As I left the school and walked out to the front lawn, which by now was dotted with a few cartons’ worth of cigarette butts and empties of Hamm’s and Rainier, a thought went through my white-noise addled head: “That is how you start a festival.”
The original plan was to arrive around a quarter til, hopefully well before the rush of people for the concert showed up, leaving me some time to work my way through the high school to my heart’s content. Unfortunately a minor Oregon Ducks football misadventure kept me by the TV a bit longer than I would have preferred.
The place was a mess of ironic mustachioed and mulleted humanity by the time I hit the school at 10:15. You had to fan out for more than two blocks to even find a good spot to park a bike, and God help you if you dared bring a car. It’s understandable, though, and a bit reassuring to know the city will take an opportunity such as free access to TBA and run with it. Or you know, wait in line and shamble up the high school’s immaculately decorated front steps.
Once I worked my way to the school’s main hall, a long, three-person-wide line grabbed my attention. Logic dictated there had to be something good over there. When I made my way to the front, I realized they were waiting to buy $4 stubby bottles of Sessions. Move along time.
The few pieces I saw during my brief run through the school immediately impressed. Johanna Ketola’s The Walls of My Hall had an eerie and darkly funny air, as these images of people standing in a circle with a parrot in a black room meshed surprisingly well with the radio playing Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” The image of tens of bodies all laying down in what could have been an invisible apartment building (or morgue) gained levity with the accompaniment of Rick Rizzs breaking down the Mariners’ 7-4 victory against the Athletics.
Stephen Slappe’s Halloween costume ode We Are Legion was surprisingly upstaged by a 2’ by 2’ by 2’ Being John Malkovich-style hole in the wall in an accompanying room. Of course, nothing was in the hole, but that didn’t stop six people from checking it out during the three minutes I was in the room. If it was intentional on Slappe’s part to use a simple hole in the wall to draw viewers’ attention from the image of a kid dressed as Buzz Lightyear next to one dressed as a suicide bomber, I applaud him. If it wasn’t, the applause is still there, just a little half-hearted. I look forward to the progression of this piece throughout the show as more costumes are submitted.
Ethan Rose’s literal wall of sound installation Movements deserved much more than the two minutes I gave it, and will receive it later. With more than a hundred music boxes going at once, all of them minutely coordinated, this entrancing room is a great place to lose an hour. The sterile white room adorned only with cracks of wire ending in dots of music boxes would have fit well as the lair of a new Batman villain. (He could be called the Music Man, perhaps, and he would have a penchant for hypnotic music boxes and 50s-era showtunes.)
Forever and Now Again, an audience participation piece from Jesse Hayward will demand a visit every time I come back to Washington High School. Consisting of about a hundred painted wooden boxes of various sizes, it’s left to the audience to do what they please with the materials presented to them. When I arrived, there was a large “W” in the middle of the room and a tower so tall people had to stack on top of each other to stack boxes on top of it. My friend managed to topple the “W” by removing one teeny box. Jeers of “Jenga” immediately followed.
Still, the big attraction of the night was a performance from Gang Gang Dance, a band I knew absolutely nothing about coming in. They were an acquired yet rewarding taste. When they started playing, the audience had two disparate reactions. One group was repulsed, gripping the arms of their chairs as Lizzie Bougatsos in her ruffled Ghostface Killah t-shirt let out another high-pitched feline yowl. The other group was pulled in by an afro-beat drum tractor beam. To begin there were very few dancers; in the balcony, there were a couple contingents of hippie dance practitioners (slow hip-swaying, arms in the air, severe lack of daisy chains, etc.) and on the floor, there was a young man who danced during the entire show, removing pieces of clothing as he went along, moving his arms as if he were rhythmically swatting at mosquitoes. Their ranks were quickly filled out as hyperventilating clusters of dancers sprouted everywhere. Sounding like a low-rent DIY version of Bjork, they moved back and forth from dissonance to harmony, working the crowd up into a frenzy in the process, the peaks of either side being a smooth bass line with a great dance beat to what felt like a panic attack in musical form, with downstairs dancing dude’s mosquito swatting moves changing into a ninja defense against an attack from a legion of invisible bats. I worried that he was going to spontaneously combust. To finish the show, everyone was let on stage in a dance party encircling the band, lit by the dull green of the screen behind us.
Walking through the halls to leave the school, the consensus from everyone around me was unanimous – bring on TBA 09.