Portland’s 17th annual Time-Based Art Festival wrapped on Sunday, and much like The Tree of Life and the new 18-track Taylor Swift album, it radically fucked with my temporal expectations.
Spread across 11 days and multiple venues, TBA (presented by the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art) is a sort of carnival-slash-marathon with a staggering range of material: nude techno-punk freakouts, contemplative organ solos, a runway ball with the same emcee Anna Wintour snagged for the Met Gala. We sifted through the detritus to bring you this: a time-based (partial) recap of TBA, Portland’s weirdest art party.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 8
Kara-Lis Coverdale Performs DIAPASON for Pipe Organ
First Presbyterian Church
Pitch: The Canadian composer performs a new 90-minute piece written for the First Presbyterian Church's Jaeckel organ.
6:15 p.m. — Wondering if there have ever been this many Madewell totes in this space.
6:18 p.m. — Have to pee but am too afraid to ask where the bathroom is. Pretty sure a woman (half of a cowboy hat couple) said “excuse you” as she scooted past me. Older lady in all-black is laying down across the full length of a pew in her Birkenstocks, and honestly? I get it.
6:22 p.m. — From behind: “Who’s Jimi Hendrix again?”
6:55 p.m. — A PICA volunteer’s phone goes off about 20 minutes into the set. We’re all human, I guess.
7:06 p.m. — Straight-up fell asleep for a minute? I mean this as a compliment. It's moody and captivating.
7:24 p.m. — Organ strikes a sustained Mariah whistle tone, and by some miracle, it does not aggravate my hangover.
7:25 p.m. — I’ve never thought about a video game on my own before, but I think this is probably what Zelda sounds like?
7:33 p.m. — Ashamed to admit it but a few minutes ago I was like, “This is basically just like listening to the back half of ‘Venice Bitch.’”
7:37 p.m. — Silence. Big “I’m about to clap” energy, but no one’s brave enough to clap.
7:38 p.m. — Okay cool she started playing again we were right.
Miguel Guitierrez presents This Bridge Called My Ass
PICA Main Space
Pitch: Six Latinx performers traverse a landscape of fabrics and wires in a piece inspired by the feminist essay anthology This Bridge Called My Back.
8:10 p.m. — Just ditched an endless Taco Bell line for a Schmizza slice and, in the process, maybe convinced a Grubhub driver with great hair to come to TBA.
8:28 p.m. — Sitting on low-rise bleachers in the middle of PICA’s warehouse/garage space. A “NO PHOTOGRAPHY” sign reminds me how much nudity I am about to see.
8:33 p.m. — I thought that I was in the performance area, but actually, the performance area is a tiny blackbox at the edge of the room? This makes me nervous.
8:45 p.m. — Okay so EVERYONE is naked. Except for this one guy in a Lion King On Broadway shirt.
8:50 p.m. — Electrical cords are going a lot of interesting places. Pretty sure we're hearing "On the Floor" by Jennifer Lopez filtered through a distortion pedal. Is this Hustlers promo?
8:52 p.m. — Someone's suckin' on a laptop.
9:00 p.m. — As an audience, we have decided to laugh, and we all feel several tons lighter.
9:16 p.m. — One of the performers just put their whole head through the leg of another performer's shorts, and it's... impressive!
9:17 p.m. — Peggy Lee's "Fever" is playing in Spanish and pretty much everyone is making out.
9:22 p.m. — Loud, squelchy, Metal Machine Music synths. My ears hurt, there are neon lights, and I'm pretty down with all of it.
9:24 p.m. — Everyone is turning into a dog I think? A bunch of crouching, chanted naked people; strong whiffs of the end of Hereditary.
9:25 p.m. — Now it's a telenovela with supertitles? Everyone is everyone's cousin, lots of guns and crying, audience is loving this (me included).
9:32 p.m. — Pretty sure it's almost over, and now the performers are worshipping a lil' dog on a scooter that looks like a Poo-Chi?
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 15
Ahamafule J. Oluo’s Susan
Pitch: The Seattle jazz musician-slash-standup comedian mines his family history for a new musical, with support from his band The Industrial Revelation.
6:24 p.m. — I am hideously full from a 30-minute sprint through Feast’s barbecue event. Four women wearing orange (including, yes, an orange fisherman’s hat) sit down in front of me. Let's do this.
6:30 p.m. — The hanging Edison bulbs remind me of my college production of Spring Awakening, where, in the final scene, the entire cast walked onstage attached to a massive vine.
6:32 p.m. — WAIT THIS GUY IS MARRIED TO LINDY WEST?!
6:33 p.m. — There's an ASL interpreter here, which is rad, and the show's informal structure (it's a workshop) makes the whole thing feel like kind of a bear hug. Oluo's playing fast and loose with the fourth wall, people are responding vocally to his anecdotes and jokes, I feel cozy.
6:44 p.m. — He's incorporating pre-recorded sound (interviews with family, mostly) and I hate to say it, but it's... kind of a live podcast.
6:55 p.m. — These songs are so good! "I'm Not Alone" is ecstatic!
7:00 p.m. — Recordings of his mom are a treasure: funny, tender, blunt. Not sure he knows exactly what to do with all this raw material, but it's great raw material.
7:14 p.m. — He just told a joke about a chicken being "peckish" and followed it up with "See what white people made me do?" in a great bit about gentrification. Audience cleaved in half between "I love this" and stiff silence.
7:20 p.m. — We've lost the through line, I think (there's a story in here about his mom, and a story about him traveling to Nigeria, and they don't really meet), but there was just a super dope sax solo. This thing is messy but I feel like it could make me cry?
7:30 p.m. — ULTIMATELY, I am crying.