Time Based Art for the people

The opportunity for the culturally attuned Portlander to see nationally renowned art without traveling past the confines of the Rose City or Oregon is rare.


But to say we live in some sort of cultural backwater where the tides only rarely wash the progressive and adventurous upon our beleaguered artistic shores is not true. 


Portland is lucky to be one of the most vital centers of creativity on the West Coast, drawing in young artists with the promise of a high standard of living at rock bottom prices. Current cinematic wunderkind Miranda July, director of “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” said in an interview with the New York Times that she was free to create in Portland because she never actually had to have a real job.


While Portlanders have enjoyed a wealth of local talent, for a long time it seemed that we had been overlooked by nationally and internationally known artists.  Then, three years ago, the Portland Institute for the Creative Arts, or PICA, debuted the Time Based Art festival. It drew artists from all over the world and used the city as a setting for some of the most beautiful and bizarre performance art being produced.


This year the TBA festival returns with performers from numerous artistic disciplines.  Representing dance, theater, visual art, music and film, it’s a fast-paced and delirious foray into the very boundaries of creativity.


This year, as in the previous two years, the artists hail from around the world. And in the case of The M.O.S.T., from worlds that will only exist for the length of the festival. Centered in Northwest Portland, the M.O.S.T., a troop of four individuals, will be performing duties commensurate with a government organization, including issuing tourist visas, electing officials, performing the Mostlandian Anthem at the beginning of each day and handing out ice cream. 


This is one of several free performances that the TBA festival offers.  Others include a dance performance and kick-off party in Pioneer Square on September 8, featuring the highly physical and death defying movement of STREB, a project by Elizabeth Streb and her Brooklyn, New York based dance company. There’s also a multi-media installation at OFFICE in northeast Portland by Seattle artist Laura Curry, which will grow and become more complex over the course of the festival.


Participating in what has become “the experience” of TBA takes a certain amount stamina and planning as the performances, lectures and workshops are sprinkled throughout various venues around the city and are often scheduled only 30 minutes apart, often meaning a mad dash across town to see the next event. 


The mad dash is worth it when you are dashing towards a performance by, say, Paul D. Miller, otherwise known as DJ Spooky. He’ll be performing his work Rebirth of a Nation, where he remixes the epic, racist silent film, Birth of a Nation while also mixing his own original score on stage.

Although likely to be thought-provoking by itself, performances like DJ Spooky become much more affective when you’ve spent the entire day watching avant-garde film, dance and theater. 


TBA is the kind of arts festival that leaves a person in a pleasant haze of inspiration and strangeness. PICA has even created a space for individuals to decompress after a long day.  Located in northwest Portland, the Works is an interim nightclub designed specifically for the festival.  Offering drinks, food, dancing and even more art, the Works is a place to debrief with fellow audience members and rub elbows with performers.  Here one can ask, “So, what was with the stuffed owl and the oxygen mask?”


So, forget those tickets to New York you were going to buy so you could see the Whitney Biennial. For 11 days in September, Portland is the only place you want to be to see great art. 


Considering the amount of performances it’s a good idea to plan ahead in order to see everything you’d like to see.  PICA’s web site at www.pica.org has an interactive schedule of events that include a generous synopsis for most works. 


The TBA festival runs from September 8 to September 18 at various Portland venues.