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An Art Festival that Unfolds in Real Time

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Simulcast video works cause interesting juxtapositions in Jibade-Khalil Huffman’s “Vanishing Point/A Drive-In at the End of the World” (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

PORTLAND, Ore. — “Time-based art” is a fairly broad category. Confined, as we are, to a linear time-space progression, all art is in some way time-sensitive. What a convenient categorization, if your goal is to include as many diverse artists as possible, as it is Portland’s annual Time-Based Art Festival (T:BA), put on by the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA) and celebrating its 13th year of festivities. But looking more closely at the T:BA:15 program, which contains a whirlwind of activities, performances, workshops, and installations across every imaginable media, one quickly discovers some consciously embedded themes despite the open-ended terminology, and these banners loosely serve to draw the work together, helping it to form a conversation that evolves in real time over the course of the 10-day festival.

These themes, as they pertain to the Visual Arts programming arm of T:BA:15 — organized by Visual Arts Curator Kristan Kennedy — coalesce within Pictures of the Moon With Teeth, a show featuring performance, video, and sculptural works by artists including Dawn Kaspar, Akio Suzuki, and Karl Larsson. The designation of time-based art has, according to Kennedy, “Nothing to do with form. It has to do with art that is of our time, work being made now. [Work that is] reaching into different communities and areas of interest for us.” She says the imperative of PICA organizers, including Executive Director Victoria Frey, Artistic Director Angela Mattox, and herself, is to eschew curatorial ego and allow connections to emerge organically.

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Karl Larsson “Commonplace” (2015)

The moon is an apt theme, manifesting directly and indirectly throughout the installation. Visually, Bill Jenkins’s light-siphoning installation reduced an entire room of the PICA auxiliary gallery space on Sandy Boulevard to a series of silent, half-dark, half-light shapes. Rhythmically, repetitive soundscapes emerged, both by chance or careful planning, in the site-specific composition/performances by Dawn Kaspar. In “Nami,” a large-scale revolving turntable of static-emitting radios installed by Aiko Suzuki allude to tides and the sea — “nami” (波) translates from Japanese as “waves” pertaining both to sound waves and those governed by lunar forces. And conceptually, the installation Commonplace,” by Karl Larsson (with Morgan Ritter, Pascal Prosek, and Container Corps) pushes at the very boundaries of medium — a book, pieced together from fragments like a sculpture, the idea of sculpture as a (literal) form of language — nodding to a slippery nature, as interstitial and ever-changing as the moon itself.

I spoke with Larsson at opening night shindig, at “The Works at The Redd”— part of the live performance arm of T:BA:15, featuring a different act nearly every night — where there was a free performance by perennial Portland favorite, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (an experience certainly capable of transporting this child of the ‘90s Bay Area indie scene across space and time). Larsson spoke movingly of his desire to create work that is weak and vulnerable, rather than seamlessly finished. In his mind, the “avant garde” can only be explored through open process, works that frankly acknowledge conceptual gaps, aspects still taking shape — true enough, when you consider that anything conceived in definite terms becomes static, closed to possibility.

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One of Bill Jenkin’s experiments with light and architecture

The challenge to time-based art, however you choose to characterize it, is that it calls upon the most precious commodity in our modern era: time itself. While a painting can be perceived in seconds — if not completely, at least superficially — time-based art, such as films, dance, and performances, require greater investment and engagement on the part of the viewer — to say nothing of those pieces that unfold over the course of the festival, or actually remain unfinished until the audience participates in them. T:BA:15 has ongoing programming at all hours and multiple venues; it is perhaps appropriate that my overwhelming feeling was one of frustration at not having quite enough time to take it all in.

Luckily enough, the viewer experience is only one aspect of the festival design, which has spared no expense in a highly limited budget to afford its participating artists every chance to make connections that extend beyond T:BA:15. PICA works to keep artists in town as long as possible, and all contributors are given a festival pass to encourage them to engage with each other’s work. After the T:BA:15 closing, a set of artists and curators immediately pull up stakes and head out for Creative Exchange Lab — a weeklong cabin-in-the-woods residency program, and extension of the festival in its pilot year.

While the work, experiences, connections, and memories from the festival will ideally continue to extend through time, the most gratifying aspect is perhaps the sheer number of opportunities to stop what you’re doing and really focus on whatever fascinating event is taking place in that very moment.

From the opening night festivities at The Works.
Opening night festivities at The Works

Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival (T:BA) (PICA, 415 SW 10th Avenue, 3rd Floor, Portland, Oregon) continues through September 20. 

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