PICA’s Time-Based Art Festival may be turning 10 this year, and it may be returning to Washington High School for the third (and final) year, but don’t even think of saying it’s getting stuck in its ways. It’s more accurate to think of it as just entering its rambunctious teens, because there’re no shortage of things getting shaken up.
First off, while there’re a couple of returning stars (hello, Laurie Anderson and Miguel Gutierrez), new artistic director Angela Mattox has booked an almost entirely fresh-to-Portland lineup, particularly notable for its focus on international artists from outside the US and Europe and on artists plumbing socioeconomic and political issues (read more about Mattox’s vision and choices for the fest here). Second, while the late night performance and socializing center known as the Works will dock for one last year at the high school, I got a tour last night and can say it’s had a fancy new facelift. The food and beer garden, along with a new all ages area, has been moved from the nondescript space behind the high school to the school’s front entrance—and is now free (!), instead of requiring a Works pass. The already gorgeous setting provided by the lush ceiling of trees has been further gussied up with a grand, modern, lit up entrance designed by Ellen Fortin Design + Architecture, with tables and light boxes built by ADX and large sails stretched overhead by Guildworks (immediately recognizable to Pickathon fans). Finally, instead of the food carts of the last two years, PICA is going back to inviting some of Portland’s leading chefs from restaurants like Boke Bowl, Grüner, and The Woodsman Tavern to take turns cooking up late night grub.
But what you really want to know is what to see, right? Here are our top picks for this week. And stay tuned to Culturephile for reviews, adventures, and more recommendations as the festival progresses, and make sure to follow us on Twitter @PoMoArt.
Big Art Group, The People—Portland
Thursday–Saturday, Sept. 6–8 at 8:30pm
Last night, I’d like to say I snuck into Washington High School to watch a rehearsal for The People—Portland, but it’s hard to imagine sneaking into something so epic in scale. Five different channels of video were projected onto the outside wall of the school, creating the performance art equivalent of a drive-in movie. The premise sounds a little dry (a loose retelling of the Greek tragedy The Oresteia), but the result is anything but. The New York performance collective, internationally renowned for its unmatched inventiveness with ultimately rather low-fi video technology, recreates the tragedy by filming live actors performing inside the school (you can see them through the windows), who’re then projected in real time onto the walls, intermixed with interview footage from a diverse body of local Portlanders discussing issues of justice, democracy, community, and war. “The genesis of the piece was taking what we had developed over time with this real time film technique,” explains co-founder Jemma Nelson in the below video, “and thinking about how we could take that…and put it in the public square.” They were still working the kinks out last night, but the results look to be awesome melding of the messy and the polished, the personal and the political, and the comedic and the tragic. And festival secret: if you get there really early (like now), you might be able to park in the back lot and turn it into a true arty drive-in experience. $15–20. Washington High School, 531 SE 14th Ave
Miguel Gutierrez, Heavens What Have I Done
Friday–Sunday, Sept. 7–9 at 6:30pm
Gutierrez took our breath away at his TBA debut in 2009 (read Culturephile’s review), and as one of the few TBA alumni returning this year, he’s top of our list of shows to see. A dancer, choreographer, and performance artist, he’s well known for shredding the formal structures of the theater and inviting the audience—sometimes explicitly, sometimes manically—into his art to explore pretty basic questions, like who are we and why are we here. Heavens What Have I Done is no exception. Beginning with Gutierrez in street clothes, a backpack, and clown make up, he rearranges the audience and proceeds to set up the show and get into costume, chatting nonstop, sharing hilarious stories about his life and tossing aside pithy descriptions of the philosophy books he unloads (Plato’s Symposium: “a bunch of motherf**kers sitting around talking about their boyfriends.") Eventually he ends up in what can only be described as Marie Antoinette opera clown drag, singing along to Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of "Sposa son disprezzatta." Outlandish? Absolutely. But the brilliance and the charm lie in the journey in between. $15–20. Washington High School, 531 SE 14th Ave
Ant Hampton & Tim Etchells: The Quiet Volume
Sept. 6–16; performances begin every 20 minutes from 11:20am–3:40pm (except on Sept. 11–12 when they go until 6:40)
When I was 22, I spent several sessions with an incredibly smart and talented hypnotherapist. He claimed that research showed the human brain can only register seven pieces of information at a time, meaning while you’re reading this, you might also be aware of the fact that you’re a little hot, your back hurts from your chair, there’s construction going on across the street, and you’re wondering where I’m going with this, along with maybe two other things. But you’re probably not aware of the sound the air conditioning unit is making, the hum of the overhead lights, the footsteps in the hall, or any other of the hundreds of things going on around you. Using headphones, music, and his voice, he could then expertly manipulate what I was conscious of, revealing both the structure of my thought process and probing beneath it. Why do I share this? Because The Quiet Volume, by the British pair Hampton and Etchells, does the exact same thing. Seated with a stranger at a table in the library, you don headphones and proceed to follow the instructions of a softly whispering voice, who first reveals this process of perception, and then exquisitely manipulates it. I don’t want to give away much more, but suffice it to say that this is one of the most sensory absorbing and even overwhelming experiences I’ve ever had. It’s not always comfortable (in fact, it’s downright troubling at times), but when I took the headphones off, I felt like I was viewing the world with completely new eyes. $8–10. Multnomah County Central Library, 801 SW 10th Ave
Keith Hennessy/Circo Zero, Turbulence (a dance about the economy)
Tuesday–Friday, Sept. 11–14 at 8:30pm
Like Gutierrez, Hennessy breaks down all the walls of the theater and literally pulls the audience into his performance. While in town workshopping Turbulence in June, his performance of the Bessie-winning solo show Crotch was so intimataly spellbinding that the audience lingered for at least a half hour afterward. Turbulence promises to combine that intimacy and audience participation with a collectively choreographed art catastrophe. We can't wait. See our profile of Hennessy’s collaboration with PICA artistic director Mattox in our Fall Arts Preview. Hennessy will also lead a workshop at Conduit on Sunday, Sept. 9 at 10am. $20–25. Imago Theater, 17 SE 8th Ave
Sam Green & Yo La Tengo, The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller
Wednesday, Sept 12 at 6:30pm & 8:30pm
What do you get when you cross an Oscar-nominated filmmaker, a critically acclaimed indie band, and one of the most innovative thinkers of the 20th century? A mind-bending “live documentary” titled The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller. Drawing on footage of Fuller, Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Sam Green (The Weather Underground) will narrate the film live while the mercurial but prolific band Yo La Tengo provides the soundtrack (a job they’ve done for the films Junebug, Shortbus, and locally made Old Joy). It’ll be like a TEDtalk with a beat that, knowing Fuller’s vast imagination, will completely blow your view of the world. $20–25. Washington High School, 531 SE 14th Ave
The WorksDJ Venus X
Thursday, Sept. 6 at 10:30pm
TBA’s free opening night parties tend to be madhouse soirees where every local performer and aspiring art kid dresses to the nines and queues up in a line stretching out the door and across the park. Random conversations with cute, attractive strangers in line is just the start though. Tonight’s DJ Venus X mixes the beats and sounds of her native New York into music that fuels the legendary GHE2OGOTH1K party, which is called NYC’s best by the likes of New York Magazine, Village Voice, and Fader, to name a few minor magazines. Make sure to pack a tank top for when it gets hot on the dance floor, and don’t forget Pabst to share in line. Free. Washington High School, 531 SE 14th Ave
Friday, Sept. 7 at 10:30pm
If you see one show at the Works, this is curator Erin Boberg’s pick (and mine as well)—assuming you’re not offended by Seran-wrapped nudity, outrageous raunch, and songs with titles like “Fix My Dick” and “Tears from My P***y.” Created by Austin performer Paul Soileau, Christeene is the dirtiest thing to come out of the South since, well, dirty rice. Looking like something dragged out of an alley after a month-long bender, she raps and sings her way through original RnB and ballads about sex, love, sex, false celebrity, and sex, backed up by two choreographed dancers (T-Gravel & C-Baby) who wear costumes like panda Mexican wrestling masks with singlets, and jockstraps with deer antlers. Of course, the performance is soaked through with biting critiques of gender, social complacency, corporate rule, and shock capitalism, but you might not notice, since you’ll be having too much fun wallowing in her trash and swimming with her in the sewer. $5–7. Washington High School, 531 SE 14th Ave
This video might not be safe for your work (the rest of her videos are even nastier and more hilarious):
BRAINSTORM/Sahel Sounds, Global and Mobile Pop
Monday, Sept. 10 at 10:30pm
There’re a couple of exciting local acts at the works this year (Saturday nights annual 10 Tiny Dances and Wednesday’s Parenthetical Girls Greatest Bandmates Roundup that is also functioning as a record release show), but the one we’re most intrigued by, particularly given this year’s emphasis on global performers, is a musical night brought to us by local art-pop band BRAINSTORM, amateur enthnomusicologist Christopher Kirkley, and a number of Africa musicians who will perform live for the audience here via Skype and cellphone feeds. If it works, it will be a visionary act of using modern technology to reduce artistic distances to little more than a simple software interface divide. If it doesn’t work, well, you'll still get to hear a bunch of new material from BRAINSTORM, who has a new album coming out in October. You can preview a song at NPR beginning today. $5–7. Washington High School, 531 SE 14th Ave
For more about Portland arts, visit PoMo's Arts & Entertainment Calendar, stream content with an RSS feed, sign up for our weekly On The Town Newsletter, or follow us on Twitter @PoMoArt. Blog content reflects the views of the individual author and not necessarily SagaCity Media, Inc.