After a first week of personal accounts of torture, fierce runway queens, a voguing Antigone, confessional pop music, giant whisklike sculptures, penis manipulation and attempts at twerking both successful and unsuccessful (read our ongoing coverage at wweek.com), the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art heads into the second and final weekend of its Time-Based Art Festival. Fight that fatigue: There’s still good stuff—or at least stuff worth debating—to come.
Mariano Pensotti, Sometimes I Think, I Can See YouWe all spin narratives about those around us. What’s the story behind the bickering young couple on the bus? How about the gray-haired man smiling to himself on the park bench? Or the middle-aged woman sitting alone at the bar? Argentine theater director Mariano Pensotti wants to air these stories. In his theatrical installation Sometimes I Think, I Can See You, two writers sit in a public space, partially hidden, and make notes about the people around them. These thoughts—direct observations, questions, hypotheses, imaginings—are then projected from the writers’ laptops onto large screens, for everyone to read.
Pensotti has described these writers as “literary surveillance cameras,” but what’s canniest is how the installation upends our expectations about surveillance: Rather than eliciting suspicion or fear or outrage, it’s a source of inspiration and creativity and connection. At least, that is, when things go well. When Pensotti premiered the work in 2010 at a Berlin subway stop, Germans were eager to be included. A writer described a girl as a dancer, which she took as a cue and began to gambol about. Groups of teenagers sang songs in a bid to be noticed.
Not all cities have been so enthusiastic. “In Helsinki it was just the opposite of Berlin,” says Pensotti, speaking from Buenos Aires via Skype. “People tended to ignore the writers. They felt uncomfortable being watched.”
This presentation, which is free, will be the work’s U.S. premiere. It’s a marathon one: Writers will be stationed at Portland State University for 7½ hours straight, for five days. In previous locations (Pensotti has taken the work to about 15 cities), it’s never lasted more than four hours. PICA is staying mum on the identities of the writers, who will work hourlong shifts, but that’s ultimately secondary to the reactions of those they’re observing, the people who will become the characters in their stories. “What happens when you place fiction in a public place?” Pensotti asks. “We’re putting subtitles on reality.” REBECCA JACOBSON. PSU Urban Center Plaza, Southwest Montgomery Street between 5th and 6th avenues. 11 am-6:30 pm Wednesday-Sunday, Sept. 18-22. Free. All ages.
The Chop Theatre/Itai Erdal, How to Disappear Completely
When we refer to the ebbing of life, we often think—perhaps reflexively, in reference to each day—of the dying of the light. Itai Erdal makes this metaphor explicit in his performance How to Disappear Completely. Erdal is not an actor; he is an expert lighting designer. And when he received word that his mother was dying in Jerusalem, the Vancouver, B.C.-based artist returned to his homeland and filmed her from every angle and in every light as her own light slowly faded. In the work, Erdal manages the lighting with a hand controller while narrating his story, mixing his amateur storytelling with intimate footage of his mother and sister. Critics have found the experience so candid and disarming that they struggled to call it a performance—though after an intermittent two years on the stage, it very much must be. MATTHEW KORFHAGE. Imago Theatre, 17 SE 8th Ave. 6:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 19-21. All ages.
Bouchra Ouizguen, Ha!
The full-figured quartet of headscarf-wearing performers in Ha! certainly don’t resemble the stereotypical stick-figured dancer—and that’s exactly how Bouchra Ouizguen wants it. For her performances, the Moroccan-born, French-educated choreographer recruits women she meets on the street, assigning them to observe how real people move, walk, eat and drink, the better to portray the reality of her homeland. These performers do more than just dance: They cackle, sing and transform from crones to warriors. As in her previous work, Madame Plaza, the three other dancers belong to a Moroccan caste called aïtas whose singing tradition is simultaneously respected and scorned for its erotic associations. In Ha!, inspired by texts by the great Persian mystic Rumi, these three women, joined onstage by Ouizguen, dramatically explore themes of obsession and madness. BRETT CAMPBELL. Imago Theatre, 17 SE 8th Ave. 8:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 19-21. $20-$25. All ages.
Nacera Belaza, Le Trait solos and Le Temps Scellé; Le Cri
Nacera Belaza, an Algerian-born choreographer who’s lived in Paris since childhood, makes deeply conceptual dances characterized by repetitive movement, minimalist lighting and costumes that look like monochromatic pajamas. In Le Trait, she is sometimes still, sometimes jerking around with neurotic tics. Similarly, in companion piece Le Temps Scellé (the two will be performed together this Thursday and Friday), performers wander about, endlessly twisting and squirming, backed by a racket of vocals and drums. In Le Cri, showing on Saturday, Belaza and her sister twist back and forth, over and over, swinging their arms for nearly the entire duration. You can probably think about a lot of things while watching someone spin in place for half an hour, but Belaza keeps her work purposefully abstract, inviting the audience to ponder solitude, autonomy and infiniteness. AARON SPENCER. Con-Way Blackbox, 2170 NW Raleigh St. Le Trait solos and Le Temps Scellé at 8:30 pm Thursday-Friday, Sept. 19-20. $20-$25. Le Cri at 8:30 pm Saturday, Sept. 21. $15-$20. All ages.
Daniel Barrow, The Thief of Mirrors/Looking for Love in the Hall of Mirrors
Barrow is a much-belaureled artist nearly alone in his medium—he’s an animator who creates original narratives by overlaying multiple video projections with live and recorded voice. Think of it as an adult, emo-Victorian version of Reading Rainbow, performed live and startling in its proficiency, with themes centering on the sadness of the isolated artist. He was part of the 2009 TBA fest with his piece Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry, an affecting (if a bit precious) piece that was sheer pornography for crafties, graphic-novel fans and lonely devotees of McSweeney’s, an allegory of the artist in which a trash collector spies on strangers to create an alternate phone book filled not just with names but lives, as each subject is then murdered. He’ll incorporate prerecorded vignettes into his new work, The Thief of Mirrors, about a robber who wears a sad-clown mask that etches itself onto the surface of any mirror that reflects it. Looking for Love in the Hall of Mirrors, meanwhile, centers on a gay sex park and dreams of success in love and art. Position yourself behind Barrow at the projectors for a voyeuristic peek into his process. It’s an oddly intimate experience. MATTHEW KORFHAGE. NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium at the Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave. 6:30 pm Friday and 8:30 pm Saturday, Sept. 20-21. $15-$20. All ages.
Andrew Ritchey, The Secret Society
TBA’s theme for visual-arts programming this year is “…community declared itself a medium….” That seems appropriate for a festival that features artists from around the world working in diverse media. Yet the touchy-feely “community” reference belies undercurrents of snark lurking beneath the surface of events such as Andrew Ritchey’s The Secret Society. Ritchey, a Portland-based artist, composer and film historian, has put together a series of screenings of 16 mm films. They’re grouped together under the premise that cinema is obsolete today, lingering only in memories of a bygone “secret society.” The screenings are divided into four parts, obliquely titled “Rebus,” “Number,” “Chronicles” and “Erotic Miscellany.” The component films were created over a three-decade span, from the 1960s to the 1990s, and directed by well-known auteurs such as George Kuchar and Hollis Frampton.
In preview materials, Ritchey doesn’t have much to say about what presumably unites the films. Instead, he offers snide asides that obscure rather than clarify. “The programs of the Secret Society are for educational and informational purposes only,” he writes. “All patrons driven by other motives will be barred from the screening room at the start of each program.” Ritchey is so hip it hurts. In lieu of supplying a bio for the PICA website as all the other artists did, he opted instead to write a statement about the need to supply a bio. Ah well, one day artists such as he will learn that communicating with viewers is more effective than thumbing one’s nose at them. RICHARD SPEER. Con-Way, 2170 NW Raleigh St. Sept. 25-29. For screening program and times, visit pica.org. Another video, by Rebecca Carlisle-Healy and commissioned by Ritchey, plays on continuous loop at Con-Way through Sept. 22. All ages.
SEE IT: Tickets may be purchased at PICA’s box office at 415 SW 10th Ave., by phone at 224-7422 or online at pica.org. Festival passes $48-$500.