More likely it we be a long, drawn out, uncomfortable process. According to Leonardo Di Caprio and Al Gore, it will be ecological disaster stemming from fossil fuel use and the subsequent carbon emissions.
Based on our personal energy use, we all have a “carbon footprint,” the amount of carbon emissions we are responsible for pumping into the atmosphere. Businesses and events generally have significant carbon footprints.
The TB:A festival’s carbon footprint must be remarkable. Consider the artists that are shuttled around the globe, harried participants driving from venue to venue and the amount of energy it takes to light galleries and stages. Luckily, many participants choose public transportation or bicycles to get from place to place. Still it’s likely that the festival is responsible for an additional carbon load over its 11 day run.
There is something that festival participants can do. An increasing number of organizations are selling Verified Emission Reduction credits (VER’s). When VER’s are purchase the money is invested in companies and non-profits that are working to reduce carbon emissions through methods as diverse as planting trees and burning harmful methane gas from landfills.
Anyone interested in offsetting the carbon emissions of festival participation can find a list of organizations selling VER’s at ecobusinesslinks.com. Just think of the piece of mind you’ll have watching the Portland Cello Project, knowing that the emissions produced from your drive to the Works has been offset by the planting of a few new trees.
Anna Oxygen Works it Out
-posted by Patrick Alan Coleman
I like the Works space this year, even though it does lack some of that high-end, DIY charm, which has been the hallmark of its previous incarnations. What works at the Works, located in (or is that inhabiting?) the Wonder Ballroom, is the visibility and capacity, optimized by a stage that can easily support larger acts. But what the Works has yet to conquer is the separation of those who Taylor Mac refers to as “Catty Chatties,” and those who are genuinely interested in watching what’s happening on stage.
But last night, Anna Oxygen’s high contrast, ultra-dimensional, projection pieces, managed to lull the decompressing Works crowd into wide-eyed submission. At least while she was on stage.
Pray for the Sasquatch Band. The fuzzy-headed, old-timey pungent of Sasquatch (pungent being the term for a group of Sasquatch, as in: I saw a pungent of Sasquatch traipse through the clearing), meant to keep everyone engaged between Oxygen’s pieces, was roundly ignored by the audience- with the exception of one fellow who stood in front of them, slapping his knee and playing tambourine without any discernable rhythm whatsoever. I guess if you’re a Sasquatch, being unacknowledged is all part of the game. After all, they are incredibly difficult to spot in the woods. But I had no idea Sasquatches are nearly impossible to hear when they play music in a club. Stealthy.
Each time the lights dimmed, the large Works crowd, who apparently did not believe in Sasquatches, would quiet down for another visual gem from Oxygen.
The first two pieces of Oxygen’s show were completely entrancing. Her projections created an intense, forced perspective placing Anna Oxygen in mountain vistas, cold planets, impossible computers, and glimmering cities. Like a monochromatic Michael Gondry video come to life. Comparable to Charlotte Vanden Eynde and Kurt Vandendriessche’s, Map Me, Oxygen’s work creates an illusory sense of depth and motion on flat and static backgrounds. The amount of timing and choreography to pull these visions off must be astounding. In a way, her work is as much magic show as it is performance. The line is particular difficult to draw here because the central visual conceit, borders on gimmick.
The problem is that Oxygen’s work is a bit uneven. Yes, the visual artistry is superb, but it is not matched by lyrics and music that sound a bit juvenile. It’s as if Oxygen’s script is reaching for the profound but can’t escape juvenilia. “Am I in your dream? Or are you in mine?” This question, asked in the third of Oxygen’s performances, Final Space, has been asked a million times. If only it had been asked differently this time. Make no mistake that Anna Oxygen has a lovely voice, it’s just that her songs sound like something that might have been written by Nina Hagen or Lori Andersen in their pre-teens.
During the performance, and the interludes by the invisible Sasquatch band, I found myself wondering what would happen if Anna Oxygen were given a full theater, with fly loft and stage crew to create a seamless show from beginning to end. I suspect that an audience might be too mesmerized by the spectacle to notice the lyrics of Oxygen’s songs.
It was interesting, in a kind of deconstructionist (constructionist?) way, to watch Anna Oxygen’s crew set up for the next piece, aligning the projectors and setting the stage. But I would have had a much better time, had the show been seamless. It’s possible that the Works is simply not appropriate for Oxygen’s show. Either way, I’d like to see Anna Oxygen perform again a year or two from now, in a theater that will allow her to find rhythm. I suspect with time her songs will be able to match the artistic prowess of her visual spectacle.
This year’s TBA began with quiet, with calm, with a gathering of Portlanders at Pioneer Square. It was peaceful. When I arrived, the square was filled, a low murmur rising from the young families and artists who were sitting, for the most part, on the ground or on the steps. Eventually, the singers came, holding a variety of books, and took their places. I was excited by it, by the promise of what might happen when people come together in the city to sing.
As a preface to everything else I have to say, I think I should repeat what I heard one man say later on about this performance: “It was really beautiful and everything, but I couldn’t hear a thing.” Unfortunately I think this was the experience most people had. Among the whistling, the rustling and the song that I could hear there was significant dead space. Too much was drowned out by the ambient sound. I tried to convince myself that the city soundscape was interwoven with the performance, that the Max, the interminable construction, the cars, were all a part of the migration. But honestly, they drowned out more than I wanted them too.
The performers, a motley Portland crew wearing bright scarves, occasional sunglasses, and carrying books in their hands, sang beautifully, whistled and murmured convincingly, and raised their arms in the air, their hands bobbing for all the world like the curious heads of a flock of birds.
As the singers looked up to the sky, shading their eyes, watching the imagined migration, I couldn’t help but look too. A few pigeons did their part to represent the actuality of flight, but otherwise the sky was still. Nonetheless, I found myself staring into it, noticing the largeness of the city, aware, as I rarely am, of the tops of the buildings, the clouds streaking the sky, the cranes reshaping the landscape. I felt a little silly. Every time the singers looked upwards, so did I, like a child believing each time that those excellent birds would appear. They did not, but I enjoyed that twenty minutes of seeing the topside of Portland, of staring up into the sky. What surprised me most was that almost no one else was staring up into the sky with me. They resisted the impulse to follow the eyes of the singers. I wonder how, and I also wonder why.
I’ve noticed in the first few days of this year’s TBA that we are a very mannerly group here in Portland. The lyrics that were sung were included in the programs for “Great Migration,” with a note that they might be of use. It took me a moment to figure out what this meant and then, just as I was straining to hear, and thinking it would be nice if the singers were spread around the square, I realized that it was an oblique invitation to join in. I wanted to, or rather I wanted us, the collective audience, to be moved spontaneously to song. A woman behind me did begin singing along in a low voice. I considered it but decided against it, as did most of the audience if it had occurred to them at all. Perhaps it was the intrusion of the city noises, and the dead space they created, but the performance felt as though it just didn’t become what it could.
Nonetheless, it was beautiful and quirky and fun. I have not yet lost the image of the singers all raising their arms like the long necks of cranes. As the singers filed out after the performance I glanced at the titles of the books they had chosen. The first few books were bird related: Refuge, Wild Ducks Flying Backwards, but then Jane Eyre. I have to admit that I’m an English teacher, and I was intrigued by those book choices. Perhaps it was the preponderance of Tom Robbins, but I was reminded, on my way out, of those peyote-eating cranes in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. The sheen of the pink and green and blue scarves the performers wore, and the tattooed forearms morphing into an excellent flock in the square: a good image for Portland, and for TBA.
Posted by: Taya Noland
According to the TBA book, a number of TBAers should have received / will receive postcards as part of Ryan WIlson Paulsen’s project “I’m Searching Too.” I’ve been giddily checking my mailbox each week, but nothing has turned up. Has anyone out there been a lucky winner? Do tell…
Blogger, member, enthusiast (and lover of mail! Hint!)
T:BA:07 Day Five – Monday, 10 September 2007
I love yoga. Have I mentioned that? I LOVE YOGA!!!
I started about a year ago. I was dating this woman that I met at Burningman, whom is a yoga teacher, and when I went to visit her the first time in San Francisco, I took my first yoga class. Well, since then, she came out of the closet, started a wonderful relationship with a woman, and we, needless to say, broke-up. But, I have continued with my yoga practice. And I love it!
Much like T:BA, I believe that all things in your life are there for a reason. They are opportunities to learn and grow. Nature Theatre of Oklahoma is one of those things for me. I hated them last year with a passion, and cringle this year a bit when I start seeing folks wearing their t-shirts; but I am looking forward to their workshop later in the week, so that I may learn.
Today, assuming that I finish this bLog speedily, take a shower, and get my butt downtown in time, I will be taking a workshop with a theatre group that I enjoyed last night, but did not impress me too much. But, in that, I might learn something…
Last night, I wanted to bLog before going to sleep.
It has a wonderful reflective and tidy sense to wrap up the day in word, and then lull off to dreams. But, as I was sitting in the Wonder Ballroom talking with some friends about their playa experience this year, and whether they feel that the Burn is ‘done’ or not; I realize, yep… I need to get some sleep. Sorry, getting up for my 7am yoga class trumped this bLog. That’s just the way it is.
OK, so what happened yesterday?
What inspired me? What was I thinking? What did I have as a snack? [Well, you probably do not care about my gastronomical adventures, but that’s all part of the journey…]
Oh, sorry, gotta get up and give the pup her morning milkbone. Oh, and now that I finished the bowl of cottage cheese, I need to have my bowl of pumpkin flax seed granola.
Btw, perhaps you have been wondering about this pup that I have mentioned time and again. Shelby is a 6yo Siberian Husky, and she ROCKS! If you have seen the red Siberian roaming around the Wonder Ballroom, Shelby is much like that, but BETTER! [Hey, she’s my pup, so I’m biased.]
Yadda, yadda, yadda,… Fredrick, would you get on task already…
10:00a Urban Honking Workshop, Gerding Armory
12:30p Illusion & Anti-Illusion, PNCA
Arnold Kemp / Regina Silveira
3:00p Sara Greenberger Rafferty Salon, Corberry Press
Space is a Place / Larry Donovan / Sara Greenberger Rafferty Exhibit
4:00p Ina Diane Archer, PSU: Autzen
6:30p tEEth, PCPA: Winningstad
8:30p Kassys, PSU: Lincoln
10:30p Cloud Eye Control / Anna Oxygen
Yesterday started with a presentation by Urban Honking. They are the folks that are hosting this bLog site for PICA Well, the funny thing is that I was a touch late for the talk, as I was writing the bLog from the day before, and their website was having some serious bandwidth problems. That basically means, that it was as slow as molasses, and then crashing out. A technical term for, “Hey, guys, time to spend some more money and upgrade your software and connection speed!”. Well, this became a topic of our discussion. “The life of the web”…
These three housemates thought it would be fun to start up a bLog site, and have some of their friends write articles. Over time, it has grown and taken on its own life, which is both wonderful and sometime difficult as the parent of the organism.
This is something that happened with Tribe.net. About a year ago, they were purchased by Pepsi, and the site was ‘corrupted’ with advertising. Then they were PG-13 filtered, but not to the extend of MySpace. Now they are getting back on their legs, and the community feels strong again. The owners of that site, after selling Tribe started a site called Zaadz. They started the site with the intention of a sustainable community. They learned from Tribe, and wanted to find a sustainable commercial method, much like Patagonia and some other environmentally conscious companies. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes not. This is what is happening with Burningman these days. It is also what could happen with Urban Honking if they are not more sagacious parents. They say that they do not want to go commercial, but they also do not want to have to pay for extra bandwidth out of their own pockets. After all, this is just a hobby for them, it is not their day job. I really question this. If you do not really care, then don’t do it. It is quite a bit of what we were discussing with Sara Greenberger Rafferty the day before. Be an artist, or get out of Hell’s Kitchen!
Well, we will have to see what happens with Urban Honking.
My prediction is that they will find some other hobby in a few years, and this will be a random memory for them. But, we will have to see…
Next was a Noon:30 chat with Melia Donovan, Larry Bamburg, and Kristan Kennedy entitled “Illusion & Anti-Illusion”. There was some interesting discussion about Melia’s work, and the feminine perspective, connections to traditional handicraft around the home, and her photographic intentions. The funny thing, is that I, much like a number of others in the audience, went to see Melia’s work, and did not see it. It is subtle, and I am going to have to search it out a bit more carefully as the week goes on.
I was a bit more interested in what Larry and Kristan started to discuss, “The process of making”. Larry talked about his ‘asinine’ process, one that completely frustrated Jörg Jakoby of PICA, which is where the beauty comes from. When you have an idea, you need to get it out of your head fast and furious. The longer you ‘think’ about it, the more that you gestate, the more that societal preconceptions and mediocrity will intervene. Larry wants to get it out, pure, raw, honest. And he did just that. Sure, there is no way to archive his work. The tape will yellow in a few weeks and then peel off. The plastic t-bars will eventually sag and collapse under the weight and torque of the kinetic elements… But, for now, it is a beautiful installation.
So, I posed the question to Larry and Kristan about blurred lines, about sculpture v. performance art. I do not have an answer, and neither did the two of them; but I am quite interested in this. My work has been going in this direction, and I would love to have some ideas and feedback to make the work more provocative.
I have been doing some larger scale sculptural installation / environments.
In the forty-foot square and up variety.
They have been quite fun and people have been enjoying them.
One group commissioned me to create a piece for them in the Crystal Ballroom. They liked it so much, they then commissioned me a second time for another piece during a First Thursday. Well, I have been wanting to take the ‘process of making’ into the presentation, so that the works whether they be temporary or permanent have a knowledge that they can convey with the audience both passively and actively.
The commission became a way of me creating a sculptural piece, and then Mizu Desierto [an accomplished Butoh dancer] was nested within, and started to respond to the piece. I then responded to her movement, and sculpted the piece more. For kicks, Noah Mickens was brought into the mix to act as percussionist and ‘play’ the steel. The piece was amazing. It was nothing that I imagined, and completely took on its own organic life for the two hours that we performed in front of a couple hundred unexpecting people.
Kinematic Space: http://www.fhzal.com/works/060706
I also made a proposal to PICA for last year’s T:BA for a progressive installation.
They piece was going to evolve over the course of all ten days, by each morning having a two-hour aerial installation performance in the atrium of Wieden + Kennedy.
Unfortunately, the piece required a minimum budget of $15,000; so it was scrapped, but I would still like to see something of the sort happen.
1,000 Vectors | 10 days: http://www.fhzal.com/works/060330
The big question, is how [from a curatorial / audience / patron standpoint] may it stay interesting.
I love Larry’s piece, but watching him tie monofilament for twenty hours would be just a touch better then watching grass grow. That epiphany moment when he turned a high-tech cookie sheet into a non-skid fan belt cylinder, was certainly a better fireworks display inside of his head, then outside. But, I don’t know. I remember back in graduate school, people used to love watching me whirl around creating maquettes. So, I do believe that there might be a way to make the process really interesting.
Please do comment, give me some ideas, start a dialogue.
This is something that I would like to learn more about, and will probably expand this little paragraph into something longer for submission to a journal or magazine.
Moving right along…
Sara Greenberger Rafferty had her book release at the Corberry Press, which was a good way to try and get more folks over there, as this year the location is a bit out-of-the-way, and therefore not drawing the attendance that it deserves. Go check out the work in the space, and the light pieces by Hap Tivity next door at Liz Leach’s temporary warehouse.
I had heard Sara talk about her book the day before in her workshop, so I felt is was redundant; plus there was a cast and crew screening of a film about the fire circus that I was part of for a number of years. So, I headed over to the Clinton Street theatre for that instead.
Back home for a moment, another slice of lasagna [as I baked one and a banana cake to help facilitate healthy eating during this chaotic week before it began].
I had intention of seeing Ina Diane Archer’s work at PSU’s Autzen gallery, but I wanted to relax for a moment and spent some time with my pup, as she has not been getting the attention that she usually receives with me running around this a mad PICA patron.
TEEth had their premiere of “Normal and Happy” last night at PCPA’s Winningstad theatre. Besides the fact this is my favorite performance space in town, I have been looking forward to seeing another work by Angelle Herbert and Phillip Kraft [www.rubberteeth.com] for a while. The couple tends to create one piece a year, expending all of their energy and capital in the investment. You can feel that. There is nothing held back. They believe in that fully, and give of themselves to such an extent that they could end up in an asylum, ICU or poor house if the work is not accepted as they hope. But, don’t worry, it is GREAT!!! If they ever had financial concerns, I imagine [or atleast hope] that it will now be a thing of the past. I can only hope that patrons and underwriters see this work, recognize their mature talent, see the potential for decades of exploration, and write them a blank check for that future journey.
The work of Angelle Herbert and Phillip Kraft defies explanation. That is why it is so profound, though-provoking, fresh and inspirational for me. Taylor Mac abhors comparison, and I would agree here, as any comparison with water down the intensity and truth behind the work that is tEEth, or place them at odds with other amazingly talented artists.
But, since the show is sold-out, it might not be possible for everyone to take it in.
I can only hope that somehow, someone decides to let them perform a few more times, as three shows is just not enough for the entire world to see… But, in that, it is also brilliant. If the world wants to see their work, they are going to have to be commissioned for more work in other locations around the world!
[Hint, Hint, Hint… Baryshnikov Arts Center give them a call, and set them up for a residency!]
OK, so I’ll tell you a bit, but I also want people to camp out to try and get in, so I do not want to put in any spoilers…
Frame of reference:
If you grew-up seeing Mel Stuart’s cinematic version of Ronald Dahl’s “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” , beheaded chicken in the tunnel and all, you are walking the right path. Tim Burton did a re-make in 2005, but Hollywood flinched. Tim could have beautifully delivered the vision of Dahl, but they were terrified that the public would not accept it, and they would not make back their money. This is a shame, and something that has plagued Burton’s career. Angelle Herbert and Phillip Kraft do not flinch. They do not pull-back, they do not hesitate, they do not back-down. Their work is completely uncompromising. Like Donna Uchizono, they challenge their dancers to move their bodies in manners that are completely bizarre, like Takashi Shimizu in his horrific films. Angelle Herbert and Phillip Kraft have become known for their use of facial expressions and Clockwork Orange-like voluntary body deformations of mouth and eyes.
Knowing a number of the dancers, it was quite strange trying to figure out whom they were on stage. The cast has been very secretive about the work, even under extreme pressure since the partial release at On the Boards in Seattle, when they received great acclaim. Angelle Herbert and Phillip Kraft have a way of making amazingly beautiful people incredible ugly, or should I say twisted. Watching two beautiful dancers within a kaleidoscope of movement, transform into gawking tongue smacking chicken hawks is quite intense. And I love it!
Toward the beginning of the piece is a duet by Jim McGinn and Alenka Loesh. I consider Jim to be one of Portland best dancers, and certainly one of the community members that Baryshnikov is concerned about getting drawn in Paris to leave a vacuum here where he once was. But, he deserves it. Jim dances four to six hours each and every day, uncompromisingly. He loves his art, and he does not waver. This is why he was a natural selection for Angelle Herbert and Phillip Kraft. Alenka Loesh has a world renowned presence, and we are lucky that she has been residing in Portland for the last few years. I had the delight of collaborating with her about a year ago on a piece called ePheMere with Mizu Desierto. Alenka’s strength come from the diversity of her background. She has explored her inner-gypsy and toured the world, dancing with any company that inspired her. ePheMere was primarily in the school of Butoh, and you can see it in tEEth. Alenka’s toes are as expressive, if not more, than most’s hands. There is a moment, when she is inverted, wrapping her prehensile toes around Jim’s face, with such expression that I was deeply moved. The piece continues with her climbing on him, as he continues to move and contort, as if she was a tree climbing kangaroo. I would love to see what she could do if we had not lost our tails as evolved homosapiens!
As I still do not want to spoil the show, I will stay a bit vague now. There are fifteen dancers in the performance. They each are magnificent in their own right, and even stronger as teams of one, one, two, two, four, and five.
[Ernest Adams, Renee Adams, Jessica Burton, Suniti Dernovsek, Gina Frabotta, Jonathan Krebs, Alenka Loesh, Carla Mann, Jim McGinn, Laura Nash, Estelle Olivares, Bonni Stover, Nicole Stettler with Malina Rodriguez, Paloma Soledad and Vanessa Vogel.]
There is one other part, that I ask you to watch, as I am trying to figure it out myself…
Angelle moved through the looking glass, stretching forth as ghostly apparition, transmutated form, and I just don’t know how! Lycra does not stretch that far, and I have looked for sheet of rubber for performances myself and could not find them anywhere in Portland… So, if you figure it out, please do let me know.
A few last things of interest, Paloma Soledad [costume designer] had been associated with Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow” film before leaving LA for Portland a couple of years back. She also worked with them on beNUMBed two years back, which is an amazing performance in and of itself at the IFCC.
Oh, and if you go on the last right, I hear they might be giving out jello shots. Come thirsty.
Well, I left feeling quite Happy after the tEEth performance.
I would have gone home, and dreamed or taken in a nice meal with friends quite contently.
Marc Bamuti Joseph, Reggie Watts, Donna Uchizono; it has been a great T:BA this year. But tEEth eclipsed them fully for me. I will continue my support and advocacy for them, as I truly and honestly LOVE their vision, execution, and innocence.
Never change Angelle Phillip!
The beauty and bane of going to all of T:BA, is something when having a moment of content bliss, you still have to jettison yourself over to the next venue for the next performance.
So, I did…
Next on the docket was Kassys. It is a play that started off with about twenty minutes of us as an audience just chatting away, no fully realizing that the play had begun. The work was about real life, or as much as real life may be portrayed in theatre about real life about theatre about real… ok, you get the point. There is a philosophical feed-back loop here.
The ‘play’ aspect of the play was not to very interesting to me. They were exploring the full extent of “awkwardness”, and they did it quite masterfully. But, the problem, for me, with plays is that they are 1) false, and 2) they depend so very heavily upon well-crafted prose. Not all play writes do a great job.
But, the second aspect of the play was when the ‘play’ was done, and they all went off to their ‘normal’ lives. It was witty, and I enjoyed how they explored actors needing to vent and cope with the emotional state they need to conjure for a performance.
I went over to the Wonder Ballroom feeling reasonably perky. It was, after all, only a seven event day, quite light compared to the day prior.
Cloud Eye Control / Anna Oxygen was performing.
It was a good show, and I enjoyed it.
But, the audience was just dumb-struck. Perhaps they were sleep deprived, as I know I was becoming, but it was not really THAT innovative!
For any of you that have been going to PICA’s performances for a while, you might remember Miranda July’s “Swan Tool” back in 2000 at the Scottish Rites Center in Goose Hollow. THAT was innovative, fresh, new, unprecedented. AND, she had to invent that technology. Anna, sorry, but your art school piece was just another one of the cool things that come out of Cal Arts MFA programs. I liked it, and I look forward to seeing your next vision, but you are going to have to try harder to woo me.
Fredrick H. Zal
Architect | Sculptor | Advocate
an.architecture and industrial design studio
advocating dialogue in the fine + applied arts
Normal and Happy is very difficult to sum up, not only because of the proliferation of characters and scenes, but also because of their general and basic morphability. These bodies in contact are wrestling, making love, becoming insect, struggling, dominating, submitting, melting. Faces become visages of anger fear, pain, shock, horror, rage, vacuity… A lack of identifiers allow the characters to become many things in quick succession, though over time, we begin to recognize certain threads of behavior. There’s the lumpy tribal slapstick quartet, the vinyl spartan insect duo, the vinyl s&m nurse machine soldiers, etc. These groups all seem poisoned by the compelling need to carry out a precise series of absurd actions. But it remains unclear if that demand is coming from an external source or rises from deeply shared internal forces. Or are they all simply mental projections coming from the kaleidoscopic cuddle twins?
Normal and Happy is organized by a series of overlapping vignettes, in which a character or group of characters appear, make some kind of physical statement in which conformity causes strange patterns, and then fade off stage. We are guided through this mirrored labyrinthian narrative by the powers of repulsion and attraction, which often mix and trade places. I am resisting the urge to describe (or rather attempt to describe) these scenes. Certain moments hit with the brutal intensity of a fever dream, as when the lovemaking couple becomes a soldier dragging a dead body.
But then there are so many other moments which swirl in a kind of distopian baseness. It’s like watching a cannibalizing praying mantis. The forces which compel the insect to eat its own kind are both totally foreign and deep at the heart of human experience. In the midst of these passing scenes of horror, there sits the kaleidoscope box, within which a certain peace reigns. But it seems likely that this box is only a space of screenal nostalgia, protected from the outside world by ignorance or naiveté.
Music is a powerful uniting force for Normal and Happy. From relentless jabbing piano, pounding blocks, digital noise, synchronized stomping and shouting emerges a haunting lullaby about the loss of personal identity. Many powerful moments are entirely low-tech, formed simply by pounding voices and bodies.
A few small comments of criticism. Occasionally, the use of extremely loud noise feels overdetermined, as the attempt to create an effect shears away from the actual volume level. I remember this also being a problem in their previous production, benumbed. It is possible to create sounds that are physically affecting without being painful. Another area of overdetermination was in the transitions between scenes. Often these seams are joined effectively by a shared gesture or movement, but sometimes the attempt to hide or diminish the exits of a group only made me want to watch them more. A more factual approach could be suitable.
tEEth are tackling big, ambitious, disturbing and courageous subjects with both elegance and brute force. I’m excited to see where they go next.
-posted by Seth Nehil
The protean Taylor Mac, fabulously clad in an ever-shifting array of clothes, sings and talks his way into our hearts. By turns hilarious and poignant, Taylor takes us through the politics of the war on terror, dating in the twenty-first century, various past performances, and how to struggle on despite fear and loneliness.
Taylor calls The BE(A)ST of Taylor Mac a play, while others (such as underwriters and promoters) call it a performance art piece—or drag, in Taylor’s language. Playing the ukulele or singing a cappella, Taylor performs with the crowd, always noting their reactions (“Oh, that sounded like an Oprah applause!”). He makes several well-placed jokes at Portland’s expense: a bit about a subway system in Abilene, KS gets laughs; in Portland, the audience seems to say, “Well, we could have one if we wanted to.” “I love a town with attitude,” he says.
Perhaps my favorite song was the one that repeated the line “but I love him.” It begins, “He had the smallest penis of anyone I have ever seen… but I love him.” Then, “He had the worst European teeth I have ever seen…” Soon the song turns uglier: “He shoved crystal meth up my ass while I was sleeping… He got drunk and vomited on me… He wanted to have unprotected sex and when I said no he asked if I had ‘afrAIDS’… but I love him.” The song ends movingly, as Taylor talks about himself and his faults, ending again with, “And I love him.”
Like a Utah Phillips in drag, Taylor Mac often talks during his songs, going on tangents, sometimes telling stories or adding news about recent performances. The set consists of his wardrobe, a stool, and luggage stroller. Light and sound cues were called out by Taylor from the stage. Still, these blemishes did not upset the show: after all, how often do you see a drag show in a Christian Science Church?
One bit involved asking men from the audience to find mylar, then having several men on stage dress in drag. Taylor showed these men how to go from looking awkward to looking fabulous, how to de-masculinize the revolution and do it diva-style. When looking at a baby, in full drag and sequins pasted on his face, he fawns, “You can be anything you want to be,” often alarming the parents. “I’m a part of the decline of Western civilization,” he says. If this is the decline, then I am ready to fall anywhere with Taylor Mac.
Posted by Dusty Hoesly
For Marc Bamuthi Joseph, KRS-One is Sophocles, is folklore. The rapper and MC helped inspire a culture, a set of stories linking people together. Similarly, Joseph shares personal stories with African American histories, weaving slavery and tap dancing, race and international identities. In “the break/s,” a work in progress that is part of the Living Word Project, Joseph appeals through his dramatic intensity, storytelling charm, dance facility, and musical energy.
Early in the piece, he discusses his boyhood and his father’s disappointment when Joseph took up tap dancing at age nine. Then, Joseph links tap with revolution and liberation, tracing its evolution from black codes which forbade slaves from owning instruments to tap dancing as a way for slaves to preserve rhythm and music subversively. Tap worked in a similar way for Joseph, and in this sense, the Nicholas Brothers and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson are as much his ancestors as his own father.
Throughout the piece, Joseph talks about the strange twists of the postmodern age, of globalization and upset expectations. He speaks with grace and wisdom, self-awareness and self-criticism. Many of his stories begin “half way around the world… was I dreaming?” For example, one narrative begins in New York, where Joseph meets the first African American he has ever known: a white woman from Lubbock, Texas. She married a Senegalese man, and the people in Queens referred to her as African American, and Joseph as Black American. Later, the story picks up with Joseph visiting her in Senegal. He was robbed and looking for help, now finding his naive sense of African-ness a mere illusion. She took him in and made him work with her against female genital mutilation; he learned that is not as African as he is American.
In another story, he visits Japan thinking that his status as the only black man in the club would provoke dancers to mob him as the embodiment of hip hop. Instead, they ignore him, and he becomes the “wrong man at the right party.” The Japanese, in this story, are interested in the music and how it affects their scene, not in questions of authenticity or celebrity. Similarly, in yet another story, Joseph watches a dance performance in Paris where a black African woman dances some awkward modern dance in a tutu, playing to European tastes against her native culture in order to land a spot in a Paris theatre. Then again, Joseph remarks that it was the Europeans who first really embraced jazz culture in America, who in essence helped create jazz. The ties that bind are shifting and shuffling, recoiling and unraveling.
Joseph revisits the title and theme of “Strange Fruit” throughout “the break/s.” The classic Billy Holiday song evokes the image of African Americans strung up on branches, lynched. For Joseph, it also becomes a metaphor for deep roots, for forgetting our past, for improvisation and change, for the unexpected.
Posted by Dusty Hoesly
So out with it: I missed the boat reserving the opportunity to have a kid cut my hair for Mammalian Diving Reflexes, “Haircuts by Children.” Whoops. So on Saturday morning, when I was hanging around hoping for a cancellation, I decided I would make lemons out of lemonade to distract the newly christened stylists with some questions. Below are three short interviews.
Hair-cut-ee: Allison’s, who wanted 2 inches off
Brittney was a delightfully snappy girl, who was really fun to talk to. Her answer at the end made my day.
Do you know why this event was organized, what the point of this is?
Just to prove to grown ups that kids can do anything & it’s not fair that kids can’t do anything when grown-ups can do whatever they want.
How do you think Allison feels about this?
Nervous, because she thinks kids might mess it up.
She’s used to grown ups doing it
Why do you think grown-ups care so much about their hair if it just grows back anyway?
Because it’s important
Is it important for you?
Yeah. It’s important to look good, to model for people (laughs). I don’t know, it’s hard to explain.
Would you prefer a grown up or a kid to cut your hair?
It doesn’t matter, you can trust kids.
Do you think kids should be able to vote?
It doesn’t matter really, who you vote for mayor or president. It’s all the same, we’ll still go to school.
Lucky Fella: John, who wanted it short on the sides and back, and left a little long on top (AKA the opposite of a mullet, the Tellum)
Jairo is a shy kid with quite a hair style of his own, as you can see. I wish I had interviewed his dad who was proudly watching a few feet away. Jairo’s dad! Call me!
Do you know why this event was organized, what the point of this is?
I forget… to give me power
How do you think John feels about this?
Uh,… a little worried. I might cut it bad.
[To John] Are you worried John?
(John shrugs. Is John no fun?)
Maybe because it’s curly
Why do you think grown-ups care so much about their hair if it just grows back anyway?
(Shrugs. The kid is cool)
Is it important for you?
I don’t know. (Again with the too-cold)
Would you prefer a grown up or a kid to cut your hair?
Do you think kids should be able to vote?
I don’t know.
Hair-cut-ee: Molly’s hair, who wanted a buzzcut)
Christina was sharp little girl who was a lot more interested in wielding the clippers than talking to me.
Do you know why this event was organized, what the point of this is?
Umm. So people can get their hair cut the way they want.
They can’t get that from adults?
Yeah, but maybe we can get a chance to do it before we’re grown up.
So you think it’s kind of a vocational thing?
[She looks at me the way a 5th grader does when you ask them something about something called “vocational” and I feel really stupid and go to the next question.]
How do you think Molly feels about this?
[Molly]: You’re spot on.
Why do you think she’s excited?
She’s never had a kid cut her hair before.
Why don’t you think adults get their hair cut by kids?
Some adults think the kid might mess up.
Why do you think grown-ups care so much about their hair if it just grows back anyway?
Because they want it to look nice.
Is it important for you?
Um. Not really.
Would you prefer a grown up or a kid to cut your hair?
Maybe because they know more about cutting. They won’t mess up.
They might, but not as much as kids.
Do you think kids should be able to vote?
I don’t know.
By Abe, miled-mannered reporter
I thought Liz Haley’s performance piece, Polygraph, in the Gerding Theatre (the old Armory), would take place on stage in front of an audience. Instead, she sits in a small room, connected to the lie detector, waiting for a one-on-one encounter with strangers. What a beautiful surprise.
After waiting in line for a bit, I headed into the room, and like every other participant I witnessed, I had a few questions prepared. I introduced myself, shook hands, and sat down across from her. The jury-rigged machine sat on the table between us off to the side, and a projection of the meter stood on the screen behind her. I could watch if the hand moved on the large screen; so could people waiting in line outside the room.
She became congenial and forthcoming quickly, and I found myself losing any interest in putting her into a squeeze; it was like making a new friend. I record here some of the questions I asked, with paraphrased answers and in shortened (less conversational) form:
Do questions have to be yes/no questions? No.
Is Liz your real name? No.
Do you like vanilla ice cream? Yes.
Have you ever had really good Chinese food? No. Wait… yes.
Do you like my haircut? Yes. [The hand on the meter rises to the midway point. My hair had just been cut by a 10-year-old as part of Mammalian Diving Reflex's Haircuts by Children.]
Does that mean you just lied? What? No. It moves whenever I react to a question, when I think about the answer or feel nervous. It does not mean that I am lying.
Are you enjoying every minute of this? Absolutely. I am trying to be really present, to be honest and truthful with the people that visit me. I want people to know that I am vulnerable here, and to take that into account. And to think about honesty and truth in their own lives.
Do many people try to embarrass you? No, not really.
Did you read about or practice how to cheat the lie detector? No.
Have you lied today? No.
Are you lying to me now? [Laughs] No.
Is this art? Yes.
I thanked her for a wonderful conversation, and conversation piece. As conceptual or performance art, it is delightfully simple and participatory, breaking down the wall between art and the ordinary: an intimate dialogue with a remarkable woman. If this had taken place in a large theatre, with less intimacy, participants may have distanced themselves from Haley’s vulnerability and resorted to easy exploitation or objectification, an effort at embarrassment. Instead, in Liz Haley’s Polygraph, the simple truth is that we’d rather get to know her, put ourselves under the lie detector, and find out the truth about ourselves.
Posted by Dusty Hoesly
As I waited for my 2:30pm haircut appointment, I bought a fifty cent cup of lemonade from the kids next to Rudy’s Barbershop on NW 13th at Davis. It tasted bitter and quenched the summer heat. A woman walked by reading from My Antonia, part of the Reading Out Loud series, and I felt tranquil and open to possibility.
About two dozen 5th graders from Glenfair Elementary School (in the Reynolds School District) descended upon Rudy’s Barbershop (13th and Davis) to cut hair, talk up customers, and express their own creativity. They were selected by teachers for their responsibility and excitement to do the project. Of course, I booked an appointment.
I watched four ten-to-twelve-year olds cutting different people’s hair, working confidently and whimsically. Knowing I was next, I looked for these young stylists to be nervous or uncoordinated, but my expectations were upturned by their skill and enthusiasm (each had only four hours of training by Rudy’s Barbershop employee Ariel Caballero). Leave all vanity at the doorstep, and leave your hair to the hands of a 5th grader. Ignore the yellow caution sign in front of the barber’s chair.
My stylist, Alina, 10 years old, started out timid, barely cutting my hair and regularly asking Ariel for his opinion. I had asked for a trim, and she wasn’t always sure how much to cut. He kept reminding her that she is the artist, I’m sitting there prepared for anything, and that she should trust her creativity. Instead of answering questions, he asker her, “What do you think?” She started to make choices. Her hesitation melted into more confident decision-making, empowered and self-assured. By the end, she globbed gel on the back of my head with gusto, molding my hair as she pleased. At least for one day, she was a diva stylist.
Posted by Dusty Hoesly
Reggie Watt’s method is to sample a bunch of popular entertainment and riff
on them hip hop style. He uses the mediums of pop culture to make fun
of it. And by making fun I mean he makes it funny – but he’s actually
calling it into question. He throws down raps that make fun of rap,
gets his ladies booty dancing to make fun of booty dancing and even
his performance it’s self makes fun of how we choose to be entertained
over facing reality.
How well can it really work to use the method to criticize it’s self?
He’s an entertainer; he has to get the people laughing to keep them
coming out to the show, to keep getting paid. He uses the familiar
voice of the ultra positive tv announcer swooning over the next
sponsored product and then the next. He says so, yah, the world is
doomed but we’re just so stoked about the awesome show we’re gonna
see. It hits home, and we laugh.
And what else better is there to do than laugh? Laughing at our
culture of distraction is a way to see it is there. His tales of
approaching doom are uncomfortably familiar, but cute too, so we don’t
mind paying attention. And how long would we really look plain faced
directly at a disturbing reality?
by Robert Latham
It was the best 12 songs about insects I’ll probably hear all year. Really.
The Northwest Neighborhood Cultural Center, 6:30.
You must go see this show before it is over. Go out the door. Now.
Loose Quotes from Taylor Mac:
‘The easiest political act you ever made was buying a ticket to this show. I’m the Bob Hope of the converted, the converted need inspiration too.’
‘Comparison is violence. It’s for people who don’t have enough adjectives in their vocabulary.’
‘High brow penis is guilt free penis.’
‘I’m not trying to bite the hand that feeds me, I’m just trying to get a little lipstick on it.’
Some song lyrics/titles:
If you see something, say something. If you see something, buy something.
The revolution will not be masculanized. (A note to the men: If you don’t know what mylar is, figure it out before this section of the show.)
All this and a ‘drag bomb’ of more fierce clothes than I’ve ever seen on one stage, including panda undies.
Blogger, member, enthusiast
Dickson is back and well-rested (well-paid, he asserts) with a whole new persona. He has ditched the go-getter title “A.C.” for Andrew and traded his dated business attire in for the uniform of the new economy creative professional – the indie silkscreened t-shirt. Life seems comfortable as an ad-man and at first his piece appears like it will just be his strongest sales pitch yet. Cue slide-show. Cue corporate power-rock.
While other artists have played with the potentials of PowerPoint iconongraphy (David Byrne is perhaps the most noted example), they have largely re-aestheticized the format and forced it into service of more beautiful visuals. Dickson wholly embraces its limitations and style along with his faux-ignorant motivational demeanor. He walks the stage with the casual, “keepin’-it-real” sort of attitude common among professional development speakers. Perhaps because of the absurdity of his gearing a business seminar toward starving artists, he ends up revealing some of the mechanics of the format. Watching him, you realize just how indebted motivational speakers are to southern preachers. Dickson’s voice charts the cadences of a revivalist as he asks those in the audience to testify. But he is not simply the preacher, he’s the jail-cell evangelist – that “saved” convict who offers the wary a hope that they too can overcome their past.
At its outset, his piece called to mind a segment I recently heard on This American Life, in which a former aspiring musician laments the treatment he receives from his old art-school friends now that he has become one of the preeminent balloon animal artists in the world. Except that Dickson hasn’t faced that sort of ostracism. It is simply the best choice he ever made.
And for Dickson, “Sell Out” isn’t so much a label as an exhortation.
Thus begins chronology of the Sell Out. Through the “steps,” Dickson traces the unique temperament and life experience required to sell-out. Combine privilege, education, idealism, cynicism and a dead-end job and you have the most genuinely hilarious slides of his presentation. In essence, he offers a rubric for how to trade your artistic dreams in for a steady income. He has lists of acceptable college majors, suitable post-graduation cities, fashion advice, and recommendations for how parents can ensure the proper emotional baggage in their children.
I had expected to review Dickson’s piece as pure parody. In truth, it was surprisingly genuine and honest.
As so many maligned groups have done, Dickson attempts to reclaim a label from those who would use it with derision and don it as his mantle. But true to this course, the history of the term can be difficult to jettison. The pre-lecture slideshow offered internet definitions of selling out that ranged from the defensively positive (“Doing what you have to in order to continue doing what you love”) to the caustic (“When you no longer believe in what you do, but continue apace”). Dickson similarly oscillated between the two poles of public opinion. At moments he claimed that all sell-outs are happy with the choice they made. Yet other parts of his presentation gave a much grimmer picture – portraying the sell-out as the ugly necessity that is born of our contemporary culture and our relationship with art.
Dickson’s work is just a bit too sly to be taken as actual instructions for living, but all the while, just a little too accurate to be laughed at with a clear conscience.
It is naive to imagine that art exists apart from business and Dickson is quick to illustrate this by identifying the advertising revenue that drives the art world publications in which “authentic” artists gain credibility. Beyond the issue of corporate sponsorship, his work hinted at a saddening state of culture in our country. Dickson grinningly reminds the crowd that they don’t really want to keep struggling in this society where the promise of instant fame and digitally accessible everything has reduced the value of art. So often the people who bemoan not having the money for the price of a concert ticket or admission to a museum are the very same who freely spend their money on clothing. While opulent consumption has always been a signifier of wealth, it seems we have increasingly abandoned the idea that support of the arts can be indicative of status. In its place, we have favored tangible objects with which we can outwardly display our class.
At its heart, Sell Out struck me as a deeply cathartic performance, a way of wrestling with the choices he has made and, more broadly, how art functions as an economy. So dead on the mark was he in his 27 steps, charting the archetypal life-projectory of a middle-class creative that when he casually tossed out, “I read auras. Indie rock auras. Consult me sometime,” I was ready to buy it.
Andrew Dickson continues to preach the gospel of the Sell Out at Wieden + Kennedy on Thursday and Friday at 6:30.
posted by patrick l.
Posted by Chloe
Andrew Dickson presented his latest “PowerLogue”, entitled Sell Out, last night in the belly of the beast – the atrium at Wieden & Kennedy. Mr. Dickson, as persuasive as a televangelist selling used cars, was at ease with the crowd who were largely enraptured and frequently amused by his twenty-seven steps to selling out. At the helm, his wife and co-conspirator Susan Beal ran the PowerPoint and occasionally chimed in.
After surveying the audience to determine how many of us had already sold out, and who would or wouldn’t, he invited a naysayer to take the floor to posit the opposing argument – which this evening was something to the effect of, “you shouldn’t hurt people in order to earn a living” – he then spent the remainder of the hour convincing us otherwise.
Although Sell Out is a satire of sorts – on motivational speakers, self-help, and get rich quick schemes – one would be hard pressed to debate his ultimate if somewhat disillusioned sounding conclusion; if we as a society are not willing to fund arts education, support the arts, or pay for art, what choice does an artist have than to “sell out”?
Dickson described a path to selling out that seemed to resonate with most of the audience and was almost embarrassingly familiar to my friends and I. It began with being born middle class, experiencing some childhood humiliation, developing a chip on your shoulder, and attending a liberal arts college. After that there’s the requisite toiling in obscurity phase (AKA your twenties) and various accompanying lifestyle choices, to be swiftly followed by blowing some minds around the time of your 30th birthday, thereby rocketing yourself into the sell-out stratosphere.
Like obscenity, selling out can be difficult to define, but most folks feel they know it when they see it. Although Andrew Dickson is now regularly employed by Wieden & Kennedy, one of the top ad agencies in the universe, his compelling argument and defense of his personal trajectory from dumpster diving to loft living has blurred my carefully drawn lines. Hey Andrew, wanna come evaluate my sell out potential?
Andrew Dickson is a Sell Out
-posted by Patrick Alan Coleman
Take a deep breath. Alright. I am egregiously conflicted about Andrew Dickson’s, Tony Robbins-esque, charismatic, power point onslaught: Sell Out. Yes, it is entertaining. Yes, Dickson’s an excellent performer who inhabits the preacher cum self-empowerment huckster personae with complete zeal. Yes, I laughed, a lot. But honestly, I’m not sure where in my psyche that laughter was coming from and I’ve become increasingly troubled about the message of Sell Out. If the goal of art is to challenge the way a person thinks about the world, then Dickson has made one hum-dinger work of art.
The premise is very simple. During the performance, Dickson, who was offered work with local advertising powerhouse Wieden + Kennedy after years of being an indie artist, presents his 27 step method to become a sell out.
I must say I was with Dickson, whole-heartedly, through much of the presentation. Hell, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve dreamed about a sell out’s financial stability, I wouldn’t have to sell out to anyone. Fact is, Dickson hit one of my most tender nerves with step 17: Turn 30. This year I will be 33. As a playwright and a poet, I remain unpublished and unproduced- as an artist I am basically nowhere, even though my city is having a cultural explosion (18: feel the walls closing in). Dickson is right, an individual in my situation does begin thinking about things like health care, home buying and family. In fact, my fiancée and I have been saving scrupulously to finance our imminent wedding. Still, I doubt if I could support a family through bartending, care giving and paltry, if gleefully appreciated, freelance writing jobs. Selling out is starting to look mighty good and Mr. Dickson is starting to look a bit like Mephistopheles.
It’s very likely that I am taking all of this too seriously. Even though Andrew Dickson seems to believe in the effectiveness of his presentation, he glides through much of it with tongue firmly in cheek. Take, for instance, the TV shopping advice for those who have hit the sell out jackpot.
I guess what’s so troubling about Sell Out is the unmistakable ring of truth. Dickson’s 27 steps are the dream path (or anti-path) for any middle-class white kid who attended a liberal college, studied an esoteric subject, developed an identity in the subculture and emerged to call themselves an artist, steps 1, 5, 7, and 9 for those of you who are playing at home.
This ring of truth, however, becomes mixed with some dubious justifications for selling out. Dickson mentions decreased funds for artists (Bringing to mind Reggie Watts, “I’ve noticed that since 1756 funding for the arts has been waning.”) increasing theft of intellectual property and societies declining value for the creative fields. All this may be true, and very depressing, but I don’t think these are a reason to be untrue to your artistic intentions.
Dickson presents, as proof of his sell out status, a little bagatelle he created for the Starbucks website. He admits that it’s terrible- but, his parents and friends seemed to like it. Alright. But aren’t his artistic intentions being compromised?
And what about those folks who managed to work in America while maintaining their artistic integrity. William “red wheelbarrow” Carlos Williams was a family doctor as well as a poet. Another poet, Wallace “blue guitar” Stevens sold insurance most of his life. And what about all of those incredible outsider artists, who painted or created only for themselves in the quiet of their own homes, raising families, working, sometimes going insane.
I guess, when it comes down to it, I don’t care if an artist does or does not sell out. It’s all about what you are able accept in your own life. It’s a highly personal experiance. Dickson says as much in his program notes. Perhaps, for some, the ends justify the means. For others, those means are an outrageous insult to personal ethics.
Me? I’m not sure. I’ll cross that road if I ever come to it. However, I plan to put Dickson’s 19th step into affect: Blow Some Minds- If only my own.
I do not begrudge Dickson his success, though, I am sure there are more than a few out there who look upon him with envy. I’ll even admit to a hint of green in my eyes. But either way, I am glad that he is comfortable and happy. I just hope he adds a 28th Step: Keep Blowing Minds- If only his own.
…charmed the pants off of everyone at the Works, performing Share This Place. The players sat still, chamber-style, accompanied by Britta Johnson’s mesmerizing animations of insects created out of wire, light bulbs, eyeglasses bows, Lifesavers, et cetera. The songs are as delicate and complex as their subjects. And Mirah’s voice is pure gold.
Between order and instability,
we thrive on this beautiful complexity.
We regulate our density,
emerge in the social biology.
We get things done.
(from “Community” on Share This Place)
by Robert Latham
I saw Reggie Watts last night, and met up with an old friend afterwards.
“How was it?” she asked.
I didn’t know what to say. I felt silly telling her that Watts was “really good,” because what does it mean to be a really good absurdist? It almost seems like an insult, even when used to describe an actual absurdist. Instead, I tried to tell her about it, so that she could understand why words were failing me.
Fellow-blogger Ryan has already written a great post about the performance, so I won’t rehash it. I’ll just tell you what I told my friend, and maybe you’ll understand why words fail me too.
I sat next to a woman who was kind enough to lend me a pen to take notes. I hope she won’t mind if she becomes a foil in this post–I was really grateful for the pen. She and I talked about other shows she had seen. She was very grounded in what she liked. She had opinions and reasons. I could respect that. I rarely have either.
Then she asked me, possibly in seriousness, whether I thought Reggie’s last name was actually Watts, or had he maybe chosen Watts as an echo of the Watts Riots. I flipped through the playbill, but was thinking to myself this woman has no idea what she’s about to see. She thinks this is going to be some angry black man come down from the mountain to let us all wallow in the self-loathing of race guilt that we liberals flock for like floggings from God.
“It doesn’t say what his real name is,” I told her, and hoped maybe she was just getting into the absurdist mood herself.
She and I chatted some more. I’m not a chatty person, and so this came with great effort.
Where was I from? Texas. A way for her to get me to ask where she was from, and it was Long Island, said with thick accent and awaiting applause.
“Oh, I think I know some people from there. I’ve never been.” I’m from Texas–Long Island is Galveston.
She wanted to know about the logistics of blogging for TBA (she was at first visibly upset that TBA would have its own “press corp”, because whatever happened to integrity). Do they pay you? No. Do they fly you in? No. Put you up somewhere? No. Listen, they gave me a pass so I could see the things I wanted to write about, and I found a map on the bus.
She herself had free tickets too. A friend of hers had extras, and now she was there.
I tell all that for a reason: by the time Reggie Watts stepped onto the stage, me and this woman had built one of those weak social links that would persist only until curtain call, and never be thought of again.
It was, therefore, to my great dismay when, two minutes into the show (and into Reggie’s silent fight with a microphone stand), she declared, “This is going to be unbearable.”
She had effectively cast a spell on me, forbidding me from enjoying myself. No amount of scooting my chair away from her, no amount of leaning, nothing could break that bond that we had formed (I had her pen, for Christ’s sake) and now I could express no sign of appreciation–no laughing, no applause–without knowing that I was doing so right in the face of my new “friend’s” disapproving remark. She had, in other words and with one sentence, stolen all my joy.
And I was joyful clear up until that point. Reggie Watts was fighting with a microphone stand, building up a slap-stick routine. People were laughing, Reggie was contorting, and I was happy.
I leave the story of my new friend for a moment, to say that this was the first hint of what Reggie Watts was doing. His slap-stick had no punchline. The build-up wasn’t for effect or for context, there wasn’t the usual incremental ridiculousness of slap-stick, culminating in some act of great effort and probably pain. Reggie Watts was fighting with a microphone stand in the language of slap-stick, but really Reggie Watts was just fighting with a microphone stand.
And that’s the best summary I can give for the show, and what I took away from it. Here’s how it works–I hate to rob you of figuring it out for yourself, but you can always go and tell me I’m flat wrong.
In every communication, there is medium, container, and message. The medium could be a PowerPoint presentation, the container a chart or graph, the message some bit of corporate information. Or the medium could be music, the container a hip-hop tone of voice or beat, and the message about love or rage or money or home.
Reggie Watts puts you in a world where, in 2012, time will end. It is an unavoidable truth. The second you know when time will end, all messages becomes irrelevant. Yet we continue to send them. Once freed from paying any attention to the message, we’re left to deal with the medium and the container. In the microphone stand fight, there was no message–the punchline never came. And yet the medium and the containers excited those parts of our brain that were ready to receive it, ready to laugh. Some laughed already, but it wasn’t yet funny. The medium and container carry their own meanings, and sometimes those meanings drown out (or intentionally obscure) the actual message.
Reggie Watts plays mostly with sound, because he’s a master of it. He’s adept with voices, sound effects, beatboxing, sampling, anything. He could easily put on a show of “look what I can do” and people would flock to see. But instead he uses those skills to force you to separate the delivery from the message. And in the end you come to recognize that most of what you’ve heard in life has been nonsense–you were just too distracted by the delivery to notice.
My favorite example comes when Reggie begins a story in the voice of a crusty university professor. It begins about living on Lake Huron and then moves into big words and deep analysis of heavy concepts, and if you pay attention it is all complete nonsense. And you are paying attention, because that professor’s voice demands it–if you don’t understand, it’s because you’re not smart enough. That voice is always smarter than you are.
Slowly, over the course of a couple minutes, Reggie morphs his tone and accent and lexicon. He’s inner-city, probably Black, likely female, speaking in a new jargon of swear words and images that (again) don’t make any sense. Yet, now, you have no urge to search for meaning. She’s just some girl on the street, and if you don’t understand her, like you didn’t understand the professor, it’s obviously for completely different reasons.
Maybe the experience was flipped for you. I suppose it depends on where you come from.
The lady next to me, my new “friend,” twenty minutes in, said, “Keep the pen, I can’t take this anymore.” She flew out and never looked back. I knew this would happen, because she thought Reggie Watts was an idiot. I thought Reggie Watts was a genius for exposing the tricks of people who want to seem smart. With her gone, I immediately began to have a lot more fun.
Reggie Watts: Disinformation
-posted by Patrick Alan Coleman
I have a feeling that somewhere in Reggie Watts’ brain, the BBC got all up in the face of MTV. Paranoid AM Radio came in to break up the fracas but was soon enmeshed in the conflict and before long, PBS and BET got involved in the melee. I can only imagine that the ensuing, epic battle of cultural influences, raging across his corpus collosum is what gave rise to the madness of Mr. Watts’ program, Disinformation. It’s either that or drugs. Probably both.
If you have been in earshot of any conversation involving spiritual counter-culture, you’ve likely heard of the doomed year: 2012. This is the end of the Mayan calendar and to some, the end of time. The end of time has been a constant subject for fringe societies. The idea has become mainstream as evangelical Christians pour Revelations across the television airwaves. The end is nigh? Who knows, but if it is, says Mr. Watts, we might as well make the best of it. “All of this will be destroyed, and that’s awesome.”
I agree with that statement. I mean, isn’t there a certain comfort in giving in to Armageddon? It takes some of the pressure off. For instance, should the massive caldera that is Yellowstone National Park suddenly erupt, all our daily worries would be reduced to nothing. So, how important can they be, after all?
Honestly, is there any better job for a self-described “anthropological humorist” than exploring the human reaction to the end of time? I don’t think so. Mr. Watts has certainly put in his work and research. Over the course of Disinformation the audience is plunged into the mélange of a human society, perched on the cusp of timelessness. That society, it turns out, is a kind of babbling mass of absurdity. Robotic, chaotic and broken down, the population of Mr. Watts’ world is doing what it can to use everything up before the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2011. Accompanied by an agile company of dancers, video projections and Mr. Watt’s incomparable, voice generated, beat box rhythms, they are also having one hell of a good time. It’s a regular post-modern orgy, but imbued with the immediacy of eminent catastrophe. Wait a second, that’s what’s happening outside my window on a daily basis. Hmmm…
This is not to say that all is hopelessness and resignation. Mr. Watts balances the program with some cutting commentary re. consumption. One rousing hip-hop/soul groove includes the chorus, “the more that you use, the less that you are.”
Mr. Watts’ chaotic and dynamic program is quite funny. And even though it seemes to lag towards the end, there are so many layers to dissect in the dialogue and images, that there is little chance of being bored.
If 2012 is the end of time, then I would like to spend it in the company of Mr. Watts. If Disinformation is any hint as to the New Years party he’d throw, sign me up.
With the intensely loud boom of an industrial elevator, the curtain springs open. This first impression of closely synchronized sound immediately creates an impression of control and narrative that continues throughout State of Heads. On an all-white stage bathed in white light and the hushing drone of faraway machines, a single figure stands for many long moments. He is completely still, dressed in an all-white suit, his back to the audience, his head hanging vacantly. Eventually, two women in white dresses join him, their heads racheting like mechanical marionettes. And then what seemed to be white light becomes burning white, rendering the striking scene directly onto the surface of the retina.
During State of Heads, these three bodies engage in a dialectic of control, fighting through a lack of autonomy towards personal choice and human movements. Often, they are yanked back into submission. Their bodies are mostly limited to robot or puppet motions and frustratingly restricted. Loose lolling heads, mechanized motion, repetitive gestures, habitual communications. The synch sound which joins many of their movements gives a strangely concrete specificity, but one which doesn’t “match” – heads ratchet, limbs squeak like rusty winches, hands flutter like thin metal, bodies shatter like porcelain.
The dance progresses in distinct stages, as the three characters are plunged through depths of interaction. The white clothes are peeled off to reveal warm internal reds and oranges. The glowing screen behind them becomes deep underwater blue. Sounds of rolling ceramic are joined by rolling hips in more organic spheres. A metal ball-bearing rolls across a tabletop and falls into water with a humorous plop. There are many moments of humorous futility and futile humor, communication which seems so proscribed as to be useless and moments of expression which are lost – the lonely dancer of ballroom dreams. State of Heads is gripping from the first moment, with its beautifully clean, tangible sound score and clear, simple choreography.
Leap to Tall is like the mirror image of the previous dance. Again, the curtain opens with a mechanical sound, this time a buzz saw cuts open space to reveal an all black stage and three dancers in blacks and dark purples. The positions of the figures are reversed, with the single male looking out, standing still, as two females shuttle across the stage behind him. Leap to Tall works with a dense vocabulary of movements, fluid human motions that draw from many different sources – from everyday gesture to a wide variety of dance styles. The score is also widely ranging, alternating between the folksy music and glossalia of imaginary cultures to field recordings and sound effects. The audio edits are oddly and disconcertingly abrupt, occasionally in ways which serve the narrative and sometimes in ways which just feel awkward. Leap to Tall engages the movement-language of relationships – joining, splitting, taunting, grouping, holding, teasing, pushing and pulling. It is a much less focused piece, richly complex and allowing for a drifting imagination.
- posted by Seth Nehil
Walking into the Corberry Press on Saturday, it felt more like I was entering the Someday Lounge than a local gallery. A stage awaits the performer, bathed in full spotlight. Behind it, a heavy velvet curtain commands the room until its moment to bow out when the show begins. But, incongruously, the curtain is behind the stage. Are we as viewers no longer in the audience, but instead about to see them from the performer’s point of view, as the curtain is drawn?
The performers have already taken their place; a slightly naive painting divides the stage in two. It is a vaudevillian image – a monochromatic flat of a man and a woman in their evening stage finery. Side by side, they appear ready to take their bow – are they thanking the audience for their gracious welcome or accepting the applause of the finale?
Above it all, a classic emcee’s voice introduces various women as the “Queen of Comedy” – each recording slightly overlapping the next. And in varying voices the performer always warmly responds, “Thank you so much. I’m just so delighted that you came to the Bonsoir tonight…” trailing off into applause and din of the room. The tinny, lo-fi sound of the recording imbues the gallery with the warmth of this fictional nightclub.
It is crucial to Greenberger’s piece to notice the comedy that underlies her work. Remember, this is an artist who has sculpted cream pies colliding with microphones, captured in mid-splat. Her soundtrack endlessly looping an introduction becomes laughably absurd, the perpetually empty stool appears ready for the stand-up comic to take her place beside it. It is equally important to recognize the element of pathos that so often goes hand-in-hand with comedy. Rather than simply bowing so low as to expose his neck in a symbolic gesture of performer’s humility, the gentleman in the painting has been decapitated by the stage itself. His stage tread the line between the cavalier self-deprecation of the comedian’s solo stool and taking the grand risk of the high-dive cabaret act on the upper scaffolding. He seems to have been a victim of his comedy, while the woman beside him gamely ducks it.
The green and blue striped bags perched precariously close to the ceiling felt less developed than the rest of the installation. From their high vantage point, perhaps they are the critical audience. Still, with their garish striped colors, they have an air of the big-top about them and are maybe just another part of the joke.
Greenberger Rafferty is the visual artist in a crowd of performers. She co-opts their tropes and traditions by endlessly repeating that public aspect that often differentiates the stage performer from the visual – the introduction, the current call, the applause. The curtain will never rise. The introduction will never cease. There is always a punch-line, there is always a joke. By refusing to tell the whole thing, Rafferty gets the laugh.
You can read a conversation between Greenberger Rafferty and Carol Bove (a scholar of early-60s Playboy) on comedy, “gentlemen’s magazines,” and spoken word LPs online in NDP#2 from North Drive Press.
See her exhibit along with Larry Bamburg and Space is a Place at the Corberry Press, daily through September 16th and Wednesday through Saturday until October 7th.
posted by patrick l.
It seems like September is the time of year when Portland likes to prove it can deliver cultural programming on par with a major metropolis. Case in point: on a single day it was theoretically possible to participate in the TBA:07 noontime chat on art in the social environment, head to the east side for a free, semi-secret warehouse performance by Grizzly Bear and Deerhunter, sneak in some film shorts at the 2007 Bicycle Film Festival, hit the convention center to cheer like a schoolgirl for Barack Obama, and still have time to attend the $100/head Justin Timberlake/Timbaland fundraiser at the Rose Garden.
But the truth is, you could have just skipped all of that in favor of one show: Reggie Watts’ Disinformation, a meta-work that incorporates and parodies all of the above and more. Almost every modern populist form of presentation and performance, really. Oh, and he does it in an hour.
Raised in Great Falls, Montana, Watts is probably best known in the Pacific Northwest as the voice (and afro) of the Seattle neo-soul/rock band Maktub. He’s since relocated to New York to focus on absurdist comedic performances, enfolding his music into a larger format of spoken word and video. With Disinformation, he steps his game up even further, drafting a line-up that includes Tommy Smith’s writing chops, Amy O’Neal’s choreography, and Orianna Hermann’s singing and acting.
The work opens with a video directed by Jakob Lodwick (co-founder of video sharing site Vimeo) featuring a dimly-lit Watts over-genuinely pontificating on the year 2012 and the dawning of a major shift in humanity — all set to an upbeat corporate jingle. Low-fi web video, corporate PR shilling, and new-age guru mumbojumbo? Check. And we’re barely even a minute into the show.
Watts spends the next hour flipping between pseudo-academic lecturing (complete with an impenetrable, contradicting lexicon), fake pharmaceutical ads, outbursts of complete gibberish, stand-up comedy, impersonations, and environmental vocal foley. Peppered throughout are songs constructed on-the-fly by Watts using a multitrack live looper — a technique made popular by artists like Jamie Lidell and KT Tunstall. The mechanics are pretty simple: Watts lays down a track of beatboxing, loops it, adds another, and another, until he’s got a full beat to sing or rhyme over.
Although Watts is the star here, his collaborators amp up their presence as the show proceeds. Tommy Smith comes on stage as a reticent spokesman / android of a faux-phamaceutical outfit called Carnaidesai. Orianna Hermann plays a cross between a corporate workshop leader, an episode of Schoolhouse Rock!, and a diva. But Amy O’Neal stands out the most, spending two-thirds of the show sitting on a chair behind Watts, starting intently at her MacBook in a subtle parody of modern laptop-based performance. Just when you begin to wonder if she’s actually doing something or just idly browsing Facebook, she roboticly descends a ladder to the stage and busts out with a hip-hop dance routine that wouldn’t look out of place in a Rihanna video. The whole crew finishes up with an all-singing, all-dancing review, backed by a giant American flag and the emphatic assertion that the whole thing is “not political.” Indeed.
The risk with schizophrenic, postmodern works like Disinformation is that they’re often shallow, tired rehashes of populist counter-culture views, especially when they cover issues like excessive consumption, violence in hip-hop, objectification of women, and environmental destruction. Watts avoids this trap solely through his own talent; he’s genuinely funny, has great timing, and a hell of a voice. The show stays self-aware throughout — it’s also commentary on itself, after-all — and Watts thankfully never forgets that he’s there not just to enlighten, but to entertain.
T:BA:07 Day Four – Sunday, 09 September 2007
Good morning fellow PICA T:BA goers.
Yes, I’m sorry… I did not write this at the end of the day last night.
I was pooped!
What can I say, being an active audience participant and eating very little food can do that to you.
[Today, I’m going to be packing snacks! And WATER!]
So, I just cooked myself a five egg omelet with mushrooms and tomatoes, had a nice glass of orange juice… I am ready to start the day! [Yeah, I know, five eggs… oh, what about your cholesterol… don’t worry, I’m in great health… well atleast prior to the beginning of this mad dash from workshop to workshop, performance to performance…]
10:00a Guido va der Werve, Living Room
11:00a Sara Greenberger Rafferty Workshop, IPRC
12:30p Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, PNCA
4:30p Vanden Eynde & Vendendriessche, IFCC
6:30p Las Chicas del 3.5 Floppies, Imago
8:30p Reggie Watts, Someday
10:30p Mirah & Spetratone International, Wonder
I started the day yesterday meeting up with a photographer friend of mine visiting from Minneapolis, Minnesota. [Minne means “water” btw, it makes so much sense.] We had talked about the Pearl Bakery, but as I pulled up, I realized that one of the best little spots in town was right there, and there were some folks prepping the kitchen for the day… Blossoming Lotus. It is a wonderful vegan/vegetarian/raw café in the Yoga in the Pearl building on NW Davis, about a block East of the Gerding Armory.
Much like the interpretive works that we are all seeing at T:BA, my tofu scramble was of a similar nature. “Scramble” is a verb, and does not mean to cook, but to simply toss vigorously. Out came the ‘scramble’ as a delicious heap of spinach and carrots with a generous amount of marinated tofu nested within. The funky greens and ginger juice was just what I needed to perk up for the beginning of an exciting day.
At 10:00am we were going to go to see Guido va der Werve’s films at the Living Room Theatre, but they were closed. I did not even see any PICA posters in the window, so I am not sure if this was a typ-o or something, but I will have to ask around and get back to all of you about this.
Having an hour to dawdle, we strolled around in the warm sun for a bit and checked-out some of the dragon boat races on the Willamette River. I think someone put alum on the dragon heads, because they are much smaller then I remember.
Back over to the Independent Press Resource Center for a workshop with Sara Greenberger Rafferty. Well, it wasn’t really a workshop, it was more like a Show’n’Tell. Bummer, as I was looking forward to using some of the off-set printing presses that they have there and are available for the public to use with a very minimal donation. If you have not checked-out the IPRC before, I would highly recommend doing such. Plus, if you have some projects coming up, it is a great way to solicit an emerging print artist for an innovative commission! Yes, that’s right, you next business cards could be a limited edition work of art!
Sara Greenberger Rafferty showed us a number of pieces that she has created over the years, which were really fun. Small booklets, printed balloons, glassine envelopes, printed duct tape, the medium and methodologies went on and on.
“If you are an artist, they you have to be resourceful, by definition”, if not, then you are a parasite upon the community. [OK, so she did not slam the pseudo-artists this way, but I felt the implication needed to be clarified.] She was talking about coming up with an idea, and needing to figure-out how to make it happen. You might not know how to do it, but you find a way, no matter the obstacle.
This thought flowed perfectly with the next event, “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” a Noon:30 chat with artists Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Phil Busse [Northwest Institute for Social Change], Harrell Fletcher [artist and Portland State University professor], Beth Burns [p:EAR Executive Director], and Linda Kliewer [Pacific Northwest College of Art professor and artist]. Linda was the aggressor in the group while Phil rolled-over and played nice. Beth was the realist, making things happen, and not worrying about getting marks for it. Marc, the dreamer. And, Harrell, he is the “Visual Acquaintance” that I really need to start chatting with more!
The discussion cycled around some ideas about how to make change, or should that even matter, if you are doing what you are doing and it might just happen to create change in the doing… Personally, I believe you just have to do what you love. Don’t have a crappy job. QUIT! Don’t create works that you are not proud of, MAKE THEM BETTER! Don’t complain about not having money, education on your resume, blah, blah, blah,… MAKE IT HAPPEN! Don’t use excuses, don’t hide behind labels and stereotypes, DO WHAT YOU LOVE! TODAY! [tomorrow it might be too late]
That should give you something to chew on for a while…
Humm, chew on… I’m hungry… oh, perfect, a moment to grab some food before heading to the next event… I, unfortunately, grabbed a veggie burrito at Cha Cha Cha. I’m not a huge fan of the place, but it seemed right at the moment. But, the problem with burrito, and the hot sauce that I love to slather upon them is 1) they make me sleepy, and 2) my tummy can sometime rumble afterwards. It is one of those moment when you go, hum perhaps I shouldn’t do this, and then two performances later, you go, yep, I shouldn’t have do that. Sorry for the little tummy symphony.
I was going to get a “Haircut by Children”, but my reservation got blotched, and I was not on the list. Bummer #2 of the day. [Well, they also did not have my name on Sarah’s workshop sheet, so I hope this is not going to be a trend.] Make that Bummer #3 of the day.
Don’t dispair, there are many other fun things, such as the lecture with Donna Uchizono and Mikhail Baryshnikov! Oh, this is a good… make that GREAT day!
If you read my piece from yesterday, you know that I consider Baryshnikov to be a DemiG-d. Well, after all, he is! It was a nice chat, and quite personable. Donna, with all of her talent, is wonderfully insecure about how a piece will be received, even though all people around her laud her vision and success. [One of the problems with the insincerity of the critical arts community, they could love you one minute, and then hate you the next.] Baryshnikov countered this with his modesty. He spoke about himself, and other dancers, as simply being the medium through which a talented choreographer [such as Donna Uchizono] painted her work. Donna does not draw or paint with traditional media, instead, she makes use of the arms, legs, torso, head, and any other body part and/or accoutrement to create a focused and blurred image upon the stage. [Much like Baryshnikov’s recent photographic studies.] Baryshnikov spoke beautifully about Donna’s vision, and how she helps dancers to move off of their center, to challenge their bodies to do what they are not typically going to do, and find a new balance, a new flow, and new silky rhythm. I experienced this in her workshop. At the end of the piece, my legs were a bit twisted, and she asked us to lift our dance partner with our leg, which was already out of balance. I’m not a professional dancer, but it was a hint, a flavor of how she inspires greatness and beauty from dancers whom are as talented as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Levi Gonzalez, Hristoula Harakas, Jodi Melnick, Carla Rudiger and Rebecca Serrell.
The two of them, joined by Mark Russell, spoke about creating community, especially in the difficulties of our contemporary society, politics and economy. It is difficult to find a community, to nuture that community with intimate and collaborative efforts, and then to try and keep that energy together when there are ‘better’ opportunities elsewhere. They are all concerned that NYC is on the path to becoming Disney World. Great for tourists, but nothing for artists.
Baryshnikov has a short run of a Samuel Beckett play in December and January, but after that, he has no plans. Tonight just might be the last time that he ever dances upon a stage, or there might be twenty more performances this year. It all depends upon what inspires him, and what he is offered. He is looking for, and actively asking for, inspiration! Step up, challenge him, he want to meet you and hear about your vision. But, don’t expect that he is necessarily going to do it. He will only work with people that inspire him and that he respects. “Life is too short” afterall.
Check-out the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Who knows, perhaps you will be chosen to have a residency at this amazing facilitiy in one of the best Cities in the world. [Well, second to Portland, of course… uh huh… right.]
From here I dashed over to the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center for the Vanden Eynde & Vendendriessche performance [aka Charlotte, as no one seems to be able to pronounce their full names]. Yes, this is the ‘naked people’ show. Get over it, so they are not wearing any clothing. Neither are you, under all of those layers…
The piece started with Kurt and Charlotte laying vertically upon each other. The skin become transposed into a scrim for video to be cast. It was a very smart idea. By having their nakedness there, but minimized by flesh just being a canvas for other attentions, the crowd was able to get comfortable. After all, not all of us go to Burningman or the nude beach on Sauvie Island regularly, and we are a puritanical culture that is ashamed of our imperfect anatomy. Well, they do rely upon the shock-factor of their exposed epidermis to impress the audience, as I did not find it to be as amazing of a show as people have been clamoring. But, then again, I sometime seem to like things differently then the rest of the crowd.
Listen to me though, and do not just close down when I am a bit negative about a work. There is usually a reason [or something a complete lack of inspiration and hence the reason] why I am critical of works. This is how we discuss, how we grow, how we learn to challenge ourselves and others. It was sad when I chatted after the show with a patron couple, and the husband became disinterested when I said that I did not like it. There were part, which I will elaborate about in a moment, but as a whole, it could use some work, well if they want to be ‘cutting edge’, which does still remain my hope for T:BA performances.
So, back to being nice and supportive…
Charlotte and Kurt began as a scrim, then the quietly transitioned into a loving entwining. A film was projected upon Kurt’s back, as to simulate the hands on Charlotte massaging him. The beauty was the depth with which she was able to deliver this Shiatzu, as the projected image was of clay, as if his back could be sculpted and carved with such love, attention and passion. It was a beautiful moment, and I would recommend for people to see the performance if for just this two-minute sequence. Next Charlotte stood and became screen for image. The first three seconds, when her mouth, nape of neck, sternum, navel and vagina became the location of black-spot finger pulls, was wonderful. Then next few minutes of people pulling socks ‘out of her’ was excessive. Then there was the tying of string upon her nipples and around Kurt’s penis and testicles with a little dance number. You know that it was dispassionate after four years of them doing this, as Kurt did not respond. Perhaps they need to study Shibari a bit and try this again. Then there was the wrapping of their heads in packing tape as Siamese twins. The dance was quite beautiful, and I did enjoy it, but it was timid, without risk.
There are some great ideas, but after four years of touring this performance, it might be time to try something fresh.
Still with me, then let’s hop over to the Imago theater for Las Chicas del 3.5 Floppies. It was a nice play. Afterall, how could you go wrong with everyday dialogue, a smack headed Virgin Mary glowing over a migrant box of stolen bibles, sloppy chatroom hook-ups and a dirty rag mopped linoleum floor.
I needed to be WOWed!
Luckily, Reggie Watts responded to my request.
I got to the Someday Lounge on time, but they are typically a slow venue to seat and start, which I forgot. But, they did have a lite dinner menu, so I was able to order a three-cheese lasagna. YUM! Expecting microwave bar food, I was delighted with the balsamic dressed salad and the warmed ramekin of yummy cheese, sauce, pasta and tomato.
I think that crowd might have been a bit drunk.
The bar was hopping, and the ice cubes were sitting dry at the bottom of glasses by the time Reggie fumbled up onto the stage.
With every move, every word, the crowd was bauling out with laughter.
I agree, he was funny, cute, delightful, but GOLLY he was not that good.
OK, so he then got a lot better!
I was drawn in, much like with Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Taylor Mac.
What I witnessed was like Dee Snyder of Twisted Sister raking Jesse Helms over his presumptive hot coals over the Mapplethorpe / NEA debate in the early 90’s. Dee Snyder has a Ph.D. in literature, and Helm assumed that he was going to be an idiot, a push-over. Not the case.
I do not know about Reggie’s educational path, but he is certainly as smart, insightful and inventive.
Do go see him perform!
You will be delighted!
[Oh, a side note, as there are so many folks doing the sampling thing this year, perhaps the powers that be will look into Zoë Keating for a cello performance next year. www.zoekeating.com She has a twelve-channel sampling feedback loop, which is pretty great! Her bright red dreadlocks are a nice touch too.]
Oh, I’m starting to get tired…
The Wonder Ballroom… I can make it…
Mirah & Spetratone International were there to coo and woo us into a graceful restful sleep. Thank you, it was a wonderful musical and stop-animation close to the evening. The Works this year has completely departed from the end of the day rave that it used to be in Kristy days. I miss it, but since I do not seem to have the 59yo energy of Baryshnikov all days, I suppose that jamming to the Lifesavas only on the first night was just fine. Actually, it was a perfect way to end a perfect day.
Things I loved, things I could have skipped, but all things that I took in, openly, without preconception…
Fredrick H. Zal
Architect | Sculptor | Advocate
an.architecture and industrial design studio
advocating dialogue in the fine + applied arts
by Robert Latham
I’m not an art critic. That should be said right from the beginning, so that nobody tries to learn anything from this post about art. I am, however, a pretty avid blogger, and I hope that puts me in some position to tell you about The Suicide Kings quickly, poignantly, and simply. I leave the real criticism to the others. This is a blog post.
I saw this play for my own reasons: it’s about youth violence, child abuse, and the workings of the current in-place systems that either (a) fail to prevent something we truly believe is avoidable, or (b) actually contribute to the problem and hurry it along. And, it just so happens, that I work in a segment of that broken system, with those youths, under the pressure of knowing that it’s only a matter of time before something horrible happens on my watch. I often cry at work, and I’ve come to realize that that’s alright.
The point of much art (or so I’m told by people who know) is to take something familiar, deconstruct it, put it back together, and present it to us, the audience, in a way that we had not considered it before. Such art changes you, pushes you, demands you to be better. Or at least to be different.
The Suicide Kings can’t do that. Not because of any lack of talent or determination on their part–their performance is powerful, sweaty, raw, and I have not run into a single person who left the play unchanged (and people are definitely talking about it around here–in lines, around tables, Jesus, nobody can say The Suicide Kings without immediately imploring you to see it, and rightly so). What The Suicide Kings didn’t do was deconstruct something we already thought we understood–because school violence and the pressures on our youth are two things we have collectively tried to forget. It is only on our minds when we can’t avoid it any longer.
The Kings touch on that and slam right by it. The media reaction to school violence satirizes itself: blame it on music, blame it on video games, ask a few easy questions, get a few crying students on film, and the media are done. They’re done because we’re done. We don’t want to look closer because we’re worried that, the Kings say, we’ll learn that it’s only by miracles that our worst nightmares don’t happen more often.
The Kings speak from the places news anchors can’t go, and we don’t want to look, and they speak in their own stories, own voices. They demand our attention on child abuse, domestic violence, poverty, self-esteem, relationships, and the weight of life. It’s a demand in its purest form: first-person, with anger, in verse, without accompaniment. And to hear it is a punch in the stomach.
It is automatic to say, after a school shooting (don’t skirt it with words like “catastrophe”), it’s automatic to say, “Someone should have just listened. Where were the…?” And we list off the people who were being told but didn’t hear, as though the simple act of hearing would be a solution or dose of prevention. The Suicide Kings offer no solutions (unlike other people who have far less experience in the problem), but they do open their stories up, so that you can hear what you blame others for missing, and realize that it’s only by miracles that they themselves got through life without destruction.
I nearly cried several times during the performance, and stopped myself only because these guys obviously got through okay. But others sitting around me did cry, and I knew this was their first time (back) to this teenage world of violence and frustration and lack of hope, where I work, The Suicide Kings lived, and crying is not only alright, it’s often the only human thing you can do.
Lunchtime Chat with Arnold Kemp, Larry Krone and the members of Hand2Mouth Theatre.
‘POP, CRASH, BOOM’! Who could ever come up with a better title for a talk on how popculture interacts or clashes with the conceptual strategies of today’s contemporary arts. Or better: How the low crashes into the high… or otherwise…
I expected a discussion on the dynamics of culture, how contemporary culture became hugely informed by late capitalism over the past couple of decades, (Frederic Jameson, Walter Benjamin, Guy Debord, blablabla…) and how the invited artists coped with these ideas, this tendency.
Instead the discussion turned out to become a whole other monster. Not a thorough artistic and intellectual reflection upon today’s culture and entertainment-society seemed to lay at the bottom of these artists’ interest in popculture. No, the most common heard motivation was… nostalgia… teenage memories…
As a European überconceptualist, sceptic toward and horrified by anything too ‘emotional’ (that’s the way we are today in Europe) this totally took me offguard. I never ever expected such blatant self-expression from an artist… I was lost!
As the discussion evolved, the logic that was laid out by the artists only drove me further away from my own principles. Both Arnold and Larry began to defend the fact that the high arts should try to reach as many people as possible, should be ‘accessible’, giving them another good reason to use ‘popular’ music. My second European art-dogma -’never take accessibility as a goal’- was beaten to death!
It wouldn’t take long before the third fatal casualty incurred. If you want to reach a lot of people for your art you got to have a reason to it… And what’s the talk of the day today? Indeed, the war in Iraq… “As the mainstream media and -music don’t take the lead in the anti-Iraq movement”, so explained the artists, “we have to clear the job! It’s our duty to create the awareness with the people that it’s been enough”!. Principle number three -never try to be a missionary as an artist- was buried alive…
Not that I am the single ‘pro-Bush’-European around… It’s not me, they still have to find him… But I really put serious question marks to the artistic logic these artists follow today. Reflecting upon the current political situation (and even giving a very opinionated view in your work) is one thing, but actively trying to convince as many people as possible of your ideas is according to me not at all the role of an artist.
Of course my critique maybe kinda gives a quite unnuanced view of the chat and could make you wonder what artists such as Arnold Kemp, Larry Krone and Hand2Mouth theater -if they’re really that bad- are doing at TBA (… or what I’m doing on this blog)…
Well, for those of you, I’ll have to say that the whole chat was more of a long freewheeling talk with a lot of really interesting sidestories. It was just the general implicit line through the chat that puzzled me. I can also imagine that I just interpreted this whole chat in a different way others did -or wanted it to be interpreted. I definitely had my conceptual European background against me… Moreover I have it to admit that I only judge the artists on what they said. I haven’t seen any of their work so far, but will do so today and later this festival, so if I change my mind I’ll definitely let you know…
Posted by Wouter Bouchez
Donna Uchizono’s night starts with a bang. As in, a thundering slam, like a metal door hitting concrete. The soundtrack to the dance takes it from there: silverware clattering, glass smashing, alarms, creaky hinges, factory thumping and clanging, a deep rumble beneath it all. The dance is those found sounds embodied. The dancers use their hands and necks–twitching, swooping, tilting–as much as, if not more than, their limbs and torsos.
I liked States of Head. But it was Leap to Tall–okay, it was Baryshnikov–that seized me. I’ve never seen someone move with such fluidity and control, so aware of his body and so effortlessly in it. When the other dancers scattered from the stage and he took his first solo, I’ll confess, tears came to my eyes. I hardly saw the other two, even when they came back. They were gorgeous and kinetic, a livewire crackle, but he, dressed in simple black pants and T-shirt, has this core–a center of gravity to which all else is drawn.
We fetishize youth (and doesn’t dance, of all the arts, particularly demand it?)–especially when it comes to the body. Baryshnikov is fifty-nine, and impossible to take your eyes off of. In his movement there is so much wisdom. I feel lucky to have seen him.
I lost count, but there were either four or five ovations at the end. The audience was not only standing, but applauding above their heads and shouting and whistling. “Look at that bittersweet look on his face,” I heard the person standing behind me say. And as the dancers bowed and the curtain fell, then rose, again and again, it seemed he might have been right.
Once upon a time, artists were inextricably linked to their culture. Now it seems almost shocking to hear an older (sorry Misha) white male speak about artists and their cultural heritage – particularly their ethnicity. You could feel people bristle in the audience when Misha half-jokingly talked about Donna’s “Asian background” using the words secretive and conspiratorial. But by the end of the hour, we were talking about artists as cultural or economic refugees, fleeing New York and the United States for more hospitable environments.
I note that Misha refers to the U.S. as “our country” and acknowledges that his children are New Yorkers. He talks about the Irish and Italian immigrants (many of them artists) who came before him and his arts center to New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, and never misses the chance to reference the country of origin of the artists he works with. Donna describes dancer Hristoula Harakas’s movement style as having a “plushy strength, very grounded” and he adds “well, she’s Greek”. We hear mention of Swedish choreographers and Czech composers and American theater directors. We even learn about Misha’s fascination with the rich dance history of the Dominican Republic, where he has a summer home and has shot several photographs of people dancing.
I’m moved by his response to the last question, which is about how his classical training impacts his performance of contemporary work. He compared his early dance discipline to his own ethnicity by saying “it’s like it’s too late in life for me to lose my accent”. This was the only allusion to the fact that Misha too was an artistic immigrant, to this country. It’s difficult for me to imagine now that anyone, let alone an excellent artist, would move TO the U.S. I’m so glad he did.
The lecture wrapped up with a conversation about how New York and the U.S. are currently bleeding contemporary dance artists. The young arts students Misha works with are accepting jobs in Israel, and the dancers Donna sees coming to New York are moving to Europe in search of paid work. [I migrated to New York in 1995 and found the critical mass I was seeking, with mentors, classes, shows, opportunities to perform – as many in a single day as during a whole T:BA festival. But I left after 11 years. Not to pursue a more rewarding dance career but a more rewarding life style. Besides, many of my mentors had fled to Australia or Belgium to continue their dance careers AND have children.]
I am so grateful to Misha for what he has given back to his adopted country. Imagine where our cultural heritage would be without him. He came from a country with an enviably rich artistic history and embraced American contemporary dance – of all things! Still, I’m always a little bit frustrated by the fact that it takes an iconic, celebrity (white male) dancer to get people to come out and see the likes of contemporary dance choreographers Trisha Brown, Lucy Guerin, Donna Uchizono, etc. Of course it’s a draw to see what even Mark Russell and Donna herself referred to as “probably the last performance of this piece” and, as Misha intimated, maybe his last dance performance. Who knows? He may take Pina Bausch up on her offer if he feels like it come spring.
But who in the contemporary dance world EVER knows when their next gig might be? Did Donna know that State of Heads would be performed again after it premiered in 1999? What about when Carla Rudiger replaced her in the piece in 2002, then moved from New York to Texas a few years later? For all we know, we may never get to see Carla dance on stage again. Or see State of Heads again. Most of us will never know what the work looked like when Donna danced it.
You get where I’m going with this. Live, rather, time-based art, is ephemeral. And the artists, who are the art itself, are human. As Deborah Jowitt explained it much better than I will here, they get injured, sick, pregnant, tired, old, etc. Their ability to contribute to our cultural heritage is fleeting. Catch it while you can. See live art. Pass it on.
Posted by Nancy Ellis
Like it or not every TBA performance begins with a paragraph description in a little portable catalogue. In the first weekend of the festival when word of mouth is scarce we measure this writing against all other potential priorities and make a decision. I will go. I will not. So when I read the words “planet Hip-Hop” in Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s paragraph I read, ”Art Institution’s self-conscious, conscience soothing attempt at DIVERSITY” and I decided, don’t go. I went.
Joseph, it seems is equally suspect of what he describes in the break/s, as something akin to the golden ticket of festival programming: the magic word “Hip-Hop”.
Mos Def interlude 1:
People talk about Hip-Hop like it’s some giant livin in the hillside
comin down to visit the townspeople…
But “Hip-Hop” like “Black” like “American” is just another flag on a ship in an ocean of “Performance Art.” Strip away the categories. A man stands on a stage. He is saying something. It is an authentic language and the rhythm of it, the bop boom of his feet, the bop boom of his words, the bop boom of his microphone falling against his shoulder tell us, THIS IS IMPORTANT. Not because it is Hip-Hop, but because it is Life.
Mos Def Interlude 2:
We +are+ Hip-Hop
Me, you, everybody, we are Hip-Hop
And there is nothing that taps our collective insecurity more than a person who has to be honest not because his fingers are strapped to a polygraph but because his heart is chained to a present past. His heart is chained to a present passed to us.
Mos Def Interlude 3:
So Hip-Hop is goin where we goin
So the next time you ask yourself where Hip-Hop is goin
ask yourself.. where am I goin? How am I doin?
Til you get a clear idea
Through Joseph’s telling it becomes clear that prejudice at its most dangerous, is an action inward. The magic word in this performance was not, Hip-Hop. It was Word, word. Joseph encouraged audience response to the work. It is “in progress” and applause is more than helpful. At one point he ended a statement, word? like, you know what I’m saying? This prompted the audience to reply in their best white try, word, like, I got you but why does it sound so smooth in your mouth and so round in mine. So he encouraged us, say, “Word, word.” And by that we new he meant Amen. And we said “word. word.” And by that he knew we were trying, but honestly, we sounded like sick parrots with balloons in our mouths. He repeated, Amen! and we repeated Cookoo Cookoo. And we were exposed.
Mos Def Interlude 4:
So.. if Hip-Hop is about the people
and the.. Hip-Hop won’t get better until the people get better
then how do people get better? (Hmmmm…)
Joseph might suggest we start in the middle, the break. This is the place where we break, the place where something of ourselves is let out, the place where we get through.
Mos Def Interlude 5:
Well, from my understanding people get better
when they start to understand that, they are valuable…
And from my understanding people get better when they start to understand they are vulnerable.
That is the power of the break/s
posted by: Marty Schnapf
(Mos Def Interludes from his track Fear Not of Man on the album Black on Both Sides)
Reggie Watts is an incredibly talented man. A brilliant storyteller, master of the non sequitur, fine singer and songwriter, multi-vocalist and funny performer, Watts charms as he confuses. “Disinformation” is a purposefully disjointed mishmash of styles and media: hip hop, scripted comedy, physical comedy, film, dancing, singing, sampling, turntablism, and more. The heart of this piece is that 2012 is approaching fast, the world is nearly over, there’s not much time left, so let’s party. Break out of your routines, embrace randomness, and feel good.
Much of his humor is based on juxtaposing seemingly-arbitrary characters or events, such as a thin white man wearing a hard hat and orange vest dancing hip hop, or commercials for a malaise-curing drug next to a preview for some medieval warrior movie. He voices several characters, including lecturers, badasses, divas, Brits, and Bill Cosby, sometimes letting his story veer into static, a manifest disconnection that nonetheless leaves audiences attentive and laughing. Some stories trail off into another piece, another character, or are just dropped altogether.
Two highlights include Watts’ supporting cast members. Orianna Hermann’s bright and hearty voice on one duet, where she and Watts keep singing “The more you buy, the less you are,” makes comedy of consumerism. Amy O’Neal’s limber, electrifying hip hop dancing takes all eyes off Reggie during a different number: she is an amazing dancer. I should add, too, that fellow collaborator Tommy Smith’s spot-on pharmaceutical employee routine is also hilarious.
Reggie Watts is the kind of person who makes you laugh without saying a word: a simple twist of his head, a raise of his eyebrow, a smile. He also astounds with his song craft, looping voice-created rhythms and melodies as he sings/squawks over his own material. It seems that, rather than feeling sole ownership over his material, he is willing to work together, improvise, and lose himself in the party that is “Disinformation.”
Posted by Dusty Hoesly
-posted by Patrick Alan Coleman
And here I thought I would be able to fortify myself with coffee and a Bloody Mary. I did get the coffee, the Bloody Mary is yet to come. I have a feeling that it is all part of the evil, mesmerizing plan concocted by the monochromatic fellows from Cartune Xprez.
In the ease inducing seats of Living Room Theater, we are lulled into complacency, waiting for the caffeine to kick in. But as the morning fuzz clings to the brain, Christopher Doulgaris begins our animated cult inculcation with the glimmering, anthropomorphic, rainbow castles of Whaterfalce. Over the next forty-five minutes of madness from the likes of Chel White, Amy Lockhart and E*Rock, a thought began to occur to me… “I should be making stuff like this!”
Of course, the reality is that it takes a whole mess of time and work to give life to the surreal, mumbling, mewing, limping characters of Lockhart’s Walk for Walk. However, as the kaleidoscopic freak out of Nicolas Pittman’s Synaesthetics II spun before me, the thought of hard work was erased from my mind. I think this is the Cartune Xprez plan: to hypnotize the masses and turn them into a zombie army of underground animators.
From my experience, I believe they can do it.
Join Cartune Xprez’s zombie army of underground animators next Thursday at the Works and next Sunday at Living Room Theaters
State of Heads, Leap to Tall
-posted By P.A. Coleman
What are we waiting for? The dancer standing on stage (his back towards us, his clean white suit), inhabits a posture we have all shared at some time, looking absently at nothing until something better happens. There is a slight shuffle in the sold-out audience. Time passes. What are we waiting for?
The ponderous start of Uchizono’s State of Heads is a set up for a dynamic meditation on the mechanics of anticipation. The dancers appear to be filled with the objects of potential: hinges, springs, marbles, all placed precariously inside of them. When this internal scrap yard is triggered, sprung or pushed, the dancers are suddenly animated.
The choreography in State of Heads is sharp and angular; a pile of sheet metal given agency and momentum. And, like anything given momentum, once in motion, it tends to stay in motion. The waiting of Uchizono’s piece is not simply static. The dancers wait for forces of gravity and momentum to move them, and once moving, their bodies are given to it, completely. Then, they wait for it to stop, to slow, for the spring to recoil. The dancers are not completely lost, however. They have the recourse to change, but this change is only superficial. It seems no matter how hard we try, we are bound to the rattling world of movement within all of us.
In Uchizono’s second piece, Leap to Tall, we are blessed with the fascinating grace and agility of Mikhail Baryshnikov. He is wonderfully suited for the far more lyrical choreography of this piece. Having just turned sixty, he still moves as if gravity could not touch him.
Something I find incredibly satisfying in Uchizono’s choreography is the strength that she allows her dancers to express: they flex and pound fists, become bold and angular. However, there is still softness and compassion as the three dancers of Leap to Tall support and carry one another. There is a sense that to become tall, we must be given the height and space and support to do so. Slowly, over the course of the dance, Baryshnikov appears to cause a darkness to lift, like a curtain, creating more space and light to breath and move. Uchizono has also allowed some comic moments to shine through, giving the piece another dimension of lightness and leaping. In the end, we are freed from the cloaking heaviness of darkness and we are allowed to leap free into the blinding light with a sigh.
Both of Uchizono’s pieces are full of an extraordinary depth. The dancers use every bit of space as they move through the echoing, dynamic choreography. This is true modern dance, free from gimmicks and heavy technical diversions. The weight of the performance rests solely on the strong shoulders of the company, and they deliver.
Is pink the new black? If you’re a contemporary artist these days and you don’t use pink––the right pink magenta it, hon’––well, come on down to Reed college to the Cooley Gallery. I ventured down to Reed, Wednesday eve September 5, around 8ish, excited to see who this Peter Krieder was because we went to the same school (Tyler School of Art). Walk by the volunteer gallery guide. Acknowledge her/him. Say, “Hello, I’m fine. How are you?’ Then face what I call the wall of Big Pink. There is no escaping the large white type “social housing for billionaires”. Around you will find an array of art artifacts using a wide range of materials and video.
Okay. So here I am in the gallery and a usually locked door is open to the other side of the gallery where the loading dock and offices are. People walked in and out from there through the opened loading door not sure if this was part of the show. I overheard visitors fascinated by what they saw. “Is this part of the show or is this the other side of the gallery? Who is Silas Cook?” Why were visitors grouped around hanging bags of Styrofoam packing peanuts? Was the cart full of paint cans an art piece? Even though I assume it was not intentional, people stood transfixed by the postcards displayed on Mr. Cook’s door.
Step back, my friend, into the gallery and you have two artists brought together by the renowned curators Stephanie Snyder of Reed, and Kristan Kennedy of PICA. An assemblage of different cultural ideas and art practices from Marko Lulic and Peter Kreider. Reactions I overheard were to individual pieces of work. The framed photo of a beer bottle replete with bubbles made me crave its contents. Its placement on the floor and not hung on the wall, struck a visitor in her late ‘70’s with jet black hair as her favorite piece. The ceramic gallon milk jugs of upside down skeletons created a metaphorical image––milk is murder? Death by dairy? The sounds of Lulic’s Austrian language video played at the other end of the room. Kreider’s work was more playful; Lulic’s more Austrian post war intellectuality. I lean to playful imagery. I couldn’t help noticing a few bewildered kids looking at the fork jammed into the light socket––kids don’t try this at home. Then the child turned to see the larger than life extension cords sculpture. “Honey, that’s a sculpture not a toy. C’mon daddy‘s going to go outside and get a beer.” I want a beer too, I followed them out, and this is a show I definitely want to return to after these crowds leave.
Posted by Ben Killen Rosenberg
The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac
-posted by Patrick Alan Coleman
“Comparison is violence.”
If what Taylor Mac says about comparison is true, then all reviewers are, essentially, the journalistic equivalents of Jack the Ripper. When it comes to certain reviewers, I don’t think many artists would disagree.
But in the spirit of the incredible Taylor Mac, I will do my best to eschew comparison. I will leave out allusions to the Cockettes and Portland’s own, now disbanded, Sissyboys. I will forego any discussion that might mention the love child of Eric Bogosian and Devine. I will not utter the words, “Tiny Tim.” Alright, go ahead and call me passive aggressive.
Taylor Mac leaves little for a reviewer to go on- I mustn’t use the term “universal” to describe the show, either. So, my best recourse is to simply gush: Taylor Mac’s amazing drag show is emotionally dynamic, deeply moving and ultimately entertaining. His ease with an audience is impressive. It’s as if he has known us all of his life. We are his people and he is our flag bearer, leading us towards a Mylar revolution. In Taylor Macs world, the streets will be littered with drag and we will all be fierce.
But in order to have a revolution, we must be honest with one another. Taylor Mac exudes honesty, which is odd, considering that he performs behind a mask of make-up and sequins. Never the less, he lays himself open to reveal the vulnerable human being inside, hurting and loving and wanting.
The gorgeous Mac jokes that his show is not accessible to heterosexual audiences. At least, I think he’s joking. Either way, his songs and dialogue rest deeply in human emotion (see, I didn’t say universal) shared by all of us. I doubt that heterosexuals would be lost among gay references and stories of male homosexuality. I mean, even though I am bi-sexual, I feel that I was able to connect with way more than half of the show.
It is a drag show at 6:30 in the evening, but Taylor Mac manages, in his Protean way, to transform the cavernous Northwest Neighborhood Cultural Center. By the end of his set he, sits in a tight spotlight at the edge of the stage, singing softly, accapella, about fear. I am no longer in Portland in the early evening, I am in a smoky club in some furtive basement bar in Manhattan and I am falling in love.
The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac is inspired and inspiring. Don’t be surprised if TBA sees an increase in Fabulous.
Sit in awe of Taylor Macs “suspicious package” Sun. and Mon. night at 6:30pm, NWNCC.
I’ve known Jeffrey Mitchell for about 22 years, going back to Tyler School of Art days, drinking tea and making art. His personality and his work have always intrigued me. Since moving to Portland in 1990, I haven’t missed one of his shows at Pulliam Deffenbaugh Gallery, the gallery in town that represents him and where he currently has a show this month. The playfulness, whimsy and childlike personality of his work is like an airy confection and always a pleasure to view.
Friday, September 7, PICA’s Kristan Kennedy introduced Jeffrey. It was a good sized crowd for his 3pm Salon talk; a mix of collectors, Jeffrey Mitchell fans, art dealers, PICA personnel, the grand dame of art writers, Lois Allen, and even a brief walk on from the mail carrier. Dressed in a white shirt and tan pants he seemed to have just stepped out of one of his pieces.
Jeffrey is an artist who works like a scientist. He weaves together the cut outs that appear in his works and spoke of how they relate to his interests of flowers and botany. His imagery is camouflaged and requires a viewer to look and look again. He spoke of his selective imagery, how he revisits the beautiful and intricate drawings with ballpoint pens, graphite pencils, and watercolors. Discussing his fondness for literature, the image of butterflies and how they radiate light, the use of the elephants and memory in his works and he shared with us what’s under the surface of his work––the underlying layers that explores “a liberation from my own tightness about sexuality”. With a background in printmaking Jeffrey continues to work in sculpture, drawing and clay. His interest in decorative folk art, and the Native American influences in his works channels his own highly personal fascination that brings about a unique flamboyancy into the world that he has created in his work. So put down that newspaper, get your mind off the chaos that is happening all around us, and go see his show before the end of the month. You’ll be glad you did.
Posted by Ben Killen Rosenberg
Outside, it was blindingly bright, and my companions and I had to cross a steaming chainlink-fenced parking lot toward a white brick warehouse to get to the exhibit, about which we knew nothing, just that Something was there. So when we stepped inside and turned a corner into a dark cavernous room, the contrast was so abrupt we instantly fell silent. An eclipse burned overhead through a hanging black cloth–an eerie fringe of light. And behind it, another, and another, all, it turns out, burning from a single beam mounted high behind us. The air was cool and had that sweet dustiness that says, A Smoke Machine Was Here, and that gave the beam substance and weight.
We whispered our way through the space, then snaked through a narrow pitch-black passage and emerged into a taller, darker room with a delicate, shape-shifting circle of green light on the floor. It was mesmerizing. And we couldn’t stop whispering.
UPDATE: This exhibit, while right next to T:BA at Corberry Press, is not actually part of T:BA, but rather an Elizabeth Leach Gallery production. Hit it up when you’re at Corberry Press if you get a chance, though.
The Break/s is mostly autobiographical, focusing mainly on Marc’s role as an ambassador for hip hop to the world of high art. The accaptance that this role is self-imposed, and self-perpetuating, forces you to question his motives, and your expectations, and then to shut the fuck up and listen. By relating experiences of his travels throughout the world, (hip hop!) which counterbalance being a African American in America against being a Black American in Africa, and his expectations as a Black man in Japan, you get a deep, inviting, and honest view of Marc as he struggles with the shrugging off and stumbling over his “credibility,” as he says, “how hip hop can I be if they let me on the set?.”
This insight is not clinical, however, and if you are starting to have flashbacks to that terrible hypocritical race studies class you took at liberal arts college, don’t hang up, in fact, you have all the more reason to attend and be taken in, as you must be by Bamuthi’s charm and wit. Despite the large audience, Marc keeps a comfort and intimacy about him that makes you relax as if you were meeting him at a party. He is not trying to out-marginalized you or out-hurt you, or out anything you, in fact he’s quite candid about his middle-classness,* and that duality is what makes this show so real and compelling.
*or middleclassity-just cause I wanted to type it
Posted by Chloe
I’d venture to say that kids are among the toughest critics; they want instant gratification, tell you loudly when they are bored through their words and actions, and don’t suffer silently through performances feeling they are somehow inadequate for not getting it*. My kid is no exception. I will spare you the litany of failed cultural excursions that I have endeavored upon in the name of early childhood enrichment. Suffice to say, my 6-year-old has trained me well. If it doesn’t involve high intensity physical activity, non-stop and familiar music, relentless knee slapping humor (like a knock-knock marathon), or at least the promise of abundant elevator rides, forget about it.
So, I’m pleased to report that PICA got it right with their Tiny TBA with Greasy Kid Stuff event at Wonder Ballroom. Like the monkeys at the Oregon Zoo – the kids had a choice: inside or outside. Outside there were free play zones set up with different activities, such as dress-up, face painting, and drawing. Inside was the GKS dance party, interspersed with video shorts from Indiekid Films, plus brown bag lunches, bubbles, and balls. Not wanting to brave the blacktop again, we missed the Sprockettes performance, but I have seen them before and they are a lovely all-lady synchronized mini-bike dance troupe – who wouldn’t love that?
The neat thing about Greasy Kid Stuff is that much of the music they play was not originally intended for the pint-sized set. A single GKS playlist is probably cooler than most of our music collections combined. GKS doesn’t patronize the kids with sonic pablum, and therefore doesn’t send me running for the nearest sharp object with which to poke my eardrums out. Indiekid Films, however, showcases work for kids, by kids. Which are a nice complement and a great reminder to kids and parents alike – art and culture doesn’t need to be handed to you on a silver platter – you can make your own!
Here’s my wish list for next years Tiny TBA: more comfy seating, bubble machines, balloons for all, and GKS go-go dancers!
*One of my favorite moments of TBA 2005 was when a kid loudly blurted out “This is boring!” during a quiet moment at a puppet show. I was bored too, honey. But to be fair – it wasn’t meant for kids.
Posted by Cody Hoesly
“Awesome” is a bold name. If meant honestly, it implies an amazing show — a promise that may be hard to keep. If meant ironically, it implies that the show might not be so good — an odd promise to make. Ready for amazement and disappointment both, I went to see their show “Here’s What Happened” at the Wonder Ballroom last night.
The TBA catalog promised an odd show. Typewriters and theremins, whales and fruit. I like the idea of a quirky show with quirky musical instruments, and “Awesome” certainly provided that. From the narrator with the orca cap to the apple revolution which was the plot, “Quirky” would be an apt name for the 8-member ensemble assembled on the stage, each dressed up like Angus Young from the “Who Made Who” video.
And, through most of the show, “Really Great” would also have been an apt name. The story was funny, the songs catchy, and the audience pleased. Halfway through the show, however, it bogged down as the troupe introduced more characters into the story, creating too much exposition. A quirky show, to be good, must be short, because quirk loses its luster all too quickly. An exception to that rule might be if the quirk is especially or increasingly funny or moving. “Here’s What Happened” was not, however, and it would benefit from further editing.
The show did pick up after the middle, as “Awesome” rebounded with more catchy songs and a general quickening of the pace. The performers seemed to really enjoy the show, and the great majority of the packed house stayed well after “Here’s What Happened” ended and “Awesome” was just playing more songs from their catalog. A personal favorite: the shout-outs to Reggie Watts’ ‘fro.
“In Spite of Everything,” a spoken-word performance piece by The Suicide Kings, is a powerful, insightful, and often funny look at the way society treats young people and the way those young people treat society. Centering on a narrative recalling the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, the three actor-poets perform a series of vignettes highlighting different elements of youth violence. Several feature interrogations of the poets for possibly triggering the shootings during their poetry workshops. As one character says, “words are weapons.”
The actors portray kids who cut their faces to gut pimples (“my only friends were blood and pus”), who play chicken with guns to their heads in hazing rituals for gang membership, who live in fear from bullies and awful parents, who started taking drugs before the D.A.R.E. officer visited their class in 7th grade. They play the onlooker who, after seeing the massacre on television, happily and creepily declares, “Somebody finally did it!”
Rupert Estanislao, Jamie DeWolf, and Geoff Trenchard are all alumni from Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry episodes, and all actively involved in their local communities with arts education. “In Spite of Everything” has been touring for a while now, off and on: the performance seemed both rehearsed and slightly unpolished on Friday night. Each actor moved between comedy and tragedy with speed and grace. Still, at times, the production felt like an after school special with charged dialogue and grittier violence: take it easier on the kids, learn to express yourself in positive ways, and make a difference in the world. Newsweek and other weekly newsmagazines covered most of the same issues in 1999, but The Suicide Kings raise them again in a fresh style, reminding audiences that these problems have not gone away.
The play covers a lot of ground: cultural influences such as death metal music and first-person-shooter video games, televised violence, newscaster sensationalism that reduces complex situations to pithy epithets, adolescent acne and self-mutilation, feeling ugly, bullying and the teachers who ignore bullying, gangs in schools, child rape, parental and adult hostility to non-conformist youths, paternal embarrassment and antagonism towards “weak” sons, divorcees battling each other using kids as leverage, parental negligence and denial, easy access to guns in homes and elsewhere, the availability and hip-factor of hard drugs, suicidal thoughts and self-abuse, and the desire to become someone strong or immortal.
The performance asks not “Why are kids so violent,” but rather, “Why aren’t more kids violent?”
For example, one scene explores old video games vs. new video games. Tetris is extolled as a constructive, architectural, vision-building game, and Pac-Man is a harmless blob who eats mushrooms. On the other hand, Doom and other first-person shooter games replace the main character with the barrel of a gun, hit counts are equated with point counts, and the more brutal the death the greater the victory (and the heartier the laughs as an enemy character’s head is rent open). While research seems inconclusive as to whether these more violent video games instill a sense of violence in players—many people play first-person shooter games and never enact that violence, successfully separating fantasy from reality—there does seem to be an intuitive link. Our American army uses first-person shooter video games to desensitize soldiers to mass death. Yet thinking like this may lead us on a path to assert, as one character in the play does, that the childhood game of Tag is actually a “thinly veiled reference to mass murder.” I thought about Hide and Go Seek, too: ready or not, here I come…
One irate father, considered an expert by the newscaster covering the school shooting live from the station, says teachers need to strap up. “There are dead white kids!” he screams, neglecting the history of violence in some urban schools where gangs walk the aisles. School shootings hit the suburbs and America took notice. People examined the exit strategies for schools under siege, whether windows could open as exits, and rechecked police response times. A detective observing the scene of the crime dryly says that of course he sends his children to private school.
Many characters in the play distance themselves from the killer. The interrogators depict him as a lunatic sociopath. Fellow students act like he was not one of them, even the ones who knew him well. The parent of the killer complains that he feels like a criminal and has to change his name; that he does not get sympathy though his son died too; that he is a monster; and that he wishes his son would have killed him before the rampage. He is a selfish father who grieves for his loss of status more than for the loss of his son. Another character distancing himself from the shooter, a student and former childhood friend, claims that the killer replaced Guitar Magazine with Guns & Ammo, that they were supposed to “make ‘em deaf, not dead.” These characters do not want to take responsibility for the child killer, further highlighting the alienation he felt during his life and extending it into his death.
One of the poetry workshop teachers, who tried to make a connection with the student, confesses to the police that he told the killer, “Suicide is a temporary solution to a permanent problem.” The interrogators blame him for enabling the mass murder by talking about suicide as a solution at all. I was reminded of the controversy over Ozzy Osbourne’s “Suicide Solution” and the lawsuit that claimed Ozzy caused a boy to kill himself. Anyone who tries to connect with the killer becomes tainted, becomes a suspect too. It is a good thing we have people still trying to connect with these kids, who ignore social disapproval and try to make a difference.
At points during the play, I was reminded of Taylor Mali’s poem “What Teachers Make,” which ends with the line, “I make a goddamn difference! What about you?” [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hw1MFobWD_o]. Mali, another spoken word artist, works in schools as well, and highlights the desperations and exultations of life in American public schools. One of the themes running through the play is whether wayward youths can reform themselves and help young people, especially using poetry as a medium for safe self-expression, maybe even a way to give these kids a feeling of accomplishment and belonging. Rupert has a wonderful scene where he talks about returning to his old high school a decade after his senior-year arrest, now a lauded poet and artist, only to be viewed with suspicion and turned away. What’s the point in trying to do good if people don’t give you a chance to reform?
The direction, by Marc Bamuthi Joseph, seemed largely understated: the actors seemed comfortable in their roles and easily traversed through multiple characters, from the bully to the victim, the teacher to the student, the parent to the janitor, and the newsman to the policeman. Several of the vignettes played on stereotypes: the interrogation sequences looked like typical scenes you’d find in a police thriller, and the newsroom pieces stocked cardboard cut-outs of on-screen personalities. Perhaps these elements of caricature were necessary to show us the gloss of contemporary news media or the aggression of police detectives, but they ran counter to show’s message: that there are real and deeper issues at stake than surface-level abstractions. Overall, the direction was effective and at times enthralling, perhaps no more so than during Jamie’s solo scene on his knees, talking about the first time he was forced to take a man’s penis into his mouth. Jamie whispered quietly and the house remained silent, listening forward to hear every syllable of that tortured confession.
Sam Bass’s cello served the production well, enlivening tension and drama, cueing scene breaks, and setting the scene for the nightly news and other sections. The set design was simple, using a few chairs while the actors pantomimed chalkboards, brooms, and microphones.
One father in the play claims that “parents are prologues,” our lives are under revision, and that our children should write their own stories. The Suicide Kings are writing their own stories and empowering others to do the same.
Posted by Dusty Hoesly
T:BA:07 Day Three – Saturday, 08 September 2007
Typically I would start my Saturday morning with Iyengar Yoga with Sharon Hanson, but this is T:BA week; so I don’t think so…
Sure, I only got about 4-1/2 hours of sleep, but, once again, this is T:BA week…
Much like on the Playa, I highly recommend that people take care of themselves if they are on a similarly festive path through the events. Eat well, take moments of pause in the sun or gazing upon the Visual Arts collections, and get at least some sleep here and there!
Well, with that bit of sleep, I got up, showered and bee-lined it down to Conduit for Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s flow of form and word workshop.
The workshop was open to all, and there was a pretty good turn-out of people of all experience levels and interests in the arts.
At the core of Marc’s understanding of his explorations through media and movement, is the idea of “Media – - > reMix – - > Community – - > reMix …” So, he started us off with the words:
“For colored girls whom have considered suicide when the rainbow is not enough.”
The underlined words were to be replaced by others of our choosing.
Some of the folks had some great ones, but just for discussion, I’ll give you mine:
[btw, I hope that you will ‘comment’ with yours, or just contact me outside of this bLog, as I would love to learn about your poetic vision too!]
“For lost + found souls whom have considered jumping, leaping, twirling, bellowing, yelping, sitting peaceful as grass in the wind when the flow is not enough.” – f.zal
From these words that were reMixed by the people that courageously shared them, we were then to compose a thirteen word poem following in it’s vein.
“Dreaming peaceful wind skeletons;
We gasp as fire;
Burning actors’ faith into restoration.”
This became our ‘title’ for the dance piece that was to follow.
We were also asked to compose four words that spoke to an ugly time in our lives: “sad, lonely, unfelt heart” and one of a beauteous moment: “Helping, Striving, Creating … smile …”
Next became time to move.
Marc led us through a series of about twenty explorations where our bodies popped through space, resonating with not our bones, skin or image; but rather with our word, our narrative, our selves!
It is hard for me, who is not a trained dancer, to describe the series of movements that we quickly ingested and performed with zing; but I will try to atleast describe one portion that I really loved, as it was also in-line with what I loved about Marc’s piece at the Gerding Armory…
Standing, drawing up rear leg in-line with center, hopping forward and aside, toes in, horse stance, toes out, criss-cross hop-scotch, back lunge, sweeping to the ground, left leg out, crossing infront and back over the right, flexed momentum, kicking back out, gravity lost, flip, spin, flying through the air, whomp, dual hands and toes to the ground, spread eagle platform!
Man, I LOVED IT!
Thank you Marc!
There was one lady that came to the workshop, she is a poet, but certainly had never considered movement, or ‘dance’. She left enamoured! Gushing with a new-found love and appreciation for the collaboration of synchronous arts.
A few minute later, the crowd parted, mostly, and Donna Uchizono entered the space.
This second workshop at Conduit was intended to be a ‘Masters’ class; and I am far from a ‘Master’ of anything with the word dance associated with it. But, T:BA [and PICA for that matter] is not about doing what you know, gazing safely from your comfort zone, it is [for me] about pushing yourself, exploring new things, meeting inspirational people, learning from a perspective that you did not even know existed until the moment that it envelops you.
So, take a deep breath, find your center, stand-up tall, and walk over to ask the prestigious Donna Uchizono for permission to attend…
“Ummm, excuse me, Hi. I know that this is intended to be a ‘Masters’ class, and I want to be respectful of your space and vision…. I love to dance, but I am not a professional, and do not have any formal training… May I participate?”
There was a bit of back and forth between her and Levi as to the appropriateness of the request, but, in the end, they were kind enough to let me stay and join in the fun.
As an added bonus, as I was feeling a bit guilty about not attending yoga this morning, we started off with a yogic warm-up. Then, we were divided up boy / girl, well, ok; so that did not work, as there were only two or three boys there and about thirty more girls. So, it was a division of larger frames / petite frames to assist with some of the carries and drops we were about to do.
I was then quite fortunate to be paired up with a wonderful MFA dance student from the U.Oregon. Not only was she open to the idea that I was far from a professional dancer, but we seemed to move well together. If you went to see Donna’s “State of Heads”, then you saw what we were taught. In the performance, it was about ten to twenty seconds of a duet; but it took us about a half hour to get the basics down. Head supported heavy, cast up, other’s head drops, caught, lifted back up again, shoulder fall to chest, and up, head to right, shimmy back, drop, cascade forward, legs arcing back, plant to the ground, arm back to head, cantilever and running fall back, push up, head drop back, catch, up, torso drop back, against chest and leg, up, rest to ground, catch head with foot, up, crawl under leg, nudge, drop arm and head, push arm back, swing around, catch neck, swivel up, forward and around head, bodies standing, arm out, fall in and under, arm cradles body, lift, pivot, step, lunge, leg lift and toss…. Yep that sounds like about ten to twenty seconds… To watch the entire piece tonight [see below] knowing the amount of work that goes into just a few seconds, was amazing! Thank you Donna and Company.
Leaving the workshop, I was chatting with a friend, and went off to get a bite to eat at Elephants. Baguette with mozzerela, tomato and basil, an almond protein drink and some squash soup. After four hours of dance, I figured that my body needed a bit to refresh. Yum!
Over to PNCA for a moment to check out the Visual Arts Reception. Make sure that you go to see the works, especially Regina Silveira [see earlier post for description].
Back home to walk the pup, relax for a bit, and shower off the sweat from dancing. To my delight, I had a postcard from Ryan Wilson Paulson. I hope to send him a response at: P.O. Box 5221, Portland, Oregon 97206.
Tonight was a sumptuous dinner at Higgins before the shows. Nice glass of wine, figs [always a good thing when they are in season], gazpacho, and a delicious hazelnut pesto over pasta.
Then, over to the PCPA [Portland Center for the Performing Arts] for two shows.
The first one of the evening was the Suicide Kings in the Winningstad. I always get excited when I am going to be seeing a show in the Winningstad. It has this wonderful Noh theatre sensibility, in a coked up 80’s way. It remains my favorite space in town.
Marc Bamuthi Joseph directed the show, which brings the power of a poetry slam into a theatrical narrative. I enjoyed the show, a collection of spoken word, biography and social commentary. The phrase that stuck with me the most was when a ‘janitor’ commented after the Columbine-esque shooting, that when the cops come, “they take away the bullets, but they do not fill the holes.” This is the problem. Our society is working to take away the evidence of pain, disenfranchisement, loneliness; but we are not doing what it takes to fill the holes in our souls, to prevent disaster before it takes seed, gives root, takes fruit, fruitless. I was also struck by audience reactions. Of course, it makes sense that when words were cast about injustice and making change, everyone cheered. But, when sullen words, deep-heart words, blood-soakes phrases were uttered, silence. Is it from sorrow, or a desire to disavow and disregard the painful moment, push them under the carpet, fain their non-existence? We cannot, we must not, we have to acknowledge pain as much, if not more then the critical. We need to fill the holes before more of them are shot up in arms, minds and/or school walls!
Perhaps a way we can begin, is to engage some of our “visual acquaintances”. “Visual Acquaintances” is a term that Jim McGinn tossed at me this morning while we were at Donna’s workshop. Jim is an amazingly talented dancer, and will be in tEEth next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the Winningstad. I have ‘known’ him for years, through friends, through PICA, through the Portland arts community; but we are simply visual acquaintances. We do not really know each other, we have barely ever had much of a conversation until this morning. But, we feel that we know each other, as we have seen each other so many times, amongst familiar backdrops. Hopefully, we will actually converse with each other sometime soon, maybe even grab a cup of tea. But, if not, then we will find each other at another friend’s dinner party, or a PICA, etc. Don’t become satiated with just being visual acquaintances with many of the people you have come to ‘know’ through T:BA. Engage each other, discuss what you are experiencing, risk creating a friendship…
Over at the Newmark, the crowd was lined up, winding up the stair all the way to the balcony doors. I have been hyping up the Donna Uchizono Company’s performances, as have many others. Both because Donna’s vision has always been spectacular; and the fact that Mikhail Baryshnikov was in the second performance, that did not hurt any.
The first piece “State of Heads” was flooded with amazing lighting, and series of fun costume layers. To have spent the morning working with Donna, Levi Gonzalez, Carla Rudiger and Rebecca Serrell; I felt a special connection to them. Plus, I was awaiting that moment when I could feel “Ha, I know what they are about to do next… “shimmy back, drop, cascade forward, legs arcing back” [above]. The three of them moved about as automatomical marionettes, asynchronous, playful, and technically strong. Towards the end, there was a part where the music amped up, as something tribal or perhaps Malayan. It was my favorite aspect of the performance.
Then, after a short intermission, was the piece I have been waiting for forever. Baryshnikov, live, here, in my town, just a dozen feet before me…
OK, so I need to give you a bit of my internal narrative here.
Baryshnikov to me, to my family is a G-d; no a Demig-d. He has always represented the pinnacle of heritage in my family. On my Father’s side, my Grandfather came to the states as barely a teenager from what is now Latvia. My Grandfather had left some twenty years before Baryshnikov even entered the world in 1948, but my family’s appreciation of the arts and culture came from here. While my Grandfather was a Commissioner in Philadelphia, he did much to enhance the fine and applied arts across the City. My Great-Aunt, one of the two remaining children that came through Ellis Island, still sits on the board of a conservatoire of ballet and classical music in Florida where she has retired.
Complimentary to this, my Mother was an aspiring ballerina and figure-skater, until an ice fall and broken hip. Dance was never an option, it is in my blood. I have no training, but dance is my home, my peace, my love. They might as well have set up an alter for Baryshnikov right there next to my crib with Vladimir Vysotsky droning away “Koni Priveredlivye”.
I faintly remember seeing him once as a child, but I was a child, so what did I know. Ghost images in my mind. Since then, I have seen him perform only through video, as I had unfortunately missed any live performance, until tonight!
Donna was nervous about the show, and whispered to me that no matter what, even if I hate the show, that “Misha” deserves to have me cheer, to have me stand. What she did not know, is all he had to do was be in the room, and I would gladly jump with enthusiasm, cheer, bow-down in a Myersian “I’m not worthy” moment. [OK, so I also got a bit giddy with the very knowledge of having someone whom knows him well, to be talking with me and calling him “Misha”. I’ll have to stick with Mister, Sir, or atleast Mikhail Baryshnikov in the formal; as I do not want to disrespect him in any manner.]
House lights dimmed, curtain pulled back, there he stood. His presence filled the room. OK, so he does not do insane aerials any longer, or throw his body to the ground or walls like an offering to the form; but he’s still got it! And big time!
I do not know how to describe it.
I’m here trying to bLog the bLog that I ‘officially’ signed-up to do, for the performance that I have been looking forward to for decades, Mikhail Baryshnikov live, and I do not know what to say.
I love to use metaphor, to paint a picture, to allow you the reader to experience things again from my heart, through my eyes, tingling with my fingers. But, here, words fail me.
Taylor Mac abhors the use of comparison, but it is hard to not fall back to such easy ways.
Let me start with the other two dancers that shared the stage with Baryshnikov…
Hristoula Harakas and Jodi Melnick were amazing! They sense of space, acuity of form and movement was delightful, beautiful, enchanting. On a stage of their own, they would be mavens, ravished by critics with gold. But, in the presence of Baryshnikov, they became mortal. At the top of their art, but mortal just like the rest of us in the audience, in the audience watching a G-d upon the stage. Every word that I try to use, that bubbles up in my mind has this connotation about age, which I do not want to reference. Baryshnikov’s movement, presence and form have nothing to do with chronology, they exude from him as a gift, a given, a prodigal child. You first notice it when he simply clapped his hand against his body. The sound rings of Baryshnikov. I never thought that such a banal gesture, a simple sound could have signature. But, I recognized it. With closed eyes, I could hear this being as much of his as each pivot, glide, and stance.
There was one moment, one movement in the performance, even ever so simple, but awe inspiring. Baryshnikov was to leave the stage, to allow the other dancers the space to perform solo. He glanced over to her, slightly back to the crowd, and then, still in lunge, back leg out stretched, toes bent under and flexed, he successively pushed back with his front leg to glide fluidly backwards and into the wings.
Perhaps by the lecture tomorrow I will be able to gain some composure. To not be so drunk on his mythology. But, for now, this is all I can explain. There will be more!
The last hurrah for the night was “Awesome” at the Wonder Ballroom.
They are cute, sassy, irreverent, and fun.
Last year, I would have mocked them, said that they were lowering the state of the art in the Festival. But, this year, I have a new-found appreciation. They were entertaining. They were a smooth dessert, gliding down my throat after a long and delicious meal. I did not need complexity, or challenge, they were just what was needed. Well, maybe,… I suppose that I could have gone downstairs and chilled-out with some more Guido van der Werve. Maybe tomorrow evening.
For now, signing off, time for some sleep to prepare myself for yet another AMAZING T:BA day!
Fredrick H. Zal
Architect | Sculptor | Advocate
an.architecture and industrial design studio
advocating dialogue in the fine + applied arts
Donna Uchizono Workshop
I am a die-hard Donna fan, so it is no surprise that I made every effort to attend her workshop, her chat, and, oh yeah, her show. Of course I’m infatuated with “Misha” and could go on and on about him – and maybe I will after tomorrow’s chat – but at this hour, while many people are watching him on stage at the Newmark in Donna’s work, I want to talk about Donna and what’s so great about the T:BA Institute – the workshops in particular.
Yes, the T:BA Workshops are fun. Nonetheless, it takes a certain amount of courage to participate in them. Imagine what it’s like being on stage. In the workshop setting, you can get a taste of what it’s like to be the “featured artist”, to be vulnerable, to take a chance, to “put yourself out there”. I’m always surprised by how insecure we all are – the Donnas, the Mishas, you and me. And yet, we go to class, we take the workshops, we create the work and we get on stage. Or we admire and support those who do.
I admire the likes of performers Levi Gonzales, Carla Rudiger and Rebecca Serrell. It isn’t easy to be a medium, to do your best to translate another artist’s vision into movement on your body. Add to that challenge working with other artists, each with his or her own insecurities, strengths and personality.
In Donna’s workshop, we get a taste of what it’s like to be Levi and Rebecca, learning snippets of their roles in State of Heads (which I’ve seen since it’s 1999 premiere and can’t wait to see again tomorrow night). We may not be living in New York City, working one or many “day” jobs to pay our exorbitant rent in order to rehearse at odd hours for free or maybe $10-$15/hour (if we’re really lucky), but we each bring our own insecurities, strengths and personalities to the process.
Donna admits to being swayed by Levi and Rebecca to teach a partnering phrase for the workshop. Levi and Rebecca do the teaching – and Donna generously offers insights about the meaning of State of Heads and Leap to Tall. We can see how the three interact. But it is our own insecurities, strengths and personalities that are laid bare when we start to work with our partners on the phrase from State of Heads. This is hard! Donna and Levi both acknowledge the “blind date” nature of the exercise and encourage us to just give it a go and have fun. It’s a workshop. Relax.
It is fun. We want more.
As long as there are Levis, Rebeccas, Carlas, Hristoulas, Jodis and Mishas – excellent, generous and brave dance artists willing to expose their insecurities, strengths and personalities in order to communicate a brilliant choreographer’s vision to an audience, we’ll be alright.
Posted by Nancy Ellis
Posted by Cody Hoesly
Rap and hip-hop may have a bad name thanks to frequent gangland glorification, gender denigration, etc. But Lifesavas are proud proof that the format has more to offer. Forged in the flames of a friend’s murder, Lifesavas bring a positive message to every lyric. Whether promoting brotherly love, a return to the storied days of old-school hip-hop, or the simple joys of music, these guys are truly a feather in Portland’s musical cap.
I first encountered Lifesavas on Burn to Shine 3 (Portland), playing alongside The Decembrists, The Thermals, Sleater-Kinney, The Shins, and The Gossip. Among those deservedly well-regarded groups, Lifesavas stood out, not just for their different style of music, but also for the high energy, theatrics, and fun they brought to the music. That same atmosphere pervaded their live show at the Wonder Ballroom Friday night. The joy of the performers became the audience’s joy. Arms were in the air, feet bouncing, voices shouting the chorus to “HelloHiHey.”
For me, the show was moving in another respect as well. After having seen the Suicide Kings and Reggie Watts the same evening, I was reminded yet again of the many forms hip-hop can take. From the former group’s heavy and personal exploration of pain and loss, to Reggie’s playful riffs on modern culture, to Lifesavas’ call-and-response crowd-pleasing, each act stayed true to the core of hip-hop but emphasized different features of the genre. With artists such as these, hip-hop has a great future to look forward to.
Posted by Cody Hoesly
Situationism is…Reggie Watts.
Or at least it was last night, and will be again tonight, and the next night again. At least that’s what Reggie’s T-shirt implies and the TBA catalog confirms. If a situationist is one who creates situations, then the advertising was right. One minute Reggie was telling us about coming out gay (you register online and are sent a Gay Integration Counselor); the next minute he was descending into a cavern beneath a dance club like Indiana Jones; the next minute that story had ended and Reggie was making music. Soon there was dancing, then we were back to videos, another story, more sounds, and soon we couldn’t hear what Reggie was saying because he wasn’t saying anything. He was, but he was muting his voice on purpose to mimic a broken mic.
In other words, the show was absurdist — full of pop culture references, advertising and sales tropes, and an apparent focus on creating situations and moods more than advancing an overall tale or plot. True, Reggie did keep coming back to the year 2012 (when the world will end), and much of the show seemed to want to prepare us for that eventuality, such as by reducing our consumption of energy. But that was interspersed with Bill Cosby imitations among other seemingly random bursts of vocal creativity. Is there no sound Reggie can’t make with his mouth? A modern Michael Winslow, but altogether something different.
Perhaps that is why the catalog description of this show is so vague. It certainly can’t be called misleading. Go see this show for these reasons: It is funny. You will get most of the referential jokes and satire. The beatboxing and other vocalizations will amaze you. Reggie’s partners, which include a singer and a dancer, are both amazing. Amy O’Neal seems about as in control of her body as Reggie is of his mouth. And that’s saying a lot. This show is a joy.
posted by Amber Bell
In his performance Disinformation, Reggie Watts tosses across bits of ideas about the collapsing state of humanity with an operatic linguistic range and a channel flipping, attention deficit style.
While making a mockery of linear time, Watts adeptly weaves through dialects and formulas of speech, veering from conference center jargon to street slang with breathtaking skill.
Mixing it up with instantaneous multi-tracks, Watts and his co-conspirators use a multitude of music and movement forms to address the issue at hand; It’s all going to end. We might as well face it.
The result is deliciously funny and intellectually taunting. Doom has never felt so light hearted.
Mammalian Diving Reflex
Haircuts By Children
posted by Amber Bell
At the outside hair salon, the young barbers were working with fierce concentration. Every trim of the shears was a meditation. Their customers sat patiently, oddly silent. In the adult world, professional haircuts seem accentuated by the perpetual chatter of the hairdresser: Gossip, surface pass-the-time questions, bits and pieces from everyday life. In this world of young hairstylists, each hair deserved such intense focus that idle conversation was out of the question. As the haircutters worked, they politely answered questions, and spent the rest of their energy on the job at hand.
Over at the refreshment table, spirits were lighthearted. Hairdressers on break ate sack lunches and sold lemonade. They cheerfully explained that they had gotten two hours of training after school on mannequins in preparation for their current position.
Back at the barber shop, an adult was interviewed on camera about the project. He spoke briefly about the idea of the performance being to empower children by entrusting them with adults’ personal appearances. This would give them confidence either in the moment, or later, upon reflection.
The adults sitting under the shears looked either dubious, nervous, or slightly hypnotized. It appeared as though their commitment was to an avant-garde adventure, and each was prepared to hide the results under a hat when finished.
Unfortunately, it seemed that although the adults involved entrusted the children with their locks, they did not trust that the outcome would be stylish. The children, on the other hand, worked with dedicated care and skill that was limited only by their brief training.
On the first afternoon of the festival, I took a break from work to walk through the Pearl, in search of Cristian Silva’s “un-green” garden. The premise of Silva’s work was intriguing; by inverting such a quotidian thing as a garden so that its appearance clashes with our expectations, our relationship with that object comes into question. I was certain it would be impossible to miss a garden of blacks and reds and purples amidst the manicured berms and planters of the condos.
I spent far longer than I should have searching.
Ostensibly, the garden was within a one-block stretch between 10th and 11th, but after spending the better part of a half-hour retracing my steps back and forth in front of the same diners enjoying a sidewalk lunch, I had to move on for fear of being asked to. (It is worth mentioning here that after reading Frederick’s first-day summary, I’ve realized that Silva won’t be attending the festival and I probably won’t find the garden.) And yet, I was surprised by the number of false trails I followed, spurred on by the glimpse of an out-of-place color amidst the greens. Even knowing that the piece wasn’t completed, I still find myself scanning the flower boxes and gardens I pass, curious just exactly what a garden would look like without any green.
It was with this in mind that I walked into the atrium of the Wieden + Kennedy building to grab an extra catalog and stumbled upon Melia Donovan’s The Clandestine Periphery.
The first story of the elevator shaft is wrapped in a series of successive images, seconds apart, like film-stills. Each image is elusive, particularly in discerning their differences from one another. Movement between frames is slight and the image itself is so faintly delineated as to require squinting. But what you find if you pause and effort to complete the image is a voyeuristic scene. A small group of people gathers around a zoo enclosure, pointing and snapping images of a mountain goat traversing the boulders. The images seem more snap-shot than fine-art and their composition seems cursory. However, the images depict a scene of facile observation, in marked contrast to the conscious effort made by the viewer to discern the image. It makes a bit of a visual pun – a photographic-derived process that requires deliberate concentration to see reveals a group of people handily noticing (and photographing) a goat.
Like an autostereogram, it is hard to miss once you see it, but glance away and it takes a minute to reconnect the image. Donovan’s pieces end up demanding a more studied appreciation than they’ll likely draw in such a heavily trafficked foyer, but this is their appeal. I’ve been into the space three times since they were completed, but I only noticed her images on my last visit.
My next quixotic goal is to track down a performance of the Reading Out Loud project. I am curious how these classics that many of us read in our education will sound in another’s voice. It’s certainly no books-on-tape. Here the personal, slightly indulgent relationship that we have to reading becomes a public act, a forum for entertainment and bit of exhibitionism. Over the past three days, I have crossed the town between performances and exhibits and I still haven’t caught someone in the midst of their literary oratory. Needless to say, I’ve become a bit suspicious of people reading in public recently (of which there are a remarkable number), slowing my gait as I pass them on the street, turning my ear to catch any uttered lines.
These works that exist around the edges of the main stage performances urge us to reconsider the experiences we pass by in the corners of our sight.
Looking back on past festivals, these interventions (Dave Eckard’s Podium certainly comes to mind) have always been so cleverly placed amid the rush of events. In some ways, they are serendipitous to come across. I will always try to seek them out, but the unsuspecting pedestrian is perhaps even more likely to happen upon one. Some passersby will linger, others aware of the festival will actively engage, and certain people won’t pay a bit of notice to it – dismissing it as Portland eccentricity. But those who pause, listening and watching, will have to look more carefully at Portland for the rest of the festival.
posted by patrick l.
It felt really good to be back in a theater. Especially theater that is as well written, well staged and well acted. There was an awkwardness getting used to supertitles and the translation seemed stripped of the color of Spanish colloquialisms and swearing, English swearing just seems so bland, but it did lend itself to basic comprehension and a chance to focus on what was happening on the stage.
And really this was the type of play that focused less on the power of the word and more on the simple things, simple, terrible things. Mind you there was much laughing. The play consisted of one hour, one act, segues with club music and the actors rarely leaving the stage. Any monotony accentuated the bleakness of the stories circumstances. The club tunes blast in to signal a time change (scene might suggest a change in scenery) giving a shock of the absurd. It may be a rare chance to tear up during a Scissor Sisters tune, but Las Chicas pulls this off effectively.
Posted by: Levi Hanes
I was in Half and Half yesterday afternoon eating a TLT&A when a crazy guy stepped into the store, shouting and gesticulating. His ranting was loud and suspiciously articulate. He had a Moleskine stuffed in the back of his waistband and a copy of On The Road in his hands. “Oh! Are you with the T:BA reading aloud thing?” I said. “Yes!” he said, and upped the performance.
Barely skipping a beat, he coaxed a free espresso shot from the barista, and when the book mentioned whiskey, he pulled out a whiskey flask and drank along. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll get to a chapter that has weed in it,” he said.
He read to the end of the chapter while we watched and listened, chugged his shot of espresso, and was on his way.
Posted by Chelsey Johnson
Posted by Cody Hoesly
School shootings. Why do they happen? Who’s to blame?
Anyone who has thought about these questions surely has an answer, or several answers. The media often highlights the violent music that many school shooters listen to. Others point to lax parenting — children spoiled when their parents spared the rod. But there are other, perhaps deeper, answers. More importantly, there are other, perhaps deeper, questions.
The Suicide Kings, one of the greatest spoken word acts in the nation, thus present “In Spite of Everything” — a form of slam theater featuring poetry, drama, and cello. (You can figure out the plot of the show from the TBA catalog.) The group, comprised of a former gang member, a former skinhead, and a former mental patient, tackles the real issues underlying school shootings: the violent nature of modern bullying, racial strife in the classroom, abuse at home, and the lack of any hope or means to reach for a better future.
The Suicide Kings should know. They were, and were friends with, the ones who got beat up at school. Gang initiations. Child sexual abuse. Acne so bad they had no respect for themselves. They dated girls who were suicidal because of abuse and worked low-paying jobs where they had to cater to racists. From that perspective, they ask different questions. Not: What was the killer thinking? But rather: What were his friends thinking, the ones who did not join in the killing? Is it wrong to cheer the killer on when he’s killing your enemies, doing what you’ve sometimes dreamed of doing yourself?
Some scenes are so powerul the room is silent afterward. Others lead to rapturous applause. (A long standing ovation ended the show.) The Suicide Kings deal with difficult and mature themes without sugarcoating or whitewashing them. This is the kind of show that can transform the thinking of those who blindly blame heavy metal music for Columbine. Yet the message is as geared to youth as it is to adults — the Suicide Kings pride themselves on their outreach to students who have to deal with the same issues that confront school shooters.
I hope their message is catching on. Oregon, no stranger to school shootings, passed an anti-bullying law in the wake of Columbine. That is one step in the right direction.
On a final note, I must admit ignorance about the name “Suicide Kings.” The Urban Dictionary notes that, in cards, the king of hearts is known as the Suicide King. Watching their show last night, I wondered whether the group had that meaning in mind when they chose their name: if anything, “In Spite of Everything” shows that these kings have heart.
-posted by P.A. Coleman
The brisk dialogue in Las Chicas is just enough to keep the show feeling dynamic as it circles around itself in a tight knot of desperation and dependency. Here, two women try to find their place in a miniscule world of ex-lovers, sex, drugs and the incongruous tech-themed nightmare that is the 3.5 Floppies nightclub. Similar to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, we find two characters reveling in verbal sparring, hurtling lavish insults and anger while understanding, at their core, somehow they care for one another, belong together.
Still, what does that matter in a world of uncaring foreign tourists and violent acquaintances? Shouldn’t there be more than tenuous bonds of friendship? These two women attempt to define themselves with children, money, and religion. But who can find footing in these things when they are constantly being lost or hold no value? For one of the women, the only thing that might bring salvation is faith. In the strongest image of the show, we see this faith as a Virgin Mary statuette, her decapitated head stuffed with drugs, used and abandoned. The women of the 3.5 Floppies are ghosts, echoing back, walking a mobius-strip of globalization, poverty and addiction.
Visually, Las Chicas evokes the dust and grime of a Mexican beach towns, beyond the glittering walls of resorts. No matter how hard it is scrubbed and polished, a shine will not appear on the surface- The despair is simply too thick to wash away. Still, there is some intermittent, if vicarious, catharsis at the 3.5 Floppies club with its Scissor Sisters soundtrack. All that’s left to do is dance the pain away for the night until the grim dawn comes again, its hand held out, begging, “Got any coke?”
Tips for TBA-ers!
-posted by P.A. Coleman
Overheard at Las Chicas-
“There were some good lines, but sometimes I forgot to look up.”
Thinking about sight lines: Considering Las Chicas Del 3.5 Floppies is like David Mamet, filtered through Telemundo, it may be difficult to follow if you are not fluent in Spanish. Thank goodness, then, for the projected English translation! But here’s a bit of advice- The best seats for this show, located at the Imago theater, are in the upper rows. The translation is projected above the stage. So, the higher you sit, the less you’ll feel like you watching some sort of vertical tennis match. The neck! Protect the neck! It’s the only one you’ll ever have!
In the same vein:
If you have reservations to Map Me (and I really hope you do), keep in mind that the beginning action takes place on the floor, downstage right. That is: close to the front row on the audience’s left hand side. So, best seats to watch the first projections are on the right hand side of the auditorium, closer to the stage. There was a good deal of neck craning at last nights performance and most of the ooh’s and ahh’s came from people on my right, who just happened to be sitting in front of short slouchers. Lucky.
If you don’t get a good spot, your frustration will be temporary, the performers eventually stand and much of the show is very visible to the entire audience.
Expect lines at some of the smaller venues: Lets face it- there are a bunch of us running hither and yon, breathless both at the prospect of what we might see as well as that five block sprint to get to the door. And sometimes, whether for technical reasons or space limitation, there is a line when we get there. I’m not sure there’s anything that can be done about some of these lines. After all, yesterday was the first full day of performances… A few kinks, including a coffee pot fire in the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, should be expected. After all, as an Oregonian columnist was overheard saying in line last night, “I suppose we have to suffer for the art.” Damn right, if it’s good!
-posted by P. A. Coleman
We are confronted with immediate vulnerability: two bodies, completely bare, lie parallel on stage. Act normal. There is the usual pre-show chatter, with just a hint of reservation at its edges. Should we look or should we not? At the smallest sign of movement from the stage, we go quiet. Lights.
Charlotte Vande Eynde and Kurt Vandendriessche have made a visually rich map through the tricky landscape of intimacy and self-identification. Using projected video their nude bodies become canvass for dynamic trompe l’oeil- A lover is marked deeply by a partner, a woman becomes a storage cabinet, a broken man is made whole. These images have amazing depth against the performers skin. It is difficult not to squirm as flesh appears to become clay, pounded and molded by disembodied, violent hands. As the work progresses, projection is abandoned as the two performers begin to interact, relating to one another in obscure rituals, both sensual and disturbing. At one point, they are joined at the head, their faces erased by a glimmering tube that joins neck to neck. It is an image that Hieronymus Bosch might have painted, had he wanted to create a portrait of two people in love. As they move slowly to the brisk rhythm of Tarantella del Gargano, they reach out for one other with glacial feints and dodges- an impossible dance.
Map me is a meditation on what it means to be a “Me,” in the hands of another “Me.” It reminds us that the act of intimacy between two people is not always gentle. We make marks on one another, we take and fill and consume. There are times when we move together, are tied to one another, and when separation comes, it can be a struggle. Sometimes we are broken down, and the act of being fixed is just as violent and loud as the act of breaking. Truly, aren’t they sometimes the same process, just one the reverse of the other?
It takes both performers touch and co-operation to create the final images; after which, they ask to slip away, forgotten. But before they leave the stage, attention is turned towards us, in the audience. We have consumed the image of their bodies for an hour and suddenly we are reminded of our own- as vulnerable beneath our clothes as the two nude performers, on stage, when we entered the hall. So, what do we do now? Act normal.
TBA in a Nutshell
Noontime chat, 9/6/07
The festival kicked off last night with Rinde Eckert and his flock of singers in Pioneer Square, but earlier that day, PICA’s Mark Russell, Kristan Kennedy, and Erin Boberg Doughton, and about 30 audience members gathered at PNCA for a noontime chat introducing TBA 07. Mark described the afternoon energy as nearing the very top of the big drop of the roller-coaster—the point where you’re inching towards the top. Slowly. Justs about to creep over the top and release all that build up. With a WHOOOSH! everyone in the audience threw their hands in the air.
Mark circulated some “nuts” for the audience to enjoy (“yeah, protein! I’ll need that to stay strong this week!”). But the “nuts” turned out to be sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds may or may not count as nuts, but nevertheless they are too obnoxious to eat, especially in a quiet group setting.
Mark, Kristan, and Erin each spoke briefly about a few of the artists, and told a few stories of how this year’s festival came together. The chat was informal, and driven by questions from the audience.
Mark spoke about Rinde Eckert, who was recently short-listed for the Pulitzer, and his interest in spirituality, Americana, and American voices. Eckert was charged with creating a piece to launch the festival, and has assembled a choir of vocalists from across the city to perform a piece about migration. There will be birds and accordions. Mark expects this to be a “soft, gentle beginning” to the festival this year, as opposed to the lively parade that launched TBA 06.
Kristan announced that, after a VERY long night, Corberry Press is now open! She spoke with affection about each of the visual artists, and called the group show, Space is a Place, “small and provocative.” Flipping through the catalog, I’m always a little less interested in the gallery stuff, assuming I’ll catch up with it after the week of performances is over. But after hearing Kristan talk I’ll definitely devote some time in the next few days to Sarah Greenberger Rafferty and Larry Bamberg. Kristan glowed about Bamberg’s piece. Being an otherwise vacant warehouse, Corberry Press has its challenges as a space, most notably a giant pit in the middle of the largest room. Last year, Matthew Day Jackson built a deck over it, so that audiences could walk over the pit as they viewed his pieces. This year, Larry Bamberg has tiled the whole thing over in white vinyl, while his delicate sculpture swirls above it.
When pressed, Mark pointed to Marc Bamuthi Joseph as the “must see” of the festival. An important tip? Or, example of blatant my-name-is-Mark-too bias? I’ll find out tonight.
He also lauded Scott Shepherd, the actor who stars in Elevator Repair Service’s Gatz, as a very “special” guy, who will fly back to New York on Monday to play Hamlet in the Wooster Group’s production at The Public Theater. Mark described Scott Shepherd as of the caliber of Spalding Gray or Willem Dafoe, if not greater. With Gatz clocking in at 6.5 hours plus, it will take some audience stamina to find out.
When questioned, Erin explained why the festival no longer has a “North by Northwest” line-up showcasing local artists. Erin said that curators and audiences from around the world come to TBA and are interested in what artists are doing in the Northwest. Local artists have a strong presence in the festival this year, and are indicated with a green NXNW in the catalog. PICA decided to fold these artists into the main line-up, rather than “ghettoizing” them as a smaller series off to the side.
This year’s opening chat was less heavy on the philosophy behind the festival (Why bother? Why Portland?) than in previous years. But, each of the PICA folks spoke so sincerely about their commitment to the development of artists and the creation of new work. You could really see how personally invested they are in each of the artists, and the relationships they have formed.
TBA offers a rare opportunity to see work in progress and world premieres. Erin and Kristan spoke of how easy it would be to only accept work that has already been vetted, is already in a frame or has achieved critical acclaim. Erin used Zoe Scofield as an example of an artist who, though young, has some amazing performances in her repertoire. It would be easy to say, “Hey Zoe, bring that piece to TBA—it’s a sure winner.” Instead, PICA says, “Wow, your work is incredible, we’re confident you’re ready for the next step—and we’ll invest in it, take it, show it, whatever ‘it’ may be.”
Dave Matthews is a Zoe Scofield fan, after all. She’s directed his new video, which you can watch on youtube or download for free on iTunes.
Go to the noontime chats if you can. They offer a different perspective on the personalities that make up the festival. Watching Suicide Kings, Reggie Watts, and Lifesavas last night, I noticed that, already, this little bit of background and curatorial insight has made my TBA experience much richer.
posted by Kirsten Collins
I suppose I was initially interested in checking out Charlotte & Kurt’s work because they hail from Belgium and Charlotte has studied with Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker. I expected dance theater – dancing, talking, entertainment. Instead, I was treated to a visually stunning meditation. I say “treated”, but I do find it incredibly challenging to slow down enough to join in the meditation. However, when I make the effort, I am richly rewarded. This is why I love time-based art.
So, they’re naked. I don’t want to give anything away here, but when the show began, I thought I was in for a western European, hetero version of a John Jasperse duet (performed with Miguel Gutierrez) wherein the audience learned, through demonstration, that John’s ear fit neatly into Miguel’s butt-crack. I was reminded of Jasperse’s work again later in the piece, when genitals were manipulated and S&M-like masks were donned – but there I go giving stuff away again. It is interesting to me that Jasperse danced with Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker too, but the comparisons end there. Besides, it was Pina Bausch he danced for, not ATdK.
These are the thoughts going through my mind when relatively little is happening onstage. I begin to panic. This show is how long? Then I see a thumbprint morph into a nipple. I tell myself to relax. This is visual art unfolding before me. Later my mind wanders off again to ponder trompe l’oeil in the 21st century. And then the performers start to move. Slowly. I’m captivated. They are gorgeous in that lean euro dancer way – freakishly fat-free because they’re always moving (albeit very slowly). They are like Adam and Eve (or Eiko and Komo) and I want to watch them do the tiniest things. Except use tiny, shiny cuticle scissors.
Yes, the “scissor moment” was the most uncomfortable for me, but oddly enough, I love that too. And yes, I zoned out and wanted to fidget, like I sometimes do when I’m sitting on a mat in a yoga class. But like a good yoga practice, an excellent work of time-based art like Map Me leaves me feeling, well, enlightened somehow.
I suppose that’s why I keep going to see live art. Maybe it’s like going to church. I wouldn’t know. I do know that I get a thrill out of being part of a community. I was disappointed that I couldn’t hear Rinde Eckert’s T:BA opener on Thursday (and pleasantly surprised that there were no talking heads, I mean “curtain” speeches), but I stayed because I wanted to see (and be seen by, let’s be honest) my friends and fellow church-goers.
In closing, I must say that I am looking very forward to Elevator Repair Service’s Gatsby. It will be like a meditation retreat! We are so lucky.
Posted by Nancy Ellis
- T:BA:07 Day Two -
I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of the PICA staff and volunteers that make the Time-Based Arts Festival possible. I am having a wonderful time, and it is due to all of your dedication, enthusiasm and diligent work.
Thank you, sincerely.
Today was yet another fun filled T:BA day. What I attended was:
T:BA Noon:30 Chat – On the Road;
Larry Bamburg Installation;
Sara Greenberger Rafferty Installation;
“Space is a Place” Installation;
Jeffry Mitchell Salon;
“Reading Out Loud [Catch 22]”
Taylor Mac, “The BE[A]ST of Taylor Mac”
Marc Bamuthi Joseph, “The Living Word Project: the break/s [work in progress]”;
Guido van der Werve, “The Clouds are More Beautiful from Above”.
Well, the day started like many others…
Wake up, wiggle the toes, play hide and seek with the puppy, let her outside for a bit, and take a shower to start the day.
But, today I had a thought amongst all of that steam. I’m not saying that it was an epiphany, nor could I necessarily say that it has anything to do with T:BA; but I’ll give PICA some credit just for kicks…
Here’s the idea.
Many of us have roof racks on our cars.
Perhaps you like to play with a kayak, bicycle, or need to haul around plywood?
Well, if you roof rack is often empty; why not do something about that!?!?
Why not have Roof Rack Art?
Personally, I love it when I have something strange precariously strapped onto the roof. There have been many times after a performance art piece, or a sculptural installation that I will leave it up there for a few days. Sure, you could say that I am just too lazy to untie it, but I kinda like the quizzical looks that I receive at stop lights, in a pinch you can park in a loading zone without getting a ticket, and it is just fun marketing for what you love to do!
So, go for it, create something wacky, strap it onto your car or truck today!
[Or, if you are of the Portland Horse Ring project, perhaps you could start thinking about tweaking out some tricycles on crack, and randomly gifting them to unsuspecting roof racks all around town… just an idea.]
Ok, back to the task at hand… PICA’s T:BA Festival… Day Two!
The day was to begin with a Cristián Silva workshop, but that was cancelled.
So, instead, the Noon:30 “On the Road” chat was today’s starting point. During the discussion, Scott Porter, Nat Andreini (Sincerely, John Head), Liz Haley, Gary Wiseman, and Darren O’Donnell (Mammalian Diving Reflex) discussed how they see their works as social acupuncture, what inspired their work, their hopes / expectations and where they see it heading.
Nat and Scott talked about how their notorious Tailgate parties from the previous years led them to want to engage the public with a more musical interaction, one that is quintessential to the 1970’s classic rock era.
Sincerely, John Head [aka FogHat recordings], 429 SW 10th Avenue, 888.774.7456 for reservations.
Liz discussed a bit of the technical aspects of her work. I have some gorilla ideas, if anyone [or better yet a group of artists want to collaborate on it secretly… oops, I guess posting it on a bLog might not be too very clandestine…] Well, I might just wait to see the video high lights from Liz’s compilation. Or, for next year, have T:BA lie detector buttons, so when you are talking with folks, you will know what they really thought about a performance!
Liz is on the second floor of the Portland Center State, Gerding Armory each day.
Gary Wiseman is amazingly cute. His quirky shyness is quite endearing, and he even at one point reminded a heckler that he is an artist not a speaker. If you want to get to know his work, you are going to have to share a cup of tea with him during one of the three opportunities. [see p.093 of the T:BA Guide] or read his Artist Statement: http://www.teaproject33.org/tba.html
01 Recess Tea Party: 1980 – 1985 (Yellow), Dress: Grey, Bring: Recess snacks to share
02 Silent Tea Party: 1986 – 1997 (Blue), Dress: Blue, Bring: Lilies and bubbles
03 For Possibilit(ea)y: 1993 – 2007 (Red), Dress: Red, White and Black, Bring: Bees
You could also see more of his vision following T:BA, around Portland, through his other Kitchen Sink project: http://www.kitchensinkpdx.com
Last, but certainly not least, was Darren O’Donnell (Mammalian Diving Reflex). He was certainly the most eloquent of the group, or atleast the most polished in his ability to clearly speak about his vision of interacting with the public, forming community, and educating the disenfranchised. He is the one that has created the “Haircuts by Kids” project, which is fully booked and with a waiting list for Saturday and Sunday at Rudy’s Hair Salon on NW 13th. He also spoke about other projects where he went out to the homes of affluent theatre patrons with a diversity of people, knocked on their doors unannounced, and asked for a tour of their homes. Needless to say, the project had varied responses, acceptance, and tours. It actually caused some patrons to cancel their season tickets with the theatre from which the project originated in Toronto.
Next over to the Daily Café for a spot of lunch, which was quite tasty, and delightful to pause in the sun for a bit.
Strolling over to the Corberry Press building, 17th @ NW Northrup, I had the pleasure of taking in the swirling constellation by Larry Bamburg. It is beautiful! Kristan Kennedy has mentioned a bit about the vinyl tile yesterday, which has a slightly Andy Goldsworthy sinuous crack to it; but the twenty foot in diameter twirling constellation of feathers and paper scraps is worth taking a moment to fully enjoy. I would recommend to either climb down into the pit and view it from length, or to lay on your back and slowly inch in and under it. The work passes quite close to the floor, but if you keep yourself low, it will just barely skip over you.
There are two other installations in the entry that you may also view.
Around the corner is a piece, which I just went to find in the guide so I could tell you the artist’s name, but I could not find it. So, we will just call him “Light Guy”. Light Guy has two environmental piece in the building, which had been “the Works” for TBA2 and TBA3. Entering the space on a sunny day light today, I was momentarily night blinded. Once my vision came back, I was infused with the glow of a shock of light, piercing a series of hanging scrims. The piece is wonderfully referential to Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Intersection” pieces. In the second room is a twinkling ring of light, that makes you feel like you are being called up to the after-life. I appreciate the use of digital projectors, as they give more creative options then gobo’s; but having seen quite a number of them over the years, both here and in Kemp’s piece, they just seem cheapened.
Moving right along, I got to learn all about Jeffry Mitchell’s love of fisting and sphincters. Sure, I’m starting off with that remark to be a bit inflammatory, but it is because I really just either do not like his work, or I just don’t get it. I think it is the first, I just do not like it. At one point he stated that anything done a second time, in mirror, is instantaneously beautiful. I disagree! I’m a huge love of asymmetry. Not so much in the trying to break from the stasis of our bilateral anatomy, even though that can be fun, but because with asymmetry one has to find a perceptual balance that shares more of the complexity that makes life so very beautiful. The world it not perfect, pink and fuzzy. Jeffry, I would encourage you to start showing those penises blazenly, don’t be shy, don’t cover them up with cute little flowers, don’t shrink away from your intentions and be insecure in your vision and talent. If you want to put something out there, then do it. Don’t apologize and then ask us to hear you talk about you not being willing to do what you secretly want to do. Oh, and btw Jeffry, fisting does not make you homosexual… it is an equal opportunity sport. Perhaps you could explore violating materials [and I choose violate, as you talked about wanting to explore the violence of male craft, as opposed to womanly making] by torch cutting out your doilies in the future. [ref: Raygun Digital]
OK, so “Reading Out Loud [Catch 22]” I experienced for only a passing moment. I was on the way to hear Mayor Potter present his visionPDX work to the public, and wanted to grab some food first. But, there was something wonderful about having a fellow dressed-up as if he was ready for a Memorial Day parade, orating to a public that didn’t know if it was on purpose, or if he was just crazy.
Next was Taylor Mac. Sensational! [Jeffry, you have a lot you can learn from her!]
Taylor did a short gig last year, but giving her the opportunity to do a full-length piece was a wonderful idea. Thank you Mark.
Taylor is completely unforgiving in her presentation. Here I am, deal with it!
Forget about suspension of disbelief, you are gonna believe in this narrative, or you are going to get dragged up on stage and sparkled!
This was the first of two ‘bridge’ pieces.
Taylor laid out a narrative, created a presence, and then welcomed us in fully.
It was then our choice to stay or go.
[Just don’t be a Chatty Katty! or else… I double dog dare you…]
If you need to decompress afterwards, you could always rent John Cameron Mitchell’s “Shortbus” .
I am also thinking of Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s piece as a ‘bridge’ project, as we were given access to him as a person, welcomed in, and made comfortable. By the end of the show, I think that most of the audience felt like that had actually become friends with Marc, and were going to meet up with him again for a cup of coffee in San Francisco next week. But, Marc’s spoken word is of course only the beginning, he also brings word to dance, or is it movement to word, the fluidity between the two is wonderful, and I am greatly looking forward to taking his workshop in the morning [assuming I can get a touch of sleep after writing this]. The words that came to my mind were “graceful as silk”. Marc has such a strong sense of his own body, muscle control, breath and sound that I was truly delighted! Doing a bit of yoga these days, and always loving gymnastics, I was greatly impressed with his ability to transfer his center of gravity back and forth in his dance without ever loosing his sense of fluid, strong movement. Bakasana and Tittibhasana are nothing compared to the arm balances that he flows through.
OK, so are you still with me, YEP, this really was my day… And it is just day two!
Now, back home for a bit to walk the puppy, and bring her along for the show at the Works. [Well, she waited in the truck, but I did think about bringing her in to watch the films.]
The Works featured Lifesavas tonight. They are a great group, but I think that the house would have been more packed if they had played to the Ashes to Ashes b-boys instead of the lily artsy-fartsies that were there. [Hey, as Taylor would say, I’m not making fun of them, I’m just pointing out the facts; plus I’m one of ‘them’ and I’m not mocking myself afterall.]
A great way to wind down from the day, and to cancel out the buzzing in your ears it to watch a few of Guido van der Werve’s films. He is cute, irreverent, surprisingly funny, and the classical music is wonderful! I will have to see more of the films in the coming nights at the Works, and also at the Living Room Theater.
Time to get some sleep so the fun can start all over again tomorrow!
Fredrick H. Zal
Architect | Sculptor | Advocate
an.architecture and industrial design studio
advocating dialogue in the fine + applied arts
Last year TBA brought some great visual arts to Portland, and this year looks to be even better, so with that in mind, Wednesday I went south to Reed to check out the new Marko Lulic and Peter Kreider show at the newly renovated Douglas F. Memorial Art Gallery. Also, I wanted a hot dog.
I arrived too late to see Sarah Dougher and Friends, but Root Beer & French Fry were just setting up, and they were completely awesome. It was just their first show, but they sounded really finished, and Fans of Tristeza, Explosions in the Sky, or the Sea and Cake should definitely hop on over to their myspace to download their mp3 and get in on the action before they’re all huge.
But on to the art, eh? Peter Kreider had some great work on display, coaxing the viewer into reconsidering the cleverly manipulated subjects. A giant-scale configuration of electrical attachments (triple-taps, extension cords, etc…) lorded over the floor where I entered, its parts assembled into a large, dangerous looking “X,” while nearby, an assemblage of milk jugs with eerily sculpted skulls leered. These two, my favorite pieces at this showing of Peter Kreider’s work, transform everyday objects into almost living beasts; the simple (but well done) manipulations of everyday objects endowing them with the dormant power of a taxidermed grizzly.
Marko Lulic’s work was well matched with Kreider’s, but was more overt and humorous (i.e. large pink letters spelling “edifice complex” and “social housing for billionaires”). Dealing mostly with themes of modernism in architecture, Lulic’s work created an intriguing argument between the promises and possibilities of rebuilding communities in a modern fashion, and the loss of history and past. Maybe they should’ve shown this stuff up on Mississippi?
Today on my way back to the office after the delightful noontime chat I came across a girl reading. She was poised on the street corner near the Half & Half, book in hand, with a look on her face as if she was just…about…to…perform. “Hey,” I thought, “it’s that on the streets performance Reading Out Loud!”
So I stalled for a minute, looking at her and waiting. She looked side to side, at the book, made a few moves like she was about to speak, looked side to side again…and didn’t read. She was just really, really nervous and apparently waiting for someone. I wandered off, disappointed that TBA hadn’t randomly materialized on the street.
FYI, below are the books the performers will be reading. Memorize them so you don’t stop and stare at every person with a book on the street. Or, hey, stop and stare.
Anyone sighted a Reading Out Loud performance yet?
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
My Antonia by Willa Cather
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Libra by Don DeLillo
Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie
Blogger, member, enthusiast
Rob Halverson’s curated room at the Corberry Press definitely warrants a studied viewing. The collection of objects in a small office space self-reference their hand-made qualities to the point of absurd (i.e. a cell phone rock pet). The works are a testament to wonderful crumminess, beautiful roughness and the potential complexity of simple shapes and designs. There is a lot of information in this tiny space and if anything the size of the room limits occupancy, and that is a plus, each item requires an intimate interaction, the kind of interaction distracted by large crowds. The overall impression is of insight into obsessive machinations of tactile oriented folk.
Posted by: Levi Hanes
Against the backdrop of city sounds, Eckert’s choir clustered together on the steps of Pioneer Square. I positioned myself towards the back of the audience, in order to experience a melding of intentional and environmental sounds, to hear the boundaries of the performance, in its site-specific nature. On the Great Migration of Excellent Birds used a full range of choral methods, from the strong, simple round of the beginning and end, to the extended techniques of hissing, mumbling, chattering and tongue clicks that mark many contemporary vocal pieces, to the rich unison chants reminiscent of church musics (they even threw in some “Amens” for good measure). At several points, the choir was overwhelmed by the sounds of traffic, Max train announcements, random voices and urban rumble. This seemed to annoy some audience members, who shushed at the world to be quiet. Personally, I was intruigued by hearing those choral voices as another element in the chaos of downtown movement. It seemed to highlight the openness, vulnerability and inhumanity of the American urban center. There was an essential tension between the continuing unresponsive city and the Great Migration‘s celebration of collective force with its chants of “We are the excellent birds! Where? Here! When? Now!”.
The performers flapping books and sheets of white paper created a beautifully mundane ballet. In ordinary clothes, they were distinguishable from the bystanders and passers-by only in their grouping and determination to sing together. This created a feeling of accessibility and ordinariness, and forced the question: “Why don’t we do this more often?”
I imagined the piece being performed in a European city center, where the buildings would comfortingly surround, creating a contained space for voices to bounce back, where a plaza of cafes and sidewalks would cater to the human ambulatory experience of real bodies for which this piece seemed to be designed.
I also imagined a different piece in which, possibly at the exclusion of such a unified visual spectacle, the choir would integrate with the audience and the city, spreading out to absorb rather than confront, meshing into the buildings, people and traffic…
- posted by Seth Nehil
In preparation for T:BA:07, PICA decided to do what most of us should have done this summer, which is hold a yard sale. By the time I got there, there were a few cool items still left for sale. I managed to make it home with several really large mirrors that had come from a previous installation, and this really nice small curved piece of wood that will be perfect for an altar that when not in use for art projects will double as my coffee table. I met Scott from Sincerely, John Head (he got the other cool curved pieces of wood which I am sure I will see in the studio at T:BA:07 for the Foghat LIVE tribute encounter piece thingy), and a neighbor Eric who coincidentally co-owns Someday Lounge and the Backspace Lounge/Cafe.
Now, I live in Southeast, so normally when we have a garage sale you get to meet the fat woman from down the street who was petitioning to keep the people from the local church from parking in her spot (you know, the one on the public street in front of her house??). So I was kind of chuckling at the crowd here. I met Bob, a wonderful man who had started a dance studio in L.A., and who was excited to reconnect with the dance scene here in Portland. He had just moved back, so we tossed the catalog back and forth trying to decide which performances were on the must see list. Then I saw Ned, one of the teachers for 6th grade at MLC (my daughter Margaret had Jeff), and tried to talk him into an immersion pass and encourage him and Jeff to get the kids out to see some of the public art installations.
A bit later, a woman was standing talking on her cell phone. She was interested in buying this great neon board with “Heaven” and a halo on it, pale blue with little puffy white clouds. She was talking to whoever on the phone, trying to decide whether or not to take it home. She didn’t have a generator, but I did, one that I had managed to drag all the way from Houston Texas with me, so right as it looked like the whole deal was going to happen, a great gust of wind came and blew the whole thing over. Neon went splintering everywhere, and the general consensus was that Heaven had just fallen to earth, and after that the whole thing just went to hell.
A number of PICA people helped me load the huge mirrors into the trusty PICA van and bring them to my house. I am eternally grateful, so maybe there is a little piece of heaven still out there…
When Heaven fell to Earth
Lemonade Stand – with tEEth
Confused shoppers looking on while Jorg lectures on how to build things using materials from the Dollar Tree store.
- Justine Avera www/flickr/photos/justineavera or talk to me at [email protected]
-posted by Patrick Alan Coleman
A group of individuals join voices in harmony and there is magic. This is ubiquitous in the spiritual world; most churches begin service with song or prayer as song. Voices unite to plead down heaven, grace, love… Soon, it arrives.
The secular world has abandoned the choir for the singular voice. Secular choral music is kept alive on the respirator of scholastic choirs and local ensembles, gay men or otherwise. But yesterday, the downtown afternoon gave up a small hollow of silence to the chirping, twittering, and harmony of Rinde Eckert’s volunteer chorus.
The performance in Pioneer Square was as much visual as aural. The sight of a chorus becoming a flock of songbirds, trumped my urge to close my eyes and simply listen.
Eckert provided a wonderful balance between intriguing conceits (the leaves of books as flapping wings, hands raised to create the long necks of waterfowl) and lyricism in the score. I honestly did not expect such beautiful melodies. As the lilting sound of excellent birds rolled across the chorus, my inner choir-geek, who I ‘d beaten into submission through steady, late-teen doses of Nirvana and Soundgarden, rose up and threw his fist in the air.
I only wish some of the more subtle moments had not been swallowed (no pun intended) by the open space.
We’ve started this annual ceremony of art and performance with song. We’ve called down a flock of excellent birds and they have arrived- Halting their migration for a moment to regale us with their fine colors, sequins, movements, and voices.