Posted by Anna Simon
Today the rain threw everything a little off. Brad got wet on his way to the daily 2pm oh yeah ok (which is what he says all the time) and asked his audience of eight to think of activities. Which some of them did and most of us didn’t, resulting in an uncomfortable blank-slate workshop feeling. Brad can pull off an awkward situation; he’s been doing it for years. I write this affectionately. It’s a skill, and he gets paid a lot. It only looks easy.
My almanac says today’s bad ideas will be tomorrow’s art. Show up and see.
Posted by Anna Simon
I kept waiting for something to happen while watching Johanna Billing’s four short films, which are brief in real time but tedious in theater time. How many of us have hung on a little longer to see if something’s worthwhile, to have their patience rewarded with a pay-off? Billing offers no such relief because the significance of her work is derived from repetition. Her silent characters move (or don’t) closely to each other without any connection but with mildly bored poker faces. They are waiting in a room for something to happen or are meticulously packing up a Swedish apartment. They’re young, expectant and isolated. They have beautiful hair and bone structure.
Yes, there is a melancholy that pervades these films, a modern, sparse quality that is not particularly hopeful. How sad to silently and efficiently pack up boxes with others, putting away sheets and rolling up glasses in paper but never acknowledging the person beside you. Is this a metaphor? Is Billing commenting on the break-down of communication within contemporary society? The first short conveys this the best, showing an increasingly larger group of twenty-somethings singing and playing instruments in a recording studio. The song is kind of awful (being Swedish pop) but the refrain is alright, you don’t love me yet. I imagine all these sad-looking young people must want to go out and love each other, take someone’s hand, make eye contact even. But in a recording studio all components must be separate to produce a harmonic whole. Even singers standing shoulder to shoulder have ear phones on. It’s lonely out there, good hair or not.
Seeing this movie alone further impressed the sentiment of isolation. Funny feeling for a festival that is constantly bringing people together in new combinations. When I left the theater a prelude of autumn rain was pouring. I walked to the bus stop and joined a few other people. We stood silently and no one looked at one another. A bit too Billing. Hadn’t I left the theater early because I knew there was no reward?
Films screened at the Whitsell Auditorium Sat, Sept. 9 and Thursday, Sept. 14. Magical World, a separate installation, is on view at Corberry Press. I have not seen it yet.
secrets collected from the works 9.13.06
I have a big ol crush on Jessica Burton.
I pluck out my boogers and eat them all the time while you’re around but not looking.
If I wasn’t such a passive fag, I’d smack Byron Beck.
I love eyeliner and mascara.
I plagiarized my high school term paper- the one that responsible for graduation.
I tell my parents I have a higher position at work.
EVEILEB ot EVAH uoY
My underwear is brown on the front and red on the back.
I just farted [ #2 ]
Never soar just rise above!
Had a three way in a pota-potty in Ireland with two 17 yr olds and didn’t tell my girlfriend. It was awesome by the way.
My first crush in Portland was Erin Boberg.
I [ had oral sex with ] my 6th grade locker partner. We were 12 and we were not gay. It was nice
I [ had oral sex with a man ]. I didn’t like it.
I like to masturbate while driving the company car.
I would like to watch. ^
Me too. ^
[ a drawing of an i-pod clicky control thing ]
[ a long story about going into a sex shop which I cannot post in it’s entirety. Suffice it to say, it is seedy, kinda gross and ends with samba music and a sunset.]
I chased someone away.
I love you.
posted and compiled by P.A. Coleman
a short note on the secrets posts: These are secrets given to me, willingly, by people at the works. They are written down in a notebook and are not reviewed or compiled until the morning after, at which point they are ordered for a dynamic read and posted.
Great job on this year’s Works PICA! It is a great improvement to last year’s space. The performance area is larger and more accommodating. The industrial location fits great with TBA aesthetic. It is also more accommodating to varying weather conditions that we all know can be tentative this time of year. Of coarse nothing beats Machine Works of before, but at least it doesn’t feel like we might get a noise complaint at any moment.
Posted by Gavin Shettler
photo credit: Serena Davidson
When the James Brown kicked in and the office chairs became part of the dance, I had a sensation of deja vu that I wasn’t able to shake until the curtain call. What was it about Nature Theatre of Oklahoma that resonated so much with me? Why can’t I get this dumb grin off my face?
Later, I came to a realization: I had just watched my private dance party daydreams made flesh before my very eyes. The performers of N.T.O. were doing exactly what the me inside my head does all the time- while I stand in line at the bank, sit in a coffee shop or write this very post. That crazy bastard is dancing his ass off with great abandon, spreading love and beauty among his fellows. But only in my head. The real me is just kind of hanging around, dumbly humming “Dancing Queen,” or as Young MC might say, “Standin on the wall like you was Poindexter.”
Every day I want to bust a move. Had I known that so many of the movements I make as I go through my daily habits (standing, sleeping, sitting) could be part of a ballet, Brut or no, I would have been busting that move way more often.
These are my people. I have developed an affinity for this group of performers. I have found in them something of myself. The connection has struck deep. They read my mind. I swear. I was almost creepy at times. I’d be thinking: “This is great- but it would be awesome if blah blah blah…” and, WHAMO, blah blah blah would happen.
I don’t want to say too much about the performance, Poetics: A Ballet Brut, because surprise is a very important aspect of the show. What I can say is that I have never seen a theatre used so completely, that I have never seen group of performers having a better time than Nature Theatre of Oklahoma and that I have never been flashed by so many people in my life. Wait… forget I said that last part.
Just go. Okay? I’ll be over here, busting a move.
posted by P.A. Coleman
The Jollyship puppet show set sail to a packed house at the new Someday Lounge Tuesday night. A fun, dark performance of pirate puppets at sea was the 5th in a sequence of a larger, on going epic. And it felt that way. It was like coming in on the tail end of a long joke. I was excited to see the group…a friend before the performance told me of seeing them before and how over the top raunchy their puppet shows were. I felt like this Jollyship was a bit on the tame side. I think my seat partner summed it up, “the more drinks in you, the better the performance was.” I missed their show at The Works, but I imagined that, with a more raucous crowd, the better the Jollyship sailed.
Posted by Gavin Shettler
I have to admit – I didnt know how the phenomenon that is Kiki and Herb could inspire me. It wasnt that I questioned whether there was talent to witness or good times to be had – but somehow, quietly – I had doubts that my heart could be rocked. Im such an asshole. Kiki and Herb reached so far into my heart and rattled the fuck out of it. . .every doubt vanished – replaced by amazement. And love. And huge laughter. Nothing taken for granted and nothing short of awe inspiring. It was transcendant in a very gorgeous yet very broken- Sally Bowles kind of way. The tipsy ballance between brilliance, disaster and delusionment has rarely been played with such seamless understanding of character. Its a surprise I wasnt in tears at the finale.
Writing from a coffee shop in Idaho.
Sincerely, Storm Tharp
I love it when an artist’s ideas stick with you long after you’ve seen a piece. Sometime later, whether a week or a year has passed, those ideas can flood back to you in a rush of connections that your brain suddenly completes. It is one of the exhilarating “Ah ha!” moments of enjoying contemporary art.
Last Saturday, I had attended the noontime-chat at PNCA on “The View from France” with Vivarium Studio and David Eckard. Both artists said some interesting things – Philippe Quesne about artistic funding in France, Eckard about the unique problems of Float- but, for the most part, I was feeling bitter that I wasn’t going to be able to make it to The Itching of Wings and wasn’t much in the mood for a chat.
So here I am a few days later, crossing downtown in my job as an art handler at a local gallery. In front of me, I am struggling to cart a gigantic crate – easily three times my size and weight – uphill on 11th. Despite my obvious effort, I can’t even solicit a knowing or sympathetic nod from a single passerby! As I am wheezing my way to the client, I am reminded of Eckard’s words, and of his TBA 04 performance, Podium
In the course of Saturday’s chat, the group got to discussing audience and venues. It was then that Eckard made a comment along the lines of (and bear with me as I paraphrase), “I always tell my students, ‘You could dismantle the city of Portland in the middle of the day as long as you had a uniform and a focused look.” Eckard’s point was that through his art practice, he has come to see that people will let you get away with all manners of bizarre behavior so long as you look confident. Even more important, it seems, than your demeanor, is if you have an object that corroborates your story. Eckard remembered rarely having been interrupted during Podium when he was wheeling his metal soapbox across town to his next locale. The contraption vaguely resembled a tool that someone could, conceivably, use for some sort of official business, thereby providing a front of credibility to Eckard’s action. In the eyes of bystanders, Eckard filled some purpose, even if they didn’t know what it was.
So too did I, laboring to deliver my cargo across town. I felt like I should have parked my hand-truck on a street corner, mounted my box, and delivered an oration, doing Eckard proud. Or, at the very least, I should have removed a part of the city as people went about their business.
posted by patrick leonard
During the interlude between Sissyboy and Caught in Candy, I tried to make new friends because few of my PICA friends were present, and this was a new crowd which I wanted to engage in. I asked the guy next to me, whose shirt read “putting the cunt back in country” what it meant, and we had a conversation about the cost of vaginoplasty. Then, I saw a guy with a hat and an index card stuck in it reading PRESS, so I asked, “Oh, are you press corp? Me too! I love the PRESS hat!” He chuckled at me and said something like, “um, yeah.” Then I saw him standing with two others in the same outfit. When Caught in Candy entered like rockstars, pushing us audience members to the side, I saw the faux-PRESS swarm the stage with flashes. I’d been duped.
Caught in Candy had a fun and campy storyline of the two stars history together. We saw the rise and fall of their careers through a series of 1930ish black and white videos. Most exciting were the trials of Cabiria, the large and buxom countess with killer outfits. She sported giant bejeweled buckles, winged tops, and dresses with feathers protruding from wires, and she strutted around stage belting out fantastic, dark burlesque tunes.
The drag queen next to me, all decked out in an Elizabethan gown and towering white wig–an ensemble I think I remember seeing in the audience at last year’s performance at Mary’s by Meow Meow and Thomas Lauderdale–was waving a Chinese fan which, in the congested air of The Works, was glorious. “That fan feels great” I quipped, “the air is coming over your shoulder and it’s saving me!” She managed a smile, but didn’t look like she wanted anything to do with me and walked away. Though I spent the night imagining how fun it would be to dress in drag, I just couldn’t manage to chat up anyone in the audience.
In that night of gender bending-to-the-breaking-point, I felt more like a gender boomerang—a girl who wants to be a boy just to be a girl. It looks like fun (champagne!), but I went home feeling left out. I’m a little bit of a princess, but in the end I’m just no queen.
Freelance writer, enthusiast
Sissyboy at The Works let the crowd know that tonight would be a wild ride—this night, we were told, was “a gender terrorist revolution.” The opening video was a hilarious montage of five or so Sissyboys, dressed in wigs, miniskirts, and heels, bopping unsuspecting commuters on the head in trans-fairy godmother style, complete with comic book starbursts that read “Fab!” and “Loofah!” which changed the drab—poof!–into more fabulous counterparts. “Tranny pie!” read one graphic as they all piled on someone in front of Pioneer Place. This was a city wide attack, ending with the feather boa-ing of the umbrella man in Pioneer Square.
The girls had a hilarious mix of stage and video, including some hot stage fighting in only short shorts and heels that devolved into bitch slapping. One delivered their manifesto to the cheers of the crowd: “The gender revolution has begun, champagne!” she cried, garnering hoots and whoops from the gay, tranny, and straight (in those percentages, I think) crowd. “We’re here to bend gender roles until they break! It’s time to make way for whatever the fuck we want!”
Whatever the fuck they want turned out to be increasingly political, with the main premise being turning Laura Bush trans through “an acid gender re-programming trip.” There were funny moments and cringe moments. There was the dance number by two of the girls in burkas, singing a Jihad version of the song “We Like the Cars That Go Boom.” This song included the cheeky line “the streetcar is fucking stupid, it don’t get you too far, so plant 3 [bombs] in there.” This progressed into a rendition of the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene acted out between a muslim Rashashan and her Cap-Jew-let love in camo and a soldier’s helmet. Later, a video played reenacting the Sept 11th attacks with a model United Airlines plane hitting Jenka-made towers. During this Laura and a Saudi princess began singing “It’s Raining Men” while body parts rained onto the stage. They stripped down, rolled in the carnage, and played air guitar on leg. Cringe.
Political satire and drag do seem to go well together, and bending gender and mocking cultural icons makes sense if the goal of the humorous deconstruction is to understand why icons, events, and terminology hold such power over us. Well aimed humor (in videos, lounge acts, etc.) undermines the authority and weight of these things, and lets us examine them anew. Kiki and Herb likewise made jabs at Catholics, the President, and other social institutions, but with Sissyboy, I didn’t feel the constructive wit in the criticism. If the performers’ message is fuck it, then what does the audience gain? They did put on an amped performance, and when the girls took a bow and asked, “are you a fucking sissy?!” the crowd whooped and hooted and in response.
Freelance writer, enthusiast
Mountains of rice.
Of All the People in the World.
What will become of this rice?
Will PICA eat it? Will PICA throw it away? Can it be recycled? Can it be reused?
Over 5 tons of leftover rice.
Who is hungry today? Who does not know where their next meal will come from?
Who needs a helping hand?
This leftover rice has found a good home.
The Oregon Food Bank, when the installation is finished, will take this rice and clean it, repackage it, and use it to help feed hungry families in Oregon and SW Washington.
Portland Feeds PICA and PICA feeds Portland
Posted by Lizzy Caston
photo credit: Serena Davidson
Click here to view more Time Based Art photos by Serena Davidson
I wanted to reflect back to you a few snippets from your opening night performance. Sometimes I heard more than I could jot down (including the entire section about the mighty Columbia!), but this is most of what I heard:
” … next best thing … my beautiful city … geometry of this earth … worship … danger of the water … I believe salvation lies at the end of your hook captain … civic salmon symbol … mighty Columbia … swelling fat delta … the next best thing … “
I wish I could convey to you the feeling of expectation and anticipation and generosity that I felt among the crowd on the bridge, everyone straining towards you, and the palpable relief when the wind would send a few words our way. Maybe I am romanticizing it a bit, but that seems appropriate, doesn’t it?
Posted by Linda Hutchins
On a sparsely set stage, five readers share Spalding Grey’s stories from notebooks. I’d never heard a word of Grey’s work before. Maybe that’s why I didn’t expect the Spalding Grey Project to be so funny. I also didn’t expect it to be so full of bathroom humor. So I was surprised when I was suddenly laughing uncontrollably. I was surprised when it was gross. The riveting thing about the performance was the play between those ridiculously funny stories and the mournfully tender parts. That balance was an invitation into Grey’s world. I could identify with Grey’s use of health insurance as a measure of success. I could feel the riveting, open gaze of his eight month old baby. At one point, a reader states, “I came to know of my life through the telling of it.” By listening, I came to know of Grey’s life. And I’m glad I did.
posted by amber bell
Sitting in the Whitsell Auditorium this evening, I was given a moment to reflect. The film on the screen was Laurie Anderson, whom I love dearly, but I was not thinking about Laurie so much specifically; rather I was thinking about the entire concept of being an artisan.
What is it that makes one an Artist and another simply having artistic intentions?
It was a question that I desperately wanted to answer, as I had sat through the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma just prior; and wanted to find a shred or two that I could praise instead of fully slamming their ‘performance’.
Watching Laurie performing in those decade old video discs, made me think of the power of her live performance the other evening, even though all of those decade[s] have passed, and the technology is now familiar… How is it that Laurie will probably still be able to lure me in for decades to come, even if she is just croaking a few words from the chair and can not longer even hold a violin or squeeze a pick-up in between the dentures… [no offense Laurie… chronology is not a flaw, it is only a fact]
Laurie, like a handful of artists, are ones that I would drop everything and make their performances no matter what. Why?
Is it technical skill? Yes, on some part; but that is only the beginning.
Is it a lineage of works? No, because I felt that way about Daniel Bernard Romaine well before he had the caché that he now may conjure.
I think it is most important to have integrity and passion. A passion that comes forth out of the artist’s soul; having a will of its own, something that would create a work of art, even if it needed to find another host body to make it happen.
I have seen that in the brushwork of kids just out of highschool selling their plywood + oilstick on the side of the road. I have heard it billowing from Shawn Shameless Flanigan’s rawk dulcimer on the street outside of Nordstroms. It is feeling the raw brilliance of an artist, knowing that this is only the tip of the iceberg; and there will be decades of creativity to come, if they can just cover their rent and get a few more cups of top ramen… [This would be a great time to make a plug for Disjecta… ]
It is this brilliance that I have come to ascribe to PICA.
A difficult thing for each artist in the T:BA line-up to attain.
But, there it is… I expect greatness from the artists that PICA curates.
[Mark, keep that in mind for next year! Nothing but greatness… and zippy dj’s at the Works!]
That cannot be so…
In nine years of steady PICA attendance… I do not recall hundreds, but rather maybe a dozen artists [artistic troupes] that I could pin such greatness upon. There are the dance troupes managed by Barbara Bryan [John Jasperse + Wally Cardona Quartet], Daniel Bernard Roumaine, Dumbtype, Rosanna Gamson/World Wide + Cecilia Appleton/Contradanza, and of course Laurie Anderson, to note a few. From film I continue to have inspiration from Alain Bufard’s “My Lunch With Anna” and Édouard Lock / La La La Human Steps’ “Amelia”!
But, that’s the beauty of PICA.
If you go with an open mind to every performance that they host; some will knock your socks off, some will just not connect with you, some your friends will love, some you might even hate or become offended by… but you go, and you keep going. This is how you learn, how you grow as an artist, how you find those pearls of inspiration [like the ones that I tauted above], and this is how you form / support an artistic community.
So, maybe I did not care for the humor of Oklahoma; but a number of my friends that were in the performance had a great time, and really enjoyed working with them.
Tomorrow is another day, and I look forward to embracing PICA again with open arms, a passionate heart, and thoughtful eyes/ears.
Architect | Sculptor | Advocate
Looking too long until looking too long becomes looking again.
It started with a film made from old footage of small children facing a camera with their black and white collars and curls shifting in the gusts of wind. They are each looking at the camera like it is someone totally unknown. The camera stares and stares and the babes have no idea what to do – a fat little finger unfurls like a question.
The next film documents a man shooting himself in the foot to avoid doing military service in Viet Nam. As the gun is trained on the foot and the trigger is pulled the audience turned away and faced into each others shoulders. After, the camera clings to a shot of the foot with a dark hole spouting a single thin arch of blood, rhythmically.
Then a film of footage taken from fighter planes during the war in Viet Nam and collected through the freedom of information act. Shot after shot of swooping in and away over unrecognizable land and sky, always centered on the orange target marks of the gun sight.
You don’t want to look anymore, you are pulling against it.
And then in Vanessa Renwick’s three screen video, Hope and Prey, the tension pushes us over. We watch wolves and crows and an eagle running and soaring and stalling as they hunt. The camera follows endlessly as the animals chase and flee. One shot of elk and wolf in full flight, muscles undulating as they beat through the snow, and then another shot, still running, a different vantage point. The thought of stamina. The music is so loud someone starts handing out earplugs. A crow with something in it’s mouth is swooping up, wing tipping, heading off, then around again, and up. A wolf and the bison stand looking at each other. The wolf is chasing the elk, again. They are standing breathing, then running behind a bank of snow. And then the abrupt ending that is not what you think. You suck in your own air.
This series of films made both the camera and the audience into characters related to each other through a relentless tension. The tension built a physical experience of connection with the films, even though it came from wanting to escape the howling stare of the camera.
posted by Publicwondering
photo credit: Serena Davidson Photography
photo credit: Serena Davidson Photography
Click here to view more TBA photography by Serena Davidson
If the workshop had gone on any longer it would have turned into a full-blown dance party.
Divided into three groups of six, each person created a “move”, not necessarily a dance move but some kind of movement or gesture that took into account the entire body and could be done to a count of two or four. After teaching our moves to the rest of our group the fun began as we assembled our dance. No, we didn’t haggle about order or which foot we should start with. We left it up to chance: a critical component of the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma’s current creation process.
Using coins, playing cards, dreidels, or dice (our tool for the workshop) the company strives to move beyond their habits and challenge their affinities. Co-artistic director Pavol Liska explained that even the emotions and facial expressions can be decided by chance. You are feeling (roll the dreidel)…lustful, while I am feeling (flip the coin)…depressed with a (flip)…sneer on my face. Liska claims no ownership of this technique; artists from Hans Arp to Merce Cunningham have used chance in their work, but it’s a structure that is resonating with the company and yielding exciting results.
The company also courts the unknown by making performances that run straight into what they don’t know. Poetics: a ballet brut, for example, is a dance for people who can’t dance but love to dance. And that is another critical part of their equation: fun and pleasure. And if you’ve seen Poetics, you know they take their fun very seriously.
But back to the exercise. Once we had determined the structure of our dance by rolling the (plural) dice we set about figuring out how to do it. The movements were never supposed to go together, so transitions were set with the aid of more dice rolls. For anyone who needs to make decisions with a group of people, invest in dice and commit to chance. It will expedite your process tenfold. Our group had more time to spend on dancing rather than discussing minutia that wouldn’t matter in the end anyway.
After we had more or less memorized our dance, it was time to perform. Backed by smoking tunes such as You Sexy Motherfucker each group took the stage and took pleasure in dancing together. We tried our dances to different songs with different tempos, transforming my group’s performance from the dance of the languid poseurs to the frantic boy-band digs its own grave. The finale was a big ole hootenanny resembling the gym dance from West Side Story (the frantic boy-band in this corner and the shaking ballerinas over there). And watching it all was the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma: smiling, laughing and cheering us on. It was the most wonderful role reversal. I was doing the same thing watching them dance last night.
Posted by Maesie Speer
Early in his career, James Yarker (of Stan’s Cafe) had a theory about everything as fashion; you can make yourself a brand, put forth wafer thin ideas, and get the monetary gain and the slick clothes. Or you can be poor, have a bad haircut, and stand by your true artistic vision.
He now conceeds that his theory is for times when you’re less happy and less successful.
The theory, however, does bring up this question; how does an artist maintain the integrity of their work and be professionally successful?
At the Creative Cities chat on Monday, an impressive panel of local educators, artists, businessmen, and politicians convened to discuss what a creative city should look like. They agreed, in their own ways and words, that creative people are good for a city, and that artists need support to make their work.
It got sticky once the subject of money was brought up. Some members of the panel felt that artists and businesses should collaborate, forming symbiotic relationships. Others felt that artists should be able to work at their own speed outside of the economy.
How should art & artists interact with money & business?
Would collaborations between artists and businesses mean that artists would get funding to do their work, or would it just mean that businesses sap artists’ creativity for their own gain?
Besides working with businesses, what options do artists have?
We can either make our work outside the system and have a day job (I skipped out on mine to go to the chat) or we can push our way into the system, and work within its confines.
If we work outside the system, we have the freedom to create as we like, and find our own resources. We don’t have to play by the rules. We just have to come up with the rent.
If we get into the system, we operate on other people’s terms. There is heavy competition to get in, and if we do, we follow the requirements and structures of the institutions.
Then there’s Matthew Stadler’s idea:
Use what’s available to create temporary institutions. They serve their purpose, then fade back into the environment. Stadler advocates finding new patterns of creating culture rather than replicating other models.
But what about the money? Well, in Stadler’s world, that would become irrelevant.
posted by amber bell
As I write this, it is an hour before Nature Theater of Oklahoma begins and I am in line. Yes. An hour before. In line.
This is serious buisness folks and I am a serious man. Some selfish place inside of me wants to tell you that you don’t have to worry about arriving early to any of the TBA events, just so i can get in before you.
But no. Not only am I serious, but I am kind. Thank you.
You must show up early to every show because they will sell out. even if you have a pass. Show up early!
Don’t tell me I never did anything for you.
What is my signature move? I’m a bit giddy as I ask myself this question. I may be giddy be giddy because of the early hour, but more likely it’s because of the fact that I am a inexperienced dancer in a dance workshop taught by admittedly inexperienced dancers. I laugh nervously and look for my signature move that I am sure is hiding somewhere deep inside my body.
Last night I told my fiancée that I was going to go to a dance workshop. She, knowing that I’m not the big dancer type, asked me to show her some moves. I obliged, flapping my limbs wildly, much to her delight. An hour of laughter followed.
My signature move. Hmmm… Well, maybe my signature move might look something like pouring myself a drink, or walking while looking around and smiling (lame), or- Eureka- looking for that thing that I just lost and godamnit I saw it here just a little while ago. I put it together: Hand on hip, step step step, point. My signature move.
I show this to the five lovely women in my group. They, in all seriousness, practice the move over and over again, asking questions like: What foot do you lead with? When do you point?
We add the move to our growing repertoire of moves and assign it a number. This is where the “Chance” in Chance Poetics comes in. We each roll a small die we have been given. The number rolled dictates the order the moves (six in our group) will be put in. We string them together- Voila- we have created a dance.
We practice our new creation to a wide variety of music and (amazingly wonderfully) my signature move has becomes part of an awesome dance.
Thank you Nature Theatre of Oklahoma for giving me the gift of dance and some new creative tools. I’m going to take my dance home, count it off and bust a move. Then we’ll see who’s laughing.
Posted by P.A.Coleman
I walk about two blocks before I realize that you shouldn’t ask the curator of visual art for the TBA festival if she has a favorite among the varied, challenging and beautiful selections on display over the course of the event. Especially when she is in the company of a couple of the artists.
Hand slaps forehead. I feel like an idiot. Dear god, I AM an idiot. Je suis un idiote.
But Kristan Kennedy was gracious with her answer: “No,” she said “I don’t have a favorite.”
Because they are all her favorites, you big dofus. And frankly- after spending some time with the evolving, moving and complicated art on display at Corberry Press, PNCA and other venues- it’s all my favorite too.
I think you might enjoy it as well.
Go! Onward then! Do not forget about the visual art!
Just don’t ask about favorites. Not that you would… just- you know…
Posted by P.A.Coleman
Ever since Saturday, I haven’t been able to clear my mind of the melody that keeps running through it, even as I write this post. It is a hauntingly beautiful and tender tune and, embarrasingly enough, it also happens to be the Rotary Connection’s 1968 song, Magical World.
Now, I am no fan of this psychedelic, bluesy-soul outfit, but Saturday happened to be the day that I saw Swedish filmmaker Johanna Billing’s captivating film of the same name – Magical World.
Billing’s film is a short burst of memories and poignant contradictions. Watching the elementary school-aged children sing and perform reminded me of my own experience in the fifth grade, having to sing another song from the same era: Three Dog Night’s Joy to the World. Neither my classmates nor I could decipher the lyrics (friends with a frog?), so we sang it much the same as we sing any other song; like Happy Birthday. In the film, the young boy’s lilting voice came through the instruments in that flat affect that reveals just how little of the song’s meaning he actually grasped. The only difference between his misunderstanding and mine is that I actually spoke the language in which I was singing.
The children Billing chose to film hailed from a school in Zagreb, Croatia, thereby introducing a whole complex of contrasts into the film. The dreamy harmony of the lyrics is at odds with their dry, droning delivery. The dilapidated, depressed views of the city are in striking contrast to the excitement and raw nerves of the kids performing in front of a camera crew.
There is something about the children that, while I don’t want to call it universal, is certainly easy to relate to. If Billing’s film does make one thing clear to be universal, it is the pervasiveness of English throughout the world. Here, in a country only recently having entered the world economy and struggling after a series of tolling wars and ethnic conflicts, these children are singing an American pop song.
Taken together, it is a heady mix of politics, poetics and the sweetness of children simply trying to perform well.
It is touching, it is thought-provoking and it is only 6 and a half minutes long.
Catch Magical World at the Corberry Press, Building B throughout the entire month of September. And don’t miss Billing’s other films Thursday evening at 7 at the Whitsell Auditorium.
posted by patrick leonard
posted by laurabecker
i think i’ve been posting this same recommendation for the past three years, but in case you need it again – go to tba’s noontime chats! (meaning 12:30 in most cases) they’re where it’s at people! some of my most inspiring and heartfelt experiences from the festival are from these discussions – catching a truly intimate glimpse into a headlining artist, watching the excitement from cross-pollination of ideas among the panel, really feeling a part of the kindred spirit in the room.
yesterday’s panel with matthew day jackson and sutapa biswas reinforced a lot of the political feelings i’ve been having and expressing about the festival. matt seems to be around my age, and the way he talked about the state of things in the world currently and what he’s “not” obsessed with in his art truly resonated for me.
today’s panel moderated by david eckard with craig and amanda from stan’s cafe, mk guth from the red shoe delivery service, and a very tardy sam from red 76, focused on the other bookend of this festival for me – notions about “home”. mk referred to the transient idea of home, to literally bringing people home via red shoe’s delivery service and virtually via the travel agency, and sam discussed red 76′s recordings of the sounds people hear as they are leaving their home every day. but to me it’s also a symbolic thread through a lot of this year’s works. the first thing i wrote down during tba this year was david eckard’s quote from float – “how far do i have to go before i am truly on my way back home” – and i’ve recited it in my head several times during my tba experiences since then.
one of david’s questions was how the artists evaluate the success of their projects and for mk and amanda, intimacy was a big factor – people feeling “at home” enough within an art experience to participate with a presenter, to share private thoughts, to open themselves up to the art. deborah hay’s “room” was all about intimacy to me, same for how sutapa described her work. and oh yeah, edie tsong is literally working from home.
i doubt this reaction is unique to this festival, but it’s kind of interesting to me that the more jostled i feel by the political aspects, the more comfy i feel by the intimate ones. the artists today talked about the risks they take when they ask the public to act as collaborators and performers in their work. when they invite us in, they’re taking “a leap of faith” that we’ll take them up on their offer and return the hospitality by taking the experience with us when we leave. i’m so eager to return the hospitality, i just wish i never had to leave in the first place.
Steal This Show
Illegal Art at Feldman Gallery, PNCA
Curated by Nan Crtis
posted by Anna Simon
The Illegal Art show is subversive by nature. “Tricky,” I thought. “Clever. Naughty. Funny. Gross!”
This exhibit uses the language and design of commercial culture to create “products” or signs (signifiers) that distort the original intended message. David Byrne transforms corporate signs to read “hope” or “peace”; another exhibit uses the covers of dime store detective novels to depict blatant desperation and next-door neighbor sexuality instead of smoldering fantasy. One brilliant artist created a “Benito Mussolini” action figure, cleverly and convincingly packaged as a Walmart product. I couldn’t tell if it was real or not, especially after seeing the receipt, bar code registered and everything. The accompanying five minute video of the artist purchasing his creation reveals that people will buy into anything–including the lionization of fascist dictatorships–as long as a company is selling it. There’s something eerie about how ideas and objects and culture are legitimatised as long as they’re a product. As if companies are parental stewards looking after us, giving us things we need.
“Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie!” as the video in the back room screams. The video compilation more closely examines the idea of copyright infringement and intellectual property. Please, everybody, watch Todd Haynes Superstar, a Karen Carpenter story. This video is illegal (I haven’t seen it since college) because Haynes used Carpenter songs without permission–and the family threw a fit when they saw themselves portrayed as mutilated Barbie dolls encouraging Karen’s anorexia. This video is a bit of editing genius that’ll twist your guts up. Bombs dropping on Vietnam as Karen sings “Close to You?” Subterfuge spectacular.
Overall, the unsettling part of the show is the multiple use of violent sexual imagery toward women. I’m thinking of one piece in particular, but I was alarmed that subversive, “de-generate” art necessary implied masochistic sexualization.
More on all of this as it settles.
It’s the late, northern autumn of 1994 and we’re sweating hot in a colored fever dream.
Mere reproduction or computation be damned; technology had become a tool of creation, beauty, confederation, enlightenment, social justice — and we wielded the fucking gun. Marshall McLuhan was our patron saint, Louis Rosetto our Thomas Paine. And there, on the cover of the ninth issue of Wired Magazine, the “Common Sense” of our techno-utopian revolution, was the pale, interlaced simulacrum of our Poet Laureate: Laurie Anderson.
And indeed, our collective dream materialized from the ether to become commonplace, albeit in unforeseen silhouettes, spitting and starting. Our optimism and naiveté was merely a placenta: elemental, but easily discarded. With Anderson, though, it seemed like a prophecy fulfilled: our portrait of her was to be hung over the mantle of NASA; she would be their inaugural artist-in-residence.
Surely she would sing to us of rocket propulsion and solar sails, string theory and undetectable dimensions, robots and the singularity, jumpsuits and freeze-dried astronaut ice cream, death and emptiness and the unknowable. With her halcyon voice, she would wrap this gift in our humanity, hold it together with an orchestral software bow, and garnish it with a fluttering little tag:
To: The Horizon of Our Noble Apprehension
From: Aunt Laurie
Alas, what we get with “The End of the Moon,” the culmination of Anderson’s 2-year stint at NASA, is decidedly dull, barely more than a disappointing series of anecdotal vignettes told meditatively in the dark. Instead of possibility and quantum mechanics, we’re fed tired, insipid September 11th suddenly-everything-has-changed metaphors embedded in a is-grandma-done-babbling-yet story about her rat terrier, Lola Belle. Or trite, high-school philosophy one-liners about how “life is like bad art.” There are loose themes running throughout her performance, to be sure, but they’re wildly apophenic at best. None of Anderson’s narrative cooing feels any more new, inspirational, challenging, or enlightening than your average coffee shop conversation.
The show is not without its moments. The set’s art direction is compelling: an entropic sea of tea light candles in clear glass holders splay across the stage, punctuated on the left by a deep red armchair and on the right by a canvas-laden easel bearing an abstract, soft-focused projection of the moon’s surface. Anderson does manage to align her subject material to the production at times: at one point, she narrates into a handheld camera while her black-and-white, fish-eyed visage slowly floats behind her, upside-down, a space-walking Apollo-era astronaut viewed through a porthole window. It’s the kind of beautiful, simple moment that you expect from Anderson, where her technology soulfully delights and illuminates without celebrating itself.
By her own admission, Anderson has avoided populating “The End of the Moon” with a thick artifice of hidden meaning. And while her ease and conversational tone is welcome, the slow-paced banality of the material is coupled with what may be her most technically minimal production to date. One wonders if Anderson has always had so little to say, only now exposed by the lack of technological spectacle. In the end, it may be that Anderson has given all of herself to the zeitgeist, her thoughts admitted into the cultural canon, her techno-wizardry now possessed by every kid with a laptop. Elemental, but easily discarded.
Since participating in a couple of Brad Adkins’ outings early in the Festival, I have found myself noticing things I might not otherwise notice, and thinking, “What Would Brad Do?” For example: a shiny green apple nestled in a mass of ivy at the base of a potted tree. I saw that while rushing on foot from Yubiwa Hotel to Vivarium Studios. Another example: an empty half-gallon plastic milk jug doing a slow pirouette on the kitchen counter. I set that in motion by accident when I reached for the jug and missed. What Would Brad Do?
Where is this “stagecraft wizardry”? (Oh, there it is.)
Why is “Don’t Stop til You Get Enough” stuck in my head, other than for the usual reasons?
Are there more office chairs? (Yes.)
Are we the audience or are we the performers?
Who is cheating on who behind who’s back?
Why is this making me hungry?
Are they serious?
Who are these people?!?
Is there even more? (Yes.)
What is behind that curtain?
It’s part dance performance, part dance workout video, part everyday, quotidian gestures (shrugging, arm folding, leg-crossing, hand-shaking, sleep-fidgeting) and part awesome.
Should you see it?
Nature Theatre of Oklahoma performs again at 6 on Wednesday, and at 9 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Lincoln Hall on the PSU Campus.
posted by patrick leonard
Although it was billed as intermeidate/advanced, the workshop wtih Stan’s Cafe Associate Directors, Amanda Hadingue and Craig Stephens, was all about the basics. Some attendees were undoubtedly disappointed (I noticed a few rolling eyes), but those that went with the flow were rewarded with an opportunity to connect or reconnect with some foundational devising exercises.
Amanda and Craig led us through two games that explored the revelation of character through spacial relationship and how simple movement choices can create conflict and event.
I was reminded that though you’ve done an exercise 100 times before there is always opportunity for discovery, surprise and truth. I rediscovered the unexpected intimacy of holding hands with strangers, the inherent theatricality of being pulled between two choices, and the difficulty of squeezing a workshop into an hour and a half.
posted by Maesie Speer
I really responded to the footage of Angell stomping around the woods in the snow, having a conversation with the mountains, the trees and the wildlife. I couldn’t help but think of the role that fire and trees plays in our mythology, especially the Western mythology, and even more specifically, in our Northwestern mythic structures. It seems that over the last hundred years or so, the forest fire has taken on symbolic weight as it has become a real threat. And the West has responded by incorporating the forest fire into our literature and our art. Some of us tend to romanticize the forest fire; some elegize it; many take it very seriously. Angell has taken the blackened remains of a forest after a devastating fire, inserted himself and some color into the palate, and made something beautiful and meditative out of the forest—the piece is a wonderful contemplation of how the artist can make sense out of destruction.
The most compelling parts to me is the section of the artist holding a conversation with the mountains and the section wherein the artist, through touching the trees, seems to “cure” them—or at least he begins a process of some kind of human engagement with the burned trees. I was struck at the frame of the last section; the camera barely moves, showing a field of trees black against the white background of a snow-covered field. Angell enters and then begins touching the trees and they light up in different colors. It reminds me of the Fortress of Solitude in the Superman comics. Not that I’m positioning the artist as some kind of Superman, but there is the suggestion that the artist can be a medium of some kind between nature and the rest of humankind.
Posted by Scott McEachern
What struck me most about this four-channel installation piece was the simplicity of the images on screen. Yet this very simplicity belied a deeply moving piece of film that engaged issues of life, death, fertility, pain, spirituality, transcendence. Really what I would like to offer here is a few observations, loosely tied together.
The screen with the woman hitting herself with the skull is memorable because it suggests the body is a medium by which, through the right amount of pain, we are able to transcend the physical and enter into a kind of spiritual bliss. This kind of thing, the immolation of the physical self, has a long and documented history, and is often represented in pop culture: think the albino monk in Da Vinci Code. But what makes this installation about a billion times better is that simplicity I spoke of before. The intensity of the woman hitting herself in the belly, just below her breasts, is astounding and leaves the viewer stunned.
And this idea of the body as medium is carried out in the rest of the installation. The body is a transit stop between life (earth) and death (heaven). Life is represented in the screen depicting a field of men dry-humping the ground; death is the sky, the rain, the elements—those elements of nature frightening to humankind.
Yet there is redemption in the sky as well; the single woman stands on a hill, holds her breasts to the sky, her face upturned, swaying slightly. She is elevated, enthroned on the earth and looking toward a source of transformation. She is a kind of embodiment of spirituality and faith and fertility and the primacy of woman all rolled into one.
One word about the four channels. I have seen many multi-channel installations and I never cease to be blown away every time I see one. I think that I am affected so thoroughly because of the total immersion one feels when in the middle of the four screens. The viewer is in the heart of the film, and the position implies that you are your own interpreter, so to speak, both in the physical act of viewing as well as in the act of making sense of the images. You are free to view the four screens in any many that you wish; in the exact middle, off to one side, standing in front of each screen in turn. And the implication is that the viewer thus becomes a part of the film, of the experience. The four screens is such a preferable alternative to the single, two-dimensional screen; a four screen situation is almost like seeing three-dimensions, or even four. Nevertheless, the four channels are great, and especially made sense with the Abramovic piece, as I felt involved, incorporated into the ritual of the piece.
Posted by Scott McEachern
A line of reasoning exists in narrative theory circles stating that at most what we can hope for in the stories we tell each other is a dynamism of desire. One way to extend this idea to the TBA stage shows is to say, in a kind of nod to postmodernism generally and deconstruction specifically, that we look for desire in any kind of text, whatever form the text takes. In “The Itching of the Wings” desire is written all over the piece, from the stated purpose of exploring human’s desire to take flight, to the people interviewed, to the performers, who move about the stage with a kind of shuffling grace you will see in any young boy in a field, crouched over a toy rocket.
All theory aside, the piece is a beautiful, sweet, earnest engagement with perhaps a fundamental and archetypal human desire and the performers become stand-ins for our own wish to take flight. The thing that makes this sweet and earnest is the perhaps overt context of the piece, the inability to fly on our own steam and humankind’s attempts to overcome a physical limitation. Various icons of flight-assistance technology and culture are playfully alluded to in the piece: Virtual reality, Superman, Babar, Icarus, Plato’s Phaedrus.
In Matthew Barney’s film The Cremaster Cycle, Dave Lombardo from Slayer appears out of the dark screen—first glints of cymbals and sticks, then his drums, then the movement of a body—drumming, anchoring a muted speed metal piece. The sound and the image are muted and the drumming goes on for a while and then the camera moves on to another image. I was reminded of that “scene” during Itching when the Worms ambled onstage and into the glass room and began playing. I think that it was the enclosed space, the feeling of enclosure that made me think of Cycle: both performances had a kind of claustrophobic feeling. The Worms played loud and forceful, trying to send their sound out of that glass room and into flight.
The stage set was really minimal, flickering candles surrounding a single chair, her keyboards and pedals, viola, the one small projection screen on which hovered a luminous shot of the moon’s surface. The audience was hushed, waiting for her to begin her stories. I had brought my entire family and was curious to see how each person would take away something different. Anne, age 6, thought it was the funniest when she attached a small camera to her viola bow, and you could see it sawing back and forth over the surface of the instrument that suddenly looked more like something out of Star Wars, and when she turned the camera upside down and kind of floated past the window like an astronaut asking, “Excuse me, can you tell me where I am?”. Margaret, age 11, thought it was pretty cool that Laurie Anderson got to stay and see all the spaceships as part of being the first Artist-In-Residence for the Space Program, and learned about the artistry involved in the color selection made to illustrate the stars and galaxies. “Are those the actual colors?” “No, not exactly”. “Then how did you pick them?” “We thought people would, well, like them.” In another section she seemed to be recalling a long relationship, and its difficulties. “The tear in my right eye is because I love you. The tear in my left eye is because I can’t bear you”. The concert duet with the owl, whose melody floated over in the mix, thinking it was one of her fellow musicians, then when everyone stopped playing still hearing it, letting her self keep going quietly listening and singing with the owl. “OK, I can die now” she says. Don, age 40, saw a return to Big Science, and spoken word, and was impressed by her intelligence. He found himself immersed in the technical aspects of her performance, rythmic sequences, quirky & offbeat, melodic, watching a one woman orchestra. Her little dog learning it was prey, that there were 360 degrees in the area of responsibility, that attack could come from above. And patriotism, questioning the “super sized American Flag” like some fast food knock off. I was glad that I could only photograph for the first 10 minutes so I could sit and enjoy the show. I had just bought Mister Heartbreak again on CD. Seeing her live for the first time I realized that her stories and her music still resonated — curiously challenging, atmospheric and vital.
- Justine Avera
Photos 09/09/06 – Justine Avera
I’m still not sure if Laurie Anderson is a master artist or a hypnotist. Or both. Late in the performance, from my vantage point of the exact last row of the highest balcony (about even with the moon, which felt appropriate) something happened with the lights and the candles and her velvety voice that made it appear—I’m not being metaphorical, this is what I was seeing—that the candles had morphed into a vertical wall behind her, and she was floating in front of them. I think it was at that point that I gave in and let myself float away on a bed of soft voices and tripped out turbo-viola.
All that aside, there were several moments when I found myself surprisingly and inexplicably tearful. The story about her dog’s shift in view once he got assaulted by vultures from the air was a lovely allegory for how we feel as a country post 9/11, and one that somehow circumvented politics and network news faux-gravity. At some point I realized that in her unassuming way she was holding an audience of 800+ in the palm of her hand—absolutely mesmerized. Thinking back, this is the kind of performance I want to savor, like a silent walk in the forest. It was delicate and deceptively simple—if I wasn’t careful, I’d think the whole thing was as complicated as a nice bedtime story, but taking it apart in my mind I realize how much thought and care (not to mention electronics) went into its construction. It has the balance and light touch of a fairy tale, a river that is shimmering and pretty on the surface, with sharp rocks and a wicked current underneath.
Then again, I might still be hypnotized.
To see more TBA photography by Serena Davidson click here: Serena Davidson Photography
I find this very interesting—that what one person thinks is the best performance in the festival, someone else finds amateur and clumsy. What to one person is genuine and multi-dimensional is to someone else an empty academic exercise. This is one of my favorite things about PICA, the passion for debate that it inspires. Last year, everyone was talking about Faustin Linyekula— half the audience loved the performance with all their hearts and half the audience detested it with all their might. I had a great fight the night I saw it with my boyfriend—it split us right down the middle (we recovered, thankfully) but I still stand staunchly behind my position that while it was a passionate work with striking images, it was too damn loud and made only one real point, which was “ARGGGGGHHHHghghh!” This year is no different, and I strive to wade into the differences, even if it means getting into a brawl at the Works. I overheard someone telling a woman next to me the other night not to bother seeing Yubiwa Hotel, and instead to see Vivarium Studio, which was “much better.” I disagreed so intensely that I intervened to tell her that I had the exact opposite opinion—if you must choose, I exhorted, see Yubiwa Hotel, because while not as well-structured, it has a much more interesting and provocative flow of images than Vivarium. Which one of us is right? Who knows. More kind-hearted people insist that we both are, but I still say I am.
Which brings me (long-windedly) to Universes, which I thought was the most smart, soulful, howling, wailing, stomping, heart-breaking and heart-soaring piece I’ve seen yet at TBA (not counting Kiki & Herb, upon whom I have already drooled my love). When it comes down to it, I like experiments to be exuberant, messy, and participatory. I like to see people take chances, bait the crowd, and bite off more than they can chew. And in this case, they bit it off, chewed it up, spat it out and stomped all over it, in lockstep and four-part harmony. This does not impress everyone, but I think the talented crew of Universes is experimenting within a strong tradition (a tradition that goes back much farther than the early 90s) of weaving poetry, spoken word and political calls to action in and out of old spirituals, work songs, musical ballads and Sly and the Family Stone. And strangely enough, it reminded me of song-based theatre I’ve seen in Eastern Europe— a tradition born of entirely different circumstances but also using voice, rhythm and body to generate music and rhythm and words that shock, delight, seduce and haunt the crowd. This is the kind of work I love to see: call and response that fuses the personal with the political and calls us on our shit (and if you ask me, the near-uniform whiteness of Portland culture could use some calling out). Whatever category you put it into, I call it FUCKING AWESOME.
After the party there’s the afterparty…after that party there’s the hotel lobby!
Freelance writer, enthusiast
And Living in a Giant Clock
I first became acquainted with Laurie Anderson after someone played “Weird Science” for me a few years ago. I think of her, along with Yoko Ono, as one of the performance greats, artists with backgrounds as classically trained musicians who manifest their drawing, sculpture, singing and composition talents into resonant stage performances. These women have honed conceptual and performance techniques that have become part of our artistic vernacular, and I’m try not to take them for granted.
As I waited to pick up my ticket Saturday night a woman in her mid-forties turned to me and asked if I’d seen Anderson’s shows. “No,” I said. “I’m too young.” Which was mostly true. Thank you, PICA—for this has been the first chance of my life to see her. Saturday’s show suddenly and perfectly illustrated everything I’ve heard.
Anderson’s “talking songs” began at a simple place, with an image and a line. She’s walking down an empty road and a car races by.
“Hello, excuse me, can you tell me where I am?” she asks.
Through the course of the show Anderson gave us place markers to help answer this question, loosely focusing on her experiences as NASA’s first artist-in-residence. She took us from her studio in New York to a small country town where a man who doesn’t work for the phone company fixes phone wires. From a duet with an Italian owl to an armed Turkish symphony audience. There were musings on symmetry, beauty and art juxtaposed with science, technology and threats from the air. These spoken anecdotes were both dreamy poems and sharp observations, often humorous and never alienating. The more Anderson described our modern world, full of contradictions and dreadfully straining for something above us, the less I knew where I was.
There was a stage lit by dozens of candles that, for the life of me, I couldn’t tell if were placed randomly or arranged in some cosmic order. Here was a custom-made electric viola, a “personal wailing Greek chorus” that scored the interludes between stories. And there, opposite a comfortable red armchair, was a screen that glowed for a few minutes with an image of Anderson, upside-down, as seen from the tip of her electrical bow as she played a melancholy reprise.
I’ve read a lot of gushing on the blog about this performance, and I join in completely. But in the service of art writing, I hoped to say why. May it suffice to say that Anderson commands all the skills a performing poet needs: musicality, timing, presence and deep insight.
I’ve been a bad, bad blogger. Over the course of the last five days, I’ve accumulated 1.25 moleskin books worth of notes, and I haven’t sat down to write it them out for you. The thing is, I’ve been living and breathing TBA around the clock, and I haven’t wanted to steal away to write. I feel like I’m constantly running in and out of workshops and theatres. I’ve frequently been late to shows because the one before ran over. I’ve locked my bike to the same pole three times over the course of the day, and traversed town just as many.
But now it’s time to get down to business, time to share with you, dear blog, everything that’s been happening. It’s 2am, and I’ve found myself finally making some dinner/lunch, sautéing tofu and humming R Kelly songs (you’ll understand). Earlier tonight I saw Kiki and Herb, and I’ve just left The Works for Neal and Kenny Mellman (Herb) in Neal + Kenny= Robert Kelly.
Now, there are times when I’m saddened that I don’t live in New York, but TBA is not one of them. Last week, while flipping through the September copy of Paper magazine, I came upon an article on Kiki and Herb. For once, I was able to not just to look at a website, but to refer to my PICA schedule. Ah, I could see them this week, check. And I don’t even have to leave my favorite town.
So there I am, at Kiki and Herb on 9.11.06, surrounded by familiar PICA faces, at a show sponsored by the City of Portland. It feels so right. Then Kiki—Justin Bond as an aging cliché sporting painted on age lines, a cigarette voice, and a crumpled blonde bouffant— breaks into Gnarls Barkley “Crazy.” “I think you’re craaaaaayzeeee, just like Kiki,” she wails to the accompaniment of Herb (Kenny Mellman) hammering out dramatic piano chords. Both are amazingly energetic for actors who I know just got off the plane from NY after closing out their hit Broadway run. And here they are, in our own quiet town.
Kiki and Herb performed the hell out of their show. They’re an outcast duo that witnessed the birth of Christ and inadvertently obtained immortality. They haven’t been able to die since, and have spent the years bumbling around together. Well, they were apparently also dropped off at mental institutions as babies, but who needs a matching story? Not Kiki and Herb, and not me.
“Herb,” Kiki asks, “what year is it?”
“2006” Herb responds, quietly.
“Is that right?” Kiki asks the crowd. “Well, for arguments sake, let’s say it’s 2006.”
They mixed standard ba-dum-bump jokes with totally derogatory interludes about every major group. Kiki warmed up the crowd with accessible material before taking the first of their socio and political turns.
“We had a contract with Carnival Cruises,” Kiki explains, “who you may know were fined for throwing trash overboard. If they’d just asked us, we would’ve been happy to leave. We washed up in Florida and have been on the comeback trail ever since.” Ba-da-bump. Then Kiki and Herb get down to business. The show is gorgeously written, and balancing act between relevant and irreverent holds out for the entire two hours.
“When Herb and I use the word retard it’s like when black people use the word nigger—we own that word. Herb is a homo and Jew. When we were growing up it wasn’t trendy to be a gay Jew tard like it is today.”
I was most taken by Herb, who dumbly smiles and hums with Kiki while deftly playing piano. He’s hilarious. “Je suis un verb parle—I VERB!” cries Kiki. Totally like Kiki to describe her own show.
Kiki is the queen of contrasts, whipping out two hours of hyper-informed, biting naïveté.
Herb, meanwhile, is happily playing piano, wide-eyed and open mouthed giving Kiki “yups” and “uh huhs” and the occasional high eyebrow smile, laughing at her jokes, all the while churning out gorgeous piano notes.
In this show, everything takes a beating, including the characters themselves. “When I got cancer, I took a case of vodka and an electric blanket and said, I’m just going to sweat this one out.” Describing gay couples that adopt, “If you see two gay guys with a white baby they must be doing pretty good for themselves, because those things are a status symbol.” Just when things get heavy, “Jazz hands!” Kiki cries, shaking out the worst jazz hands possible.
“Ladies and gentlemen” Kiki crows, sloshing scotch everywhere, “let face it, at one point we’ve all been Kiki.”
Gay rights, getting rid of our president, global warming. In the end, Kiki and Herb remind us it’s all about being good to each other: “I don’t care what you say behind my back, just be nice to my face. You can go home and be the biggest bitch, but when you leave the house, I’ll see your fake and I’ll raise your fake.”
Tell it, Kiki!
Freelance writer, enthusiast
If I had gained nothing else from this show besides the passage from Phaedrus about the metaphorical growing of love-wings irritating like the cutting of teeth, I would still be thrilled. That, however, was just the beginning.
A friend of mine tells me I do a great impression of a three-year-old in awe. I work in a preschool, and I like to make fun of that particular mouth open eyes shining look kids get when I am, for instance, telling them about how my kitten fell into the toilet. The thing is that those kids are prepared to hear anything. The story contains absolute possibility. Anything could happen next. They might well hear something at any moment that will shake their worldview forever.
We all know that look. I suppose it’s called wonder, and is a somewhat tired topic. I hear a lot of lamenting about its end. But during The Itching of Wings, I found myself doing my wonder-impression totally inadvertently. I watched with my mouth open. I was ready for anything at all and was prepared for my worldview to be rocked forever. I don’t feel this way very often, and I absolutely love it. That’s what I want art to do for me—and this show did it.
Part of my thrall, no doubt, had to do with the soft and slightly breathy French accents; that certainly helped. But I was also entranced by the discussion of wings, the overlay of texts on the stage, the movement of bodies. It was smart. And it was lovely. I felt I might learn something. And I feel I did learn something. And I think it might even have something to do with wonder.
I was particularly taken when the question was raised of whether or not to end the show with flight. The following discussion of postmodern pastiche did not go far toward deciding, but we are left with the soaring man-image and the awkward earthbound man-body, all very Icarus, but also funny and beautiful. And then, the final word is had by the absurd, the abominable snow man of a would be bird-man. Here is what we are.
I want to equate wonder with that itching. The show seemed to me to be about transcendence, about redemption, about wonder. I think I would phrase it this way: we fail to transcend. But our desire for transcendence is ultimately redemptive. We retain wonder in the face of explanation, we retain desire in the face of failure, and we retain, whatisit—a belief in our own beauty in the face of our absurdity. We retain humor and ridiculous hope. Our bumbling desire for flight is our transcendence.
Upon walking into this room, as I was still turning from screen to screen in that dizzying moment of dislocation, I was immediately struck by the sturdiness of these women’s bodies. That sturdiness seems to me to be the essential kernel of this installation. The body is strong. The women lifting their skirts in the rain are not quite joyous, though part of the effect is joy. They are a little savage, but most of all, they are strong.
The topless woman, hair over her face, smacking her sternum with a human skull is an image that insists on being disturbing, yet here too, though the slightly slack and pallid flesh on the woman’s arms swings with each thrust, the muscles beneath are fluid and solid. Her breasts are lopsided but full. The skin of her stomach is only slightly pinked by the continuous smack of the skull. Her hair covers her face, yet it is healthy hair, and her rhythmic exhale is reassuring. She seems to have retreated behind this curtain that is a part of herself to come to terms. Death is present but not dangerous, is sturdy, perhaps, as the women are sturdy. The images are dark, a little bleak, a little wild, and yet I remain left with the sense that this installation is about the incredible strength of the physical body.
It is deeply visceral, especially in terms of these two images. It is easy to feel the rain, the smack of the skull. It is easy for one’s own muscles to identify with those on the screens. The body is a gigantic space, but one in which there is no getting lost. The installation seems to me to be about coming to terms with (and rejoicing over?) the huge pragmatic living the bodies of these women are doing, and which our own bodies recognize.
posted by: Taya Noland
When I come across a barren snow-covered landscape, I want to walk away. Something in me says there is nothing in this aesthetic or content for you, so escape now. I nonetheless sat down on the little bench and stayed for Theo Angell’s video work of ghosty trees and bodies against the snow. Then my critical mind kicked in, as it does, and said, you’ll never be able to write anything about this. I tried to sit still. As I sat, I thought of Wallace Steven’s poem “The Snow Man”: “One must have a mind of winter / To regard the frost and the boughs / Of the pine-trees crusted with snow; / And have been cold a long time / To behold the junipers shagged with ice, / . . . and not to think / Of any misery in the sound of the wind, / . . . For the listener, who listens in the snow, / And, nothing himself, beholds/ Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”
My interpretation of this poem is that it’s about something like Keat’s concept of negative capability—to experience the world (or art) one must give up one’s own personality, and become empty and permeable.
I attempted to become permeable, and got a little further, I think.
As I watched the little black people-shapes scuttle across the screen, I thought “There are no such things as humans, only human shaped holes in the universe.” I picked this useful line up from Arundhati Roy, who applies it to black cats. When she uses it, I think it means that black cats are something like a window into the whatever beyond. In this piece, however, humans seemed like small pockets of void, little sucking spaces in the smooth bleak world. As they moved across the landscape, their actions seemed more and more excessive, wasted energy. And then, rather than black shapes, the bodies became space through which yet more snow-laden trees showed through. Holes in the universe, beyond which there is only the same.
Yet the trees, too, are black figures slashing open the white expanse. Their presence is as jarring as the humans. At times the drama seemed to be of the relationship of men and trees, at other times of the existence of any stubborn life against all that white.
And then, then, the humans suddenly develop, whatisit, volition, and zap the trees into glowing prettiness. It is a relief, a great relief. But why? Why, suddenly, are we in a retro videogame-scape? Why do the humans win this little drama? The color seems unearned. Perhaps that is the point. Perhaps I look too hard and should attempt to remain permeable.
posted by: Taya Noland
Neal Medlyn is totally nice—which is not exactly what I expected. My first impression from his 9.10 show describes him as “Steve Carell in the 40 Year Old Virgin meets Marilyn Manson. ” I first saw him at the Works on 9.10, then yapped with him outside for awhile. I forgot that at TBA, not only can you go to all these amazing events, but you can chat up the artists afterwards. I saw him again on 9.11 before Kiki and Herb, and we chatted more. He has a really pleasant, sweet and humble demeanor that makes me want to be his buddy.
The late night show was a mix of rabid smiling, dancing like a fool, and sappy reminiscing. He alternated between melancholy yearning for estranged daughters—“they’ve gotten into “the Dr. Brommer’s version of religion, ‘all one all one all one all one all one…say it so many times and it’s really hard to take back”—and total spazzing. It’s a self-destructive show: the father character reveals to the audience that he’s taken poison which will kick in shortly, and each subsequent character is built up and then dramatically shredded to pieces as Neal wails around, strips off costumes and breaks out the distressed individuals beneath the facades.
There were some classic gags, like the 50s singer merrily belting out his white-washed tune then picking up a leather belt and choking himself during the bridge. In hilarious comic timing, he would drop the belt, spring back up, and continue singing and doing the running man. Neal transitions easily through characters, from the washed up 80s musician fond of orchestra hits (“so totally hot for awhile”) to the man singing Phantom of the Opera and shedding his clothes to scream “I ain’t got no privates!” complete with a skin-colored leotard with those same words Sharpied onto it. Neal is a master of the happy-go-lucky freak out, embodying stereotypical characters and lifting them like rocks to reveal the tempest of troubles beneath.
Freelance writer, enthusiast
TBA in a Nutshell: Kick-off Noontime Chat 9/8/06
At this first noontime chat, Mark Russell, Artistic Director of the TBA Festival, and Kristan Kennedy, PICA’s Visual Arts Program Director, led an informal but informing discussion about what will make TBA 06 so special. Rather than describe and give a plug for each event, (“It’s all in the book. Read the book.”) Mark and Kristan spoke at length about their curatorial styles, and how the process of putting TBA together effects the qualities of the Festival.
Mark told a story of arriving in Portland with a lengthy list of artists he wanted to bring to TBA. It was not long before he realized that top-down approach wouldn’t work in this environment and within TBA’s budget. So he scrapped his list and began a more organic process of curating the festival, driven by practical parameters. They invited artists who a) want to be here, b) are available and have work to present, c) have or do form a relationship with PICA, and most importantly d) artists who are pushing boundaries between disciplines, conventions, taking risks and posing questions.
As curators, Kristan and Mark have focused on relationships with individual artists rather than on finding artists that fit into a predetermined set of specific ideas. Kristan especially emphasized the origin of the word curate as “invested with the care of the soul.” Thus, the artists invited to be a part of TBA are ready to be here, want to be here, and being here will do something for their development as working artists. And, those artists who (like Panther) break a contract to seize an opportunity for a major tour are allowed to do so (despite 50,000 brochures in circulation). “Each change or cancellation is an opening for something more exciting,” Mark explained. An audience member described her scheduling strategy as, “Putting myself in the path of serendipity.” Mark described the curation process in the same way. It’s working so far.
When asked to identify overarching themes, both Kristan and Mark spoke to the role of the audience in uncovering what ties the Festival together. They of course have some ideas of how artists relate to each other, but each year they are excited to make these discoveries along with audience members. Kristan recalled sitting at the WORKS last year with Mark and Kristy Edmunds taking stock of the week as it came to a close. Kristy articulated for the first time the idea that TBA 05 was about the power and presentation of one’s own voice.
While being careful not to underestimate what they will have learned about the artists and work of TBA 06 come next Sunday, Mark and Kristan proposed that this year’s work will have a lot to do with history—how humanity redefines and reinvents the past, as well presenting the past as a mirror to document the world right now. Bringing this idea with me to each new event has definitely helped me navigate through the pieces I’ve seen so far.
Mark cited Stan’s Cafe as the “spine” of the festival. Simultaneously visual installation, performance piece, and audience participation event, Stan’s Cafe integrates many of the ideas about history, science, and the place of the individual that artists across TBA are working with.
I can feel that TBA is coming into its own, and audiences are getting past the learning curve of understanding how to interact with this style of festival. However, this year is not without its own unique challenges, risks, and experiements. This is the first year to include a specifically visual arts component. The programming at the WORKS is more robust than ever, warranting its very own pass and occupying a venue with more appropriate infrastructure and capacity. Expanding to the east side of the river reflects how Portland and Portland’s art community are changing, and fits in nicely to Mark’s “bridges” concept of TBA. However, there’s also the risk that audiences won’t make it over the river, ending the night at home rather than at the WORKS.
By incorporating four styles of venue–theater, club, gallery, public space–TBA aspires to promote audience cross-over. Kristan spoke of her own experience as a visual artists turning her nose up to the early performances PICA presented (“You know, those performances that everyone is still talking about as completely mind-blowing”). She finally started going to them when PICA gave her comp tickets. And, something clicked. Sitting in the audience, all she could think about was “painting, painting, painting!” She never would have guessed that these performance pieces would so completely inspire and inform her own visual work. A goal of TBA is to get gallery goers to wander into a performance piece, and serious theater-goers or dance fanatics to check out the club scene at the WORKS. And, for performance artists to not only learn from each other but also from the work of film makers, sculptors, and musicians—fellow artists finding unique angles for addressing the same problems, the same puzzling state of the world.
This chat took place last Friday (like, forever ago in blog-time). I decided to post about it anyway because I’ve found it so helpful to have these bits of behind-the-scenes information and sense of personalities as I interact with TBA, and try to piece together what it is that is actually going on.
posted by: Kirsten Collins
Universes at the Works
I could not disagree more with the anonymous blogger who called Universes “best in show”. I was going to post this as a comment, but I felt like it needed full play. And somebody has to say that the Emperor is naked. The work that Universes is doing is not the poetry analogue of the kind of dance and theater we are seeing in this festival.
We saw Universes do a dressed up version of slam-esque performance poetry dosed with blues and beatboxing. It’s fine for what it is. They are a team of talented performers who hit the early 90s perf-po wave and are ridin’ it. But this is still the same kind of poem, at turns didactic, diary-based, at base narrative. If work that was wearing thin at the end of the 90s is just now making its way into time-based art realm, we have a big huge gigantic problem.
I haven’t previewed Jerry Quickley’s piece, but you won’t find experimental poem-based performance there either (his work also is based in the Slam). And this is an ongoing issue. The work that this festival is delivering in dance, in theater, in film, is fascinating, experimental, and challenging. Why can’t we look further into poem-based performance to find those operating on that same outer edge?
There’s nothing outer-edge about this work, and that’s the bummer. The chant, the song, the beat, the poem, none of this is new, nor is it mixed here in a new way, just a dynamic way that will wow someone who’s never seen poems performed by anyone other than his 7th grade teacher droning, “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.”
Mark Russell said something at his public chat yesterday about the nature of performance, about the power of the live event to reverberate in your consciousness for years after. I don’t want to sound overwrought, but I was there last night for Kiki & Herb, and I think it may have changed my life. It was a mind binding, soul wrenching performance, so brilliant I don’t really want to cheapen it with words (though in the spirit of Kiki, I will now proceed to do exactly that.) I don’t know how to describe what Justin Bond is doing, and I don’t even want to talk about Justin Bond: he embodied Kiki so fully, so completely, that I believed in her, Christ-like, and by the end of the show was watching with rapt adoration as she sang “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” which I have probably heard sung drunkenly at karaoke about 400 times, and damn if that bitch didn’t make me CRY with that song. I wanted to get on my feet and wave a lighter in the air, I wanted to shout, “I love you, Kiki” and lay down at her feet. She embodied kitsch and then kicked the door open, stepped out on the other side and towered over it. There was nothing ironic about it, and yet it was the essence of irony. The best performers, the best artists, reach a level of craft so heightened that they transcend it. There is no distinguishable craft, and they become one with their purpose, with their expression. This is how I feel about Kiki and Herb. The performance was two hours. I could have stayed there all night. If they had kept coming back, I would have kept demanding encores. In one madcap sequence they broke into a bizarre dance-stumbled recitation of Public Enemy’s “Don’t Believe the Hype,” which succeeded in (1) reminding me not to believe the hype, (2) pitching me headfirst into the hype, and (3) making me absolutely want to hype, hype, hype them. They are incredible. They are gods. I am a tiny mortal before them.
- Faith Helma
secrets collected form the Works 9.11.06
I’m falling in love with Holcombe Waller.
I secretly want more cowbell.
I hit a car on my way here.
If he asked me to marry him, I would.
I left my husband for a boy 8 years younger than me and now I regret it.
I love midget porn.
I’m gay sometimes.
I had an affair with a married/separated man.
I am a superhero.
I am afraid of my bi-sexuality.
I am straight other times.
I spoke to a pass holder who feels cheated.
I am afraid of midgets.
I pick my nose while driving my truck.
I am straight, other times.
I had relations with [ largely unreadable, but looks as if it says: British marionette yak ]
Collected and compiled by P.A. Coleman
Caution: I am going to use the term “dildo-freak out” in this blog post. Do not be alarmed.
It’s telling that it takes two skinny white boys to equal one of R&B’s most storied, bizarre and sincere lyricist/performers. I’m not saying that they didn’t do a great job. In fact, the dislocation of R. Kelly’s lyrics and music onto the Works stage, probably did more to elucidate Mr. Kelly’s deviant and surreal lyrics than would listening to his best selling album R. on repeat while getting freaky in the Jacuzzi with some hotties.
Still, questions come to mind: Was it the sheer power and sexual force behind Mr. Kelly’s lyrics that made Neal Medlyn shed his clothes so often? Was it really necessary to stab that teddy bear? Did anybody accept Christ during the gospel portion of the show? Just why is it “like Murder She Wrote when I start takin’ off ya clothes?”
I applaud Mr. Medlyn and Mr. Mellman for their effort and I understand that sometimes the only way to demonstrate the joy, beauty and primal force of R. Kelly is through a juicy dildo-freak out. I mean, that kind of thing isn’t in my personal library of self-expression, but hey- To each his own.
I was troubled and challenged by one thing though- Earlier yesterday, at the Creative Cities forum, a question was raised about how to bring more diversity into Portland’s creative community. I wonder if having a skinny white guy singing “You’re still my niggah,” from a ladder to the delight of a largely Caucasian crowd is really the best way to go about it. I’m just sayin’. It might be my liberal white guilt talking and its probably just me, but… I was a tad uncomfortable. What the hell. Its just art, right? Right?
posted by P.A. Coleman
Best of the Fest? Best show of the year? Time will tell. But Universes had four microphones, and four humans, that was about all. The Works was near deserted (inside) when they took the stage, and they weren’t looking too thrilled to be facing a thinned out, eager to dance, uneager to get deep crowd.
Less than an hour later the place was packed, people were yelling, and the blood was rushing in my ears. No one was glad that they were ending their set.
Along the way they rolled through a mixture of spoken word, bad ass poetry, roaring recreations/medleys of traditional songs and sheer, intensive shrieks to high heavan over throbbing, thump room shaking rhythms (all created by human voice and stomps).
Their work was complex, tricky, genre bending and so, so tight. It’s the goal of T:BA to leave you scratching your head as you try to drop a performance into an easy box, and a goal to have you lost in a performance, letting it hit you directly in a vunerable place because you CAN’T put it in a box. Try to stuff Universes into a ‘hip hop theatre/performance poet box’ and company member Mildred Ruiz would just let one note thunder from deep inside her and blow that shit wide open.
Talking with Mildred and Steven Sapp after the show, they were saying that they’ve been stuck a bit with their show Slanguage which they created over 5 years ago. They’ve moved on to several new kinds of work, and yet they still mostly tour that older show, the one they are identified with. They also laughed about how a review for Slanguage said ‘imagine their power, with all this energy and brilliance, if they actually scripted their work. Steven laughed, and said that it was funny because all their work is scripted first, since they are poets and writers. But that somehow, pouring out in such a frenzy, audiences feel like they are making it up on the spot.
I like what Mildred said in front of the crowd too, she said ‘We’re about to get deep here, look you can go back to dancing in a few minutes, but let’s go there now’. Isn’t that the point of this festival…you know it always ends with dancing, lets get deep during the day. Which artists are ready and willing to take us deep.
Who else at this festival is talking about that our country is in a war as we party down? Who else in this festival is outraged about the people who brought us Katrina clean up?
Who else is freaked out for November, and what comes next? Well, Kiki was.
Contemporary art doesn’t have to be overtly political, but it’s supposed to be about here and now. And here and now is a little screwed up. And somebodies gotta let out a roar of outrage, and somebodies gotta let a little hope shine in during this festival.
And somebody did.
Shirtless skinny white guy, standing on a ladder screaming into a microphone, pants unzipped, glasses shining in the blue spotlight with piano bar music rolling and pounding.
“You were my homie, my stoney, my rollie, my nigga, and never placed no bitch befo’ me, my nigga.”
“I must be the first man to fall in love with an ass. I got down on my knee and asked that ass to marry me, I want to stick it wanna kiss it, and if I could I’d put my whole damn head in it.”
Vilely painful and worth it.
posted by publicwondering
I understand that Kiki & Herb have been around longer than Christ, so I suspect that Kiki was somewhat of a muse for Edna St. Vincent Millay when she penned her famous poem, “First Fig”
My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends-
It gives such glorious light.
Little did Edna know that Kiki’s candle would burn and burn and burn… And burn and burn… A “light in the blackout” indeed.
I’d like to say that as a child I stole my parents Dan Fogelberg records and listened to them over and over again. “Run for the Roses?” Are you kidding me with that ridiculous and lovely song, Mr. Fogelberg? No, I thought not. So, I’m not sure what it says about me that I know all the lyrics to Fogelberg’s “Same Auld Lang Syne,” but I do know that changing the song into a touching and poignant story of a mother reuniting with her mother was not only genuinely moving and funny- it demonstrated a moment of brilliance from Kiki and Herb.
Two hours is a huge amount of time to fill. Moments of drifting should not be unexpected. For me, it’s all about the finish. If you hit me hard in the last twenty minutes, I am all yours. A fault of mine I’m sure, but- Oh well. From now on every time I hear totally eclipse of the heart I will think of W.B. Yeats. What? That’s messed up. Messed up, but true.
posted by P.A. Coleman
posted by laurabecker
last night after i got home from the works, i watched charlie rose on pbs. this may sound completely irrelevant, but trust me, it’s leading somewhere.
all of charlie’s guests were new yorkers, all discussing the fifth anniversary of september 11th and what it means to them five years later. the first guest was sculptor richard serra who lives downtown and truly had a horrific experience that morning witnessing the event from his studio window and sidewalk. his horror, he noted, was combined with a certain inexplicable exhilaration, and the inability to look away at some of the most tragic (voluntary) deaths from that morning. in his excellent discussion with charlie he noted that his work since september 11th has taken on a sense of urgency; indeed he almost implied that he’s done his best work since that day. when charlie asked him how the country has changed since that day, his response was a major critique of the war, the administration, and their deception. preying on our vulnerability and grief, we were led into a war with no relevant reason and now no end in sight. in the meantime, everything else about our country, healthcare, education, foreign and domestic policy, katrina, etc, had all gotten worse. he couldn’t think of a single way america had gotten better since september 11th.
the next set of guests included several staff writers from the new yorker, including calvin trillin (who will be here for portland arts and lectures on oct. 10th), nora ephron and george packer. just like richard serra, none of them could discuss how they felt about september 11th without tying it to their anger over the iraq war. charlie pressed them all to give september 11th a memorializing distance, to focus on the bravery, heroism and patriotism from that day and that time, to remember how we all joined together and the world all joined us too.
“nope, not gonna do it, wish we could but we can’t”. they all said. it’s not that they didn’t feel that way about that day, it’s just that it had all been abused and exploited by the administration’s pride and hubris.
okay, now, what does this have to do with TBA, you’re wondering? well, for me, it was actually incredibly refreshing and cathartic to watch this episode. there was no moderation, no “yes but the terrorists are gonna get us and we gotta get them there so they don’t get us here” lie from the other side to diminish that truth we all feel. a revived urge and responsibility to share and express that anger without it being tempered.
watching those writers and artists finally made a giant connection for me about what was making this TBA feel the way it did. yes, the artists in previous years felt anger, showed protest, and added greatly to the post 9-11 artistic conversation, but this year, and i don’t know if it’s just a culture shift, an intention by pica programming, or an unavoidable condition, but the artists this year seem to show a greater responsibility to engage the audience in the protest, to remind us and make damn sure we know the state of things, the state of how things have always been, the fact that we have only so much control and need to make the best of every day, and the state of how things don’t have to be if people will just pay attention. itching of the wings (subtly), the american war (so not subtly) holcome waller’s lyrics last night, matthew day jackson’s narrative, vanessa renwick’s program including vietnam footage and a draft dodger’s violent protest film, even stan’s cafe, and i’m sure a lot more that i can’t remember, haven’t seen or haven’t seen yet.
is it just me? is it just that i’ve finally become engaged? perhaps. perhaps i’m just too young to really understand the weight of protest art. perhaps the peaceful bubble we’ve been in for the last 30 years left me blind to it, taking it for granted in a world whose problems didn’t really affect me. perhaps i…okay perhaps i should stop rambling and get to what’s next on my schedule.
Mark Russell’s Lecture at W+K
…or Mr. Russell? While the rest of you are out gallivanting around from performance to performance, some of us are gettin’ serious digging into the bones beneath the flesh, the who’s who of who’s making things happen here. Mark Russell’s lecture at W+K yestereve became a chat with PDX Everywhere Man, Matthew Stadler, sitting in to pose questions. Getting to know Russell (and having similar talks by Erin Boberg and Kristan Kennedy would be equally interesting) is enlightening and vital to understanding what kind of thinking goes in to programming this festival that’s come to be so important not just to audiences in Portland, but to artists, providing windows to new work, inspiration, and critical conversation.
Russell began with a little talk laying out some of his criteria or touchstones for work that excites him. He said he believes that, “transgression is a part of all good art.” “Taboos must be broken, new truths found.” Fortunately he restated same by talking about the need to “stretch rules of the art form until they break,” the artist then having to invent new rules, and often finding himself outside the art form in which he started. That’s work I want to see.
It’s good that he went further than just talking about transgression, because in this kind of conversation the word “transgression” is associated not with its dictionary definition, “the violation of a law or a duty or moral principle,” but specifically with what it’s come to mean in performance: shock, bloodletting, naked stuff, which is feeling a little played out and audience-manipulative at this point. And saying that “taboos must be broken” in good art makes makes for a terribly narrow slice of possible inquiry.
Russell looks at performance as a chance for audience to “participate in a little history,” to be able to say, “I was there when…” At the same time he’s currently attracted to “back to basics,” the “person in front of the watcher…in all of its naked awkward humanity.”
He also talked about the beginnings of P.S. 122 in the late 70s with “refugees” from touring productions of both Robert Wilson and Meredith Monk, with contact-improv dancers and the weekly Open Movement nights where there was no music, no talking, no watching.
It was a brief introduction, a little look back at Russell’s path thus far, a little window on where he is now, and some thoughts as to what TBA’s and Russell’s futures might look like.
four Russell fun facts:
MR has a degree in directing from the University of Texas, Austin.
After graduating, MR went to Poland to find Jerzy Grotowski.
Politically, MR describes himself as a feminist.
MR was at one point on track to become an Episcopalian minister.
They are a force. Everything you have read is nothing.
I can’t say much.
I can say, they destroyed.
Herb is fucking adorable and Kiki is … I don’t even know. Tiananmen Square Massacre on New Years in a dress.
I can give you verbal Polaroids: (which I will be quoting heavily in the near future)
“Poor Herb, he’s not only a retard, he’s also a homosexual, and a jew. A gay jew-tard.”
Upon pouring her first (but not last) drink: “It’s time to make mommy pretty.”
She applauded the Vatican for getting a Nazi Pope
“At one point in time we’ve all been Kiki.”
“You can talk all the shit you want at home, but when you see me face to face I want you to be nice. And I will see your fake AND raise it.”
“I’m proud to be a light in the blackout.”
“If it’s the end of the world, why is everything so goddamn expensive!? Shouldn’t there be a sale going on?”
Kiki + Herb can not die.
Home of the Brave: 1986
Rise of the computer age.
Laurie Anderson announces in a pitch shifted voice how much she hates two numbers: 0 and 1. The numbers appear huge behind her. Nobody wants to be a zero, and not everyone can be number one. The problem is, there isn’t much room in between. Slides flash binary code- The Gettysburg address in 1′s and 0′s. And so on.
The Itching of the Wings: 2005
The Internet Explosion.
Video projected onto a wall, artist Samuel Bianchini suggests doing away with linear storytelling, and suggests instead a reticulated structure- forming a network. Around the video projection, the stage is divided into rooms. In one space, a guy practices flight simulation. In another, someone sews himself a feathered suit. There is no one focus, and yet, everything is connected.
Do artists make culture by responding to culture? Or is it vice versa?
posted by amber bell
I am not a patient person, and though I don’t watch TV, I have a similar attention span, so take this review with a shaker of salt….
There was a point in the series of films where, after watching a piece of tablecloth for at least 5 minutes, the screen went black and then suddenly, more tablecloth. I’m thinking one of 3 things:
1) very funny.
2) the projectionist accidentally hit “back” on the DVD while making out
3) Sutapa was done filming the tablecloth when it suddenly did something really cool and she had to film it some more to try and catch it again.
Snarky-ness aside, I did like some of the films,
particularly “Untitled: (the trials and tribulations of Mike [what's-his-face])” wherein a naked fat man stands unmoving in front of a window for 15 minutes or so (and not just because it reminds me of my apartment).
His legs were normal, but his stomach was engorged, and his expression seemed full of longing and loss. (His flaccid penis spoke volumes, but then again whose doesn’t? p.s. this is where the film differed from my apartment.)
Sutapa’s films are often like still lifes, and they will force you to be patient and pay attention, not just to stop and smell the roses, but to stop. smell the roses…. don’t stop. now smell them completely differently. a 3rd time now.
To see more TBA photography by Serena Davidson click here: Serena Davidson Photography
In Fletcher’s body of work exploring the Vietnamese reaction to the Vietnam Conflict, which they call “the American war”, Harrrell rephotograph’s images of Vietnam soldier’s and citizens, and the horrors visited upon them by American forces. It is an old post-modern trick, but the effect of the images is nonetheless harrowing. I left the exhibit feeling shaken, but also a bit used. The heavy handedness of the imagery created the desired effect of instilling disgust with war in general, specifically the callousness of the powers that be, and there disregard for the effect of conflict on the non-military population.
Was it the promise of free coffee?
No… it was just Portlanders showing how proud we are of our artistic culture here in Portland, Oregon.
Today’s lunch chat was about Creative Cities, specifically our hometown of Portland, Oregon; and room 110 of PNCA was packed beyond capacity! [Honestly, I was hoping for more reference to other cities around the world, such as Brugge, Groningen, Barcelona,…] Commissioner Adams spoke about the creative paradox that we are currently experiencing here; namely that even though there has been a steady 5.5% annual growth in our economy for the last four years through the recession, mostly due to jobs in the design realm; we are ranking in the 24th/30th per capita in private arts support.
Why is this?
The few ‘high-end’ galleries that made it through the recession often speak about major patronage coming from Seattle and San Francisco, not Portland.
Are these creative just not spending their dollars here in Portland?
Are the dollars being spent going towards materialistic artifacts, instead of patroning the very art that we claim to love and support?
Whatever the specific reasoning, we have to start investing in our local artistic economy.
There is a rather notorious book by Richard Florida, which I might recommend reading “The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life”. This is not just something we have been tossing around here in Portland. It has become a competitive global issue, much like which country / city can produce the cheapest silicon wafters. Everyone want to be “the place”, and cities around the world are doing whatever then can to attract creatives. Mayor Katz had started the “DNA PDX: Design Genome” and Creative Economy Initiative [http://www.wweek.com/editorial/2945/4309], and Commissioner Adams looks to revive it with new vigor in the coming months.
Sam asked the packed room if applied arts designers [like those that design artificial knee joints, etc] are part of the creative class. An important question, as many ‘starving artists’ snub their noses at would-be patrons, calling them yuppie scum! I would propose that it does not matter what form of creativity one spawns, rather it is their intent to be creative and to help inspire creativity in the community around them that is important. Face it, you might hate my sculpture and I might vomit at your choice of pigment on canvas; but we are both helping to create an artistic culture. By bringing together your choice of color, and mine of form, we can create a daibatsu of artists [much like Everett Station Lofts http://www.artspaceusa.org/neighborhood/everettstation] that together create a critical mass that will bring patrons and eventually allow both of us to buy groceries and pay our rent. It is the “hey, I just made this… want it” mentality that is important. This might not mean that a patron drops hundreds of thousands on your lap to play as you will, but it might mean that the knee designer has the twenty bucks for an impromptu dance performance ticket, which will inturn allow you to buy another artist a cup of coffee…
Jan Kriekels and Arne Quinze of Belgium [http://www.uchronians.org] recently spoke about investing in artistic culture, explaining that the Medici system is coming back to life, and it needs to spread across the global economy at a variety of scales.
So, whether you are going to apply for the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative [http://www.rolexmentorprotege.com], a RACC artist grant [http://www.racc.org/grants], or one of hundreds of other funding opportunities, start at home, and start today!
Oh, and buy a T:BA t-shirt!
Architect | Sculptor | Advocate
This may not be any help to anyone. When I was practicing speed reading (a tedious struggle which I quickly abandoned to my more sluggish ways) there was a practice in which the reader was asked to widen his/her field of vision in order to take in and understand more of the text presented- a larger visual chunk, so to speak.
There was a moment in Vivarium’s performance when I softened my gaze and attempted to take in the entire stage without having my focus directed to one single event: the guy floating his shadow, the bird model dentist, the punk band, the wanderer, the disembodied head. The result was pleasurable, and far more engaging than choosing one distinct entry point into the piece.
Hooray for me, right? So what? What good is it now that Itching of the Wings is left to our collective memories? I don’t know… I think that I will try to see a bit more widely for the rest of the week. To open my eyes and take in the spectacle the way a kid drinks water after running around the neighborhood like a lunatic for hours on end- big gasping gulps.
It’s worth a shot.
Then I’ll go back outside and throw dirt clods at my friends or jump off my roof holding all for ends of the blanket… You know, just to see if it works this time.
Posted by P.A. Coleman
It’s not surprising that Deborah Hay’s Room feels as if it instilled with ritual. Especially when considering that dancers Tahni Holt and Linda Austin committed to a daily practice of the dance for a year.
Although, the performance is two adaptations of the same dance, they work well as a continuous piece, tied together with a red chord.
The red chord (or ribbon) is one of several checkpoints within the choreography- others being light changes, snippets of songs sung, a low bow. These moments offer a certain amount of continuity between the two distinct representations of each dancers flavor and approach to Deborah Hay’s battered choreography. The ribbon, the song, the choking on ones own words are also semi-lucid points where the audience is able to enter the sharpness of Room.
There is a sense when entering Room, or Rooms as the case may be, that what we are viewing is a kind of possession. The dancers’ bodies appear to be struggling with a force that seeks to burst out from inside of them. They seem overcome by language and a certain violence. The bizarre and awkward babble that bubbles from the dancers’ lips may have caused the audience to giggle, but I suspect it was from nervousness more than pleasure.
What immediately came to me, as my mind attempted to place the dance within a narrative structure, were images of voodoo practitioners becoming possessed by spirits and losing themselves to another persona. Here the spirit of possession is Deborah Hay’s choreography: It is jagged and teetering and broken and not content to be quiet. I wonder if the possessed is ever troubled by the possibility that the true self won’t come back?
Because it is not necessarily graceful and because it certainly challenges the known dance vocabulary, Room is difficult to unlock. However, the energy and depth of practice in this ritualized dance makes it an intriguing space to enter. At least for a while.
posted by P.A. Coleman
Laptop parked outside of The Works
Marc Acito reading the TBA guide description of the laptop project while we all try to figure out what we are inside of. Is the wallpaper the art? The Painting? The Space?
Evidently the space we are in is called THE UNIT and is the same mobile space I saw at last years Affair @ The Jupiter serving very ugly ice cream cones. According to the TBA:06 guide it is slated to facilitate a new roaming art project involving two German artists. The book says they will start in Portland and go around Oregon using THE UNIT “as a base for staging live performance and sculptural social interactions”.
Discussing “What is ‘micro-nostalgia’ anyway?”
When I first dragged Marc Acito and Floyd Sklaver over to get some photos of people in the art space we were a little confused. The piece seemed too oblique perhaps. But, then there we were stepping into a small confined space with four strangers and discussing micro-nostalgia.
During the experience I did come to appreciate the project. I’ve been to TBA Central where the stationary display of Laptop is decorating the large wall as you enter the Weiden and Kennedy building. I never stopped to discuss it with anyone and I barely interacted with the other people in the space. THE UNIT has a great architectural advantage – it’s so small you pretty much have to acknowledge the other people in it. Very conveniently you are inside of a roving conversation piece. Naturally the interaction of strangers inside becomes a dialogue trying to answer the question “So, what is this?” THE UNIT had provided us with a space and pre-set topic for a spontaneous mini-salon in a space small enough to almost force the conversation.
Thanks Katherine Bovee and Philippe Blanc!
P.S. Hey Marc – remember that time your dad was visiting and we all talked about micro-nostalgia in THE UNIT?
To see more TBA photography by Serena Davidson click here: Serena Davidson Photography
“You are the only one…”
“You are the only … one…”
Softly swaying and repeating these words, Tahni Holt captured the complete trust of the audience that can only occur with the establisment of true intimacy between the performer and her crowd. She and Linda Austin both lulled the audience on Saturday afternoon into that important state of intimacy and, by turns, disrupted it to important effect in choreographer Deborah Hay’s Room . So much of the piece seemed to hinge on concepts of closeness and privacy, which, when you get right down to it, matter greatly in dance, but are often overlooked in favor of spectacle and flash.
From the very beginning of Hay’s piece, however, the dancers moved and spoke in ways that heightened the intimacy of the event to the point where every audience member seemed to forget that they were in a sold-out, standing-room-only venue. Tahni Holt began by entering the space and kindly asking the audience to lift a ribbon lying at their feet up to their laps.
With this simple gesture, the performers implicated the audience members in the creation of a small and very personal space, where only one dancer at a time would remain for the duration of the show.
Inside this space, Holt and Austin each ran through a series of small movements that at times recalled watching a young child dance and sing along to music in the privacy of their room, while at other times felt like witnessing someone’s psychotic episode or seizure. While both moments were very intimate to witness, they were, contrastingly, quite endearing and rather discomforting.
To the credit of the dancers and the choreographers, Room balanced the intimacy of sharing a moment with another individual with the very different sort of intimacy that comes from having a minute solely to yourself in order to process your memories and experiences. One of these moments, for me, came as Austin covered her head, pulling her hat down.
It was a movement that was coy at first, but one that gradually invited the audience to reflect on the very striking image it created. For me, that called up the raw collective, cultural memories of recent abuse scandals of Abu Ghraib – the now iconic images of hooded prisoners.
Some of these personally intimate moments, though, required the absence of the visuals of the performance. As the lights faded at the end of each sequence each audience member was left in the dark silence with nothing to refer to but themselves as they awaited the return of the lights and the start of the next segment.
In my mind though, what best revealed how successful the dancers had been in entrancing the audience was whenever Holt or Austin made a move that disrupted that former intimacy. At one point in the performance, Holt slowly drew her arms out into space and clapped, startling the man in front of her (and this was a guy easily three times my size, who didn’t look like the easily surprised type). He had so fully bought into the intensely personal, intimate moment of the performance that her clap broke his trance as he seemed to suddenly realize the staging of his present circumstance. Again, at the end of the performance, a small remote-controlled truck raced into the space created by the ribbon on the laps of the front row. Although this ended the piece by abruptly rupturing the sanctity of that rope barrier, even after Holt and Austin had taken their bows and left, the audience seemed hesitant to let go of that intimate space they had created and to set down the ribbon.
Room performs again at 6 on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at Brunish Hall in the Portland Center for the Performing Arts at 1111 SW Broadway.
posted by patrick leonard
I remember everyone raving about Neal Medlyn last year. I thought he was amusing, but nothing to rave about, and this year I still don’t get it. Yes, he’s funny, yes, he’s ironic and charming, yes, I laughed. But I also laugh when I’m out for karaoke and my cousin prances around to a Britney Spears song with full-tilt girlish petulance while sticking his beer belly out. I think we can all agree that things like this are funny. Call me old-fashioned, I think there is a difference between being a funny dude and being a performance artist, and I expect a little more from someone as talented as Mr. Medlyn obviously is. He’s most interesting when interacting with the audience, when he stops dancing around and lip-syncing and plays with our expectations. Great art can be made using this tossed off aesthetic—I invoke Meow Meow from last year’s TBA, who kept the audience guessing as to whether her performance was going seriously wrong, or if it was all choreographed to appear that way— but if this is what Neal Medlyn is going for, he’s not pushing his act nearly far enough. Watching him sing Phantom of the Opera in a naked suit with “I AIN’T GOT NO PRIVATES,” scrawled on it is undeniably funny, but it’s too easy, a one-punch joke. Come on, man, is that all you got?
- Faith Helma
Serena Davidson Photography
To view more TBA images click here: Serena Davidson Photography
by Jonathan Walters
Earlier this year, I talked to a few people who saw Vivarium Studio’s ‘Itching in the Wings’ in New York at the Act French festival. The overwhelming feeling was that the company was doing something new, a fresh take on performance that didn’t have the actors ‘drooling, and straining’ to impress with their skills as performers, but had them relaxed, honest and blurring the line between acting and being.
I can’t prove it, but I think that this low impact approach isn’t so uncommon in Old Europe, and that Vivarium is actually spoofing some trends of self-important performance. When asked at T:BA chat if the show was ironic, Vivarium’s director Philippe Quesne said something like ‘Ironic, and genuine. At the same time’, but in French, and artistic talk backs always sound better in French.
Philippe comes from a design background, a rare idea, a contemporary designer transformed into a director. It’s an exciting proposal, and undoubtedly the sweetest aspects of the performance were the design. Sweet’s the right word, theirs was such delicate use of sound, with a beautifully lit (flourescent lights that you passed through on your way through the stage to your seat) recording studio behind thick glass and a strangly hyper white apartment, filled with video projectors.
At times actors would speak into the microphone, removed at a distance by the glass, and their voices would tickle the inside of your ear. One speech about a strange neighbor convinced he could catapult himself to the other dimension, was elegant and moving. Other times, a video projection of a wild-haired man working/being worked by a flight simulator would splash on the wall and the video was so cleanly fit into the wall space that it was impossible to tell where a square image was being sent.
Less successful were a number of ‘everyday’ interviews with quasi actors who talked on and on about the themes of the ‘itching’; the desire for life, for love, for an opening of the soul. These filmed people remind you of your friends at their most passionate, going on about a secret hobby or favorite band. That is usually mesmorizing (aided by beer most times) when its someone you love, but sadly, these talking heads aren’t your friends, and they are clearly in on the ‘joke’ of the performance. Sure, they prattled on in poetic /philosphic French, but it wore a little thin. As Philippe writes in the program, he is interested in the collision with these filmed pieces and the live actors. He might be, but are we? Clearly they were integrated so smoothly, but in most cases live actors win the contest, they are more interesting. Let’s see what they can do.
In T:BA 05 Ivana Muller brought a performance from the continent (she’s Croatian, does that count?) that had a similar ‘ironic’ use of filmed and live explorations of a theme. Similar to my feelings at Vivarium, I also found myself wanting the film projector to malfunction, and the casualness of the live performance to be shooken up a bit. After an hour of the cool, almost reality-TV-show (minus the editing) everydayness of ‘The Itching’ even a late arriving, hard jamming punk band seemed a bit too casual for my taste. There were beautiful things to here, funny things to see, great ideas to think about…but, any real risks out there on the stage that night?
HOTS ON FOR NOWHERE
Okay so I admit, it was my first time.
In case you haven’t yet gone all the way and seen FLESHTONE,this is what you are in store for:
flashing lights, full body gyration, glow in the dark neon bikinis and elaborate
pulsating choregraphy and wacky props.
Uber- sexualized Flash Gordon? Who knows, all I know is I felt like Susan Sarandon
in Rocky Horror Picture in Frank-N-Furter’s bedroom (simeltaneously delighted and
Artistic director Shirotama Hitsujiya writes in the program about CANDIES-girlish hardcore, “If I become 75 years old, though it sounds commonplace, first, I’m going to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and forget my husband. Second, I am going to forget all about my children and pretend to be a 17 year old girl.” This is an intriguing and unsettling premise, and while the show does not quite live up to the thrill of this paragraph, its evocation of girlhood and growing old is a strong series of images that do not fail to provoke. A woman runs in place, spilling champagne everywhere until she falls down dead. Bright red backpacks and animal masks, skirts pulled up and down to hide breasts and reveal beautiful tattooed backs. Two ‘animals’ pull up the dress of one of their comrades and poke her while she squirms, a woman pisses pancake batter into an onstage griddle and then, once it cooks, calmly eats it with her friend. In the last scene— my favorite— all five women slowly strip down to g-strings and heels while smoking cigarettes and perform a surreal Godard-like dance number, and as the lights go down they extinguish their cigarettes on their heels to showers of sparks. This dance must have gone on for ten minutes, and something about the repetition of the sequence while these women slowly get more and more naked has stuck with me. There were some rough spots— the piece could use some tightening and trimming, the dance sequence could use a bit more rehearsing, and the scenes with dialogue dragged the momentum down—but at the end of the day, it’s so goddamned good to see a troupe of strong women performing together, claiming as their own the mantras of being a woman and owning the stage.
- Faith Helma
Artistic Director Shirotama Hitsujiya
photo: Serena Davidson
Neal did not disappoint.
You didn’t see Scout Niblett Friday night.
No, you just had to be ten feet away from David Berman. Or you couldn’t resist the shuffling electrodance beacon of Copy’s Keytar, echoing in 8-bit Nintendo-Entertainment-System-audio from the depths of Holocene. Maybe you unexpectedly spent six hours trying to explain the Yubiwa Hotel performance to your friends. Whatever your excuse, you weren’t alone. The Works was lightly attended; a victim of a Portland night with too much raw cultural stock and too little audience capital.
Which is fine, except that you didn’t see Scout Niblett on Friday night.
Watching Scout Niblett perform is like seeing a butterfly emerge from a chrysalis spun by a larval Bjork, had she been diagnosed as bipolar, quit KUKL, moved to Olympia, Washington, and listened to a lot of early PJ Harvey on her Walkman, high on Percodan, while tagging freeway overpasses with Kurt Cobain. It’s violent and tender, cosmically life-affirming and, well, a little unnerving. She emerges gleaming and brilliant, but for the charming awkwardness of a post-metamorphic awakening.
Solo for two-thirds of the performance, Niblett alternates between her sunburst Fender and a small drum kit, the kick hand-lettered in chalk with a schoolgirl-cursive “Scout Niblett.” She bangs on the drums like it’s the first time she’s ever sat behind them, giggly and ecstatic at the haptic pleasure of hitting things. “We’re all going to die,” she sweetly warbles. Then she sings a song about Linus Van Pelt from Peanuts.
Somehow, this never becomes cloying. She plays hard and loose, angry and saccharine, aloof, yet is boldly emotive and honest in her singing. She tumbles from her stripped-down, sing-song melodies to quiet, hauntingly-bluesy dirges (somewhat reminiscent of Cat Power), ending with distortion-laden, power-chord progressions over shredding screams and Nathaniel Price’s drumming. It’s loud. It’s fast. The guy standing next to you looks a little scared.
With anyone else, this cuteness/creepiness duality could easily come out as pretentious, look-at-how-weird-I-am art-school one-upmanship. But there’s no spectacle with Niblett; she bares her talent simply and truthfully. The result evades your bullshit radar, plows through your fortified barrier of skepticism, and becomes truly, viscerally, and compassionately compelling.