If you roll in certain circles, by now you might have heard that the French have discovered Portland. In a big way. PICA’s own Visual Art Curator Kristan Kennedy shares her experience curating a night of music and video art for an all-Portland-themed Parisian festival:
In a recent interview I had with a Paris newspaper journalist, he asked me “What makes Portland weird?” I wanted to scream out, “There is nothing weird about this place, it just is what it is!” But of course, just moments before, I had seen someone pushing a hula hoop and a baby carriage in tandem down the street, and a guy wearing a sleeping bag like a cape, so I knew what he was getting at. I don’t want to be weird; I don’t want my city to be weird either. That is, I don’t want it to be looked at as a curiosity. If they want to talk about our creativity, I would rather us be looked at as a catalyst, a city that sparks something. I do think Portland is strange, as in “to make strange” or to be radical or free. What makes us unique here in Portland is certainly not the slogan “Keep Portland Weird,” which was lifted from the city Austin, Texas. We could not even come up with our own slogan. Now that’s weird.
Whatever feelings I might have about those cringe-inducing bumper stickers, “Keep Portland Weird” will have another more radical meaning this spring: it has been adopted as the name of a music festival taking place from April 19–29, across four art organizations and three French cities. The Keep Portland Weird Festival will feature scores of bands, video artists, and at least one writer who all call Portland their home. Last September, a contingent of curators visited Portland from the Centre Pompidou à Paris, Centre Pompidou-Metz, lieu unique à Nantes, and Gaité Lyrique to scout music and investigate the art scene that they had heard so much about. They had selected our city as the next in an annual series that highlights the music from iconic cities around the world. The fairly young festival had previously featured music from Berlin and Istanbul—Portland was next on their list… naturally?
The group attended PICA’s Time-Based Art Festival, where they could be seen huddled in the beer garden taking nightly meetings with regional bon vivants. They stayed up all night catching bands, performance art, and other happenings at THE WORKS, and immersed themselves in the shows at MusicFestNW, the culinary treats at the food carts, the vistas from the bridges, and anything and everything else they stumbled upon. As quickly as they were here, they were gone, but they left a lasting impression and promised we would hear from them all again someday soon.
Experimental 1/2 Hour at TBA:11. Photo: Karley Sullivan.
Many emails, contracts, and passport applications later, they have themselves a festival. Later this month, evenings curated by musicians Tom Greenwood, Tara Jane ONeil, Stephen Malkmus , artist Vanessa Renwick, and others including myself will test their French theory that our scene is ripe for the picking. On PICA’s night at Gaité Lyrique, we will start with quiet loops from Dragging an Ox Through Water and escalate to relentless percussion from Brainstorm, Miracles Club, White Rainbow, DJ Beyondadoubt, YACHT, and Glass Candy whose ecstatic beats will round out the evening. I also invited Eva Aguila & Brock Fansler to screen selections from Experimental 1/2 Hour on the flat screens that surround the space, the artist Stephen Slappe to co-curate a video program of local artists, and Publication Studio and others to give me some treats for a Portland Pop-Up Shoppe of artist ephemera. Of course the other curators have a long list of happenings, which you can check out here, featuring other concerts by Holcombe Waller, readings by Jon Raymond, music by Sun Foot, AU, and so many more! The whole thing already seems like a dream, and I can’t wait to be in the presence of all of these great sounds and sights alongside an audience of Frenchies who are trying to figure us out.
In the end, I did not really answer that reporter’s question about “weirdness.” Instead, I parlayed it into an opportunity to talk about what makes the Portland art and music scene so vibrant. We are fiercely independent, and yet highly collaborative; we are innovative and into the new, but have a reverence to craft and that which came before; we like the rough hewn and the slick; we are a giant contradiction and we like it that way. A few nights in France could never sum up what makes us weird, but it can give them a taste of what makes us wild. I will be attending the festival and taking notes along the way—stay tuned for updates and obsessive photo essays. I wish we could bring everyone along, for there is surely enough talent to fill their whole country with Portland music. That will just have to wait until next time, or part deux…