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T:BA:08 Think beyond the stage

In its sixth year, PICA’s fall fest draws from all over
by: ©2008 Feran Mc Rope, The Superamas (right) and Jérôme Bel (below) interpret pop culture from France to share it on Portland’s stage for this year’s Time-Based Art Festival.

“It’s contemporary work that is addressing its time — sometimes indirectly, sometimes directly,” says Mark Russell, the New York-based guest artistic director of the Time-Based Art Festival. “These are artists that are thinking outside of the box, usually. And people can get into that. Portland is a perfect city for that, because it’s a city that thinks outside the box.” The performances, dances, music and visual arts that make up this year’s TBA will not be presented until September. But — cue drumroll — the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art has announced the players for the sixth year of the festival. “There is all this amazing work going on around the world, and I try to get the cream of the crop to come to Portland,” Russell says. “And sometimes the themes come out as we’re working on it. Like I didn’t expect to book a French series, but it’s come about that way because some of the most interesting work in choreography and performance art is going on in France at the moment. And it’s not work that’s necessarily that widely seen around the world yet.” Among the French entries is an often-performed work by choreo-grapher Jérôme Bel on Sept. 6. “Pichet Klunchen and Myself” depicts the awkward first meeting between Bel and a traditional Thai dancer. The French-Austrian troupe the Superamas will skewer pop and consumer culture at Portland State Univerity’s Lincoln Hall in the last shows at that venue before it closes for a remodel. This year’s festival, from Sept. 5 through Sept. 14, also will pre-sent works from the United Kingdon, Portugal, Thailand, the Netherlands and Belgium — more than 250 artists in all. Antony and the Johnsons open the festival in partnership with the Oregon Symphony with a performance Sept. 5 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The group, known for its gender tweaking, performed “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” in Todd Haynes’ biopic of sorts about Bob Dylan, “I’m Not There.” It is headed by Antony Hegarty, hailed as one of the New American Weird movement, who has performed with such luminaries as Lou Reed and Björk. Multidisciplinary performer Reggie Watts returns with a new theatrical piece called “Transitions.” Monologuist-actor Mike Daisey is reprising one of his most successful pieces, “Monopoly,” at Portland Center Stage as well as presenting a new piece called “If You See Something Say Something,” about the history of homeland security. The festival is considered an entry point into American culture, Russell says. “So many groups return (home) talking about their experiences at PICA. We’re known. We’re a desired destination, and a lot of these folks are making it possible — they’re getting subsidies from their govenments to be able to come to this.” Artists don’t always ‘get’ art Just as everyone does not “get” opera or ballet, performance art can confound as well. “Portland is one of the more hipper places in the nation at the moment,” Russell says. “I think (performance art) can be understood by a wide variety of people. And one thing I’ve discovered is Portlanders are really curious people, educated people. “They really ask great questions and want to know. And it’s a tonic for artists to come in and have a bunch of people really interested in what they’re doing. Really interested. Not for any career or academic reasons. But really interested in ‘Why are you saying that now?’ ” Kristan Kennedy, who organizes visual art for the festival, wants to get people interested. “I’m constantly saying, ‘You’re not going to like it, but it’s good for you,’ ” she says. “A lot of times people come in expecting to be skeptical, and then they come out touched.” As a culture we expect to be entertained, she says, but so much entertainment is empty, without any provocative content. One of TBA’s achievements, Kennedy says, is to break down the wall between visual and performance art. “Even amongst artists there’s skepticism about each other’s genre or craft and what it means,” she says. “I feel that what PICA does through the festival is it creates a community around the work who can ask really difficult questions. That skepticism and that distaste for things is exactly what drives people to come back and see it. They want to know what they don’t understand.” The Works, the after-party space that is part performance and visual art venue and part communal social hall, will be located in the new Left Bank Building, a red-brick building on a triangular lot across from Memorial Coliseum. Last year the Works was at the Wonder Ballroom on North Russell Street. Russell says it was not as successful as they had hoped. “It wasn’t as easy to get to as we wanted or as fluid a space as we were used to. One of the best things is you can get a hamburger, walk in, see a performance, think it’s boring, walk back out and drink with your friends. We’re looking to create another situation like that. “And also this year we’re going to be on both sides of the river, but a lot of the performances are going to be walkable and in the center of the city. And they’re going to be timed so you can do more than one in a night without a lot of sweat.” Bringing in out-of-towners This is the third and final year Russell will organize the festival, which in 2007 attracted more than 23,000 people to events, from those who thronged Pioneer Courthouse Square opening night to the 11,300 who took in one of the stage performances. At least 3,700 of those attendees were from outside the Portland metropolitan area. This year PICA will offer member prices for individual tickets and festival passes to out-of-towners staying in a hotel. But locals, too, are warming to the festival. Erin Boberg Doughton, the performing arts program director for the festival, says, “A lot of our pass holders will come to the festival and say, ‘Next year I’m going to ask for my vacation time during TBA’ — people in Portland — so they can attend the whole festival, go out to restaurants and really enjoy it. It’s beautiful weather, too, that time of year.” Visiting artists are put up in a variety of places. The Heathman and Mark Spencer hotels are festival sponsors and provide some rooms. Others stay in dorm rooms at Portland State University, and some do home-stays. “Sometimes it’s an artist’s preference,” Kennedy says. “A lot of the artists I work with have to come in residency to build their work. Some of them stay with me. Sometimes it’s economic. But most of the time, if you’re living in Portland and you’re staying in some random room, you’re not experiencing Portland. “You have to be in one of the neighborhoods. Even when people stay in hotels, what happens to them is they meet a lot of people, they’re usually hanging out with volunteers. By the end of the festival people are driving them out to see the falls.” All of the artists are paired with a volunteer host who picks them up from the airport, and basically says: “Here’s your hotel. Here’s my phone number if you want to figure out where to go to dinner or where things are, where the cleaners are.” The power of TBA, Russell says, is that it brings people together. “I think people are hungry for those moments that are only theirs. Theater and dance, and to some extent some of the visual arts, you can only experience with an audience. That’s yours. “I think people are driven for the community that those things bring together, these transient communities that may be only half an hour long. But still, you’re there, you experienced it. Even if you don’t know know the person, you can look them in the eye and go, ‘Wasn’t that something?’ ” Passes for the festival are available for purchase now. Individual ticket sales will begin online Aug. 4. The catalog probably will be released next month, with information about the lineup available first on the PICA Web site, www.pica.org.