Precipice Fund Project Update: Environmental Impact Statment

2452616_origENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT exists to amplify threats to public lands through creative projects and by connecting artists and arts audiences to watchdog environmental groups. We have been bringing dancers, visual artists, writers, sound artists, and musicians to areas of Mt. Hood National Forest that are proposed to be logged or developed. Artist work created in response has been presented publicly with the goal of increased public awareness for protection of wildlands and increased engagement with environmental activism within the Portland arts community. The name of the project is derived from the required documentation that the government must collect to show potential impacts on the environment before development occurs. This process has been increasingly dismantled by industry and removed from public involvement. EIS seeks to reimagine and redefine the form, scope and potential impact of an environmental impact statement through artist research and response. Through this process EIS has created spaces for expression and conversation around ecological, social and political issues central to public land management on Mt.Hood. The project also questions the role of the artist in the debate of managing public lands.

Environmental Impact Statement is led by Lisa Schonberg, Amy Harwood and Leif J Lee. Participating artists have included Alison Clarys, Danielle Ross, Sam Pirnak, Virginia Marting, Tim Brock, Gary Wiseman, Kim Zitzow, Jodi Darby, Jodie Cavalier, Heather Treadway, Ryan Pierce, and Daniela Molnar.
Since the project began in February 2015, the three coordinators have met several times a month to allow for thoughtful evolution as the original idea moved through feedback from audience and participants. An early invitation to talk about the project as part of Central’s Peripheral to What? symposium at HQHQ gallery was a helpful step in articulating our idea. We initially invited about a dozen artists of different disciplines to commit to joining us for one hike to Mt. Hood forests over the summer. We scheduled several dates and also connected artists to Bark, the watchdog group for Mt. Hood National Forest. Bark offers a free monthly hike to the forest while sharing information about current threats to the forests and rivers.

Over the months, a core group of the original invitations formed. While we continued to engage with all of the artists, we began to develop opportunities to highlight participating artists’ work. In July, we brought together a show at Surplus Space. The show featured visual work from Jodi Darby, Gary Wiseman, Leif J Lee, and Amy Harwood. The opening event included performances by Heather Treadway, Alison Clarys, Danielle Ross, Sam Pirnak, and Lisa Schonberg. The opening event was also a “Welcome Home” party for OR-25, the wolf that crossed through Mt. Hood forests this past spring. It was the first time a wolf has been in the area for nearly 50 years.

The second opportunity to highlight participating artists was Sound Management. In an effort to connect the project to other conservation efforts, we collaborated with the Mazamas, a longtime mountaineering club with a large event space in SE Portland. This unique venue for an art event was an exciting way to bring new audiences into the project. The show highlighted music, puppeteering, participatory work, and the presentation of a new trail established on Mt. Hood by artist Ryan Pierce.


In an interest to highlight the connection of art and activism, we have most recently developed the project Visual Quality Objectives. One the proposed logging projects that we have visited on the north slope of Mt. Hood, the Polallie Cooper Timber Sale, is currently open to public comment period. In the Forest Service’s environmental analysis, an evaluation of the impacts to the “visual quality” of the forest is always incorporated into the required analysis. We have posted a Call to Artists on our website, asking people to imagine on-site and inspired art projects that would be not be possible if the visual quality of the forest was impacted by the proposed logging. These project ideas will be submitted as part of the legal record, forcing the Forest Service to respond to this loss of future cultural resource. The best project idea will be given an honorarium towards realizing the project.

Additionally, we are wrapping up documentation of our cumulative work in an upcoming print publication. This piece will also include original writing from several participating artists. We plan to host a final event at the Bark office, further connecting our growing group to future opportunities to be involved in advocacy for Mt. Hood forests and rivers.


EIS website/Visual Quality Objectives:

Portland Mercury article:

Surplus Space exhibit:

EIS Facebook:


Precipice Fund Project Update: They Said Don’t Bring Her Home

Since being awarded a Precipice Fund grant in December for “they said don’t bring her home,”

we have made several major changes to the structure of the event and the ways in which we

plan to execute it. We moved the dates of the festival to January in order to accommodate

these changes. At this point, we are doing work to intentionally curate a varied and

intergenerational audience for these screenings, discussions and workshops in order to best

represent and serve the communities of Black femmes in Portland. Since receiving the grant,

we have been actively searching for spaces to house the project. The difficulties that we have

encountered in finding locations that are accessible, affordable and safe for a project created by

and centering black femmes has also played a large role in our reconfiguration of the series.

In terms of the structure of “they said don’t bring her home,” we have decided to replace the

staged reading of Lorena Gale’s Angelique (1999) with a series of performances by

Portland­based Black femme poets. We will commission these artists to produce pieces on the

themes of agency, respectability and desirability as inspired by the Carmen films. We have

reimagined this performance segment in part due to our closer readings of Angelique, and

deciding that the work that this play does in translating Black female bodies into historical and

political sites did not provide as stark an interruption to the erasure of Black female agency we

hoped to highlight in this series. In soliciting the work of contemporary, Portland­based, Black

Precipice Fund Project Update: Muscle Beach

151002 MB JH install 01 copy

Into Muscle Beach’s second year of programming we were graciously awarded PICA’s 2015 Precipice Fund. In our first two years we operated as a transient gallery. Instead of having a home, we preferred to program shows out of temporary galleries, as well as act as guest curators within existing art galleries. Muscle Beach averaged two shows a year in the first two years, each show growing in complexity, and ambition. In applying to Precipice Fund we hoped to expand the regularity of our exhibitions, discover better programming spaces, and help to fully support the artist who work with Muscle beach.


Since 2015 we have held four exhibitions in two gallery spaces. Our first of which, Gate E, was a group exhibition hosting artists from across the United States as well as artists who live in Portland. This one time exhibition led us to find a more permanent home in Southeast Portland, where we have shown three solo exhibitions. Each show is accompanied with an letter sent in the mail to our viewers. By the end of the year we hope to have one more exhibition in a Seattle satellite location. We are grateful and blessed to have had the support of the Precipice Fund to carry our programming through 2015, and give us momentum into the new year.

Precipice Fund Project Updates: At The Drive In


At The Drive In PDX successfully completed its summer programming on August 20th 2015.
As proposed, At The Drive In was a four part film/ live performance series spanning 6 weeks in the summer of 2015. Each evening was curated by a different local art focused institution.

The first Night of performance/screening was hosted by the group Weird Fiction. In typical Weird Fiction fashion, it started out with a strange presentation. A fictitious media archaeologist named Irving Bleak gave a lip synced lecture on the relevancy of the film being screened while Da Video Tape created a visual display of live edited video content that was shown on several CRT televisions. Weird followed by weird, David Chronenberg’s film Videodrome was screened.The 50-60 people in attendance were awestruck by the intensity of the film they thought they had seen years ago but never did. You would have remembered seeing that strange movie. A small collection of art cars were in attendance to add to the weirdness.

IMG_7898The Second screening two weeks later was hosted by the Group BCCTV. They screened several shorts created over the last year in collaboration with people who have or are currently experiencing homelessness. As their live component, they created a film from scratch, plot and all, throughout the evening. Conceived, written and filmed before the first video was on the big screen, the crew edited the short while the audience watched the program. The newly made short was screened as the last film in the series. Audience members were excited to see themselves on the big screen as part of the film they shot just hours before. Attendance was about 80 people.

The third night was hosted by the store Francis May. The film screened was the somewhat cultish film, One crazy Summer. For that screening, there was a giant green lawn made out of painted cardboard created for comfort and to give the parking lot a bit of a face lift. As an interactive component, FM set up a bank of TV’s that rotated through images uploaded to a hashtag that was relevant to a part of the film. #fmfacefreeze has a few remaining images lurking on the web somewhere. The attendance was about 180 people. adults, kids and pets.

The final screening was hosted by The Portland Museum of Modern Art (PMOMA) They took the opportunity to make the screening a celebration of three years of programming. The opening act was a performance by the group Grand Style Orchestra. An old fashioned liquid light show made for a groovy backdrop to the interesting instrumental and dance performance. Wanting the crowd to have a feel good experience for the birthday party, PMOMA chose The Original Muppet Movie to be screened. Making use of the green lawn Francis May made for the previous screening, a giant Kermit head was easily constructed from the left over pieces. The estimated attendance was roughly 230 people. And there was a birthday cake!

All four screenings, had a sensible snack bar / lounge that was close by for guests to quench their thirsts and satisfy their movie going needs.
Popcorn, ice cream and hot dogs were available for those needing to munch and watch. An outdoor bathroom with sink was also available. Each host received an honorarium for their efforts. Each night brought its own fan club but there were some regulars who kept coming back because they enjoyed the experience of watching a free outdoor movie while learning about local artists and art spaces. Many asked about next year’s programming. We will see…

Nothing Is Actually Okay…(and other reflections on TBA:15)

Almost two weeks ago, I was up in Portland for 4 days for TBA 15. I want to write about what I saw and felt, via four different artists and their work: Holcombe Waller, keyon gaskin, Alessandro Sciarroni, and Okwui Okpokwasili. Just so you know, my writing is situated in the reality that – for me – seeing work is a completely social and physical experience. Like…it happens in a time and place, with particular people around, and the experience of it depends on what I ate that day (biscuits, duh) or who I ran into or avoided, etc. What I’m wearing matters. It all matters. This is all just to say: this writing will be a wonderland of unadulterated subjectivity.

So this writing is about four artists, what each of them made, what was made in lieu or spite or relief or in the periphery of what they made (according to me), curatorial imaginings, and…also…you know…living and dying. It’s the whole sha-bang. Here we are.

*Important note: While I may invoke criticism of my own self, I will not invoke much criticism when discussing the work of my fellow artists. I already wrote heady and taking-to-task treatments of each thing I saw, and in a moment of divine intelligence, threw them the fuck in the garbage because…I DON’T KNOW SHIT. Also works like these (and artists like these) exist in ecologies that need illogical amounts of reparation and love, as they trudge along in the vapid wasteland of our hateful and “critical” cultural economy. Life’s a choice, people. And within that, so too is how we choose to prop eachother up. I love art for what it does well. Let’s talk about that.

Chronologically speaking, the first thing that I did in Portland was meet up with my friend, M, and go eat the damn good food of Portland. There were cockles in cream and tarragon and there was chewy grainy bread with some heavenly white cheese spread on it and then little edible flowers and paper thin radishes and stuff on there. That happened. Then we went to Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, and we saw Holcombe Waller’s Requiem Mass: LGBT/Working Title.

The thing about entering the festival context as a fellow maker, and rubbing brains and opinions and insecurities with the brigades of other makers there, is that it can be hard to keep it light enough in your own critical body to actually feel anything. Too often, especially in New York and Berlin for some reason (this is actually no mystery at all, but I won’t go into it here…), festivals create a culture of hatred for art. Heady critique becomes the way people shake hands, “compare and despair” becomes the dominant mode for watching work, and the whole thing just gets loftier and loftier until everyone is just tired and miserable and no one can figure out why. PICA has always been particularly good at averting this crisis with their warm and accessible contextualizations of work, and their incredible community outreach efforts. That said, what Holcombe made needed no discursive xanax to keep it on the ground.

In the first 5 minutes, we experience a beautifully purposeful collision of professional and non-professional performers invocating us with outstretched arms and voices, all at varying degrees of confidence and “skill.” To immediately surround us with real fucking people who have trembling conviction about what they are doing, and to not need it to be at all clever or conceptual…I felt held and ready. And I felt like: this is important. I wasn’t watching another contemporary performance work that awed by disorientation and intrigue (like the ones I toil away at making). Instead, I was watching a proud and buzzing community meeting, set to insanely intricate music and sweetly campy visuals. There was shimmering sequined purple draped over surfaces, and a massive balloon sign reading bluntly “LBGT” hung over our heads. Sold.

There are alot of conversations about race/gender and representation that need to keep happening, as people make work about queer ancestry and elders…especially in largely white communities and audiences. But the feat of Requiem Mass: LGBT/Working Title – to me – lies in the way that it so tenderly occupied a liminal space; one that didn’t strive to be ultimately correct or really at all universal.

Holcombe, a highly accomplished and geekily rigorous musician, made super-sophisticated songs with edgy and difficult lyrics, and handed them over to a choir who wasn’t ever going to technically perfect them, but instead, would make the expression of them perfect. This teetering of high art content, mixed with an ensemble of excellently familiar and tangible bodies and voices, made Requiem… a shifty, delicate, and honest work.

In my limited understanding, the ways that queers have interacted with notions of religiosity and faith throughout history has been fraught with the worst kinds of ostracization, shame, and self-destruction. It has also produced a stamina and uniqueness in the ways that queer people have held on to their religious practices, and Requiem… literally shook with the power that has been cultivated by this determination. Ultimately, the work showed its inner mess, its inner perfection (Holcombe’s musical compositions are extraordinary), and a sprawling array of beautiful contradictions, very human misses, and also very very human catharses. I was grateful to sit inside of it all and just swish around.

Okay. M and I then left the cathedral and jetted over to Bodyvox, to see what the fuck keyon gaskin was up to.

keyon is a friend of mine, and we met through collaborating on a project that is fraught with racisms, as they are linked to economy (as if any aren’t). The way that I relate to keyon was initially through high-intensity dance/physical improvisation. With him being black and me being white, there are some really concrete things that we each carry that we cannot pass back and forth/share. Luckily for us, we are dancers, and while a vocabulary of dancing doesn’t supercede any socio-political reality about racisms between keyon and i, it has at least given us an opportunity to throw off some of the totally failing language about racisms, and to instead deal with ourselves and eachother through smashing our bodies up against one another…literally…and really hard. These days, besides dancing together, we talk about hard things when and where we can. I experience keyon as having a razor-sharp and advanced intelligence, and his ability to stave off the throbbing cultural desire to MAKE.THINGS.OKAY is like….what is up. He necessarily interrogates hope, effectively rejects the commodification of the artist body (like actually manages to hurl it back at people with an often-calm “NO THANKS”), and sits squarely in a too-hot-too-cold-NEVER-OKAY ocean of contemporality. He might say that this is not a constructed strategy of his, but instead an imposed reality of living blackness. He might not.

Not A Thing basically operated – for me – as a clear and fantastically-composed manifesto. It quickly laid out the rules of engagement: We were going to do as he asked, but we were not going to get to disappear under any kind understanding of what we were doing or seeing. Within this premise, it was excruciating and utterly powerful to watch that audience FALL THE FUCK APART. keyon turned a crystalline mirror onto the voraciously deadening social contract shared by this largely white audience, and it was like looking into one of those horrendous magnifying mirrors. Our pores were dirrrrrrrty.

I was actually super distraught throughout this work, because what keyon did was so successful…and by that I mean that I was furious that I had to stay in the room with these people who just could not work to transcend their discomfort and sit with what was happening. (There’s my privileged white dissociation popping up again…yup) Instead, I was in a room where a black man was cycling through a series of impeccably constructed performative scores about racism in all its hysterically complicated permutations, and people just smiled. People laughed. Lots of people. People rejected that this was something that they had to feel too; they rejected keyon’s expression of pain and power and insanity as human, and thus worthy of deep consideration. Now…I know that alot of folks – maybe even keyon – would scold me for scolding people for their reactions. “They are just expressing their discomfort in the only way they know how!” Fine. okay. Not good enough. nope. sorry. This is MY writing, so I get to say what I want, and I call catastrophic bullshit. xoxo

So yeah…keyon. When I initially knew I was going to write about this work, I was prepared to just write in snorts and sounds and conceptual poetic blips…so as not to contextualize or inappropriately de-complicate what he is doing. But I think there’s an important opportunity here to pull this work into a larger conversation about what I thought was so crucially strong about TBA this year. keyon moves directly into a landscape of non-answers, non-images, and non-SENSE. Racisms (and phobias against LGBT folks, as in Holcombe’s work) and the ways that they recapitulate the precarity of certain bodies, are truly complete and utter non-sense, and yet they have always pervaded, and continue to. So work like keyon is making requires a certain departure from form, from thing-liness, and a certain insistence on a wide, tragic and disastrous experience of total liminality.

Not A Thing.

After Holcombe and keyon’s works, I started to feel a big and watery (but also bravely focused) thesis begin to emerge from the nooks and crannies of my TBA weekend. More on that later and as we roll along.

The next night, I saw Alessandro Sciarroni’s FOLK-S, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

To directly answer Alessandro’s question: yes, Alessandro, yes I will still love you tomorrow. In fact, I ended up loving you even more the day after we had our evening affair.

Angela Mattox, the curator of performance for TBA, and the Artistic Director of PICA, had talked up this work big-time. She almost twitched a little, when she told me – upon my arrival in Portland – how much I NEEDED to see this work. So, of course, I was dubious; not out of any questioning of Angela’s taste (which I almost always line up with quite closely), but because I felt like, in seeing it, that I was holding some key to her curatorial lens, which I have fanatic respect and curiosity for.

So…In the beginning of FOLK-S…, one of the six performers gets on a mic and tells us that the six of them are going to do Bavarian folk dances…and that they will keep doing them until they all leave or we (the audience) all leave. So, that they did.

They did Bavarian folk dances.

And then they kept doing Bavarian folk dances for really a very long time. The dances were beautiful and militaristic and formal and stabilizingly/destabilizingly repetitive. Sometimes they would pause to look around, seemingly having a brief moment of critical consciousness and negotiation about whether they were going to actually choose to keep doing this.

And then they just kept doing Bavarian folk dances.

And then things started to happen…

There was an element of the experience of being in the room that started to feel like we were sliding into some realization that we were at…a sporting event? As the dancers and the audience members started dropping out, one-by-one, the piece became a kind of a dare on both sides; a contest even. Gender dynamics started emerging (and really caught me by surprise actually), as people started cheering for the men (the one woman was the 2nd body to leave the dance) in a way that one might bolster up their favorite running back at a football game. (Wait….is running back a thing? I don’t really know….wait! QUARTERBACK! right! I mean quarterback, I think…).

The effort – having been in effect for soooo long – started to form this thick and excruciatingly humble weight over the whole thing.

These people were still doing this thing together.

The poem of it suddenly hit me, not unlike a ton of bricks. All weird european gender stuff set aside, these people were showing me – through the sheer power of time – their choice to keep reconvening, to keep saying yes to hurtling their bodies through this dance, to keep coming back together again and again and again. It was overwhelmingly romantic! It made me think about my partner, my family, my commitments to community! I was floating!

But then… I was suddenly sinking, because maybe most importantly, the work offered up absolutely NOTHING in terms of an articulated value or any sort of prize that was being won by these folks for this act of trying and trying and trying. Relationships are hard. So is family. So is community. They can actually be atrociously hard…so hard sometimes, that the idea of them being functional and feeling good is just…mythic.

Like the synapse-splintering repetition of the dancing, the sweetness of my little poetic revelations kept shifting in and out of focus. My state of being was all over the place, and every time I thought that I had settled into some way of thinking or feeling about what was happening, their duration of effort would shove me over some kind of line, and I was back in liminal space; existential blue-balls? Eh…something like that.

Finally, two were left, and in a staggeringly UN-grandiose gesture, they kinda-sorta held hands and walked off, in just the most non-descript and unremarkable way you could possibly imagine. They had made the thing happen. They had taken us down the rabbit hole of what commitment and exhaustion and doing-things-for-the-sake-of-doing-them could mean and could look like; and then they had dropped it unceremoniously, like an old shoe, and left.

When I left the work, I felt grey. I recalled being moved, but it felt like a dream that starts to slip away as soon as you leave it. I didn’t know how to talk much about what had happened for me. I even stumbled over my words when I saw Angela later (sorry, Angela!), and reverted to talking emptily about gender representation or something (ugh). But I was just doing that thing, where I talk about whatever, because my feelings are actually just so not yet rendered yet.

The next morning, when I was waking up, I had this phenomenally delayed catharsis. The sky absolutely fell and the ground got pulled out from underneath me. The poem of what FOLK-S… actually was resurfaced, came over and quietly and steadily sat down next to me and nodded, “hey. so this.” This work was about not just the choice to keep getting together, keep looking eachother in the eye and saying “yes.” It was also about how that convening and convening and convening may or may not make its importance clear at all; how most things that take time, actually take time, and how, for all of our diligently high-brow processing and gestation of art works, the good ones just will not be hurried…in their delivery or in their effect. And I felt grateful about that.

TIME BASED ART, people. right.

The last work I saw at TBA was Bronx Gothic, by Okwui Okpokwasili.

and holy fuck.

Bronx Gothic is one of those things that an artist shares with an audience, and the occurrence of that sharing actually feels impossible. Like…the sheer extent to which Okwui conjured and stirred and turned herself inside-out, all feels just really not possible. But I was there. And she did. So…

As a bit of background, I have been moderately/not-at-all-moderately obsessed with Okwui since I saw her work in Ralph Lemon’s massive and maybe perfect How Can You Stay in the House…, about 4 or 5 years ago in San Francisco (thanks, Angela!). She is a physical prophet inside of a body inside of a spirit inside of a machine and most definitely inside of a heart. She sweats liquid power and emotion steams off of her at the same time. She’s my favorite kind of performer. ALL IN.

In Bronx Gothic, the audience enters a dark and small space, as Okwui dances/works her body – back to us – in a corner. This dance that she is doing is very clearly (at least to me) one of creating a channel. I have had some experience with conjure art myself (I use this term conjure art as it is put forth by the artist Amara Tabor-Smith here:, and what I witnessed in this opening was Okwui traveling over a spiritual line, into a territory where she was ostensibly gone, and her body was simply housing/channeling whatever Bronx Gothic needed to put across. In my opinion she stayed over that line for the entire performance, and in doing so, I just kept following her further and further inside of this impossibly personal, impossibly painful, and impossibly reverberant story.

I guess you could call Bronx Gothic a play. There was text and there was blocking. But because of what Okwui had conjured, it felt distinctly like a ritual.

The story that she told was one of alienation from her black girl’s body; one of the condemnation and pervasive socio-political hatred of her black girl’s body and then that of her black woman’s body; one of the losing and gaining of a body; the erasure and explosion and disappearance of her body; the shaky and dangerous emergence of her body. In contexts of general cultural legibility, she translated nothing, rounded no edges, offered no insight. Instead she just told and read things that had happened, things that had been written and said.

A sentence/provocation that she kept coming back to in the text (and absolutely in the physical vocabulary as well) was : “Ask yourself: Am I awake?” The compositional placement of this command-question – as it landed around various stories, physical scores, and other exorcisms/mournings – kept making me dizzy with the consideration of how presence (in its multiplicitous meanings) is somehow the crux of being in a politicized body. It is presence that the abused and raped and marginalized body cannot afford at times, and yet it is presence that makes the body wake up to itself; makes it fight back; makes it notice beauty and – contentiously – worth.

Being awake endangers certain bodies. Also, being asleep is maybe the nail on certain coffins. Neither seemed to have particularly saved Okwui. I also doubt that she invests much in something as concrete as “being saved.” She appears well travelled in the rules and realities of liminalities of all kinds.

Like the other works I saw, Bronx Gothic aggressively asserted that we are alive during a truly – I’ll say it again – impossible time; a time when negotiation is the only constant. It is 2015 and YES, our whole fucking world is decrepitly sick with racisms and sexisms and all kinds of complicated systems of greed and inequity. We’re fucking everything up, constantly. And that is not likely going to shift with any sort of even-barely recognizable flourish during any of our lifetimes. This suggests that the thing to do is not to try to solve the problem, but instead to be brave enough to just get squarely inside of it, and to listen really really closely.

I experienced the exercise offered up in the curation of things that I saw at TBA 15 as an attempt to move away from the static and the legible, and instead to move toward the unknowable, because this shit that people are making work about – queer marginalization, racism, exhaustion, presence, and the pure danger of having a body – is all shit that arches back far before any of us were here, and will continue to weave its complicated web well into the future, in ways that we necessarily cannot imagine.

In that, this curation said to me:

Try to keep recognizing one another.

Try to move past your first response.
Try not to rely so much on making sense ( trace the ways that sense will clearly kill you faster).
Try to interrogate language.
Try to imagine the body as all that there is.

Try to keep recognizing one another.
Fucking try try try try try to keep recognizing one another.

Thanks, TBA. Thanks, PICA. Hell yes, I’ll try.

- Jesse Hewit

The grit and taste and smell and sound and delight

Cinnamon (right? or was it nutmeg?) flying through the air. Repeated gestures at the corner of the square stage area. Smacking: on his legs, his head, his butt, his thighs. Some sarcastic glances and playful aloofness with the audience. Spending the whole time thinking, “I have food allergies and there might be some things I’m allergic to in this dish, I can’t possibly eat any of it even if he gives us a chance,” and then eating food anyway, in the name of art. This is what I’m left with from Radhouane El Meddeb’s show Je danse et vous en donne à bouffer and might even be what I carry with me most from this year’s TBA festival.

Let’s get this out of the way: dance and movement pieces are the hardest for me to process. It’s a bit of a creative wall for me, and one of my favorite things about going to TBA year after year is just trying to get better and better at understanding these performances (while also just being able to use a pass and go to a show on a whim; that makes it a lot easier to take a chance).

So for me, part of this show was spent thinking, “why?” I had so many questions:

  • What do these gestures convey?
  • What makes him switch from making food to dancing and back?
  • Why is the music so, so loud, and why is there one English language song in the middle?
  • How does this music relate to the cooking, and what are these singers singing about? What about the choice to control his own music through an iPod touch, an object that became a part of the performance a lot more than perhaps intended?
  • Why are there two different (but similar) pots of couscous being cooked, and what is the significance of the cooking implements?

About halfway through the piece, though, I remembered that so much of performance is just taking it in, taking it all in. Not worrying about the why’s or even necessarily the how’s, just watching what’s happening in front of me. El Meddeb got more playful with the audience, and as the food was more and more ready to be eaten, the pace picked up. And when he started adding spices to the mix, and finally grabbed a bowl of cinammon and ran around the room with it, we all were there with him, filled with delight.

As the smell of the cinnamon and the actual grit of it hit me, I was reminded of how often my grad school instructors dared us to use all five senses, but how smell and taste and touch were not the easiest to include in a performance. Yet here we were, watching him make a meal, seeing the footprints he created through the cinnamon on the ground, anticipating the moment when we’d get to eat the food he made.

When it came down to it, although my nut allergies scared me a bit, I finally decided: you know what? If I get sick, or someone needs to call an ambulance because I ate something I shouldn’t have eaten, at least I did it for art. I chowed down on my portion of the meal, burning my mouth a bit on a too-large-for-plastic-utensils piece of beef, and considered the odd generosity of spending an entire long performance cooking food for your audience. It capped my personal first night at TBA with spicy goodness and a sense of awe; i knew then that thinking of him as “the couscous guy” (as people kept calling him) diminished so much of the magic of the performance. I’m glad I was able to see (and hear and smell and taste) this one.

— Jim Withington


The dead dads of the Winningstad

Early Morning Opera & Preparation for the Obsolescence of the Y Chromosome: Two very different performances filled one stage with a shared topic told using some similar and strange strategies.

Sorta the same:
▪    Tech-savvy-licious sets: The opera’s neon lighting is a transformer that the performers turn from ceiling, to diagram, to cage, to floor plan, to dance partner. The backdrop of the Y Chromosome is an elaborately built out web domain.
▪    Stories of personal loss told through the lens of something other than the personal: Lars used state surveillance practices from world war 2 to the present, Michelle used scientific research in genetics.
▪    Both stylistically resist much overt emotion, even seeming glib as they build their sideways approaches to grief.

MichelleEllsworth_01_event                  LarsJan_hero

Rather different:
▪    The characters in Lars’ show stay cool and unfazed in their glowing white suits, whereas Michelle warmly bumbles around in her charming neurotic persona bumping into herself and and revealing that the pattern on her dress is a bar code sending secret love notes to any scanners that might be watching.
▪    Michelle only reveals in the last moments that personal loss has motivated her whole project, and while for some audience members that admission created empathy and explained her anxious obsessive behavior, for me it narrowed down the scope of the show from a broader reflection on gender to the artist’s individual experience of loss.
▪    With Lars we learn near the beginning that the show will be an exploration of a somewhat complicated relationship with a missing father, even though rarely was emotion the mode of communication. Yet as the story built it fleshed out this one incidence of death and opened up to be a mediation on the lasting impact of political trauma and an unsettling critique of contemporary surveillance society.

Both were a pleasure to watch. I loved witnessing Michelle’s jittery, sweet, barely keeping it together way of being in charge, even if I left feeling the show was a little deflated by the its turn toward her private loss. While I was interested throughout Lars’ show, it left me somewhat unaffected until the conclusion.  At that point the intimacy and distance between father and son was fused through animations made of the father’s body through MRI imaging found after his death. The weight of their unresolvable relationship crescendoed into something greater through mingling those cold, intimate images with the performers chants on our chances for whether the world is becoming a better place.  Their loud static-y voices echo:  worse, worse, worse.

- Ariana Jacob

Theatre of the Melancholy Volkswagen

Imagine a troupe of earnest and childlike French theatre philosophers decide to form a heavy metal band, but instead of using instruments they are let loose in a warehouse full of stagecraft technology, and instead of rock concerts they create installation-like amusement parks that look like whimsical winter wonderlands.
At first Quesne’s piece plods along at an almost unbearably pedestrian pace, as we see a group of metal heads in a beat-up Volkswagen Rabbit drinking cheap beer and goofing off while listening to excerpts of dated music.  The guys pictured here look like half the dudes I went to high school with, and its hard to see how they fit into the grand vision of a French theater artist.  The pedestrian pace continues, but it becomes increasingly charming over the next hour, as our expectations are broken by the sincerity and sweetness of the performers, and the truly impressive scope of their stage tricks, which are revealed simply and reverently.  At first I was frustrated that such impressive stagecraft was being wasted on a script and a group of performers that could not match the theatricality, but by the end it became clear to me that this was the point:  We can be lured into a world that is transformative and magical and simultaneously very real and without pretense.  The piece ultimately invites us to see the wonder and playfulness of our everyday experiences.  Unlike the performances that most of us are used to, where text or movement or live actors are the main channel for communicating meaning, here the set pieces become like puppets, guiding us into the true depth of the experience.
- Kate Holly
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[Melting Together Even If We Don’t Want To: We Just Can’t Help It]

Sweet, salty, lucky Sunday. Hot, liquid, ceaseless sweat.  We are gliding our way down the slippery perimeter of a three scoop ice cream cone.  Suniti Dernovsek/Leading Light, Luke Gutgsell/The Self Possessed and Okwui Okpolwasili/Bronx Gothic.  One stacked atop of the other–melting together, dripping down the sides, rudely touching.  Excuse me, do I belong here?  Excuse me, am I really alone?  Tell me–am I truly separate from you?

Suniti Dernovsek’s Leading Light is multi-vectoral.  Her arms curl back, changing directions as she advances across the floor-turned-stage.  She steps in fluid, emotionally saturated rhythms, seamlessly alternating fast and slow.  She is in many places at once.  She operates in many cadences at the same time.  She smiles, cavalierly and brazenly staring the audience in the eyes as she parades (and claims) the space.  All of it, she marks all the air between our passively participating bodies as she traces the perimeter of our shared space.  We share it, but she holds the space–pelvis curling, wide legs bending, and arms cradling the overhead light.  We all see in the darkness and she lights the way.

Luke Gutgsell’s The Self Possessed multiplies our love.  A queer narcissus, a romance that turns the inside out.  Luke Gutgsell and Nicholas Daulton’s movements are premeditated.  Their strategic gestures are revelatory at best and tentatively aggressive at worst.  Love and hate growing ever closer. And I shouldn’t fail to mention the third actor in The Self Possessed play:  a mirror.  Is it you?  Or that person sitting next to you?  Or the whole of us, indecipherable?  Gutgsell and Daulton both, in fraught moments of admiration, desperation, self criticism and rage turn the mirror outward.  The audience staring back, faces transposed upon faces.  We all take turns switching places and changing clothes, only to prove that two (or three?) can never really meld together or truly be close enough.  What does it mean to be apart even when we are all here together?

Okwui Okpolwasili’s Bronx Gothic tells of two teenage girls corresponding in blood, sweat and tears.  Sticky, evaporating anger that appears on Okpolwasili’s body seemingly out of nowhere and then disappears, faintly traced on the floor and her saturated purple dress.  She reads letters inscribed by smoke curls, brief yet steady gazes and heavy burdens.  Okpolwasili’s dually voiced words glide over these tensions–cool and calm as the ocean.  This dialogue/monologue illuminates the tenacity of friendship and it’s power to hold us together as we break apart.  They/she speaks through sexuality, duality, memory, and honesty.  Two arms, two legs, one heart.  Who am I without you?  Who am I because of you?

- Jackie Davis

broken sentences and opaque spaces as political resistance

incomplete thoughts on broken sentences and opaque spaces as political resistance

At the Gloves Off panel discussion hosted by Portland’s Black Creative Collective the artists opened by stating they would not take any questions at all. They turned their tables toward each other in a wide open angle so they could be somewhat facing each other, rather than just facing down the audience. Then they let there be a very long silence where we simply stared at them and wondered what would happen if they never spoke to us again.


Gloves Off panelists were: Eileen Isagon-Skyers, Jibade-Khalil Huffman, keyon gaskin, Samiya Bashir, Sampada Aranke and sidony o’neal


But they did speak, and they said a lot. To me the key idea that they shared was about the importance of opacity for black artists. Opacity as in not needing to translate themselves for white audiences, not needing to try to make their work transparent and universal. They claimed the space of opacity as something they get to keep for themselves, something dominant culture can work to learn if they want to understand. Black artists do not need to go out of their way to make themselves understandable for white audiences. I felt lucky to be there and hoped the panelists didn’t feel too much more uncomfortable than we did sitting there watching them converse.

Later that night talking to friends about that panel discussion while in the crowd at Critical Mascara we wrestled with how conflicted it felt for the panelists to have shared the idea of opacity with us in that setting. On the one hand the artists had set up a situation where they could have a conversation among themselves rather than cater to the audience’s needs in their discussion. On the other hand they actually provided us, as a largely white audience a privileged access to witness their black cultural experience. And within that they also offered us a tool to better understand their work by presenting the idea of opacity as a key concept for us to think with. Did we as the white audience maybe still end up getting more out of that event than the black artists did? Is there a way out of that catch 22?

The next morning I went to the group artist talk at the visual art space, which was dealing with seemingly totally unrelated topics from the day before: formlessness and poetry. But the talk ended on the idea that not making clear sense might be one of the only possible political resistances to capitalism’s all encompassing appetites, which then jolted me back into the conversation around blackness and opacity. Maybe not making clear sense is a deeply political instinct in these times. If capitalism can digest and commodify almost everything, even the protests against it, and we live in a society where everything we do and say can be tracked and sold back to us, how can we speak freely other than in broken sentences which offer no sense to be made into cents by the mechanisms of the market? While the art market may be the perfect allegory for resistance getting turned into exponential profit, poetry just doesn’t make money the way art does.


Artist talk was about the collaborative project Commonplace by Karl Larsson and Pascal Prosek with Morgan Ritter and Gary Robbins


But again it feels like this line of thought loops back on itself. I so appreciate the artist speaking about how he sees his work as broken sentences made to resist capitalist assimilation. From those words I am able to feel and think into the politics of his work, to question what can be protest in these times, to go a little deeper in my understanding of the implications of the idea of opacity from the day before. And yet what that means is he provided me with access to a more shared meaning, to something that made a lot of sense. I don’t think I could ever survive a politics where the relatedness of making sense with each other was actually negated, though I am really interested in all this generous talk about the power of resisting shared understanding.

-Ariana Jacob

Church for the New Believers: Requiem Mass: LGBT

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The TBA festival was launched in 2002, a few months after I moved to Portland, as if in answer to my artistic prayers.  Somehow it feels fitting that the launch of the 13th year should be in a grandiose church.  Trinity Episcopal, it turns out, is an old-school house of god, a giant brick building that offers refuge while also celebrating the beauty of life with its arching ceilings, hanging candelabras, and stunning floor to ceiling pipe organ.  I love being in spaces like this, but can’t bring myself to enter alongside weekly worshippers.  It was my great joy to enter tonight, alongside the community that I worship with, a community of artists and art lovers.  It was particularly delightful to see Angela Mattox appear at the pulpit to welcome her believers, and soon after to see Holcombe leading his choristers down the aisle looking like Jesus, with a scruffy beard and priestly robe.

I have head Holcombe talk about this project on two prior occasions, so was prepared for the nature of the choir itself: a diverse crowd of people who want to sing and be part of the community that he is building, regardless of their vocal training.  The result was an opening number charged with the vulnerability of real people summoning performative courage.  You won’t get the smooth polish of experienced performers with every piece here, but the joy and enthusiasm of the community shines brightly.  Holcombe’s music is gorgeous, and interspersed with some history and context on the suffering of the LGBTQ community, as well as a sung lecture on the history of the term itself.

The piece is structured much like a church experience, with sing-alongs and call and response text, and in this setting each audience member plays a true believer.

Requiem Mass is a reminder to us all that there is still much work to be done before we can call ourselves a tolerant society, and that healing from the wounds of homophobia is only just beginning, and will be a huge process unto itself.

When I got home I remembered that our Air bnb guests were a lesbian couple from the South, and had already told me they were considering a move to Portland so that they could be in a more tolerant and open-minded area.  I excitedly recommended that they see this show, which truly creates a space of community, celebration and much-needed healing for its audience, and I predict it will be unlike anything they have ever experienced.

Kate Holly is a theater artist and educator based in Portland, OR.  She holds an MFA in Contemporary Performance from Naropa University, and is a co-founder of Fever Theater and Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble.


Please tell me what to do

keyon gaskin pouring blacknesskeyon gaskin – its not a thing

At first when we arrive he puts himself at our service. We are all waiting for him but he is waiting on us, serving each person a little blackness in a glass and branding each of us with his kiss. Mostly it is that awkward feeling of just standing around in a bright room looking at each other, not quite knowing what is going on, stumbling on remembering who the person next to you is even after you thought you had, while sweat drips down your leg. Then he stops serving and commands us to go into the other room – okay now the performance will begin and I will get to be the audience rather than this body uncomfortably aware of not quite knowing what to do with myself. Front row seats, darkened dance floor, audience chit chat. And then slowly a dead space grows in the middle of the wall of voices emanating from the back of the room, pulling us around and we shut up. He is looking down on us from a balcony above the back row of the audience. Just staring and surveying the scene of our seated selves. Eventually he climbs down into the audience, his black backpack swaying at our faces.
Again he commands us to move, to get out of our seats, take our belongings, and never come back – filling the dance floor with our milling bodies.

I’ve seen two versions of this dance before, once in a dirt pit slated in be a new development in NE Portland, and then in the extravagantly expansive room upstairs at YALE UNION (YU). And yet that prior experience didn’t provide me with much of a sense of being in the know, each time I feel on edge, not sure quite when the performance begins, what will happen, how to be the audience that is needed for this show, or when it has ended. That feeling of not knowing how to be the audience was especially present at this TBA version. Or maybe what I mean is that we were much less able to just watch him do his thing, because we as audience were all in the way of each other, blocking each other’s view and even the sound of his voice as he moved through the crowd, sometimes sobbing with what looked like fear, sometimes knocking into us, sometimes swinging a cast iron pan within inches of someone’s head. Or maybe what I mean is that this time he told us what to do more than ever before, and yet instead of that settling what our role was within his performance it put our presence even more into question.

And more than ever before I thought about the contrast and convergence of theatricality and presence. The conundrum of realness. We know what feels real, but sometimes even what our senses feel to be the most real, present and sincere is a kind of fronting – not fake but constructed for affect. I deeply believe keyon as a performer, I feel him living with and responding to everything and everyone who is in the room with him in each moment. And yet especially in this version there were elements, like the sobbing, that felt both acted and real. That gnaws on my Quaker upbringing’s purist definition of real.

With his repeated audience orders he brought out the complicated power dynamic of a largely white audience trying a little extra hard to follow the commands of a black artist so we can ensure we are not agents of racism. When he asked for helpers we rushed to do what we were told, to be given that chance to do right. Would we have tested his authority a bit more if we were not a touch afraid of being racist? In our eagerness to do what he told us are we leaving him to continue carrying the weight of our racist history? By pulling us to pay attention to our unreconciled relationship to race as it manifests in our jumpy desire to be a good guy he is offering a generous and yet uncomfortable gift to this NW nice audience.

20150911_205122The audience looking at their reflection.


-Ariana Jacob

photos by Mack McFarland

Precipice Fund Project Update: Composition

Composition is an alternative arts space that focuses on bringing together unlikely combinations of art forms to create a necessary dialogue between contemporary visual arts, performance, video, music, fashion and writing. composition is also an incubator for new projects, emerging and established artists and curators.

After being open for a year, composition was awarded The Precipice Fund from Portland Institute for Contemporary Art via The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and The Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti. This grant has enabled composition to have more expansive and experimental programming such as ‘wut guise’ a performance art fashion show that was curated in the Historic Ford Building. Upcoming shows include “IN FEAR OF A TRANS PLANET” a touring group of trans poets, “The Clay Will Show Me What To Do Next” a social sculpture event by Amanda Evans in conjunction with Assembly 2015: a co-authored social practice conference. And “Dragcessories: a one queen show exploring glamour and fragility” with Kyle Smith

Precipice Fund Project Update: RECESS / Moving Out


A pilot still

RECESS  is a collaborative arts initiative based in Portland, Oregon, developing and supporting projects that rupture the experience of everyday life and inspire new social possibilities. Since losing our headquarters in 2014, RECESS has been exploringthe effects of rising rental and real estate costs on arts workers in major cities along the West Coast of the US and Canada, focusing on how the resulting nomadic lifestyles and dispersed communities shape artistic production. With Moving Out, we intend to foster a new sense of regional identity by showcasing artists and projects that respond to these conditions both directly and indirectly. Our collaborators in this project include organizers at other alternative spaces and artists facing and addressing economic pressures.


soledadreleaseThe book release and performance marking the publication of Again the search, Another disappointment: a translation work by Soledad Muñoz Fiegehen, produced in-house by RECESS, was the first event in our programming. We also presented Seeing It Through, a rotating selection of video works by West Coast artists presented in collaboration with Composition Gallery, where we are guest-curating the storefront window from May to July. Other events included A Pilot For A Show About Nowhere on May 12th, a performative lecture by Los Angeles-based artist and conceptual entrepreneur Martine Syms, and a release on May 30th of an untitled sci-fi novel about debt by Bay Area artist Cassie Thornton.



Precipice Fund Project Update: Boom Arts


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Boom Arts, based in Portland, Oregon, is a boutique presenter and producer of contemporary theatre and performance from around the world. They aim to serves diverse audiences with extraordinary arts experiences from around the world, illuminating crucial issues and ideas of our time through theatre, performance, and dialogue. In January, Boom Arts brought to portland, Rodrigo García’s one man play, I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me of My Sleep Than Some Other Son of a Bitch.  It was preformed at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, and featured in  featured  in the portland monthly magazine.


“Discernment and Confusion in I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me of My Sleep Than Some Other Son of a Bitch” By Robert Quillen Camp, Department of Theatre, Lewis & Clark College


“…This production not only highlights and develops the thematic material of the play (the claims of traditional European culture against the encroaching monolith of American consumer capitalism, the emotional and psychological effects of widespread economic instability, and especially the emotional challenges of parenting) but it also introduces new formal confusions: first, it is being staged in a space that is primarily devoted to the exhibition of visual art, and second, the actors playing the children in this production are piglets.

These two interventions work with one another to subtly disrupt our spectatorial experience – hemmed in by a small picket fence, the actor and the piglets are on exhibition like the Goya paintings at the center of the narrative, and the pleasure that we take in the display of an actor’s virtuosic theatrical skill (provided by the accomplished Ebbe Roe Smith) becomes confused with an altogether different kind of pleasure, the joy of watching piglets just being piglets—no skill involved—their utter lack of pretension to being anything else constantly threatening to overwhelm the world of the play. Traditional theatrical wisdom recommends against the casting of animals (with some notable exceptions – Annie’s Sandy comes to mind), because the fact that we know that the animal isn’t really obeying the laws of the fictional world puts too much pressure on our suspension of disbelief. Famously, the disastrous performance of the dog cast in the 1891 premiere of the symbolist playwright Maurice Maeterlinck’s play The Blind sent its Parisian audience into hysterics at what was meant to be a moment of tragic recognition. But here, in this production, the confusion is productive. Not only because it generates the self-awareness often found in experimental theater (we all know this performance is a performance) but because, as the play’s protagonist argues, confusion is a necessary component of an authentic experience. Otherwise you might as well be at Disneyland. Here our experience is troubled, multiform, and radically incomplete.”


Precipice Fund Project Update: The Portland Pataphysical Society


The Portland Pataphysical society, is a “private social club”, that hosts exhibitions,presentations and performances in an alternative arts space now located in downtown portland.

In January, we moved the PataPDX from the living room of our second floor apartment to a live/work storefront space at the corner of NW 6th and Everett. Our new space is the most visible gallery in the Everett Station Lofts, with 10 large windows looking out onto the street. Funding from our Precipice award allowed us to build out our new gallery space, completely refinishing the floors, creating a new library area, adding storage, buying a video projector, and installing a 14 foot church pew from the early 1930′s (see image 1). Once build out was complete, we launched the first exhibition in our year long programming season: Michelle Blade’s If the Spirit Moves You (see image 2). That exhibition was followed by a solo show featuring Eugene-based artist Julia Oldham (see image 3). Oldham’s work at PataPDX received a very positive critical reception, including mentions in Port, The Willamette Week, and the Portland Monthly.


PataPDX also presented an exhibition in May that brought together a diverse group of collaborating institutions to support the work of Brooklyn-based artist Christine Wong Yap (see image 4). In conjunction with to her exhibition at PataPDX, Yap participated in a 2 week residency at c3:initiative, installed a satellite exhibition in the Project Window of PDX Contemporary, and participated in Portland State University MFA Art & Social Practice program’s 2015 Assembly conference. We have used funding from our Precipice award to pay artist fees, offset shipping expenses, and for commissioning new arts writing about our projects.









The Radical Imagination Gymnasium is both a fitness regime aimed at exercising the underused muscles of the radical imagination and the community that spontaneously arises when people do these workouts together. Through a series of collaborative, emergent, and experimental workouts throughout May, the Radical Imagination Gymnasium provided a space to reimagine new ways of being together in the world: Walidah Imarisha’s workout facilitated collective science fiction visioning/writing on social justice issues; Tamara Lynn’s workout participants collectively imagined living 24 hours in utopiaCarmen Papalia established an open working space dedicated to the consideration of our agency in public and institutional settings; and Renee Sills guided participants through an embodied exploration of commoning.

The Radical Imagination Gymnasium is a project by artists Zachary GoughGuestwork, and Patricia Vazquez Gomez. All workshops and events were all free and open to the public. 

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Precipice Fund Project Update: Random Access Tape / Stream Room

Stream Room is a collaborative multi-channel musique concrète sound installation by deepwhitesound, an online label of free experimental audio. Hundreds of micro-compositions produced by dozens of international sound artists and musicians are randomly sequenced and broadcast via wi-fi to handmade streaming units. Each collected composition is designed to be played simultaneously as an immersive sound installation, recently exhibited at FalseFront in Northeast Portland.

streamroom-03The result is a cacophonous, randomized bombast of disparate experimental recordings, playing over and against each other, an aural metaphor of the chaotic and over-stimulating nature of the internet itself. The discord of battling sound sources and quickly transitioned content creates a type of meditative experience. Rather than aiming to reach transcendence through minimalism, senses are bombarded and inundated in a type of maximalism. The dissonant nature of the installation draws allusions to the overwhelming qualities of the internet, social media and the information age. Stream Room serves as an appraisal of this condition, an errant signal celebrated, a space for enthralled annihilation.

Random Access Tape is a 30-minute, two-sided audio cassette that serves as documentation of the project, a physical artifact from the first iteration of this never repeatable, randomized exhibition.Random Access Tape is distributed under the Creative Commons license, which encourages free redistribution and attribution of the tape, to organizations, individuals, collectives and broadcast centers who wish to aid in making the work available to the public. The physical and non-commercial circulation of work designed for digital, streaming media is a symbolic gesture meant to call attention to the very real and present role of digital media in the delivery of innovative artistic endeavors and to further the idea that free art is not forgettable art.

streamroom-01Stream Room and Random Access Tape are produced by DB Amorin for deepwhitesound, with support from a grant provided by the Precipice Fund. Visuals and printed media design by Dana Paresa. Programming consultation by Matthew McVickar.

deepwhitesound (DWS) is an international online label of experimental audio operating since 2005. Featuring multidisciplinary sound art, experimental music and composition from disparate geographic locations, deepwhitesound supports the diffusion of media and digital distribution. All work featured is offered without charge as full-release, artist-constructed digital downloads under the Creative Commons license. deepwhitesound values diverse local and net-based community, using social media as a platform for collaborative projects and communication between artists, organizers and curators.

For more information, please visit:















Random Access Tape / Stream Room

Precipice Fund Project Update: SENSINGFEELINGPERCEIVING / Exquisite Corpus

Exquisite Corpus was a collaboratively designed and facilitated workshop that provided visual and interdisciplinary artists interested in materials of performance–time, space, presence, physicality and voice–a rigorous place to study, experiment and practice. The project was made possible with the support of a grant from the Precipice Fund.


RESPONSES from PARTICIPANTS AROUND the question: What would you like someone else to explore in their performance?

“Follow your own interest. This can pertain to anything we have explored in class-going deeper into past homework assignments or anything else that has come up”:


agency. choices. Curiosity. Motivation – what motivates a person (you or someone else) to perform? – explore this.


Two parts:

1.  I’d be curious to see to being ‘on’ or ‘performing’ at 100%, 10%, and neutral.

2.  I’d also be curious to see being ‘off’ or ‘not performing’ at 100%, 10%, and neutral.


This being performed in relationship to an object.

The object has personal meaning to the performer.


What does it mean to blend, or show a range from being on to off, to go from neutral, to performing, to then not performing, in a performance?


We are so accustomed to frontal, face-to-face communication. I’d like to know more about ways of sensing, feeling, perceiving, connecting with, and communicating with the audience when performing with your back


I am curious whether or not self consciousness is the same thing as being in a performance state.


I wonder if performance can ever be turned “off”.


I am curious about presence and awareness, that internal measurement of sensing your own presence and the presence of others, when you’re “on” in terms of performing. What breaks that sense of awareness and presence? Are you able to hold it? Do you forget you are “on” while performing and if you forget but still engaged with others or the space, does that mean you are still “on”?


What are the ways in which an audience’s attention is directed?


I am curious about how one can stay “free” within their performance to make choices that both surprise themselves (and keep them interested) as well as keeping the performance “fresh” for the audience.




























Precipice Fund Project Update: Arresting Power

Arresting Power: Resisting Police Violence in Portland, Oregon is a feature-length documentary film that provides a historical and political analysis of the role of the police in contemporary society and the history of policing in the United States through personal storytelling as well as interviews with community organizers past and present. It provides a framework for understanding the systems of social control in Portland with its history of exclusion laws, racial profiling, red-lining, gentrification practices and policing along lines of race and class. It serves to uncover Portland’s unique history of police relations and community response. The project was supported by a grant from the Precipice Fund.

ARRESTING POWER: Resisting Police Violence in Portland, Oregon


US, 2014, 90 minutes


Precipice Fund Project Update: FRONT

FRONT provides a print-based representation of Portland dance artists while fostering conversations between local creators and national and international peers in the field of contemporary dance. The publication serves as a design-forward visual object as much as a collection of critical writing on dance. On November 22, FRONT released the fourth edition of its annual newsprint publication dedicated to contemporary dance, the production and printing of which was supported by a Precipice Fund grant.

Ed_4Poster_Final_GRAPHICS copy

ED4: BUOY focuses on dance practices and processes untethered from performance presentation and emphasizes conversations between West Coast dance makers. The newly released publication pays homage to two champions of the social potential surrounding performance: Performance Works NorthWest (PDX) and AUNTS (NYC). A brand new section, Notes from the Field presents a trove of artifacts from the creative lives of contemporary dance makers. From Houston, Rachel Cook of DiverseWorks delves into her curatorial vantage in a commissioned essay, while FRONT offers a glimpse into its recent Resource Room Residency at PICA.

 Hosted by Ristretto Roasters on Couch, the release party for ED4: BUOY was attended by friends from Portland’s arts communities as well as passersby and members of the media new to FRONT. Since the release, FRONT has mailed BUOY to contributors across the US and abroad and sent out a number of mail orders—notably for archival purposes in the libraries of Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. In the coming months, FRONT will participate in the Publication Fair via Publication Studio (12/14, Ace Cleaners) and have on-site presence at the American Realness festival and bookstore (1/8-1/18/15, Abrons Art Center, NYC).


















Get a BUOY today!
front2 front4





Precipice Fund Project Update: Weird Shift Storefront

Supported by a grant from the Precipice Fund, the Weird Shift Storefront was open for six months in 2014, from April through October. In that time, they hosted more than 25 events, displayed the work of 15 artists/non-artists directly, and featured over 16 presenters in the various evenings, workshops, and our signature “Micro-Talk” sessions, at which anyone who wanted to could come and share their marginalia research to a curious and eager audience. With 30 hours of regular open time per week, in addition to those events, Weird Shift was able to showcase visual, performance, video, and sound art from Portland-based, national, and international artists. Weird Shift Storefront made a space available that anyone could enter, not just an “art” crowd, and think, discuss, and experience different ways of sharing interesting material with other people.

Weird Shift1 Weird Shift4 Weird Shift3 Weird Shift2







































Weird Shift Storefront



Precipice Fund Project Update: Resident Residency

Supported by a grant from the Precipice Fund, Resident Residency invited artists to participate in their respective neighborhood association meetings as a context for developing participatory public artworks. Over the past year, six artists-in-residence worked as organizers, researchers, activists and fellow neighbors to create projects that were engaging, playful, and thought provoking in their own Portland neighborhoods.

At the end of the project, Resident Residency published a book documenting the project. The book includes writing and project documentation from each of this year’s six artists, an essay by Travis Nikolai, and a group interview about the idea and practice of Resident Residency:

Portland Neighborhood Map

“The artists of Resident Residency … recode our perceptions of where and what we call home. They draw us outside of ourselves, outside of our homes, by constructing reasons to linger in spots just beyond the boundaries of our personal property. They make us loiter. And whilst loitering create circumstances in which we exchange our peculiarities or partake jointly of the idiosyncrasies of our surroundings. In Linda Wysong’s “Sabin Now and Then”, the exchange is a formal one, where longtime residents relate watershed moments in the neighborhood’s history. In Khris Soden’s “Buckman Wonder Wander”, smaller changes and personal places are examined on a casual stroll. Ariana Jacob’s “Piedmont Neighborhood Walk Swap” turns the dérive inward as she pairs residents off for walks in ways designed to burst our “filter bubble”: the phenomenon, heightened by information age over-saturation, to seek out that which is already attuned to our particular sensibilities. Mack McFarland and Katy Asher’s piece Tug O’ War: North Portland Knockdown is less verbal but offers discourse through physical competition where audiences can know one another through victories, losses, bumps and bruises. Last, Krista Connerly’s “Reprieve From Infinite Bustle” creates an intimate exchange through shared silence in the vulnerability of a communal nap in a public place. By activating audiences through varied forms of personal exchange in spaces often delineated by private reverie, the artists endeavor to make us distinctly aware of the boundaries we place around our communal spaces, ourselves, and each other.”

- Excerpt from Where is a Place by Travis Nikolai, an essay in the Resident Residency Book

For more information and documentation of Resident Residency, please visit





Resident Residency



Precipice Fund Project Updates: Stream Room, M.A.S.S., and Spreading Rumours

As part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program, with additional lead funding from the Calligram Foundation, the Precipice Fund was instituted last year as a grantmaking initiative designed to serve independent and collaborative visual art projects, programs, and spaces in Portland, Oregon. Administered by PICA, the program is now in its second year, with the newest round of awards (2014-15) to be announced in early December.

In the meantime, 2013-14 grantees have been busy executing their Precipice-funded projects, which span exhibitions, gallery spaces, performances, publications, residencies, workshops, free schools, televised plays, sound installations, an experimental film and media festival, web-based curatorial explorations, and political interventions in public space.

Below are updates on three active projects: Stream Room, M.A.S.S., and Spreading Rumors. Please scroll to the end of the post for images from Spreading Rumors’ most recent interventions.

Stream Room by deepwhitesound

Exhibition Artists: Dana Paresa, Matthew McVickar, DB Amorin


Hundreds of micro-compositions produced by dozens of international sound artists and musicians are randomly sequenced and broadcast via wi-fi to handmade streaming units. Each collected composition is designed to be played simultaneously as an immersive sound installation.

The result is a cacophonous, randomized bombast of disparate experimental compositions, playing over and against each other, an aural metaphor of the chaotic and over-stimulating nature of the internet itself. The discord of battling sound sources and quickly transitioned content creates a type of meditative experience. Rather than aiming to reach transcendence through minimalism, senses are bombarded and inundated in a type of maximalism. The dissonant nature of the installation draws allusions to the overwhelming qualities of the internet, social media and the information age.

Stream Room serves as an appraisal of this condition, an errant signal celebrated, a space for enthralled annihilation. On view through November 2nd at FalseFront (also a 2013 Precipice Fund grantee), 4518 NE 32nd Ave.


M.A.S.S. Curatorial Collective announces M.A.S.S. IX, the latest edition of their interdisciplinary events series at Alberta Abbey, featuring performances from Grouper, White Gourd, and writer Tyler Brewington.

Saturday, November 1
7:00 PM doors; 8:00 pm performances
Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta St, Portland
[email protected]

About: M.A.S.S. (an ambiguous acronym) is a bimonthly music & performance series set in the beautifully resonant 350-capacity sanctuary of Alberta Abbey, a historic church turned mixed-use venue. Using exceptional sound engineering and equipment provided by Tim Westcott (SIX music series), the series aims to provide a contemplative environment for group and/or anonymous reflection, while cross-pollinating local and non-local artists, musicians, writers, and performers.

Spreading Rumors

Project Artists / Collaborators: Garrick Imatani, Ariana Jacob, Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen
Images of Participating Artists’ Work: (see below): Confetti (“No Jail”):
Calder Gray Paulsen; Confetti (“overseer – officer”): Joel Sjerven; Confetti (“reasonable and necessary force?”): Maddy Freman; signs by Sharita Towne and Stephanie Syjuko.

Spreading Rumors is a series of collaboratively produced experimental project platforms designed to create new modes of distribution for artistic and political purposes, and to intervene in existing communication circuits. These forms are activated by invited local and national artists and activists and targeted at strategic publics throughout the city of Portland. The series aims to create more space within Portland’s art community to support the production and sharing of explicitly political artwork, as we have noticed a lack of discourse around this work. Spreading Rumors will consist of four platforms, each using a different form designed by the collaborative team and with aesthetic and conceptual content by invited artists, writers and activists.

Spreading Rumors was recently featured on two blog posts from “MLK in Motion”:


Confeti1 Confetti2 ConfettiProductionParty1 ConfettiProductionParty2 SharitaTowne2 SharitaTowneSign1 StephanieSyjuco1

Precipice Fund Project Update: C.O.P.S.

C.O.P.S. (The Conceptual Oregon Performance School) is a free, artist-run, experimental summer school, with a focus on contemporary art and performance strategies. Its mandate is to engage participants in the methodologies, critical theory, and dialogue surrounding the discipline, while investigating its social and cultural role. Participants will experiment with a myriad of contemporary performance strategies, based upon formal and informal lectures, seminar-based dialogue, and structured group critique.

Supported by a grant from the Precipice Fund, the C.O.P.S. 2014 season took place over three summer weekends, with daily sessions  hosted by visiting artist/instructor teams, who gave lectures, assisted in marathon critiques with students, and facilitated collaborative projects that culminated in an exhibition at ROCKSBOXCONTEMPORARYFINEART.



Many Many Women as read by Many Many Men – C.O.P.S. – Session 3 – A Collaboration

Web: &


Facebook: conceptualoregon.performanceschool

Instagram: conceptualorperformanceschool

Audience Response to Super Nature by BodyCartography at TBA:14

Typically, my favorite parts of a dance performance are the costumes, the sleek bodies and the elegant presentation of precision. I appreciate the way the body can move within the limits of choreography, but I frequently feel so distant from the dancers. The space between me and performer, whether it is a few rows of auditorium chairs or several hundred rows in a stadium setting, is almost always enough for my attention to wane. I can easily drift away from the present moment as the dancers express passion and energy between one another on stage. My experience with the installation Super Nature by BodyCartography Project was quite the opposite. When I entered into the installation space, I felt an immediate responsibility to engage. I was immersed, intrigued and invigorated. I was part of the installation, and my energy collided with the performer’s energy in a way that made me feel relevant and alive. I want audiences to feel enveloped by the work, reflective and engaged by the performers or the experience. The directors of BodyCartography Project describe this installation as an opportunity to train audiences to be present and available with their emotions when they engage with a performance.

BodyCartography Project describes Super Nature on their website:

An intimate installation functions as part one. It is built for a gallery space and an audience of one. In an empty gallery, one member of the public meets one performer and has a non-verbal interaction. Both performer and audience have agency to transform the energy of the space through their behavior and social interaction, sometimes very subtle and sometimes extreme. The evening length theater work functions as part two.

I have not experienced the evening length theater work, and this post only considers part one of the work, an intimate installation which was installed at THE WORKS at Fashion Tech in Portland, OR as part of PICA’s annual TBA festival. For those of you who didn’t experience the Works this year, Fashion Tech is a 30,000 sq. ft. warehouse that once housed an interior design supplier. Super Nature was installed in a small, cinder block room that was most recently used as a studio for a spray paint artist. The space has a large vent coming down from the ceiling for ventilation and a heavy, sliding wooden door that leads into one of the main hallways of the building. BodyCartography Project installed a wooden floor painted white and had the walls painted a warm gray. The room had one light and speakers installed.

Photo 1 (5)

Otto in the Installation, photo by Chelsea Petrakis for PICA

During the installation, a single audience member is asked by a docent to “please remove your shoes and turn off your cell phone, feel free to be anywhere in the space and when the installation is finished, I will come open the door for you.” The exact language of these instructions is important for creating ambiguity and not dictating the audiences viewing response. Next, the docent opens the door, and audience of one enters the space to find a solitary performer. After approximately 15 minutes, the docent comes to open the door for them. When I served as docent for this piece, I waited for the participant to naturally emerge from the space before I closed the door behind them. If someone had nervous energy or expressed feelings of anxiety, I stated explicitly that they could leave the installation at any point if they felt uncomfortable. Uncomfortable interactions can lead to empathetic reactions that are sometimes unreachable in other realms; however, it is important that nobody feels trapped during the installation.

Super Nature is unique because both the performer and the audience member are alone in their role, and the performance is an interaction that unfolds, dependent on the energies of both people in the room. The tension between the social and intuitive body creates an immediate confusion about the role of the audience member. The experience questions whether the audience is a participant, a spectator, a collaborator or a witness to the performance. In my experience, I felt a nonverbal invitation to exchange with the performer. I felt agency to affect the situation, and I felt responsible to respond to the performer in ways that I would not under different spatial (ie. a larger room) or social dimensions (ie. more audience members). The relationship that Super Nature builds between audience and performer is special because of the metaphorical light that shines on the solitary audience member. From my perspective, the audience member is part observer, part participant and part collaborator.

As part of TBA’s public conversation series hosted at PICA’s downtown office, Olive Bieringa (co-director of BCP), Otto Ramstad (co-director of BCP) and Michael Sakamoto discussed the installation in terms of its intended impact on the audience. Sakamoto, artist and faculty advisor in the MFA-Interdisciplinary Arts program at Goddard College, describes his experience with the installation as if he were “being danced.” He felt there was an immediate meeting of a shared moment during which he “was being danced.” His ultimate takeaway was the dialogue with himself that happened as a result of the experience with the performer. When the audience enters the space, they have to choose where to be, how to respond, and how they want to absorb or reflect on the situation. Some feel enlightened and inspired after leaving the space, others feel disquieted or uncomfortable with the silence or close proximity between performer and audience. Ideally, this piece opens up the sense of discovery for the audience and gives the audience a space to practice reflexiveness in their own body.


Roz (left) and Olive (right), photo by Chelsea Petrakis for PICA

I spoke with a lot of people after they exited the installation, and frequently, people felt like voyeurs or had strong empathetic reactions, both physical and mental. I wondered why, in this more intimate setting, people felt specifically like voyeurs especially when compared to a more traditional setting where audience members are exclusively spectators. As an audience member at a stage performance, I have frequently felt myself disappearing into the crowd, but in this installation, my position as the audience member was more within myself than it is in a big theater. In some instances, audience members felt the desire to disappear and not disturb the performer. The option to disappear or interact is a spectrum for each person who enters the space, and some people may experience a moment where their relationship to the performer shifts. For many people, this shift came close to the end of their time in the installation when they began to open up their metaphysical energy to the experience. This type of experience gives the audience and the performer the opportunity to learn something new about themselves in relation to a stranger. Regardless of what behavior the audience chooses to enact, they affect the performer, and in a sense, the distribution of agency during the performance is constantly in flux. In some cases, audience members felt like they had little to no agency to transform the environment.

Anna and Roz

Anna (left) and Roz (right), photo by Chelsea Petrakis for PICA

After people exited the installation, I tried to give them a subtle, nonverbal invitation to share with me about their experience. Many people responded to the invitation, and I have transcripts of a few conversations to share with you. I tried my best to respect people’s need to be with themselves directly after the installation, and as a result, some of my conversations occurred hours after the audience member’s experience with Super Nature. Each of the following interviews took place in Fashion Tech where the project was installed, and all participants gave consent to be recorded. All names have been changed for the privacy of the individual.

Conversation with John from France
Right after he came out of the installation

John: There’s this thing about a relationship with someone, with the body, we’re just breathing the same air. Because she’s a dancer, she has a very different body, and it renews the gaze that I have on the body.

Roz: Was there a breakthrough moment for you in the piece?

J: It was just a tidal wave, it was coming, and it was disappearing, coming and disappearing. The fact that you can change your orientation in the room is making it like real life. You don’t have to feel the gaze of other people in the audience. This big, deep, profound intimacy with someone that you don’t know, that you probably will not know after this experience, it’s just great.

Conversation with Sophia from Portland
Right after she came out of the installation

Roz: How was the experience for you?

Sophia: It just feels really good. I just really enjoy when I connect with somebody.

R: Did you feel like you connected with her [the performer]?

S: Oh yeah. We rolled around on the ground some. It’s a thing of trust. It’s all about that. Letting you understand. Every other person who is in there is going to have a different bond or reaction. Some [audiencers] might be like “stay away from me” and freak out or just watch. Some will want to be with you, whatever you’re going through.

R: What about the interaction made you feel like you had connected [with the performer]?

S: I don’t know. It’s just about accepting somebody. It’s like, “Okay, you can lean on me, and I can lean on you.” Then there was a big smile. There were moments with eyes closed. There was a lot of allowances. I don’t do a lot of contact stuff, it’s weird.

R: Me neither, I’ve never done it before this experience.

S: I’ve seen so much dance in my life, and I have a lot of dancer friends. It’s nice to experience. I need more of that. It’s not my thing. I just like to learn other things, letting go.

R: Would you consider practicing contact dance after this experience?

S: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I should start going to Conduit [dance studio in Portland]. I need to roll around with people more. I like the lighting. The space makes you feel like you can just be.

R: And be however you want.

S: Yeah, you can be light. It’s just so beautiful. I’m really glad I came down.

Conversation with Emma from Portland 
Immediately after she came out of the installation

Emma: By coincidence, I was standing in this corner right before it was over. When you started to open the door, the weight [used as part of the door’s opening system]…

Roz: Oh no…

E: And then I realized, I thought it was coming down from space, but it was actually connected to the door. It was really interesting. I could tell it was ending and for some reason I had just put myself in that corner at the very end. It was a neat coincidence.

R: I’m glad you didn’t get hurt. I ended in that same corner once, too. I almost got hit with the weight, too.

E: [laughter], that was interesting. It felt like a complete closing in that sense.

R: What other experiences did you have there?

E: Well, it was interesting because it was so intimate that there was quite a bit of discomfort. I think I felt a little uncomfortable because the performer/viewer relationship is somewhat upset. Not upset, but it wasn’t as clear.

R: How did you respond to that ambiguity?

E: Well, I just kind of went with it. I found when he was on the ground, I sat on the ground because I didn’t want to be over. That felt too hierarchical. In a sense, I kind of moved around a bit in relation to his movements.

R: Did it make you feel like you would like to move around in a larger theater setting? To gain different vantage points?

E: Well, I’m not a dancer. I did kind of have a sense of where it would be interesting to mimic and respond to his movements.

R: Did you?

E: I didn’t really. Except, I moved up and down. I thought, “oh, that looks like my yoga pose, I could do that…I could do that.”

R: What held you back from doing those things you were feeling?

E: Being in this place [gestures towards the building and larger space around her].

R: Being in the audience role…

E: Right, you’re not supposed to move. Right? I mean, I moved around a little bit. Also, when you do it, you don’t see the other person as much.

R: Totally.

E: So, that was kind of interesting, too. I’m not sure where the word cartography comes from because I didn’t really feel there was a lot of mapping going on.

R: This project is called Super Nature and the artists are called BodyCartography Project.

E: Oh, okay. Yes. The soundtrack was interesting. So industrial. So hot. I feel so bad for the guy. There’s no air. That’s not a heady discussion. I expected it would be more tactile. But, it wasn’t.

R: Do you think you had agency to make it tactile, or not?

E: I didn’t feel like I did.

R: Interesting.

E: Because of the spotlight. And because of his movements, they were very dance movements. They weren’t pedestrian movements at all. So, you had a sense that he was being a modern dancer and you were in a small room watching him. I felt that I had a certain agency, but not…if his movements were different, I would feel more agency.

R: Thanks for your reflections.

E: It was interesting, thanks a lot.

After TBA, the first participant at the Portland installation asked to share feedback about the experience via email. Here are his remarks:

Hello my name is Andre Middleton, Community Services Coordinator for the Regional Arts and Culture Council, and I was fortunate to the be the first participant in the BodyCartography Project’s Super Nature performance at the 2014 PICA TBA festival. I knew very little about this participatory performance experience outside of what I read in the description.

Let me start by saying that the stark grey walls of the room in which it took place were very prison like. As I entered the room and the door was closed behind me I felt as if I had stepped through a portal that removed me from the world at large. The silence that enveloped me soon gave way to an atmospheric rumbling that came from a single speaker suspended from the ceiling. The lone male figure in the room seemed poised, almost coiled with potential energy. I was unsure if I or he was to be the instigator of the performance so I started to move. I can’t recall how I moved, but I do recall that I wanted to avoid limiting myself within the space. I wanted to have the right to touch all the walls, I wanted to break down my personal bubble and therefore establish a presence within his as well. As we moved closer, the normal walls we often build around ourselves were shattered as we touched. In an instant I thought about the taboos of male on male contact. I wanted to let the dancer know that he was welcome in my space, so I didn’t retreat from his touch. I also wanted to acknowledge his contact so I simply rotated my hand as we continued to move now in tandem. When we parted it was not a separation of sorts but the next phase of the dance. soon our eyes made contact. In a way, this next phase was even more intimate than our physical contact. Our gaze lingered for what felt like an eternity. By the time our eyes parted it felt right, not rushed or hurried. Our bodies had somewhere else to go and of course our eyes followed.

After talking with audience members, I realized that there are a lot more outcomes and variables to this installation than I thought after experiencing it myself, and I wondered how the directors have decided to measure success for the piece.

The following quotes come from an email correspondence that I had with Olive and Anna, one of the performers, after they left Portland and returned to Minneapolis. My goal was to give the performers a platform for describing their intentions during the installation, to share the vulnerability and practice that goes into such a performance.

Email between Roz and Olive from September 25, 2014:

Roz: During the public conversation at PICA’s downtown office, you described your work in terms of creating opportunities to form relationships. Can you explain how a relationship develops between the audience and the performer in Super Nature?

Olive: I’m interested in engagement. I’m interested in identifying the moments we feel connection with each other. I’m interested in how a changing relationship, in this case between performer and audience, can manifest in a dance. I’m interested in how our attention can be deeply focused on this feedback loop between ourselves and another person and the information passing between us. I’m interested in the gap of attention that this provides thereby allowing the unknown potential of our body to unfold. I’m interested in how we can be present with each other.

In the Super Nature installation, we get to practice being present with a complete stranger. Practice being vulnerable. Practice feeling our own inner melodrama. As an audience and performer I need this practice.

We had considered the installation as a potential training for our audiences before coming to the Super Nature stage show.

R: You jokingly mentioned during the workshop that you were trying to get the word in the dictionary, how do you define “audiencing”?

O:  Audiencing – verb, to practice being an audience, to be in the practice of being an audience???

I’m interested in the active engagement of our audiences. The job of viewing or experiencing good art work is not a passive role of consumption. How do we honor peoples time when they make the effort to come out and see our work? By honoring the choices they make while experiencing it [the work]. By giving audiences agency. By letting them have enough space to create connection and meaning. With the Super Nature installation I’m interested in creating an opportunity to practice audiencing in a tight frame where we can all feel the causal effect of our actions. It is a dense feedback loop.

R: Do you think it is possible to define a successful audience in Super Nature? A successful performer? How are the parameters for success different for this installation than they would be for the same piece performed on a large stage with 200 onlookers in chairs.

O: A successful audience for the installation is someone who is up for the challenge of being present with a stranger. For some people the room is too claustrophobic, or their expectation of seeing something “good” gets in the way of their ability to perceive what is happening.

A successful performer for the installation is someone who can attend to themselves and the audience and allow the performance to unfold in the space in-between. Inviting their whole body to be seen, 360 degrees, in detail. Receptivity and transparency are critical. Finding the balance between doing and being is where the dance begins.

We don’t perform exactly the space piece on stage for 200 people. The Super Nature stage work is a radical ecological melodrama with fifteen performers onstage, a live sound score by Zeena Parkins and mobile set design my Emmett Ramstad.  The installation is a close up with the same performers and content unfolding in an improvised frame. In both versions we have attempted to choreograph empathy. This plays out very differently with the different scale of each work.

Performer of Super Nature, Anna, also responded via email on October 1, 2014:

Roz: Do you think it is possible to define a successful audience in Super Nature? A successful performer? How are the parameters for success different for this installation than they would be for the same piece performed on a large stage with 200 onlookers in chairs.

Anna: I don’t think there is a specific successfulness. There I feel like my natural sense of evaluation after a run, as the performer, goes to a thinking that is similar to that of my pedestrian life, remembering what I offered, rethinking their ideas with more space and objectivity, I feel like I have less of the Merde-like blasé or the learned confidence I might feel in another performance setting, I do feel a bit more of that with the stage version. But I also feel or remind myself that it is one small, and first encounter, as I might remind myself when first meeting someone. There is a desire to put forward the best things, in this area; the openness, an ease in mutual understanding translated through physicality and the body, a certain honesty, but it’s a two way street, and there are many factors that might interfere with my desire. The important thing is just the exchange, or the meeting, or the opportunity. I think it would be the same for the audience, though without some of the preparation and fore-warning, which might come as both a hindrance and a benefit.

Photo 4

Roz (left) and Olive (right), photo by Chelsea Petrakis for PICA

In their email correspondence with me, Olive and Anna both describe a necessary openness from the audience and the performer that is key to the work’s success on a performance-to-performance basis. The movers are trained in choreography that aims to induce empathy and highlight the kinesthesia in the audience, but as Anna describes, the intention is not always met. People experience this artwork by engaging or not-engaging from the perspective of an audience, within this experience is an inner dialogue and an outer interaction which becomes the artwork. No documentation or final product is necessary. In my experience, the level of intimacy and openness that I was able to achieve with the performer was genuine and felt like the most authentic response I have ever had to a dance performance. I attribute that authenticity to the performer’s capacity to meet me halfway. This setting provides a space where audience expectations can be deconstructed through movement, quiet observation or dramatic nonverbal communication. This piece allows the willing audience member to engage directly with the energy of a stranger and experiment with how that energy is affected by their presence. Each person who enters the room, audience and performer, have a responsibility to respect the emotional atmosphere of the other and help each other find comfort in the discomfort of the unknown.

Essay and transcriptions by Roz Crews. Roz is currently a student in the Art and Social Practice MFA program at Portland State University.
You can email her at [email protected]



Dance Party Evelyn, Chanticleer

there was a breeze of disco in the air and men in jumpsuits and high heels, while a rush of disco undercurrent washed all in gathered glamour. Upon the still waters of a tranquil culture, the liquid color explosion of Evelyn splashed all in neon invention. Where are the stylish jet setters of Portland? Some wonder as they watch the pleasantly rotund denizens often seen comporting themselves amidst donut shops. My friend they were there. At Evelyn. In the night racing through dance and changing the face of the night. They mingled in scintillating outfits, stitched with mirrors, dripping with bangles, sleek in leathers. Women wore shoes of tangerine while men dressed as bashed disco balls flew past on roller skates. Outside the sonic umbrella of force field party music, the outside terrace gathered those who contrived to light a cigarette and mix. Ideas and gossip flew on tingling wings of informative instance. There was light. Faces and visages revealed themselves. Beautiful eyes. Strong chins. Lush hair. There were the elbows and shoulders of a crowd in full swing, permitting one to navigate their modest yet fabulous midst, just barely. The art of tomorrow careening through their blood, the songs of beyond dancing in their minds, this bunch of gathered beauty and humor and sly what-have-you impressed upon me the thought that tomorrow will be forward fabulous, retro informed and stellar. huzzahs in multitude to you beautiful ones and twos….   Hugh Gallagher

Speech and dance

There’s only one person on stage in Jack Ferver’s Mon, Ma, Mes, but the work is modeled on dialogue. There is dialogue with the audience, first of all, as Ferver begins the show with a forced Q&A session. And there is also plenty of dialogue in Ferver’s own speech, as he constantly refutes or modifies the details of a life revealed to us in spurts of energetic performance.

All these dialogues are simulations, however. The questions are scripted, openly so: the audience members chosen by Ferver (spontaneously, it seems) are handed notecards with a generally adulatory and leading question on it. The exchanges are funny, the way it’s funny to overhear a bad date or a pedantic museum conversation. But the equally simulated dialogue that Ferver carries out with himself grows decidedly less funny as the work goes on. In conversation after the performance was over, the question came up of when exactly I thought the tone changed. After all, the show began with loud and repeated audience laughter, but these moments gradually faded as it progressed. I thought, maybe simplistically, that the change had come when Ferver said the word “rape.” But this isn’t exactly so, as Allegra Jongeward pointed out to me, for there had been a previous moment when Ferver responded to an audience question with a long silence that led into his first dance performance. Both the pause and the dance elicited plenty of laughter, but in retrospect they foretold the improbable mix of lightness and gravity that would follow.

We might miss it as it’s happening, but this foretelling becomes retrospectively evident in another dance sequence, this one in the middle of a therapy session in which Ferver mimes both shrink and patient. I don’t want to talk about that, says the performer in response to some question he’s asked himself, I just want to dance for you. In isolation, this desire might be silly, but in the context of a work that constantly unveils the solipsism and insufficiency of language, it feels more serious. It places two forms of expression, speech and dance, in relief, and I think it holds the latter up as an ideal.

I think so because of the way that Ferver’s narrative runs from self-indulgence to absurdity. We all need to talk about ourselves, but from the outset—already in the title of the work (three French translations of my) and definitely in the simulated Q&A—Ferver is ridicules this societal norm. It is common tic among pundits today to chalk excessive self-involvement up to new technologies of the self like social media platforms and front-facing cameras. But to be thorough we’d have to go farther back, starting with the introspection encouraged by Freud’s talking cure and before that Catholic confession. Michel Foucault has even traced the phenomenon of parrhesia—etymologically, saying everything—back to the ancient Greeks. In short, narcissism isn’t the invention of the millennial generation. When Ferver sings about being the only person in the room, he’s tapping into a long history.

And in the structure of the work, no manifestation of narcissism is as evident as therapy—both as a practice and as a diffuse cultural form. A barely mentioned trauma gives a nearly absent baseline to the performance, and Ferver’s monologues are reminiscent, for me, of classic SNL characters like Jack Handy (self-affirmation: good enough, smart enough) and Mary Catherine Gallagher (anxiety: hand and verbal tics). His intent seems to be not to mock therapy, but rather to incorporate its structure of feeling into the show as a way of revealing the insufficiency of speech.

In this way, Mon, Ma, Mes can be contrasted with Germinal, a show I had seen the night before. Here also the construction of the self is placed on stage, but its comic effect derives from the futility of things like the drive to categorize and the inescapability of the dialectic. It shows how absurd it would be to arrive at where we are today through a careful consideration of all our options. Its funniest moment was when the characters had the opportunity to order a starter kit for existence via phone. Germinal’s foils or sources seem to be Hegel and Derrida, while Ferver’s—more refreshingly, I think, because Hegel and Derrida are cold thinkers and terrible writers—is the more eloquent lineage that runs from Freud to Oprah.

That lineage gives the context of Ferver’s work, but he’s not in thrall to it. If telling one’s truth always involves some level narcissism, dance takes us elsewhere, outside ourselves. At least that’s the hope I saw in Mon, Ma, Mes. Not only does dance come in when speech becomes difficult, but it also provides the only occasion for real coexistence. About halfway through the work, Ferver asked a dancer in the audience to join him on stage. Initially, their interaction shows a one-sided collaboration, ridiculing the egomania of Ferver’s character. But when they begin to dance, the task he carries out—following his partner’s hands with his own, turning the other’s horizontal palms into the letter T with his own vertical hands—is vulnerable and soft. He follows instead of leading, as the two become engaged in an elaborate game of Twister in the air. The scene represents an alternative to both speech and narcissism: bodily movement and entanglement with someone else.

Craig Epplin is an assistant professor in the World Languages and Literatures Department at Portland State University.

sexy deconstructed

Double feature, Death of the Pole Dancer and Macho Dancer by Eisa Jocson

I get great satisfaction from both being a part of and watching an audience who is negotiating whether or not they have been intentionally been made part of a performance. Comfortable or uncomfortable, it is thrilling to be in the moment and let the experience happen, as opposed to controlling it. Being surprised is part of the fun. That’s what TBA does best – surprising us at every turn, inviting artists to blow open their corners of the world and hone in on their point of view for us to see. Eisa Jocson’s audience on Saturday was rearing to go. They were excited and fully invested in whatever was to come.

Ms Jocson, a contemporary choreographer and dancer trained in ballet, with a background in visual art, asks us to examine relationships between the economics and cultures surrounding pole dancing and Macho Dance – (a subgroup of sexualized dance for men in the Philippines). It is interesting that she chose to investigate these two marginalized forms of dance.

The performance of Death of the Pole Dancer began in the smaller of the two studios at BodyVox and we, the audience, filed in forming a circle around the middle of the room, creating an anticipatory space for a pole and a dancer that had not yet materialized. How was this going to work? Where was the pole? A pole didn’t seem like a movable prop. Shouldn’t this sort of thing be set up before hand?

While waiting for the show to start, lots of questions started to come to my mind. I thought about audience expectations and how much power that has over an artist, especially when there are economic stakes.  And, isn’t money always at stake? What exactly is objectification, and does it happen more often than we realize? Are we each guilty of objectifying someone? Objectification is treating a person as a thing or tool without regard for their dignity, disregarding their feelings and experience and taking away their autonomy. Ms Jocson was making us wait for her. Was she intentionally creating space for us to reflect? Was she objectifying us? Was this the audience participation part?

Eventually, Ms Jocson – donning six inch, bondage inspired, black patent leather heels, dressed in black short shorts and a halter-top – entered the room carrying a rectangular black nylon bag on her shoulder.

With an expressionless face and long black hair cascading over her shoulders, she knelt down, laying the bag on the floor. With crafted precision, she opened it taking out the different components of what was to become the pole and its mechanics in a ritualized choreographed manner. Four metal tubes – two long, two short, two round bases, one Allen wrench, one metal rod, three towels – one pink, two white, one small spray bottle, two band aids and one pair of fingerless leather gloves. Two moments of attentive self-care surprised me in how they revealed Jocson’s humanity and fragility. The first was when she took a moment to adhere the two Band-Aids to her palms before slipping on the gloves; the second was her use of the towels to protect her knees while assembling the pole. These both provided an interesting juxtaposition against the steeliness of the metal pole and her demeanor.

I am calling this a post-modern distillation of the act of pole dancing, its relationship to the audience and its emotional impact on the dance. It was brilliant! Even though she was dressed in a sexy, alluring outfit, it did not change the fact that she was executing a task. This was not a sexy task. It was one as mundane as unpacking a suitcase or rebuilding a car engine.

What is sexy? Why isn’t this sexy for me but it is for others? What makes this sexy? Who created this particular idea of sexy? Why has this particular image of what is sexy for women become the norm propagated by the media and clothing manufactures like Victoria Secret? What happened to individually based preferences? How do stereotypes shape a form?

Over the course of the performance, there were two overtly sexual moments which made me question who was in control and who was being objectified. Was it the performer or audience or both? One was when she was shining the pole with a cloth and the other was when she first promenaded around the pole. Her energy changed and for a moment her movements were sexualized and then they weren’t. It is a tool that can be turned on and off.

After the pole had been affixed to its central location in the room, Ms Jocson began walking around it shaking it vigorously to test its strength shaking it so violently that it jerked her body back and forth flinging her hair up into a crazy cloud around her head. The pole would bend in the middle but never break. She began building momentum with a series of repetitious movements pulling her in towards the pole and banging her chest against it. This energy propelled her off the ground and around the pole into a series of beautiful feats of amazing strength. Swinging around and around until her energy wound down and she slid off the pole onto the floor and finished in a heap of disheveled hair, with the pole haphazardly remaining between her thighs. It’s a rough image. We are uncomfortable and don’t know if she is finished. We stand silent for some time until a brave soul begins to clap and we follow suit. We file out of the room leaving her lying on the floor.


Eisa Jocson- Death of the Pole DancerEisa Jocson- Death of the Pole Dancer


Macho Dancer

Eisa Jocson’s second dance, Macho Dancer is the culmination of her time spent with a small group of young Filipino male dancers who perform in nightclubs. Their style of dance is culturally specific and distinctly Filipino. It is designed to appeal to both men and women and is a social construct of what is thought to be strong, sexy, cool and masculine.  It is a series of strutting, posing, hand gestures, flexing, body stroking and knee crawling that Ms Jocson performs flawlessly in a pair of cut off jean shorts, a tank top, cowboy boots and black knee pads.

“By emulating and simulating the macho dancer, she investigates social, cultural and economical conditions that ultimately unveil this perfect, normative body as a constructed body.”

Even in the “normative” state of our daily lives, doesn’t the body continue to be a construct of whatever environment we are a part of? Are any of us ever really free from such societal constraints?

This gender loop that she created as a woman performing as a man is so convincing that I easily loose track of the fact that she is a woman even when she pulls her top off and is bare chested.

Ms Jocson, with the help of a fog machine and spectacular lighting, brilliantly re-recreated the atmosphere of a nightclub, adding an array of music choices to facilitate the full exploration of emotions and movement within the form.

Her ability to shape shift and completely let go of her own body construct and adopt that of another was astounding.

She is fierce, raw and honed. She is smart and deliberate. I am moved, inspired and invigorated.


Eisa Jocson- Macho Dancer


Jamuna Chiarini is a freelance dance artist, producer and dance writer, writing regularly for Oregon Arts Watch in Portland Oregon.


Making A Living and ‘A Living Documentary’

Cynthia Hopkins, A Living Documentary. Photo by Thomas Kochie.

Cynthia Hopkins, A Living Documentary. Photo by Thomas Kochie.

I’m so glad that I read Kate Sanderson Holly’s post about Cynthia Hopkins’ A Living Documentary before I began writing mine. One of the coolest things about people blogging during the festival is that you get to hear some of the thoughts that are happening in the theater with you. As Kate was wondering if this performance had meaning to someone who wasn’t an experimental theater artist, I was questioning what the experience of the piece was for its inner circle audience, those who could intimately relate to Cynthia’s story. I am not an experimental theater maker, but A Living Documentary still echoed with my experiences as a young person trying to figure out how to make my way in the world.

So many of the questions raised in this piece are questions I ask myself. Replace ‘theater’ with ‘writing’ or ‘poetry’ or even ‘queer,’ and it seems these spheres aren’t so distinct. These questions about art making may not be universal, but they are certainly relatable. There’s particularity in grant writing and theater lights, but in Cynthia’s work there’s also the applicability of how incongruent our desires are with our ability to make a living and survive.

I’d argue that Living Documentary’s ability to highlight these commonalities and parallels is fostered part and parcel by the humor and quiet with which Cynthia presents herself. Her piece was equal parts dark penciled eyebrows/wigs and naked guitar solos, getting me with both her ridiculous facial expressions and tranquil tones.

She spoke candidly (in her way, through recorded tape and characterization) of what it is like to move away from traditional ideas of artistic and financial success, to fold your nonprofit theater company, to stop paying unemployment tax on an enormous team of designers, and to envision a different freedom for yourself: freedom where artistic expression isn’t predicated on debt and fancy theater lobbies.

In humor and in nakedness, when some of the artifice of art is stripped away, when we’re just in a theater with one another, there’s a space of relatability. When Cynthia removed her makeup and clothes and stood with a guitar in low light, I was a wholly disarmed viewer. I was ready to hear her story and enjoy its intersections with my own.

I’m left wondering about the socioeconomic and biographical influences on the form of this work. Cynthia is the daughter of two English teachers, and she only very briefly experienced the spending power of financing extravagant works with her own money (which even then was tainted by its inheritance from her abusive grandfather), so when she speaks about survival, she is speaking about real survival, about how to make a living that is sustainable and safe. The intimate scale of Living Documentary amplifies the humor and honesty, but it also drew me in with its honesty about how much art costs and how much an artist needs to get by.


Olivia Mitchell is a Whitman College alum, cat-lover, and writer. Sometimes, she even writes about art. She lives in Portland, OR.


Eisa Jocson, Can You Help Me?

The dancer in Eisa Jocson’s Death of the Pole Dancer says, “Can you help me?”  These four words are the only audible words of the whole performance, and each one punctuates the silent stage with an affect of doubt.

Can we help her?  What is in our control?  Who is in our control?

Jocson’s 25 minute piece masterfully presents a dancer (Jocson herself) dressed in impossibly high stiletto heels and a leather bikini.  In a concert of silence, the dancer spends the majority of the performance assembling, shining and aligning the chromed stripper pole, which she stakes directly in the heart of center stage.  The last portion of the performance exhibits the physical effort of the performer, visible by sweat and labored breath–both halfway covered by an invasive pop song beaming from overhead speakers.  The end (oh, the end?!?) finds the dancer face down on the floor–legs dangling around the unresponsive pole.  To complete Death of the Pole Dancer, the audience must exit the performance space, leaving our performer alone and sprawled on the floor.

After Jocson’s performance I overheard many viewers in the lobby expressing the desire to ask the prone (“dead”) dancer if she was okay or if she needed assistance.  Eisa Jocson’s dance elaborates on the notion that the audience can help–that the audience can do something about the uncomfortable mess on stage.  But what exactly are the actions Jocson asks us to take?  The audience members’ expressions of pity, of shame and of insecurity point to the core of Jocson’s piece:  Jocson exposes a dynamic out of balance and a relationship between performer and viewer that needs care and assistance.

Something dies in Jocson’s piece, and Jocson herself is the assassin.  A woman in total control of her whole performance, she kills the presupposed power of the audience over her body.  Jocson tops from the bottom.  She inverts the audience’s gaze.  Really, who is powerless in Death of a Pole Dancer?  The dancer or the audience?


Jackie Davis is happy to be alive in a time where art can be beautifully ugly.  She is honored to walk this Earth surrounded by so many creative geniuses.

Dear Cynthia Hopkins


Dear Cynthia Hopkins,

You may not remember this but I met you once in Gary Grundei’s music composition class at Naropa University.  I was there getting an MFA in Contemporary Performance, and you were there writing the music for a production of Trojan Women.  The women who sang your piece rehearsed in the studio next to mine, and every time I heard it drifting through the hallway I would freeze completely, because I didn’t want to hear any sound except for that song.  It was, and remains, one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard.  You came to our class one day and listened to our songs.  In my piece I harmonized with myself, played two instruments that I barely know how to play and sang about wolves.  Gary told me later that you really liked my work, and knowing this carried me through a good chunk of the following year in my artistic life.  Being someone who went to all the trouble to get an MFA in Contemporary Performance, I am clearly in the target audience for your new piece, A Living Documentary.  I am so much the target audience that I can’t really assess whether the piece would be enjoyable or have any relevance for anybody else, but I want  you to know how profoundly meaningful it was for me to witness.

Once I had a dream about the theater director, Anne Bogart, one of my artistic heroes.  She was waiting at the end of a long line, like a guru, and each of her devotees got the chance to bow before her and ask one question.  I wasn’t sure what I would ask until I got in front of her, but as soon as I opened my mouth I burst into tears.  I wailed “I gave my life to theater, and theater ruined my life!”  I guess I was hoping she would offer me some comfort, or wisdom, but instead she looked at me horrified, mouth agape, as if I had just spoken the unmentionable phrase.  I cried so hard in the dream that I woke myself up, and never did hear her speak.

I was reminded of that dream tonight as I watched your piece.  So many times I have shared the feelings and thoughts and frustrations that you expressed, but it is hard to find an audience to air those grievances to.  With my own collaborators there was a need to keep an optimistic spirit.  With my non-artist friends and family there was a gap in understanding–the response would be something like “Well you shouldn’t have gone into theater if you wanted to make a living”, or just a sympathetic smile that you might give to an astronaut talking about how rough space travel is–they want to be supportive, but they will never know what its like.

For me, this lack of understanding came to a head this year when I realized that my own husband no longer supported my artistic aspirations, because now I have somebody else who has to share my debt, my mortgage payments, and my stress.  These last few months are the first in my adult life when I have not been working on a theater piece, and it does feel something like a drug withdrawal.  For the most part I suffer silently, and I don’t talk about that part of myself because I don’t know that anybody can really understand.  But tonight you gave me something that the dream guru Anne Bogart couldn’t–you showed me that there is somebody who understands what I have gone through.  Not only do you understand, but you have made an entire brilliant, brave and wildly entertaining musical about it so that maybe some other people who haven’t been there will also understand.

As I was wrapping up my graduate education I went through a phase of being determined to “succeed”, and one of the things I wrote in bold permanent marker on a poster on the wall was “Play the Game”.  I have always been reluctant to play the game that was created by others, and seemingly for others, but I knew that I wanted to make a living as a “slightly experimental” contemporary theater artist, and so I decided I should try my hand at The Game.  That was four years ago, and while I haven’t yet succeeded in the way I wanted to then, and by most accounts it could be reported that I dropped out of the game, I have found tremendous freedom in my life since.  In your closing song you sweetly lilted “You are free to play whatever game you want to play”.  That is a conclusion that I have also come to, but I assumed that I would never land on the TBA stage (one of the ultimate markers of success in my world) unless I played somebody else’s game.  Your piece was a refreshing reminder that playing somebody else’s game is never what TBA is about–its about courageously sharing your authentic truth while also bringing the full force of your professionalism to the stage, and you pulled that off in spades tonight.  Thank you, and bravo!


Kate Sanderson Holly

former founding member of Fever Theater and Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble, currently free-floating yoga studio owner with a toddler

p.s. I will totally buy you coffee.  E-mail me, girl.  [email protected]

Sound as ventriloquist

Cinema is primarily a visual medium—silent film exists, invisible film doesn’t—but the experience of watching movies has almost never been without sound. In the silent era, single narrators or entire troupes of actors used to lend their live voices to the muted speech of onscreen dialogues. Orchestras or lone pianists provided music. Film’s early period was full of attempts to coordinate speech with speakers and music with musicians.

This context was on my mind during the Friday performance of Tanya Tagaq in Concert with Nanook of the North. A vocalist who works in the tradition of Inuit throat singing, Tagaq took the stage alongside Jesse Zubot (on violin and viola) and Jean Martin (on drums), and the three were accompanied by the recorded music of Derek Charke. Behind the performers, a large screen played Robert Flaherty’s 1922 film Nanook of the North. Almost a hundred years separate us from that film, but this juxtaposition of sound and image didn’t feel unnatural. I often found myself falling into what seems like the natural division of the senses—eyes on the screen, ears attentive to the music—until I’d catch myself and remember that there was a really riveting live performance happening on the stage in front of me. In those moments of forgetfulness, I was reliving what lots of early filmgoers experienced: visually captured, sonically enveloped.

But the point of this music was something other than to accompany the moving image. Rather, the musicians aimed to reframe Flaherty’s narrative. In this sense, the performance worked like a second interpretive layer atop the first one, which is already present in the film through its intertitles. For just as film has almost never gone without sound, it has just as rarely been without language. Images mean lots of things on their own, but since the early days of cinema the inclusion of words has served to orient the viewer toward certain aspects of the image track and away from others.

Thus a key sequence in Nanook of the North—which begins with the arrival of a group of Inuit men and women to a trading post and ends with a supposed demonstration of the workings of the gramophone—is interspersed with constant intertitles that instruct the viewer how to interpret the scenes. We learn that the group has arrived at a trading post, that they have skins and furs to trade, that they are proud of their dogs, one of whom is named Rainbow. And beyond this contextual knowledge, the words on screen also convey specific ideological and affective positions. The first one puts quotes around the words “big igloo,” which is the term, it is implied, used by the Inuit to refer to the trading post. The inclusion of this term responds to more than simple utilitarian purposes. Rather, it is meant to exhibit the filmmaker’s intimacy with the culture he is representing, even as it emphasizes its foreignness from both himself and his intended audience.

This emphasis on difference—the supposed exoticism of the Inuit family—runs throughout the intertitles. Their function seems to be to domesticate the image track, ensuring its smooth insertion into the racist clichés of settler colonialism. Over this initial interpretative layer, Tagaq and her collaborators introduced new layers of meaning. They did so sometimes by giving certain sequences an epic quality, the music building and quickening, but also through straightforward uses of language, as when Tagaq repeatedly heaved the word “colonizer” into the microphone as Nanook, the film’s protagonist, was being schooled in the operations of the gramophone. Her intervention reminded me of Walter Benjamin’s demand for revolutionary photographers, which was to give their images captions that would wrench them out of “fashionable clichés,” giving them rather a “revolutionary use value.” Over the visual captions present throughout Flaherty’s film, Tagaq added her own (vocal ones, in this case), reinterpreting the nature of trade and race relations in Canada.

Cinema scholar Rick Altman once compared the screen image to a ventriloquist’s dummy. Sound, in this scheme of things, rules the production of meaning in film. This concept can help us understand the force of this performance. That is, the sonic puppet show performed by Tagaq and her collaborators gives the characters in Nanook of the North, itself already a mash of word and image, new agency and vitality. The music—pulse or roar, or some other unnamable effect—eclipses Flaherty’s often condescending intertitles. In the process, the daily routines depicted in the film acquire a sense of heroism and dignity that the original film denies them.

Craig Epplin is an assistant professor in the World Languages and Literatures Department at Portland State University.

TBA vs. Toddler


I have been going to TBA every year since its inception, for most of my adult life.  The festival started in 2003: I was 23, fresh out of college, with an experimental theater degree and many big ideas about the potential for live performance.  TBA did not disappoint–it quickly became the most important event in my year.  I learned that the festival is best done through total immersion, so I would plan months ahead to make sure that I could get time off of work, clear my own rehearsal schedule, and avoid any major commitments during TBA time.  I became a master of the puzzle of the TBA schedule, finding a way to see every show.  I attended almost every workshop and artist talk and went to the Works every night.

As the festival gets older, so do I.  In the eleven years since its inception I have gotten married, had a kid, and bought a house many miles from the center of the city.  As with most new parents, my husband and I have had to put on hold many of the interests which used to define us.  But for me, the TBA festival is non-negotiable–it is the last shred of dignity in a life that has become consumed by juice boxes and Curious George.  It never occurred to me that I should take a break from the festival–my first festival as a mom was in 2012, and my son was only 8 weeks old.  I did “slow down”, by planning only one show per night instead of my normal pace of 2 or 3.  I still have the collection of panicked text messages that I received from my husband during most of those shows.  I left early from almost all of them, in total defeat.  This year, my son is 2-years-old and I am determined to get back to my old pace for this festival.  Here’s how my first attempt panned out:

2:30pm I pick up my son from preschool

3pm Arrive at home, tempt him out of a post-nap tantrum with promises of juice and television time

3:30pm Jump in shower, try to find something to wear that doesn’t have holes or stains.  TBA is, after all, a place to see and be seen.  I settle for yoga pants with a dress over them–fancy!

4:30pm Coax unwilling toddler away from the television.  Start the ultimate juggle: Prepare the car and the toddler for departure, get my bike to magically fit in the back of our small wagon while keeping toddler from dashing off to play in the street.

5:30pm Finally we are ready to go.  Pull several sketchy traffic maneuvers to get to my husband’s workplace in Sellwood by the time he gets off

6:05pm Arrive in a panic, super quick car and toddler pass-off and I am on my bike, headed downtown for the 6:30pm Samita Sinha performance.

6:15pm Remember that I have not regularly bike commuted in over 2 years and that Sellwood is actually kind of far from downtown.

6:30pm Wheeze past a tandem bike on the Hawthorne bridge, still imagining that I might get there on time.

6:41pm Arrive at the Winningstad, defeated.  Toddler 1, TBA Zero.

6:52pm Arrive at the Raven & Rose to enjoy a Manhattan, resolved to at least get an excellent seat for the 8:30 performance of Tanya Tagaq.

8:10pm Arrive to the pass holder line at PSU’s Lincoln Hall.  Notice that the couple in front of me brought their 7-year-old.  Eagerly interrogate them about the experience of bringing a child to the TBA fest.  It turns out they saw the Samita Sinha show at 6:30.  They report that the 7-year-old laughed uncomfortably through parts of it and made faces, but by the end was singing to herself as they exited, which her mother declares a success.  They tell me that the show was “beautiful”, and I resolve to juggle the rest of my weekend around so I can see it.

8:20pm Sit down in my excellent seat, 5 rows from the front, and enjoy hearing the people behind me talk about how they have been attending TBA since the beginning.  I am in good company.

8:34pm The show starts…

Tanya Tagaq comes out, barefoot, in a short and flowing dress.  She smiles coyly and charms the audience with exclamations about how cool our city is.  We are about to find out just how meaningful this statement is coming from an artist whose mother was born and raised in an igloo.  The movie that unfolds before us reveals the stark landscape of the Inuits in the early 1900′s: Water, ice, wind and snow.  The summers are cold, the winters are much colder.  The food is raw meat, the only variation is in whether it comes from fish or mammal.  Nanook of the North, we are told, is the first documentary ever made, but also controversial because some scenes were staged.  Staged or not, I don’t think I have seen a movie this visceral, authentic and affecting in some time.  Of course, the experience is colored by the strength of Tanya’s live soundtrack, and my focus is continually split between the remarkable, raw, humanity revealed by the film, and the remarkable, raw, humanity in Tanya’s wails, flails, rocks and shrieks.  Amidst the starkness and intensity there are moments of humor.  In my row I may be the only one who laughed knowingly as a mother tries to wipe her naked baby’s face with a seal skin and Tanya squeals with empathy for the unwilling child (apparently face wipes are universally reviled amongst toddlers).  The movie does leave me with one unanswered question:  Where do these babies poop?

The film announces “Tia Mak” (The End), and several moments go by as the artists and audience wind down from the other-world.  Someone whistles loudly, and from there the audience erupts.  I have a bike and I am seven miles from home, but as I chase a MAX train for 20 blocks through downtown Portland I realize how much of the wild courage of the film has gotten into me.  I find myself maneuvering pedestrians, tracks, and traffic stops fearlessly, like an Inuit in a kayak on the choppy waves.  I fly through the doors of my train in the nick of time and settle in to enjoy the aftermath of human effort, adrenaline and the ever-pulsing drive to live, deeply embedded in me by Tanya’s piece.  I am reminded that it was never easy to have a 2-year-old.  If I think its hard to make it to TBA on time, imagine if I had to spear a seal and build an igloo in just four hours of daylight.  photo

Kate Sanderson Holly is a theater artist, yogi, mother, long-time TBA press corps volunteer, and former founding member of Fever Theater and Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble.  She can currently be found teaching yoga and movement arts at her studio, Yoga Refuge.

T:BA:14 haikus and other poems No. 1

 For this years festival I am going to endeavor a few poetic responses (literally) to the work, the audience, the ambiance, etc.

The first of these are coming in the form of haikus.

Opening Night

Bright Moon with design
Confabulations arise
People. Our people.

Stacey -Wynne Greenwood

Voices everywhere,
heads too. Reenarchivement,
an exorcism

The rest were written collaboratively in an exquisite corpse style with some inspiration from Mallory Mason.

Tanya Tagaq in concert with Nanook of the North

One known quantity
knees back, hand up, wailing on
Dogs, and we with chills

Tanya Tagaq in concert with Nanook of the North No. 2

Wow! Slam! Bam! Hypnotizing
Making the stage home.

Mack McFarland is the Curator for the Pacific Northwest College of Art.



Eisa Jocson, Macho Dancer by Giannina Ottiker

Eisa Jocson speaks about gender performativity, choreographing the gaze, and much more in an interview with dance scholar Clare Croft.Clare Croft (CC): I wanted to talk about the choice to put these two pieces, Death of a Pole Dancer and Macho Dancer, together on one program. They have, I suppose, obvious potential links as physical performances of gender and sexuality. Is it interesting for you to have them both on the same program?

Eisa Jocson (EJ): The two works are situated in the same marginal spectrum of night work in the Philippines, but at the extreme opposite [ends of that spectrum] in terms of many things, mainly because of their clients [and] the gender relations [between dancer and client]. [Pole dancing usually features a female dancer with male clients, whereas macho dancing features a male dancer with both male and female clients.]

CC: You came to pole dancing as a hobby in a fitness studio, and you came to macho dancing as a spectator.  How did it shape your process of creation to come to one form of dance as a participant and another as a spectator?

EJ: With Death of the Pole Dancer, the work came about because of my experience with pole dancing as, first, a hobby. In the Philippines, I was one of the first few women to take the pole-dancing class. Eventually I was also teaching, and eventually I was also kind of a co-director of this pole dance academy. I think that during that time there was a lot of stigma during the beginning of pole dancing in the fitness [studio] or in the dance studio. [What] was very interesting for me [was] the shift from the strip club to the fitness studio—the space, the context. Somehow this shift didn’t happen immediately in society: [this] acceptance and awareness of how [pole dancing] could be appropriated as something else by women outside of the club–that it could be actually used to empower [women], or as a hobby, or for fitness. [What pole dancing means] depends on where you’re coming from and what your intention is.

Death of the Pole Dancer was not actually about the movement vocabulary of people dancing in general, but it was more of an investigation of how we’re seeing the way we’re seeing. You have a universal stereotype of a pole dancer. Somehow it interests me how much I can deviate from [that stereotype], and how much general perception can’t make the shift, too. With Macho Dancer, the challenge for me was to actually embody the movement vocabulary. I did not have the movement vocabulary of macho dancing prior to working on it.

CC: How did you go about acquiring the movement vocabulary of macho dancing?

EJ: I went into macho dancing because I wanted to challenge this embodiment of the female vocabulary that I’ve learned through this fitness space–pole dance for fitness. [I wanted] to actually force myself to embody the complete opposite [of pole dancing]. In this way, [I set out to] learn a gender performativity that is situated in an opposite context of pole dancing.

Learning [how to do macho dancing] was definitely [a] more difficult process. There wasn’t any macho dancing school to begin with. It wasn’t something that was being taught—just performed in macho clubs. What I did [then was to] go to macho clubs on a regular basis and really scout for the good [dancers] and ask [them] if they could actually teach me macho dancing.

In the beginning, when I was first asking if this was possible, the macho dancers would say, “What would a girl do with such a dance?” They didn’t take me really seriously. They thought I was trying to build the relationship with them for other reasons. When they saw that I was actually serious, most of them appreciated that they were being acknowledged for their skill. And [then] the relationship with the macho dancers became more of a student/mentor relationship. I found that quite endearing in a way. This relationship could exist outside of the macho bar.

At some point I decided to go to the gym, and when I went to the gym I realized that—or at least I felt that the movement made much more sense in my body—because I found the awareness of muscle groups, the form that you actually accumulate when you go to the gym. Gym culture is actually part of macho dancing. [It’s] basically choreography of muscle and form and showing off, and it’s a lot about narcissism—appreciating your own body.

My first entry point to macho dancing was this fascination with the movement and what were the conditions that actually made this dance possible–culturally, socially, and economically. What notion of masculinity are they [the macho dancers] performing? It’s very specific to their clients, who are male and female. In the beginning, their clients were more gay, and eventually when the economy started to become more liberated and women in the Philippines started to occupy higher positions, the clients became more equalized—so now it’s more men and women. And so what is being performed is actually, I guess, a projection of a certain notion of what it is to be male in Philippines society—to be desirable as a man for that clientele. The movement vocabulary itself says a lot about the condition of the Philippines context.

CC: What has it been like for you to be exploring forms that are so explicitly economically motivated? You’ve spoken elsewhere about how these forms have a relationship with the Filipino economy and the feminization of labor in the Philippines. Hearing this, I thought about how many forms of performance have an economic exchange, but we separate the performance from the monetary element—you pay for a ticket and then go to another room, whereas other forms of performances—often those seen as less “highbrow—don’t make that separation. The economic exchange is very explicit: someone in the audience has money in hand.

EJ: The exchange that [usually] happens in contemporary dance is definitely not [about] prioritizing economic exchange. The exchange that is constructed in contemporary dance is more in the level of discourse and the level of many [other] things: I would say [its] more [of a] multi-dimensional exchange—not just economic, not just cultural, not just social. Contemporary dance doesn’t favor one layer of exchange.

The language [in Death of a Pole Dancer and Macho Dancer] is appropriated from its original context, and then placed in a different platform. The signifiers of the language shift: what does it mean for this body to move this way? It actually opens up the contemporary dance form to give space for a new discourse about this language and not just to see it as the language of dance by macho dancers. What does [macho dancing] tell beyond [its] situation? Can you actually locate it in the global discourse of economics and not just look at it in that [macho dance club] context?

CC: What has it been like to perform the piece outside of the Philippines where are less likely to have the referent of the macho dancer?

EJ: There have been stages and different ways of seeing, especially if it’s one culture to another. Even though they don’t know the language itself, it’s so stereotypical that basically you can recognize small traits or forms and positions in popular culture.

[It’s] been very interesting to tour both works. They don’t really come as a package most of the time. Macho Dancer has toured more than Death of a Pole Dancer. So, I have more feedback with Macho Dancer. Put together in a double bill, both works shift meaning as well. It really depends. I think Death of a Pole Dancer by itself poses more of a problem with people because somehow my physical appearance clearly fits the stereotype of the pole dancer. Then with macho dancer I have more of a distance from the actual image of a macho dancer—being a woman, not having the physique of an actual macho dancer, [etc.]. There’s more space between me and the vocabulary. Somehow people can somehow reflect on this absurdity [more readily]. With Death of A Pole Dancer alone—without Macho Dancer—it takes people sometimes longer to break the stereotype that is being presented, or [they] can’t separate the performativity and the actual visuality of the body.

It really depends on the individual, [and] on the feel of the festival where it’s being presented. It’s been read in so many ways—especially Macho [Dancer] because it’s been touring. The work and myself matures and grows with each performance. I’ve been touring Macho Dancer for 2.5 years, and each time I perform it I realize something new with the work. Sometimes I have these revelations. I actually feel like I get the work now after touring it.

CC: Most American audiences who’ve seen your work have seen it programmed in the Queer New York International Arts Festival in New York. Do you think of Death of a Pole Dancer or Macho Dancer as “queer”?

EJ: I never really framed the work as “queer” or “not queer.” [Thinking about this work among] the [contexts] of dance, performance, –visual arts even, [these works] kind of escapes a certain framework. They might fit nicely into dance or theater or visual art performance, so in a way that’s a strength of the work. It can really go from one [area] to another. But, as well, it cannot be put in a box. A lot of dance programmers would not say it’s a dance work, but a lot of theater people would say it’s a dance work. A lot of dance people would think it’s a theater work. It really depends on who’s talking.

For the queer context, I think it’s the same. It’s a framework that’s placed [around the work]—a way of seeing into the work. I’m not actually familiar with what a “queer” framework should be. I guess “queer” is a bit of a definition defying [word].

CC: I think that’s sort of both the pleasure and the problem of the word.

EJ: This is probably the same with the work. Maybe the work shares the sense of vagueness of what it means to be queer, because it’s a work that doesn’t fit nicely in one genre. And of course you can say [these works] tackle gender performativity, and what is normal, and what is a stereotype, and what is fixed and what is changing.

CC: Watching Macho Dancer, I was so struck by your gaze. I’m thinking specifically of you walking downstage, chewing gum. There’s some about you walking towards the audience and almost receding at the same time. How do you think about the gaze in this piece?

EJ: I think that the gaze is one of the most interesting elements in both performances. It’s a choreography of gaze. In each section of the piece, the gaze shifts and, of course, the relationship also shifts with the audience. There’s always this gazing “in relation to.” It’s a very powerful element within the work—I would say even central for both. It’s this act of seeing, how you position yourself, and the way you see what you see.

Death of the Pole Dancer and Macho Dancer





TBA Interview: Clare Croft with Luke George

Luke George, Not About Face. Photo by Nick Roux.

Luke George, Not About Face. Photo by Nick Roux.

Luke George and I sat down face-to-face (via Skype) to discuss his work, Not About Face, fake belief, and how to keep dancing while being watched by an audience of people looking at you through long, white shrouds.

Clare Croft (CC): What was it like the first time you began dancing this piece, looked out, and saw the audience under the shrouds?

Luke George (LG): [Laughing.] I started inviting groups of people into . . . the space where I was developing the work quite early in the process, because it became very clear that I couldn’t spend the whole development of the work imagining this interaction without actually having the opportunity to experiment with it and to see how it would go.

I actually spent a lot of time making the work in a gallery setting—so not in a private studio setting. I had a residency at a gallery in Melbourne called West Space. So the gallery was open, and so people during the day would come in and look at visual art: work that was hung on the wall or installed. I had a small gallery space that I was working in the whole time, so already [I had] the sense of being visible while I was working—to people and to eyes that I didn’t necessarily have a whole lot of theatrical control over or time-based control over.

Then I did this week of experiments where, for half-an-hour each day, people were coming by to be with me in that space. That ranged between one person to five people. It was a very small space, very intimate. That very first time the thing of intimacy really came forward. I guess it was because of the nature of the very small space. These shared experiences came up, which is something that I hadn’t [expected]. I wasn’t sure yet in the piece whether I was going to be standing onstage performing something or being amongst people. It hadn’t really presented itself, but the nature of the space meant we had to be amongst each other.

So the theme of intimacy came up. And then also the possibility [arose] of my confusing or problematizing that situation of intimacy. What is actually happening between me and the person who comes to this thing?

The very first time I had more of a crowd was the end of that week of experiments. I had thirty people coming into the space, and I decided I didn’t want to see them to begin with. I wanted to close my eyes and let them come into the room, and I’d be standing in the room with the sheet over me. I was kind of working in a sensory practice . . . and moving with my eyes closed.

Then I, at one point, opened my eyes and through my eyeholes saw all these sheets standing there with gaping eyeholes looking at me. And I can definitely count it as one of the most terrifying performance experiences I’ve ever had. [Laughing.] And I thought, “What have I done to myself? This is going to be awful.”

CC: Why do you think it was so terrifying?

LG: I realized how much—I already knew this and I think this is why the shrouds were happening, why they were being brought into the space—but I realized how much I, as a performer, rely on or need to be able to see the people that I’m performing to. It’s always been really, really important to me to be able to see people and to be able to look at them and to feel and sense their experience of what is happening through being able to look at their faces.

And I also think it’s some kind of need that I have as a performer as well. Whether that’s vanity or it’s about reading people, I’m not sure. But suddenly for there to be this faceless group of people and bodiless group of people. There was something about these eyeholes with no expression, just intently facing me where I was, which was kind of frightening. But [that] ultimately became the most thrilling thing to explore about the piece: if I can’t tell what you’re thinking or feeling by looking at you, [what do I do]? Similarly I realized that I was under a shroud, so they [the audience] may be having the same experience.

CC: How have you continued to think about intimacy as you’ve performed and developed the work?

LG: I guess intimacy has come up specifically in this piece [through] actual physical intimacy: actually touching or asking for touch, asking for physical closeness.

Something that’s been coming up in the piece a lot, which I never really planned, is how people are watching each other watching in the piece. You put on the shroud, right? And you would expect that you just kind of lose yourself or something. You lose yourself and you become fascinated with what’s beyond yourself. But what I think is that people actually have a stronger and deeper sense of themselves because they’re in this capsule. They’re having this more intimate experience of their own bodies, and their own feelings, and their own sensations. It’s happening quite privately, because that’s not being viewed so much. I’ve noticed this kind of freedom or agency. People are moving around and moving away from things. They’re making noises. They’re chatting—like during a show having a little chat with their friend!

But then [they] react [to me performing]. I feel reactions happening in quite unusual ways. Sometimes it really throws me because it [has] not [been] as polite as performance audiences often are. I’m really noticing people having this experience of themselves that is quite different. During the show, people are moving around so much. I keep changing positioning, too. I keep changing the configuration of the room. Or I go somewhere. People may follow it; they may stand back. They may stand back to look at the whole thing. There are all these degrees of watching happening. Watching each other. And so their connection to each other becomes part of the piece, too. And I feel like that has something to do with this sense of intimacy: that we have this heightened sense of ourselves and each other.

CC: An audience always brings with it certain expectations about how it’s supposed to behave, based on maybe what we call the work or the signals of the space. Do you feel like the physical space affects people, or does the shroud somehow overwhelm their expectations?

LG: The shroud is caught up in everything I do.

Very simply the shape of the room has a huge effect. If it’s a square, or if it’s a long rectangle. You know this sounds so simple, but it actually changes things quite a bit.

I’ve tried a number of lighting situations as well. And just very simply working with a lighting designer where we were like, “Well, in a performance situation you point a light in a certain direction, and the audience will go towards the light, but they won’t go into the light.” They’ll go to the light but only to the edge of the light, because what’s in the light is what’s to be looked at.

We wanted to explore gallery white-wall-type rooms where the light is usually on the walls—because the thing to look at is on the walls. It was this question of where to focus the light. Right now when we’re getting to a space we try to light every single inch of it so the entire room is brightly lit and everything is equally in plain sight. I mean that’s a big challenge: that’s a lot of light.

But then also in the piece we do change the lighting of the piece to enter into something a bit more theatrical, but more of an altered state. By that time I’ve been able to physically corral the audience into a certain space and hold them there, so they end up being in the light themselves. And they end up being the sculpture in the room, or the set in the room themselves.

One more thing: I found out really early in making the piece, if it’s a room that has a lot of features—a lot of architectural features or if it has objects in the room—those features or objects become so loaded and so in focus.

I was so lucky at the space that they gave us [when we performed] in Sydney. It’s this incredible gallery space—this beautiful white space. It’s pristine. And a polished concrete floor. Just stunning. That’s not necessarily the pinnacle space to do it in—perhaps it’s a little too perfect. I felt so lucky, though, that I didn’t have to think about incorporating other things. Objects are really tricky. People keep looking at me and looking at it [the object], and are like “Tell us the meaning of this thing. What is it about this thing?”

CC: Speaking of other bodies in the space, how your collaborators have informed “Not About Face,” particularly Hillary Clark [who will be performing with you at TBA]?

LG: Hillary and I met through developing Miguel [Gutierrez’s] piece, [And lose the name of action, which TBA audiences saw in 2013]. I [had been] aware of Hillary for a long time: seeing videos of her and looking at choreographic works of Tere O’Connor and thinking, “She’s super interesting.” And then getting to work with her in Miguel’s piece, we had this instant rapport with each other. Instant. Exciting. Halfway through that process we started working on “Not About Face.”

I started making the piece in Australia with a group of three collaborators: Nick Roux, Benjamin Cisterne, and Martyn Coutts. Nick comes from a sound and video technology background. He was bringing all that knowledge and that skillset into the room, [but] we also resisted working with those materials for a long time. He was just working with me on ideas everyday: being a watcher, being a participant, or being a doer. The shroud was actually Nick’s idea. I kept covering my face or covering his face or blindfolding myself, and then covering/kind of wrapping myself in things. And he suggested the whole sheet one day. We got one sheet for me, and one sheet for him. [Then we realized,] “Oh, we can’t see. Let’s cut holes in it like a Halloween costume. It’s funny.” And then we both put sheets on and we were [thought], “Ohhhh, this is really interesting.” So it was really through the connection with him that the thing about the sheets and being together—audience and performer under the sheets—came about.

Martin Coutts was weaving in and out of the process, visiting the process as dramaturg—feeding in and out. A little bit later Benjamin Cisterne came in and really started talking about space and lighting and building. So I worked with all those guys for quite a while, and then I left the piece for awhile.

[While in] New York . . . working with Miguel, I asked Hillary to start working with me on it. I [had been] performing it myself, [but] I really wanted to try teaching it to another performer, so I could step out and actually see it and start to direct it. I started teaching her, and just immediately, her role was really fascinating to me. Hillary’s such an invested performer, such a collaborator in the room, and she so believes in the work. She really wants to tease it out, and there [was] so much interested interactive dialogue between her as a performer and me as a maker.

I actually started to feel, not only was she stepping into a kind of performative ownership of the piece, but [she was] also kind of being like a dramaturg within the piece, which is really interesting to me—that I could be working with someone who’s inside the piece who could also be quite reflective and bring in a lot of references for me. [That might have been] because she was working [on the piece] without necessarily thinking she was going to be performing it.

We kept working, and I ended up teaching her the entire solo, and then I asked her to come to Melbourne to work with me on the premiere of it. I wanted to see what it would be like if, in Melbourne, which is where I’m from and where everybody knows me, if actually for two of the five or six performances Hillary performed the solo instead of me. I didn’t announce [that Hillary would be performing]. It was a surprise because for the first half of the piece the performer is under the sheet. They come to see me, and suddenly then there’s this woman—and she’s got an American accent and she’s speaking to them. And [the audience thinks], “Who are you?”

Hillary [and I agreed] she [would] perform the piece as though she’s me as well. She was imagining that she was me, but she was also regarding herself as me to them. [We were] playing with this idea of substitution or understudy and pushing it even further. What if we actually are each other?

We’re trying a new version of the piece where we both perform it now.

CC: So it’s two performers?

LG: Yes. But I wouldn’t necessarily call it a duet. I’ve always thought about the piece as a solo that’s not a solo anyway. [It’s] a solo that’s a solo for the whole room—or that the whole group of people are engaging in the whole solo. In that way, we’re [Hillary and I are] both doing the solo. We’re sharing it—or something like that.

CC: You said it was the questions and references that Hillary brought in as this performer/dramaturg [that first got you excited about working together]. Were their particular questions or references that stand out in your mind that were turning points in the creation process?

LG: I think Hillary as a perfumer is just so incredible at reading and tuning herself: reading a situation or reading herself or reading another performer or reading a moment. That deep intuition that she has available to her at any moment in terms of energy and quality is quite astounding. And then the fine-ness of her tuning—tuning of action, tuning of reaction, or tuning of choice.

[I reached a point in my performance of the piece where] I felt like was all desire, all want—just performing broad brushstrokes. Everything [I was doing] kind of felt like it was the same: every dance, every action just felt like it was the same. Parts of it had different names, different references: but actually it was all just kind of very similar. Working with Hillary in this fine pulling apart [of my choices] and taking the time to really understand, “Well, what is this thing?” [had a huge impact]. What does it mean to speak—to say the words—to repeat the words of someone else like you’re actually being a medium for them. How do we actually really connect? [What happens] if I’m wearing headphones and listening to someone else’s voice and speaking as if I were being a psychic or medium for them? Who is this person and how do they speak? And where do they come from? And why are they speaking this way?

I felt like before [I started working with Hillary] I was a little afraid of things in the piece, like not spending time in a moment where no action necessarily needs to take place. [Hillary would say,] “Maybe this moment is about just letting things ring.” Hillary is really so great at [saying], “I think we’re moving on too quickly here. I think there’s something here that we’re rushing over, or we’re not paying attention to what’s actually happening right now.”

[There is a] moment in the piece [that] developed through her and I just playing and improvising with each other. [It’s] a big singing moment for the whole room. We get everyone singing in the room. I, for a long time, had a lot of doubts that people would actually sing, but without fail everyone sings straight away. It’s astounding. And every time I do the piece now it feels like that could go on forever. We could sing for a really long time. But then it naturally ends. And I used to just cut straight out of it and go “Ok, next thing.” This is where Hillary was like, “It’s so interesting when we stop singing. [We get] the singing going, but then when we stop singing [we have to experience] the actual feelings that a person may go through standing amidst a group of people. We’re under these sheets, and we’re hot, breathing.” She’s a pretty special performer.

CC: You’ve used the term “fake belief” often when you’ve talked about “Not About Face.” How is the oxymoronic collision of those words productive for you?

LG: “Fake belief” came first of all from my experience as a performer and performing for other artists, particularly this one artist in Melbourne, Phillip Adams, who I’d been performing for for years and years. [Adams] made a series of works [and] one work in particular had a lot to do with—he was exploring a lot of stuff to do with cults, absolute blind belief of people committing to a leader—committing to a certain collective belief. Then he made this other work that was completely different: that was about birds. [In both pieces,] I felt like he kept requesting or asking of me and the other performers not to just perform the thing, not to just do the actions or not just perform it really well, but to absolutely believe in the thing that we were doing.

The way I interpreted what he was wanting from us . . . is that if we believed utterly and entirely in what we were doing—if we weren’t just performing the thing, [but] were being the thing—then this would be the success of the piece. This would be the success of the transaction between us and the audience. He really gets you into some crazed head space [with this mode of directing dancers]. Your heart’s racing; your adrenaline’s racing. Your body’s thumping. All these kinds of physiological things are happening.

[Working with him] got me thinking, at first, “Yes, this is how it happens. This is when it’s truly happening. I have to believe it. I have to be it. That’s the only way it can happen.” Then a year went by and we toured the work, and I thought, “I’m going to try it a different way. I’m going to perform it. I’m going to remain me, and I’m going to keep some slight detachment. I’m going to hold myself at a distance. But I’m going to perform it really well. I’m going to access what I know of performance to do this. And it was great. It was equally great, if not better. But there was no way I could tell if one approach was more authentic than the other.

And I just became really fascinated by this. Do I need to perform it to believe it? Or does the act of performing it make me believe it? Do I need to believe it to perform it? Do I need to perform it to believe it? What are the relationships between those two things?

As I started exploring that with “Not About Face,” immediately it became also about [whether] the audience needs to believe this as well. [This is] such an old question in terms of suspension of belief; it’s ancient in terms of the situation of performance.

Also I started to [become] aware of and see this shift in performance happening in the last five years [with] all these pedagogical performances of people showing videos and absolutely denying any type of performance that’s about having another type of sensation. [These performances are such] a rational thinking experience for performer and audience. Somehow that’s in here as well.

With fake belief it’s something about what is the agreement that can happen in the room [during the performance]? Do we need to agree [on what that is]? Do I and Hillary and the audience need to agree to either believe it or fake it until you believe it for this thing to happen and take place? And what is that relationship to our desire and collective desire—or the notion of collective desire? Is collective desire actually a thing? Does collectivity even exist?

CC: In addition to the term “fake belief,” you often talk about “energy” and “presence” as important to your work. Those are big buzz words in contemporary performance today. Your last piece, “Now Now Now,” very much insisted on energy and presence. What’s the relationship among energy and presence in “Not About Face”?

LG: I felt like I’ve settled on those words [“energy” and “presence”] for the time being—or narrowed it down to those two words for the time being. “Energy” and “presence” [both] deal with my interest in immateriality—or really all the materiality—of the situation of performance. I’m coming from a dance background, particularly from the Australian dance situation that I feel like I’m coming from, and I feel like we’re coming out of this time where dance has really valued virtuosity. This is a global thing, right? Strength and ability and youthfulness and company and production values and marketability: all of these things where it’s so concrete and so tangible. We think of the dancing body and we think of muscle and sweat. I do love all of that, too, and that’s what I come from.

But I’m more and more interested in what is the act of performance. What is it to be in front of somebody else and be seen and to see back? But then also the trouble with that term “seeing” and visuality with the nature of performance is the felt nature of dance: the slippery, ephemeral completely subjective nature of dance, of the moving body. It not concrete. It’s not a translatable language, necessarily. And it’s a completely individual experience for any person that’s viewing it in any moment. It’s almost impossible to say “This is what this action means; this is what this gesture is.” Dance is so much more slippery than that.

I’m interested in exploring how bodies stand in front of each other and regard each other. How [do] bodies take up space and time in these terms of presence and energy?

TBA Interview: Clare Croft with BodyCartography Project

BodyCartography, Super Nature. Photo by Tada Francesca.

BodyCartography, Super Nature. Photo by Tada Francesca.

Over the course of the TBA:14 festival, 400 people will have the opportunity to be one-on-one with the members of BodyCartography in the intimate performance installation, Super Nature. I recently talked about the installation with BodyCartography founders, Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstad. Two-on-one talking about one-on-one.

Clare Croft (CC): Super Nature began as the two of you finished working with the dancers of the Lyon Opera Ballet, but still felt like questions lingered. Could you tell me about those initial questions that first spurred the creation of Super Nature, which, in total, includes both the performance installation that we’ll see at TBA and a larger onstage group piece that has appeared in other venues?

Olive Bieringa (OB): In Lyon we started to think about humans as animals. And then, [too, we were thinking] about dancers as really trained people who get looked at as “others,” [especially] in the way they get treated by the opera/ballet systems.

And we were thinking about empathy.

And [we were thinking about] how to create the conditions for the audience to pay attention to the kind of extreme experience that these extreme movers were able to manifest in their bodies—

Otto Ramstad (OR): And how to think of them [the Lyon dancers] as people and not aliens.

CC: How did these questions take form in the studio as you imagined them being embodied and being staged?

OR: We got more and more into “What would it be like to choreograph empathy in the foreground? How would we actually do that?” And then [Super Nature] kind of became an ecological melodrama: a nature show about human animals.

OB: “If we were to make a documentary about human animals, what would that be?” That was one of our impulses.

OR: We were [also] talking about melodrama. There’s this really good interview with Guy Maddin on the Walker [Art Center] Channel. He’s talking a lot about the definition of melodrama. People think of melodrama as this really un-real, overactive, kind of wacky, overly theatrical thing, but he’s saying that the experiences that people have inside of themselves—to accurately express them would be like melodrama. He said he thinks his movies are more realistic because they’re actually acting out the feeling of what it’s like to be a person and to be in different situations. When we think about melodrama in that way with dance, it’s sort of like this piece was expressing how you feel, but expressing that kinesthetically—really expressing the kinesthetic value of your body.

OB: [We were thinking about] the causal effect of our actions. Every physical action that we have on the planet with each other has an effect, and I think we wanted to create a hyper-experience of that for our audiences.

CC: How do these questions of affective connection, particularly kinesthetic connections, get heightened or transformed when brought to the intimate scale of the installation?

OR: We made this installation as a way to experience the empathetic condition [and to experience] the audience in a super, super intense and super direct way.

OB: It was a training for our performers. Then it was also a training for our audiences. Our hope was always that the two pieces [the stage version and the installation] would travel together, and our audiences would experience both parts. I would say that the melodrama becomes a much more internalized and personal process within the installation.

OR: [It’s] the immediacy [of the installation that makes that happen]—[the experience] becomes a lot more reflexive.

OB: It’s about you.

OR: For the watcher and the performer, it becomes about a crash between your reflexive [body] and your social body and your animal body. You know where you are—you’re in your social body. But there’s something about [the piece] that really brings out your animal body. [There’s something about] being in that proximity with people and having to share that space.

CC: You’ve talked about the installation as kind of a training for performers. As you’ve both danced in the installation, what has the experience brought forth for you?

OB: One of the things that comes up is the immediate feedback you get from people. You’re able to read people a bit more than you are when you’re in a big auditorium, for example. The immediacy of someone’s total fear, excitement, or joy takes over the installation.

As a performer you have to practice this 360-degree performing, because it’s not at all frontal. But you also have to practice a super, uber full-on compassion practice for them [the audience member] and for yourself because you’re in this together. You’re creating the conditions for watching and [the conditions] for that person to be able to be present for you. If there is a feeling of discomfort or total awkwardness or if it seems like they aren’t interested—of course you have no idea if they’re [interested or] not—how do you keep going?

OR: [The installation is] so much more somatically tied to the audience [than being on a stage] because they’re right there. A lot of times when you’re onstage and you’re having thoughts like, “People aren’t engaged in what I’m doing,” it’s in your head. It’s just about you. But in a room with someone else, and you’re two feet away from them—

OB: And you’re hyperventilating. And then they start to adjust their breathing.

OR: If you’re just right there with someone, it’s not in your head. It’s in their body, and it’s in the space between your bodies. It’s a somatic experience of the audience. I think a somatic experience for the audience as well.

CC: You used the word “awkwardness” earlier. How might it shape the way we think about empathy if we think about awkwardness or discomfort being the things from which empathy proceeds?

OB: It’s a point of relation. Someone else is feeling awkward—not that I’m setting up someone else to feel awkward—maybe another way of saying this is that, in the practice of doing something difficult, there can be moments of awkwardness. I don’t feel like people need to be entertained or everyone needs to be beautiful in order for something to be successful. There are all sorts of phases of being human.

OR: Awkwardness is interesting in empathetic contexts because you can think about empathy and it’s not necessarily about matching, about being the same. Sometimes [empathy] is [that] if someone’s happy, and then I’m happy, we’re sharing [happiness] together. But if there’s an awkward situation where someone [else is] not feeling good, it’s not as though you don’t feel good as well. If someone’s going to fall, you don’t try to fall as well. You try to catch them.

The social practices are fairly broken in the installation in a certain regard because we [the performer and audience member are] there, together, without talking, and we’re just sharing space. The social practice is askew, so there’s going to be awkwardness. This happens in the theater also, but you are in the social construct of sitting in your seat.

OB: And then there’s a possibility something new can emerge out of the awkwardness.

OR: That’s not to say that there’s not a social construct that we’re in a gallery or we’re in an installation or we’re at the TBA festival. There are all those other social contracts. But the whole somatic experience of being close to people—it’s just going to shatter some of those [constructs]. And that’s what’s going to be awkward. Because the sensation that the audience has, that we have—just the intimacy is embarrassing sometimes in a way—just to really be with someone.

OB: And the audience is really feeling what you [the performer] feels. When you feel yourself feeling, that can be really awkward and really painful for some people.

CC: Susan Foster has written about some of the etymological roots of the idea of empathy, and how, many centuries ago, when someone said two people “had chemistry” people imagined electrons jumping off one body and onto the other—to “have chemistry,” to have magnetic empathy, was to always be engaged in an act of exchange. That brings up questions of power, because the exchange isn’t always equal. How do you feel the sensation of power within empathic exchanges when you’re performing in the installation?

OB: In a way, the audience is invited in, but they’re of course free to leave any time they want. In some ways, they don’t know what’s going to happen when they’re in there. But we know.

OR: We know. But we also don’t know.

OB: We’re also improvising, and we don’t know who they are, so what comes up out of who they are is really [important]—the relationship between the two people is what really becomes the material. We’re in control of the installation to some extent.

OR: But some people come in and take control.

OB: Yes, they take over!

OR: Some people come in and want to move. They take up the whole space.

OB: They get so excited and take over.

OR: Some people feel really empowered or they think, “Now is my time to dance.”

OB: So, in a way, the practice of empathy is the practice of giving up power or widening your perceptual field and lowering your tone, and then really trying to meet this other person.

OR: I think empathic reflex—the layers of empathic reflex that we have—I think they’re kind of underlying control in a way.

OB: It’s really interesting when you think of therapy. If I’m the therapist, you paid money to come and see me, so we have an agreement that you’re coming in, and I’m going to help you in some way—

OR: I’m going to help you help yourself.

OB: Yes, I’m going to help you help yourself. So it’s an interesting—if you are unpacking really complex mental issues, you don’t know who’s in control.

OR: Audience members gets told, “Welcome to the installation. It’s going to be 15 minutes. You can go or stay. You can move anywhere you want, and I’ll come and get you when it’s over.” And that’s what they’re given.

I think there’s a fair amount of agency in the audience. I guess “agency” is more of a term I would think of rather than control.

OB: And that’s the language, [the language of “agency,” that] we use in describing the piece.

OR: That’s what I’m looking for: agency. Not situations of control.

CC: There are some controlling factors on the engagement that were your choices, but not choices you make in the moment of performance. How did you arrive at 15-minutes as the right length of time for each one-on-one engagement?

OR: We did ten minutes before, but it was actually too short.

OB: We’ve started working on a new piece called “The Empaths,” and we’ve been doing these one-on-one things that have come out of this installation. As part of the research for that we hit a twelve-minute minimum. Those experiments are traveling through public space, so they’re a little bit different. 15 minutes is plenty. That’s a really nice long chunk of time to do something.

CC: It’s not the same person in the installation every 15 minutes, right? If someone comes more than once, they’ll, of course, have a different experience, but they’ll also potentially be with a new person?

OB: Yes. There are four of us who will be rotating. So we’ll be doing hour to hour-and-a-half shifts each. One of the performers is actually a 15-year-old.

CC: Oh wow.

OB: He’s amazing.

CC: How do you prepare for your turn in the rotation?

OB: I just warm up on my own and review the material. Because we’re improvising, there’s a whole bunch of material we’re working with. So I review that material for myself, and then I get myself in a really good space. I warm up. I get the fluids moving through my body. I do a lot of shaking. And I just kind of clear my space, so I can be present with people.

OR: It’s really intense because it’s an hour straight. It’s really intense.

Precipice Fund Project Update: Experimental Film Festival Portland

Experimental Film Festival Portland erupted in 2012 in the fair city of roses, in response to the need for a Portland-based experimental media showcase. We started from scratch and created the festival of our dreams: a festival accessible to local, national, and international artists who make experimental media for both cinemas and the expanded field, a festival that packs its days with celebrations and collaborations in multiple venues across the city and with various like-minded local organizations, a festival that is as committed to quality and cutting-edge programming as it is to energy, community, and fun.


EFF3 went down May 28 – June 1, 2014 and marked another year of experimenting with our programming and structure. We had an amazing week of “experimental summer camp”, hosting almost 30 visiting artists and producing 11 screenings showing over 150 films from over 17 countries, as well as fantastic exhibit of installations and a night of performance and music madness!

Our inaugural EFF Portland Local Throwdown was a fantastic and hotly contested spectacle, beginning at our collaborative Kill All Festivals event when we drew the random match-ups and continuing through to the last night of the fest. EFF3 wrapped with experimental German films curated by Cinema Project, films made with natural process curated by Caryn Cline and Julie Perini, and an amazing program called Black Radical Imagination curated by Chicago’s Amir George. We want to thank the Precipice Fund, PICA, Calligram Foundation, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for giving us the opportunity to cover  travel expenses and honoraria for performers and curators, both local and visiting.

To watch a clip of the festival click here - EFF trailer

To read recent press about EFF click the links below: 

Portland Mercury

PSU Vanguard









About the Precipice Fund

Administered by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) as part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program, the Precipice Fund awards grants to unincorporated visual art collectives, alternative spaces, and collaborative projects in Portland, Oregon. Recognizing the barriers to funding faced by independent arts initiatives, Precipice Fund seeks to support both new and existing projects emblematic of Portland’s alternative, on-the-ground art community.

Precipice Fund Project Update: 12128 (The Boat Space)

12128 (“Boat Space”) is a contemporary exhibition space located on the Labrador, a decommissioned Bering Sea crab fishing vessel moored in Portland, Oregon. We support progressive work.

12128’s SUMMER MICRORESIDENCIES program concluded in early August. Each of the participating artists responded to the condensed timeframe and the exotic space in different and productive ways. It was REALLY HOT, and there were LOTS OF BIRDS EVERYWHERE.

JORDAN WAYNE LONG developed a performance that explored group dynamics by establishing a sympathetic relationship between himself and the audience. This piece was structured around the potential— and necessity—for the audience to prevent Jordan from physical harm, which was oddly subverted by a single person shirking the intended procedural flow. This work resulted in very unexpected outcomes and invited a level of open discussion among the audience that was both RARE AND UNIQUE. Jordan’s performance and his working practice were perfectly suited to what we had hoped these brief and intensive residencies would produce.  To view video of Jordan Wayne Long, Impact Piece #1, July 19 2014, 12128, click here.

MICHAEL TRIGILIO used newly-available scanning and modeling processes to generate 3D media from elements of the boat. This content dovetails into his ongoing work T2ERU, which explores speculative and fictive relationships between existing architectural objects and science fiction design. Michael exhibited works-in-progress from his time on the boat along with existing T2ERU content, and performed a set of his specific brand of experimental music. He also held a DIY synthesizer-making workshop in which participants soldered together a square-wave oscillator from basic analog electronics. Michael’s pedagogical tactics and general hilariousness made his workshop A HUGE HIT. 


Michael Trigilio, T2ERU, August 1 2014, 12128


Analog electronic sound performance


Michael Trigilio, T2ERU, August 1 2014, 12128


About the Precipice Fund

Administered by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) as part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program, the Precipice Fund awards grants to unincorporated visual art collectives, alternative spaces, and collaborative projects in Portland, Oregon. Recognizing the barriers to funding faced by independent arts initiatives, Precipice Fund seeks to support both new and existing projects emblematic of Portland’s alternative, on-the-ground art community.


Precipice Fund Project Update: Spreading Rumours


Sign|Tent 1, designed by Amy Harwood and Ryan Pierce

After a long and rich planning period of bi-monthly brunches, Spreading Rumours has begun executing in real ways. We have been working on three different projects, each of which at different stages of unfolding. The first is our sign|tent project, for which we invited 5 participants (Right 2 Survive, Amy Harwood and Ryan Pierce, Sharita Towne, Stephanie Syjuco, and Shani Peters) to create designs for a series of sculptural outposts. We invited these people to use the sign to address or pose questions about private property, public space, and development. The sign|tents are being installed at street-level on lawns and lots around the city, in both authorized, hosted locations and unsanctioned zones. Our ideas and expectations for these sign|tents evolved through the process of building the signs, and conversing with our invited participants and site-hosts. They will undoubtedly keep unfolding as the sign|tents occupy space around town and have life online through social media. If you see one, help us spread rumours by tweeting or tumbling images of them.


Sign|Tent 2, designed by Brad Gibson for Right 2 Survive


Sign|Tent 3, designed by Sharita Towne

The second iteration of Spreading Rumours will be a leaflet propaganda and strategic littering project. We are inviting 10 participants—a diverse group of writers, artists, activists, radical historians and more—to an August 30th workshop-event (with production party to take place the following week). At the workshop we will give a mini-lecture about our research into military leaflet propaganda design and dissemination, followed by time for participants to converse about target audience and dispersal strategy, as well as create designs from which we will make masses of hand-stamped leaflets that we (and the participants if they wish) will strategically distribute around Portland and beyond. We are interested in seeing what unfolds from the conversation between this diverse group of participants: in what ways might they mutate the forms and strategies we present in our presentation? And, what messages might they each choose to send when the risk of distribution and the burden of singular authorship are lifted? Keep your eyes out for these and feel free to re-distribute or archive any you might find. We are excited about the subtle forms of participation that might ripple outwards from all of these projects.


Spreading Rumours leaflets and leaflet blanks

The third iteration of Spreading Rumours we’ve been cooking up is a spam poetry project that will exist as mass texts to cell phones in the 503 area code during the time of the November election. We are still researching the legality (the CAN-SPAM Act specifically) and the technical realities of this endeavor, as well as building our invitation list. We will be doing test runs in early September.

Again, as in our other two projects, we will be deciding on a form—character count, sender name, and recipient list, as well as a conceptual prompt—and invite 10-20 people to compose poetic content for the project. We are hoping that at least some of the cell-phone spam can address the political, either reflexively by referencing the form of unsolicited campaign communication, or directly, by making political or polemical word formations.

We are looking forward to fully rolling out these projects; opening ourselves to engage in conversations with others we wouldn’t normally work with around issues of city development and gentrification (with the Sign|Tents), propaganda, strategic media, and the spread of socio-political messages (Leaflet Litter), and the efficacy of political representation and policy (Cell-phone Spam Poetry). Our collaboration has gone through ups and downs and has taken some time to build momentum, but we feel solid about Spreading Rumours as an expanded learning process and a chance to blend our diverse approaches, priorities, and instincts.


About the Precipice Fund

Administered by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) as part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program, the Precipice Fund awards grants to unincorporated visual art collectives, alternative spaces, and collaborative projects in Portland, Oregon. Recognizing the barriers to funding faced by independent arts initiatives, Precipice Fund seeks to support both new and existing projects emblematic of Portland’s alternative, on-the-ground art community.

Precipice Fund Project Update: Container Corps – An Arts Press

Container Corps is a publication design studio, printshop, bindery, and exhibition space that serves as a platform for the creation, distribution, and discussion of new arts publications. We publish books-as-projects, or books-as-works in themselves, or primary sources.

The books we publish are collaborations between artists and their ideas and our skills as editors, publication designers, and printmakers. They are works of art in themselves, rather than documentation of works in other media.

Our vertically integrated, design/build studio allows ideas (concepts, images, texts, research), materials (paper, ink, board, cloth, thread, glue), and technique (layout, typography, printmaking, binding) to coalesce into a fully realized type of publication.

Container Corps

Our press works with artists to make multiples that explore and take advantage of the book and the processes of book production. Our Precipice grant will fund three such collaborations.

Most of the progress in our project thus far has been made in the cementing of a schedule of artist collaborations for the year. There has been a little bit of shuffling of artists from our original line-up due to changing schedules and availability.

Our book projects are a specific kind of collaboration between our production capabilities and the artists’ individual practice, and these collaborations necessarily require a long gestation period. The artist must become somewhat of an expert on our processes, and we must become experts on their work. Only then do we have the language to be able to communicate and find where their ideas can engage with our parameters. Practically, this means a lot of talking, ideating, thinking, and looking before anything happens on the press. This is the kind of work we’ve been doing with our three artists thus far.

Our first artist, Heather Watkins, has finished an intense period of installations (at PSU and the Art Gym) and is now free to work with us. Our process thus far has been an ongoing series of visits between our studio and hers. We are discussing the intersections of our production processes and her art making processes, and zeroing in on a definition of what her book project will be.

Our second artist will be Israel Lund. We are excited to work with Israel because like Heather, his work is process oriented and will benefit from hands-on time with the press. We have arranged for him to be in Portland at the beginning of July, working with us at the studio. We have been skyping with him in preparation for an intense week of production. Most of the development of this book will occur during this week.

Our third artist will be Jasper Spicero. He will be visiting Portland in late July, and we will be working with him on a book made in conjunction with a very exciting larger project called Centers in Pain. He will be renting out the newly built, unoccupied Wapato Prison in North Portland for 4 days, doing an extensive installation, conducting interviews with the skeleton crew that maintains the facility, and completing a screen play that is set at the prison. The book we create will be an integral document of this larger project. Like Israel, we have been regularly skyping with Jasper so that his time in Portland is best utilized.


About the Precipice Fund
Administered by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) as part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program, the Precipice Fund awards grants to unincorporated visual art collectives, alternative spaces, and collaborative projects in Portland, Oregon. Recognizing the barriers to funding faced by independent arts initiatives, Precipice Fund seeks to support both new and existing projects emblematic of Portland’s alternative, on-the-ground art community.

Precipice Fund Project Update: FalseFront

Since receiving the Precipice Fund, FalseFront has been able to host to four exhibits and featured works of performance, sound and visual art and visited numerous artist’s studios based in Portland, Oregon. Starting in February, Future Death Toll’s Edward Sharp performed three nights of noise, dance and visuals.

Each night consisted of Sharp inviting a musician and a dancer to collaborate for a continuous three-hour performance, with visitors encourage to enter and exit though-out the length of the show. Featured artists included, dancers Keyon Gaskin, Jin Camou and Danielle Ross; composers and musical engineer Jesse Mejia, Lucas Kuzma and Twon Moss.




In April, FalseFront exhibited the paintings and sculpture of Portland-based artist Judith René Sturdevant. These particular exhibit was put together fairly quickly after the studio visit, as Sturdevant expressed interest in having all included work recent and “fresh”. She was given a little over two and a half weeks to complete the work exhibited in show titled Or Somewhere Else.


FalseFront’s upcoming show is set to open the beginning of May with an installation from recent PSU MFA graduate Leif Anderson. Anderson will construct this installation around the entire front facade of the building, working from the idea of realty and commercial signage set in contrast with FalseFront’s rather residential location.

The Precipice Fund is allowing not only for FalseFront to exhibit these less conventional works of contemporary art in the alternative space setting, but also allowing the exhibiting artist the artistic freedom and opportunity to do the projects not likely seen in more commercial galleries.


About the Precipice Fund
Administered by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) as part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program, the Precipice Fund awards grants to unincorporated visual art collectives, alternative spaces, and collaborative projects in Portland, Oregon. Recognizing the barriers to funding faced by independent arts initiatives, Precipice Fund seeks to support both new and existing projects emblematic of Portland’s alternative, on-the-ground art community.


Precipice Fund Project Profile: M.A.S.S.

We continue our six-week series of 2013 Precipice Fund grantee profiles with M.A.S.S. (an ambiguous acronym), a bimonthly music,  performance, and visual art and media series set in a beautifully resonant, 350-capacity sanctuary at Alberta Abbey, a historic church turned mixed-use venue in Northeast Portland. Using exceptional sound engineering and equipment, the series aims to provide a contemplative environment for group and/or anonymous reflection while cross-pollinating local and non-local artists, musicians, writers, and performers. 

Hello from  the M.A.S.S. Collective!

Our first two rounds of programming (of six total) have been an exploration that’s grown exponentially from last year’s start to the series. We were particularly inspired by the collaboration (and ensuing chaos) of last year’s closing edition of M.A.S.S., a mashup event of music, oratory, exhibition, and video projection.

We have decidedly expanded the scope of our programming since the start of the series, in concept and medium. We kicked off the year with an album release from Cloaks and performances by Pinhead In Fantasia and Nour Mobarak. Craig Flipy  prepared a sound collage of field recordings from his line of work chasing the illusive Bigfoot, and our gallery featured the Google Earth glitches of Clement Valla.

We pushed further, and perhaps more frighteningly or funnily, depending on your taste, to do METAL M.A.S.S., a special 4/20 edition on Easter Sunday. Atriarch, Joe Preston and Daniel Menche brought the doomsday, while special guest Maja D’Aoust (The White Witch of LA) brought the prophesy by way of her unique presentation style/oracle performance. Our gallery featured the first solo art show by local illustrator Joshua Hardy. This event saw over 200 in attendance.

A couple of highlights from M.A.S.S. V and VI:

We are pleased to announce the next edition of our series, M.A.S.S. VIIon June 8th with Benoît Pioulard, né Tom Meluch, known for his glacial, cinematic ambient music that brings delicate pop sensibilities into the fold. A staple of electronic, experimental label Krancy, Meluch has crafted a body of thoughtful work that’s earned his solo music (as well as that of Orcas, his collaboration with Seattle musician Rafael Anton Irisarri) frequent attention from blogs and music news.

Like a Villain is the musical alter-ego of local songstress Holland Andrews, recently voted number five in Willamette Week‘s “Best New Band” list. Her music is equally dark and uplifting, bright and frightening–unafraid of taking leaps and bounds that stretch Andrews’ emotive, adventurous voice.

Colin Manning is a multidisciplinary artist from Portland. He received his MFA in Filmmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2000 and has been an active visual artist and projectionist, participating in numerous exhibitions and music performances down the West Coast.

In addition to putting the finishing touches on M.A.S.S. VII, we are shaping the latter half of the 2014 calendar with more local and international experimental musical acts, writers, performers and visual artists. For more information, visit

Sunday, June 8, 2014
8:00pm doors / 9:00pm performances
Alberta Abbey / 126 NE Alberta / Portland

About the Precipice Fund
Administered by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) as part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program, the Precipice Fund awards grants to unincorporated visual art collectives, alternative spaces, and collaborative projects in Portland, Oregon. Recognizing the barriers to funding faced by independent arts initiatives, Precipice Fund seeks to support both new and existing projects emblematic of Portland’s alternative, on-the-ground art community.

Precipice Fund Project Update: Amur Initiatives Media Research Group

Thus far, 2014 has brought about the first online PDF publication for Amur Initiatives Media and Research. To keep with the modus of the project, we’ve been programming a variety of activities in order to explore the range that we hope to maintain throughout the duration of the project’s life span. Throughout the months of May through July, we will be representing a series of 3-4 solo exhibitions by visual artists based in Portland and beyond. Fall will bring a second publication and a multi-national group exhibition, linking Portland-based artists with a larger global community. We are working to organize a regular reading and discussion group that will also facilitate public seminars.

Here’s a quick scroll-through video of our first publication and a brief outline of where we stand in 2014.


About the Precipice Fund
Administered by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) as part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program, the Precipice Fund awards grants to unincorporated visual art collectives, alternative spaces, and collaborative projects in Portland, Oregon. Recognizing the barriers to funding faced by independent arts initiatives, Precipice Fund seeks to support both new and existing projects emblematic of Portland’s alternative, on-the-ground art community.

Precipice Fund Project Update: Multiplex

We continue our six-week series of 2013 Precipice Fund grantee profiles. This week, we  hear from Multiplex, which launched in 2012 to provide a venue for emerging contemporary art and music in Portland. Multiplex showcases experimental projects from local, national and international artists, acting as a space that supports the constant growth of the artistic community.

Since receiving the Precipice Fund grant in January 2014, Multiplex has shown three local artists: Katy Knowlton, Luc Fuller, and Michael Reinsch. During this time, part of our project has shifted, as we ran into complications with our rental space and were forced to seek other accommodations for the project. Throughout April and May, we have  operated out of an annex gallery in the Holladay Studios Building near NE 24th and Sandy and opened an exhibition there by artist Patrick Cruz  (Vancouver, BC) on May 9th.

Katy Knowlton

Luc Fuller

Michael Reinsch

We have been developing a new space, S1, which we view as an extension of Multiplex‘s vision. Located in the Hollywood District of Portland, it will house galleries, artist studios, and a performance space. Programming at S1 will begin this summer with a film and talk series from London-based curator John Bloomfield, art exhibitions from Portland artist Eric Mast and Los Angeles artist Derek Corns, and a poetry series curated by Portland writer Zoe Tambling.

We are  planning a music and video festival for August and are continually reaching out to artists and curators to expand our programming.

As with any project, sometimes change is an inevitability, and we were fortunate in our transition to have support from the Precipice Fund. We are immensely grateful to have received this grant, as it has allowed us to grow and expand in ways we never thought possible.

About the Precipice Fund
Administered by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) as part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program, the Precipice Fund awards grants to unincorporated visual art collectives, alternative spaces, and collaborative projects in Portland, Oregon. Recognizing the barriers to funding faced by independent arts initiatives, Precipice Fund seeks to support both new and existing projects emblematic of Portland’s alternative, on-the-ground art community.

Precipice Fund Project Update: Portland Museum of Modern Art

Over the next six weeks, PICA will be posting project profiles and updates from some of its 2013 Precipice Fund grant recipients. This round of  profiles begins with the Portland Museum Of Modern Art  (PMOMA), a gallery in North Portland located in the stairwell and basement of the Mississippi Records compound. With a commitment to bringing diverse and interesting shows to Portland and joining the effort to enrich Portland’s art community, PMOMA’s main emphasis is on national and international contemporary art.

In January, PMOMA presented Portland Collects, a group show curated by director Libby Werbel of work borrowed from the private collections of community members. Also in January, we partnered with Free Spirit News for A Light Spray, an evening of film and video representing over 40 artists, curated by Ashby Lee Collinson.


Portland Collects (2014). Installation View. Courtesy Portland Museum of Modern Art.


Portland Collects (2014). Installation View. Courtesy Portland Museum of Modern Art.

In February and March, artist and part-time Portlandite Chris Johanson showed his latest drawings and paintings in an exhibit titled Self(ish) Expression(ism). We gathered a diverse group of performers who made the opening and closing parties truly memorable, with live entertainment by Tara Jane O’Neil, Dragging an Ox Through Water, Morgan Ritter, Kildajte Moussa Abade and Marissa Anderson.

Chris Johanson. Self Expressionism. Courtesy Portland Museum of Modern Art.

Chris Johanson. Self(ish) Expression(ism) (2014). Courtesy Portland Museum of Modern Art.

Chris Johanson. Self(ish) Expression(ism). Courtesy Portland Museum of Modern Art.

Chris Johanson. Self(ish) Expression(ism) (2014). Installation view. Courtesy Portland Museum of Modern Art.

April’s show was a solo show by Pacific Northwest visionary artist Richard Tracy (a.k.a. Richart). The opening party featured a screening of the 2003 documentary short about Richart by Vanessa Renwick and Dawn Smallman. We were fortunate enough to have Richart in attendance.

Richard Tracy. RICHART (2014) Courtesy Portland Museum of Modern Art.

Richard Tracy. RICHART (2014). Courtesy Portland Museum of Modern Art.

This summer’s programming will include an installation from fellow Precipice Fund grantee Julia Calabrese, as well as a show from acclaimed artist Lonnie Holley presented in partnership with Elizabeth Leach Gallery. Because of the Precipice Fund grant, PMOMA looks forward to a 2014 full of vibrant art and community.

Portland Collects Press

Chris Johanson Press

About the Precipice Fund
Administered by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) as part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program, the Precipice Fund awards grants to unincorporated visual art collectives, alternative spaces, and collaborative projects in Portland, Oregon. Recognizing the barriers to funding faced by independent arts initiatives, Precipice Fund seeks to support both new and existing projects emblematic of Portland’s alternative, on-the-ground art community.

Some lingering reflections

Collected from audience interviews by Ariana Jacob
“It was about relationships. Like with Linda Austen, she did the same dance, I think three times. The first time it was just her, the second time she did it with her sculptures, subtly, and then you felt you were rewarded, like, ‘oh, I recognize this dance, now it is clicking into place.’ The last time she started back-tracking through the movements the sculptures began to open up and do new things -  connecting into each other.
In Karen Sherman’s piece it was her and two other dancers and each of them had their own separate struggle. There was one part where they had this conversation, that would turn in and out of an argument where they would keep switching places with each other. It was so relatable, they each traded their places, going back and forth in a triangular argument. They made some jokes, but they were not spoken jokes, they were situational. They kind of prodded the audience too, but we became like a stiff block. I don’t think there is any role the audience is supposed to have, we are just a blob.”

“The tedious moments were, perhaps, more extended in this year’s TBA than, perhaps, last year’s. I try to be generous towards tedium because I believe in not satisfying people’s expectations all the way – that it provides a way of making people feel themselves having to deal with being the audience. But maybe it is a too prevalent color in this festival circuit’s palette. I am not sure that the audience’s reaction to it is expanding from constant exposure.”

“The small casts, and sometimes the scope of what was being dealt with, felt very personal. I don’t mean this in a political way, but it didn’t seem like the goals of the performances were to stretch out into space. They were very much about the people on stag: their experiences and their lives, as opposed to commenting on larger issues.”

“There has been a lot of visual darkness throughout the festival, and that lends itself to tacking stock of your own situation as audience. I am also a performance maker, so I check in a lot with myself about ‘what is this doing for me in the moment as an audience member.’ There were a lot of awkward moments in relation to audience logistics, like when the woman came and tied the curtain and then told us the performance was over in the Miguel Gutierrez piece, but I like that.”


Ariana Jacob is an artist whose work focuses on conversation as shared subjective research. Her project Working/Not working: What do you do all day and how do you feel about what you do? is on view at the Littman Gallery as a part of the Emerging Tactics exhibition curated by Recess Gallery.

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People: And lose the name of action

Miguel Gutierrez, And lose the name of action. Photo: Ian Douglas.

Miguel Gutierrez, And lose the name of action. Photo: Ian Douglas.

by Mary Rechner

For me it’s an enjoyable risk to invite a curious adventuresome person to the theater, especially to a play or performance neither of you know much about.  I attended Friday night’s performance of And lose the name of action with my mom.

My mom sees a lot of theater and performance in New York with my dad (they live on Long Island) and each time they visit Portland we check out some music, dance, or visual art, and often all three.

My mom and I were both riveted from beginning to end by And lose the name of action.

On the drive home we talked about the way the (each very different) three male and three female dancers’ bodies and movements, as well as their utterances (as well as the costumes, lighting, and set design) captured so many disparate aspects of life: movement and stasis, pleasure and pain, connection and estrangement, dark and light, clarity and confusion, the precise and the inchoate.

“Like a great novel,” I said.

“You can put a novel down,” said my mom.  “This was unrelenting.”

True.  The simultaneity of the music, moving bodies, lighting, images on screens, recordings of philosophical treatises, and utterances of dancers (both intelligible and unintelligible) felt like wave upon wave of multisensory stimulation.  We found it difficult to make any one unified sense or meaning of the piece, and this made it very interesting to talk about.

We wondered how the piece “would have been different” if broken up into separate shorter dances, and what it would have been like to have had an intermission, agreeing that it probably would have lost some of its oceanic immediacy.

Neither of us had read the TBA Performance Program prior to the performance, thus we did not know about Gutierrez’s father, whose neurological problems “coincided with [Gutierrez’s] growing interest in the role perception plays to determine reality and how various disciplines talk about the mind body connection” until after we were home, and read the program.

The information gave us yet another thread to weave into the lively conversation we continued to have long into the evening while drinking wine and eating egg salad sandwiches.

Mary Rechner is the author of Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women.  She lives in Portland.

Noticing repetition aka Some initial themes

Collected from audience interviews conducted by Ariana Jacob

“Remixing of the real.”

“The threat of failure. Failing people’s expectations. People have really high expectations of these performances and they are paying good money to watch someone essentially pee on them. But I think that room for failure is the best thing  happening at the festival this year, because it is the only thing that can really piss somebody off. Like when I watched Adult: half of it was in the dark and these two dancers were flailing around. I wanted to see bodies like bricks and people doing something I could never do. I didn’t see shit. But ultimately that is about me and my own desires that they were not trying to fulfill.”

“If I were to note a theme it wouldn’t be surprising given my own interests. I would say popular music: explorations of pop, talking about pop, covers of pop songs, listening to pop on you tube. A lot of pop/punk sensibilities are really present.”

” A lot of slow, sustained beginnings…”

“Minimal settings and the charge they brought to the work. Noting that you don’t need excessive, loud scenery or settings to have a powerful impact.”

“Thinking about stuff that we don’t know where it is, like with the Krystal South essay, where is it? Where is the art in it? I think it is in our heads, the art is when something shifts in our heads.”

“Everybody’s got a twitch.”

Ariana Jacob is an artist whose work focuses on conversation as shared subjective research. Her project Working/Not working: What do you do all day and how do you feel about what you do? is on view at the Littman Gallery as a part of the Emerging Tactics exhibition curated by Recess Gallery.


Sense Memory Snacks: Smorgasbord

Collected from audience interviews conducted by Ariana Jacob


“A massive yellow wig: incredibly massive, four feet wide with a black-face cyclops mask and huge stuffed breasts and bum. My reaction was mostly just WHOA, but it also made me think about the implications of becoming very large.” from the Drag Ball

“The beautiful transitions of light in Linda Austin’s dance performance with David Eckard’s sculptures. It was so subtle yet so dramatic and elegant. There was this one moment with a transition from warm light to an overpowering fluorescent that was so quiet and powerful at the same time.”

“The very deliberate seating pattern of rows of seats in an inner, middle and outer circle, performers sitting in pairs talking with each other, that then degenerates – or erupts into this battle with yelling and screaming.  But everyone knows where they are going, it is still a pattern that started with the seating arrangement.”  from Miguel Gutierrez and The Powerful People

“The performance was complete pitch black. I think it was two violins, a viola and a cello. My mind went wild because it was so dark it just HAD to imagine stuff. It was weird. I was imagining myself in a forest walking. I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or closed it was so, so dark. Actually, I don’t remember the music at all, it all became visual to me – the sound brought me to my visual senses.” from Third Angle


“During Lola Arias I was really aware of all the white people in the room laughing in places that I thought were not supposed to be funny at all. Things that had to do with race or different kinds of trauma that a lot of people don’t know how to deal with. So I was hyper aware that there was a lot of laughter that seemed like it was not because something was funny.”

“Taking a bath in sound.” from Wishful Thinking

“The contrast between the loud pop song playing at the beginning while there was nothing happening on stage vs the suspended stillness & quiet of the performers.” from Trajal Harrell

“The complexity of layered voice, clarinet and little glockenspiel melding into this cacophonous blur, but yet seeming so precise. Her style is very approachable and yet domineering.” from Like a Villain

“During Linda Austin’s performance there was this one musical gesture. It was contemporary classical: piano and violin. Throughout most of the dance I had been thinking about how much I hate abstraction: abstraction really pisses me off and the sculptures were these abstracted forms. One was house-like, one was bed like, one was phallic and stood in for the man. It was all kinda pissing me off but then I realized that the music was also a kind of abstracted melody. I really connect with and have a history with that kind of music, so tapping into the musical component allowed me to cerebrally apply a new kind of thinking to the sculptures and the dance.The shift happened mostly because of responding emotionally to the music. Is emotional response an abstraction?”



“The red-headed fellow stretched open the other fellow’s foreskin and screamed into it. I was in the front row. I usually sit there if I can, I like the immediacy of it. As the show went on I made a pact with myself consciously and unconsciously that I would catch them if they fell, if they came over the edge of the stage I was ready and willing to reach out and catch them. It felt like it might really happen. The show got very violent but still felt controlled and tender so that I never felt in danger. I just felt that they might go some place I had no idea where, but I was ready for whatever.” from Campo

“Performance Art is hard enough, but a parody of performance art? Uhg, I might as well go play video games.” from I Will Rip Your Arms Off

“It was uncomfortable. It was hard to predict when the crowd would applaud or not because they were challenging a lot of the standards of pacing and the expectations of when something is over. When you are breaking all those things you can’t expect a certain kind of audience response. They were deconstructing it and then it gets uncomfortable – like ooh, what is happening? Crickets.” from The Blow

“Champagne headache and a need for greasy food. It is not TBA’s fault, but it has been a while since I have felt the morning after TBA feeling.

“I went to the Keith Hennessy workshop last Sunday and we were supposed to shake for 10 minutes straight. You had to shake something, you couldn’t stop. I’ve been thinking about that everyday since, and shaking. It feels so good. It changes how my whole body feels: all my energy. I want to see what it does if I keep doing it.”


Ariana Jacob is an artist whose work focuses on conversation as shared subjective research. Her project Working/Not working: What do you do all day and how do you feel about what you do? is on view at the Littman Gallery as a part of the Emerging Tactics exhibition curated by Recess Gallery.

Nacera Belaza: Dancing the Mind

by Satya Byock

If Peace could dance, it took the stage in act one of Nacera Belaza’s Le Trait Solos & Le Temps Scellé. It was the highest mind, the wisest part of us all, spinning around and around in even, rhythmic turns. It began with no suggestion that it might remain exactly as it was: a single gesture, a solo movement, for minutes on end.

When Nacera started turning, her arms out-stretched in a firm line, we may have all expected something more. More variation. But this was not meant for quick pleasure. This was a meditation, as if Thich Nhat Hanh had transformed his walking meditations into circular movements; turning and turning in reverence like a Buddhist whirling dervish. The very act of watching Nacera turn, her hair, hands, and dark robes caressed by a silver, moon-like light, nudged each mind in the audience into a state of meditative repose.

It was a nudge, not forced. The boredom and anxious restlessness of some audience members certainly lasted throughout the full dance, but for others, it gave way to quiet, and then even joy. Amusement, like watching the better person win an argument when it wasn’t expected. If she succeeded, we would all be the better for it. It took patience at first, but watching her became like sitting by the ocean on a temperate day, observing single waves come to shore in regular, expected iterations. It is not fast paced or exciting, not a spectacle from which to gain quick thrills, but it will alter you if you let it, and you will be glad you stayed.

NacŽra Belaza / Le Trait, 2012

photo by David Balicki

In act two, Nacera and her sister, Dalila, perform with remarkable precision not the wholeness of human consciousness, but its fragmented nature. They take the stage separately, then come together to reflect what seems the split mind, the plurality of consciousness, and the madness that lingers within. Their clothing is no longer the dark, Zen-like coverings from act one. Now, they wear oversized, gray sweatshirts and pants. I find myself imagining lost, lonely prisoners, and homeless people muttering to themselves on the street. But their depictions are no less beautiful than in the first dance. Their portrayal remains utterly reverential, still seeing the peace in it all: a crack addict at the height of bliss, or a person lost to psychosis but deeply engaged with her world of gods. It is suffering, but it is also the inner life in its riches, not to be judged entirely by what we can see from the outside.

The movements in this act remain un-hurried and centralized, and still lit as if by the night’s full harvest moon. This is not the modern neurotic mind being portrayed, as is common, for better or worse, in much contemporary art. It is still ancient. A timeless kind of madness. Nacera and Dalila’s heads move as if they are denser, filled with competing thoughts. Their necks sweep close to the shoulder in stiff postures, remaining rigidly extended backwards, like another arm pulling away from the body. These are the movements of people who have whole villages in dialogue inside their minds. The physical rhythm is no longer consistent and silent. Movements are interrupted, unexpected and inconsistent but transfixing and delicate just the same.

Nacera and Dalila’s dedication to their craft is awe inspiring, as is their precision and endurance. This is not a show that will leave you ready to party, but its power to transform you may rival any other.

Photo by GK Wilson

photo by GK Wilson

Satya Byock is a Portland psychotherapist specializing in dream work and Jungian psychology for individuals in the first half of adulthood. She recently delivered a workshop at PICA on the Language of the Unconscious Mind as part of the C’mon Language series.

Tamsk with Alex Mackin Dolan

by Satya Byock

Allie Furlotti playing Tamsk at TBA 2013

If Alex Mackin Dolan’s exhibit Cycle, Sun, Limit were open during The Works performances, I’d be in there every night, playing Tamsk in the center of the room. On Opening Night, Alex was there himself, providing helpful instruction.

Alex Mackin Dolan TBA 2013

Tamsk is an easy enough game to learn to play (especially if you have AMD there to help you). Find a friend. Choose a side. Black or red. You’ll each have three small hourglass timers (expert tip: they’re not all the same speed) and a set of cream-colored rings. The hexagonal board is filled with walled spaces for the timers and the rings. The timers go into the holes, the rings go around them.

The point is to place more of your rings on the board than your opponent and lose fewer hourglasses to the sands of time. Each turn, you flip over one timer into an adjacent hole and adding a ring to the wall when you do. But you can only add a ring when a wall has space for it (some are tall enough for one ring, some for two or three). If you find that one of your hourglasses is surrounded by walls that are filled-up with rings, that means there’s nowhere for it to move. It’s stuck there like quick sand, and its time will eventually run out. And you know what that means.

Alex Mackin Dolan 2 TBA 2013

“I’m dead all over the board,” my friend declared on game four. I cheered. We cleared the board and began again.

After hours of socializing in a crowd, I reveled in this opportunity for a different kind of focus. If board games became a new standard for TBA late-night activities, I would be the first to sign up. It turns out that sometimes, an interlude of strategic gaming is just what the weary art-goer needs for a pick-me-up.

Satya Byock is a Portland psychotherapist specializing in dream work and Jungian psychology for individuals in the first half of adulthood. She recently delivered a workshop at PICA on the Language of the Unconscious Mind as part of the C’mon Language series.

Mariano Pensotti: Fragmentary Capture

By Craig Epplin

I went to the Portland State campus today with two objectives: pick up books from the library and see Mariano Pensotti’s Sometimes I think, I can see you, an outdoor installation comprising a screen and a writer filling it with text. I arrived at the plaza where the work was in progress. The first thing I saw on the screen was the description of a couple, and yes, there they were, chatting on a bench and sharing lunch. I wondered if there would be more to it. I wondered if I would stay long or grow tired of reading and matching the writer’s observations to the reality around me. I walked closer to the screen.

But then I got distracted. I ran into a friend and sat down. We began to talk—about our jobs, books, the perils of expertise, the ineptitude of the state, music, etc. I was engaged, but not by Pensotti’s work. It was just something happening in the background, the occasion for a chance encounter. I glanced occasionally over my shoulder and saw more writing about the people and go-carts and streetcars that passed through the plaza. I spent about an hour there, but I didn’t read much of the writing. I mostly just sat and chatted.

We generally know what it means to attend a performance. We arrive and file in, turn off our cell phones, watch and listen, applaud. Other dynamics–in a gallery instead of a theater, for example–are more informal, or they demand our participation. Pensotti’s work doesn’t fit these molds. To watch it is unexciting and to participate in it means doing nothing, hanging out, walking by, simply allowing yourself to be registered by the writer seated at the laptop. If you know the work is taking place and if you’re feeling narcissistic, you might wonder if you’ve made it onto the screen. It’s something like the feeling of walking into a gas station and looking around for the security camera.

That’s why I think Pensotti’s work matters greatly. It models a situation we all live in: that more and more often we are watched as we pass through public spaces. And it reveals at least some of the complexities inherent in that reality. In a state of surveillance, we feel ourselves intruded upon. We know that we are leaving traces of ourselves everywhere, that those traces are being collected by large corporations and used for commercial purposes, and furthermore that the state has fairly unfettered access to them. It’s the feeling of living in a panopticon, and people are right to fight against it.

But at the same time, this feeling names a fiction: on the side of the observed, the paranoid fantasy that everything about us can be monitored, and on the side of the observer, the fantasy of completing the process of capture. Pensotti’s work unveils this fiction. Sure, our social existence is increasingly modeled as data, but that data isn’t all-encompassing. It can’t be. 0s and 1s can’t capture the bubbling, churning desires and movements that make life in common what it is. Big data interpellates us as numbers, but those numbers are a poor stand-in for all of this that’s happening all the time. It’s real and powerful, but also fake and feeble. The doubt expressed in the work’s title—I think I can see you, and only sometimes—hints at this truth: that no, in fact, you cannot see me.

I’m curious to go back to Sometimes I think, I can see you. I’m curious to see new forms of fiction generated by the talented writers taking turns at the computer. Their work generates a fragmentary form of capture, which, this work reminds us, is the only sort possible.

Craig Epplin is an assistant professor of Latin American literature at Portland State University and an editor at Rattapallax.

After Antigone, Jr.: An Interview with Trajal Harrell

Lacy M. Johnson interviews Trajal Harrell over email in the days after the September 15 performance of Antigone, Jr., at TBA:13.

LJ: At Sunday night’s performance of Antigone, Jr., you introduced the piece by saying that you began the work with a question: what if one of the post-modern choreographers from Judson Church (Judson Dance Theater) had gone uptown to Harlem to perform in the ball scene? (Correct me if I’m stating that incorrectly.) I wonder if you could start by talking about this question. Why is it urgent to ask this question now (or at the time that you started working on the pieces)? Is it still an urgent question, in your view?

TH: In terms of urgency, I don’t work so much around this notion. What I was aware of was the sense that contemporary dance had become trapped in a revival of Judson aesthetics. Yvonne Rainer’s “No Manifesto” had become a kind of rule book and a prescription for conceptual dance, which was the leading aesthetic in contemporary dance since the late 90s on the international scene. My work, I think, became significant because it had found a way to move beyond Judson aesthetics while simultaneously being connected to that history.

Quoting myself from another interview:

“Again, in the early 90’s, Judson Church aesthetic and principles provided a lot of foundation again for contemporary dance to rethink itself : primarily the notion of rejecting spectacle, virtuosity, and theatricality and reducing dance to its essential elements. Alternatively the Voguing tradition uses constructions of gender, artificiality, and  and theatricality to create a fictional authenticity or “realness.” Thus, I was surprised to discover that these two movements started during the same historical moment, and by 2001, in my case, I felt it was the moment for a new criticality to arrive relating to Judson. Contemporary dance seemed stuck in the same recycling of Judson ideas and Yvonne Rainer’s no manifesto, and I was determined to do something new, even though that too was considered anti-contemporary during this time. Nonetheless, the lens of voguing allows me and you to see that the idea that Judson reduced dance to its essential elements is a fiction as well. Rather, those elements operate out of their own socio-cultural specificity and fictional authenticity. Therefore, from there I could begin to operate choreographically and aesthetically from a different vantage point regarding contemporary dance and voilà twelve years later the conversation is different in contemporary dance. So, we can say, I was interested in opening a new space in contemporary dance, but I wasn’t trying to do identity politics and break down the door for voguing to come in. That seemed obvious and of course when I first went to europe to show my work in 2005, no one in contemporary dance knew what voguing was, and now it’s included in a lot of programming, let’s say. I am proud that I could be a part of that change, yes, but it was an obvious point of inclusion suggested by the proposition. What was not so obvious was how to re-think Judson. Contemporary dance had become a cliché of boring conceptualism, and I couldn’t stand it anymore. I wanted to scream most of the time in the theater. So like Toni Morrison, the novelist says, « I had to make the kind of dances (books) that I wanted to see. »

“For example in Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (S), the small size in the series, I knew this piece would primarily been seen in very small theaters amongst dance cognesenti. I purposely made this work to propel the debate. I wanted to critique the kind of lazy late conceptualism that I saw proliferating in dance (people trying to make work like the people trying to work like the people trying to make work like Jerome Bel and say Xavier Le Roy). So right away (S) presents itself as a conceptual work and then it begins to slowly critique the way judson tenets have been appropriated in contemporary dance. I can do this because I have the lens of voguing as well as early postmodern dance in my toolbox, let’s say, and that creates different ways of seeing the cultural and political meanings the body and movement can have on the contemporary stage. ” (Festival d’Automne brochure)

LJ: To what extent do you think audiences need to be familiar with these histories when they come to the performances?

TH: Well, the project is about history. My work, in general, is about historical impossibilities, so familiarity with the history adds, of course. But that’s always the case with art. The negotiating factors change with each size. So with (S), I think it is essential. I made it, as I said for dance cognoscenti. For Antigone, Jr., of course, if you know the play Antigone that’s another aid. But the main thing I want the audience to be aware of in the room is not the history. Of course the history is important to the overall project and the gestalt of the series, but in Antigone, Jr., what is most important is the essence of tragedy, and how we as audience and performers begin to relate on that level. And that begins to be essentialized with the lost prop, not with a familiarity with contemporary dance history nor the history of ancient greek theater.

So all artists are working with the history of their discipline. The question for me, as an artist, has to do with providing different entry ways, so to speak. And that is what the different sizes do. The history is always there for you to go into, but there are different points of entry. These works are multi-layered. So how one peels back the layers over time: before coming to the theater, during, and after is the individuality and beauty of the artistic experience.

LJ: I’m glad you brought up the sizes. In your artist talk on Saturday you say you were involved in researching (or maybe just thinking about) size as it relates to fashion. I understand how that would translate to the size and scope of the pieces in the series. That is, I understand that the junior size, Antigone, Jr., is a performance for 125 people. But the room seated 250, and many folks were turned away from the performance (as I was at Made-to-Measure on Saturday evening). Can you talk a little about how and why the size of the audience affects each work?

TH: Scale is architectural. You experience a work differently depending on the size of the room and audience. I just experimented with this and found that it was totally different. It’s quite practical. A tiny black box theater produces different relations than the regime of the opera house.

In terms of Antigone, Jr., it’s the junior size, and i am working with smaller details than in a normal size, so to speak. Therefore, it doesn’t work if the audience is too big, of course. I also want the scale of the body to stay close to a human scale, which would change if you were further from the scene. The body would become visually smaller in scale. Rather, I want you to sense the energy on the front row and what we are doing there. You also need to sense everyone else in the room. The essence of tragedy is not a visual clue in this case. That anxiety that moves through the room when the prop is lost is contagious so it’s important that it not become, say, a cinematic trope. It’s experiential.

So there are limits on the number of people for each work. Scale is a part of the craft and composition of the work in space. Ideally, though, and usually, Antigone, Jr., is in a smaller room. TBA chose to scale the room down rather than hold it in a room that would typically seat 125 or 150.

Made-to-Measure on the other hand is eponymously made to fit the room size it’s performed in. So, in that case, the room was full and there were no more seats nor standing room.

LJ: Yes, scale is architectural. But not exclusively so. In Antigone, Jr., the movements / motions / gestures of each performer cycle through a whole range of scales and registers — from the minimalist / pedestrian to the exuberant / seductive. You spoke in the artist talk on Saturday about how, in 2007, when you started working on these pieces, emotion was taboo, and you wanted to bring emotion back to dance. What other taboos do you think this series responds to / breaks? What taboos do you think exist currently?

TH: Yes, scale is not exclusively architectural. But opera houses generally come in a certain size. The minimum size is, dare I say, large.  Opera houses are not the size of black boxes and they produce certain size works. So what I am referring to is a history of theater and production already in place.

Taboos: look at Yvonne’s “No manifesto.” That is the rule book. So all of those things are taboo: emotion, seduction of the spectator, virtuosity, glamour, return of the star image, spectacle, etc….i.e., flouncy black dresses….all of that is a bit taboo in international contemporary dance at the moment. My work broke with the “No Manifesto.” Others too… I am saying maybe to the things she said no to…. But I am breaking the taboos now…. What I am doing is not the trend.

LJ: You wrote earlier about juxtaposing the Judson Church aesthetic, which emphasizes “the notion of rejecting spectacle, virtuosity, and theatricality,” with the Voguing tradition, which “uses constructions of gender, artificiality, and theatricality to create a fictional authenticity or ‘realness,’” and using the Voguing tradition to escape from post-modern aesthetic weighing down contemporary dance in the early 2000s. I wonder if you have any concerns, as I do, about putting these two aesthetics in conversation with one another. Each movement was experimental, and transgressive in its way, but the stakes were far different between them. I know of no one at Judson, for example, who was murdered for being a postmodern choreographer.

TH: I wouldn’t say “to escape” postmodern aesthetic. I began to use the theoretical lens of voguing together with the theoretical lens of early postmodern dance to move beyond conceptual dance strategies. But this was not an attempt to escape postmodern dance by situating myself in another tradition. I don’t represent voguing nor early postmodern dance. I don’t believe in the purity of aesthetics or that we can wholly project them on a subset of people. Voguing itself as a practice works strongly with appropriation from other cultural forms and references.

The point of the proposition is to situate ourselves in the imagination and rethink impossibilities. And yes, I am aware of the different kinds of stakes involved. I mentioned this at the talk. That is why I created the different sizes to speak about a different relation to power and who has access to the means of production and distribution. That is what I have to bring to it as an artist. There are for sure other positions and theoretical possibilities. I am mainly working from problematizing my own position. I wouldn’t therefore use the word “concerns.” I have questions and problematizations. The works werq to generate those.

LJ: I’m having trouble understanding how the different sized performances speak to the different relations of power. Can you explain this a little? I mean, isn’t it true that regardless of the size of the performance, you’re always only reaching only a certain subsection of art consumers (for lack of a better term)? In Portland, for example, at the Antigone, Jr., performance, the audience is made up of primarily white folks, most of them between the ages of 25 and 50. (And so very many of them in plaid shirts!) Do you intend the sizes of the performances to work on us, the audience, also by means of implied exclusion? Are we supposed to be aware of who is NOT there?

TH: I think one thing you have to be aware of is that I am working in the imagination. The need for different sizes corresponds to the migration to a dominate cultural context. It’s about knowing that within an “imaginative” proposition. Therefore, one performance (or size) is not enough to deal with the possible differences in power and access to means of distribution and production. There need to be contingencies, overlaps, alterities….

My relationship to the size of the audience is not related to race. I don’t feel the work is any more for white than black people or vice-versa. I am not interested in those limitations. All audiences are different. Portland will be different than in Tokyo than in Rio. Than in Stockholm or in New York.

LJ: What are you working on now? What questions interest you? After XL (the book production), what will we see from you next?

TH: I have already started a new long term research. I am looking at butoh dance through the theoretical lens of voguing. The first project, Used Abused and Hung Out to Dry was commissioned by MoMA and premiered there last February. The second project, a larger theater project for 8 dancers is coming in June. It will premiere at The Montpellier Danse Festival in France.

LJ: Are there particular questions you’re seeking answers to by looking at butoh dance through the theoretical lens of voguing?

TH: It’s too early in the research to speak about those now.

LJ: Let’s go back, very briefly, to the 20 looks series. What are your measures of success for these performances? That is, do you feel they sufficiently problematize your position? And that of the audience? Is there anything you feel unsatisfied with about this series? Anything you might do differently?

TH: There are things we do differently all the time. We are constantly working on the work and trying to make it better. As Martha Graham said, “…no artist is pleased….” She also said, “…it is not [the artist’s] business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions….”

LJ: That seems like a great sentiment to end on. Thanks so much for agreeing to chat with me.

TH: Thank you!!


Lacy M. Johnson is a writer and digital artist living in Houston, Texas, where she is the Director of Academic Initiatives at University of Houston’s Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts. Her second memoir, THE OTHER SIDE, is forthcoming from Portland-based Tin House Books.

TBA: Things I’ve noticed, felt, thought about thus far…



by Mary Rechner



Site-specific conventions: chain link fence encircling resource library, signs on doorways noting sexual content, t-shirts=ID badges….


Am I standing in the right line?


I often feel entitled to virtuosity.


Contemporary art speaks to the past as much as to the now or the future.


Discovery is a form of pleasure.


Not understanding is a form of fear.


Audience camaraderie has a ritual function.


Sympathy/empathy for the performers is a surprise (see above entitlement).


Imagination might be more important than anything else.



Mary Rechner is the author is Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women.  She lives in Portland.


by Ariel Osterweis

Since the 1960s, contemporary dance has been burdened by two predominant taboos: religion and emotion. Heartily challenging these taboos today are choreographers Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido (the duo comprising Campo) and Trajal Harrell. During one evening here at PICA’s TBA13 festival, I saw Campo’s duet Still Standing You immediately followed by Harrell’s Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made to Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (M2M). Both casts are comprised entirely of men, unabashedly yet jaggedly burrowing into fraught spaces of becoming, the kinds of liminalities that reek of cohabitated dorm rooms, dried cum, and the sweat of dresses being aired out after a hard night at the ball.

Pieter Amp and Guiherme Garrido Still Standing You Photo by Phile Deprez Courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

Pieter Amp and Guiherme Garrido
Still Standing You
Photo by Phile Deprez
Courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

Entering the theater, the audience happens upon Still Standing You’s Ampe lying on his back onstage, his feet raised perpendicularly, with Garrido seated atop. Although Garrido could tumble to the ground at any moment, he addresses the audience with small talk (while wobbling a bit on the temporary seating of Ampe’s legs), asking about Portland’s rumored “vegan strip club” and its label of the “Rip City.” As Garrido nurtures this playful rapport with the audience, one detects Ampe’s fatiguing support, the increasing discomfort of the seemingly impossible task with which he has been charged. Herein lies the crux of the piece’s aesthetic: nonchalance amidst precariousness. Still chatting up the audience, Garrido clarifies, “What you’re about to see now is a contemporary dance show” and then instructs the crowd to utter in unison, “Pieter Ampe, we love you!” Encouraging a shift in tone while stretching his arms in front of him in an exaggeratedly stiff, straight parallel position, Garrido states, “Here we go. Contemporary style now. Here we go. Serious.”

What ensues in Still Standing You is the kind of dangerous play you find in many a boy-filled household. I say “household” as opposed to “playground” because Ampe and Garrido’s passages of roughhousing are punctuated by intimate moments of care and experimentation, that of two brothers who rip their clothes off like superheroes, one-up each other in absurd penis-slapping games, and tenderly nudge each other to assuage the brutality of boyhood. Here, the wild growls of lions and loud thuds of crashing robots are tamed by the domesticity of the barely detectable pitter-patter of two fingers catching up to each other across a patch of floor to indicate walking.  Such snippets of gestural storytelling appear in sharp contrast to the magnitude of Ampe and Garrido’s exaggerated risks and crashes. Finally, after an inventive pas de deux of penis-grabbing, foreskin-twisting, and Pilobolus-like body-pretzeling, the roles of support reverse and Garrido takes Ampe in his arms, generating an iconographic image reminiscent of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus in the pieta. In Campo fashion, the hold is precarious, and Ampe could slip out of Garrido’s arms at any moment.

Whereas Campo evokes the Bataillan incommensurability of the four-legged, sensory creature and the rational, upright human, Harrell depends on our recognition of the ubiquitous postmodern players known to us as supermodels. Moreover, in M2M, Harrell experiments with layers upon layers of performance, in which contemporary white dancers elicit black and Latino voguers of all genders from ballroom culture who, in turn, try on the hyper-feminized looks of fashion magazines. Throughout his series, Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church, Harrell has taken up gendered and racial performance, in which one gender performs another gender performing another gender, and so on. In doing so, he poses questions such as, what would happen if a voguer from Harlem’s 1963 ballroom scene went down to the Judson Church to hang out with the early postmoderns? M2M reverses the series’ original provocation, exploring the imaginative limits and possibilities of an early postmodern (dancer) finding himself in the balls of Harlem. Drawing from the colloquial use of “giving church” found in ballroom culture—already a mix of high fashion posturing and the church-inspired lyrics of the deep house music that drives many a voguing competition—Harrell takes his audience to church with M2M. Needless to say, the aesthetic of “difficulty” central to Judson-inspired work tends to obscure the church service structure of M2M for the average viewer (at least according to my own surveying of audience members after the performance).

Ondrej Vidlar, Thibault Lac, and Trajal Harrell  Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made to Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (M2M) Photo by Chelsea Petrakis Courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

Ondrej Vidlar, Thibault Lac, and Trajal Harrell
Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made to Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (M2M)
Photo by Chelsea Petrakis
Courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

Like Still Standing You, M2M opens with audience address. The irrepressibly handsome Thibault Lac, awkwardly lanky and modishly coiffed enough to be—or at least stand in for—a Rick Owens model, coyly tells the audience in a French accent, “What you see couldn’t have been performed at Judson or the balls. I’ll ask you to forget this happened.” Lac suggests that the cast is merely trying out a possible beginning for the piece that they will likely discard. Yet, at no point is the culmination of the trial overture indicated, leading the audience to believe that the entire piece is a potentiality in itself, never etched into the tablets of history. Lac leaves the stage and the audience is met with the heavy bass and driving beat of a house remix of Adele’s impassioned (and widely played) “Fire to the Rain.” Unacceptable as it will seem to my academic cohort, I have lost nights upon nights of productivity to the emotional pull of this very song. An uncanny mnemonic, to hear it resonating throughout the theater, in public, is to sense a coalescence of queer community and mainstream cheapness. On the one hand, the song creates an affective commonality: conjuring a club, “Fire to the Rain” played as a danceless dance song points to dance’s potential. (My other favorite danceless opening to a dance piece done to dance music is that of Jerome Bel’s The Show Must Go On, in which, in a similar postdramatic mode, the lights take the entire length of the song “Let the Sunshine In” to rise on an otherwise empty stage.) Aside from an electric fan sitting on the floor, the stage is empty at this point. Finally the entire cast of three (Harrell, Lac, and Ondrej Vidlar) enters, clad in adjustable long black dresses by Complex Geometries, and sits down on wooden chairs. Seated upstage of Lac, Harrell immediately dons the pained expression of a woman wailing in church (a nod to Alvin Ailey’s iconic Revelations?). Because the audience is not privy to any emotional build-up that could have led to this moment of climax, Harrell’s expression reads as either a droplet of melodrama or grief stripped of context. Film scholar Linda Williams refers to melodrama as a “body genre,” as a film genre (or “mode”) that is excessive to the degree that its affect spills over beyond legibility (despite its recognizability).

Ever challenging established historical narratives (or the way they get “written”), Harrell has a knack for jogging the audience’s sense of temporality in two distinct ways, namely, through his strategic use of pop music and by deploying facial expressions of grief that function as signifiers. Harrell and company have explicitly stated that they are not voguers and that they do not completely embody its technique. Thus, pseudo-voguing here is a signifier of virtuosic dancing (but not its complete fulfillment). As such, Harrell points to the historical imperative for African American dancers to be virtuosic, to “be fierce.” Harrell is astute in drawing our attention—however opaquely—to the way melodrama and sincere emotion are easily conflated. In doing so, he arrives at the crux of ballroom culture (where voguing emerged), namely, its preoccupation with “realness,” the ability to pass such that one cannot be “read” (called out for faking it). In focusing on resemblance over reality, Harrell utters, “Sounds like the souls of black folks.” His fellow performers are white, dancing to a soulful soundtrack of house, disco, and hip-hop. Despite racialized and gendered ambivalence, however, M2M concerns itself with queer belonging, evoked at one point by the longing of Antony and the Johnson’s lyrics, “I need another place…will there be peace? I need another world, a place where I can go.” The dancers alternate between pious gestures of prayer (while holding phallic microphones) and frantic freestyle dancing that lies somewhere between runway strutting, voguing, and imitations of hip-hop. Evoking the demands of ballroom culture typically uttered by voguing MCs, Harrell, Lac, and Vidlar repeatedly say, “Mama said don’t stop the dance” as a command at times and a lullaby at others. In self-reflexive fashion, the dancers also state, “Contemporary dance is over.” However, in more play with colloquialisms, they could be saying “Contemporary dance is ovah,” which is a huge compliment, meaning “fabulous!” Perhaps one of the most hauntingly ambivalent commands Harrell preaches to the dancers during M2M is “Don’t think; work.” Which, of course, could be “Don’t think; werq,” and to werq is to fulfill ballroom’s realness, to be an utterly convincing performer. Nevertheless, the danger Harrell points to is our culture’s expectations for (and assumptions of) black performance as unthinking labor, far from the self-reflexive, critical terrain of Harrell’s imaginings. What does it mean, though, that the dancer “working” the hardest is Lac, flinging his limbs every which way in a sinewy, breakneck solo that tries to defy stereotypes of white boys and rhythm? In following the command to work/werq, the dancers emerge from M2M covered in sweat. Things wind down and fire returns via a lonely plea into the mic: “Won’t you wet my fire with your love, baby?” “M2M” could also stand for man-to-man. Both Campo and Harrell remind us that, underlying boys’ huge capacity for play is the threat of violence: what risks will you take for (and to perform) your identity, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or otherwise? (Is Jesus watching? And, who’s there to support you when he fails?)


Ariel Osterweis is Assistant Professor of Dance at Wayne State University (Detroit, MI). She earned her Ph.D. in Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and B.A. in Anthropology at Columbia University. At work on her first book, which theorizes virtuosity, race, and sexuality in the dance career of Desmond Richardson, Osterweis also researches contemporary African dance and the disavowal of virtuosity in feminist and transgender live art and performance. Publications appear in Dance Research Journal, Women and Performance, e-misférica, Theatre Survey, The Oxford Handbook of Dance and the Popular Screen, and more. She danced professionally with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Mia Michaels, and Heidi Latsky, choreographs, and is dramaturg for choreographer John Jasperse and performance artist Narcissister. Osterweis is currently living in New York City.

Identifying with Identify Yourself

By Olivia Mitchell


It seems very appropriate to be writing a blog post about Identify Yourself, Krystal South’s research/essay/website/book about internet art. In fact, I don’t think I could properly respond in any other medium. Even so, writing this makes me keenly aware of my novice status. I am, like South, a child of the internet age, but I hesitate before I say gif because I’m not sure whether we’ve decided to pronounce it gif or jif. My Tumblr has fewer than 50 followers and is mostly pictures of cats and One Direction, and yet, even with my lack of internet finesse, I feel familiar with the language and attitude of Identify Yourself.

The website is part archive, part history, part personal essay, and part internet, all linked together by simultaneity and networks and questions (Where does that leave us? “Wtf is their deal?”). And what makes it recognizable to me is the way it illustrates the personal

In her personal essay, South asserts her position as an active participant in the processes by which the internet makes her who she is. “My co-evolution with this technology has instilled a fiercely personal identification with the concept and structure of computers and Internet-based systems within me. This position is not by accident, but choice.” Her life is intertwined with the internet, and that is something she comes to with intention. This then is at the center of her work (if anything on the internet can have a center): South believes in the interplay between agency and evolution in the internet and in her life.

I recently read a letter to the editor in The Oregonian about the failure of students in Portland to meet writing benchmarks on standardized tests. This letter writer believed that text messaging was (at least in part) to blame for this failure; the internal logic being that students spend too much time inhabiting technological spaces where non-literary communication is encouraged.  I see this general message repeated a lot: New technologies are to blame for the degradation of intelligence and creativity. South’s personal narrative and research run directly counter to these tropes. In her work, I see histories of how new technologies and new ways of using technology are generative and productive. Internet art is not a lazy version of real, decorous creation, it is simply new.

The proliferation of internet art, post-internet art, and their concomitant communities demonstrate just how generative the internet can be. And Identify Yourself collects and expands these generations in a personal way.

I think there are still important questions to ask about agency and evolution when it comes to the internet. And these questions aren’t simply abstractions to ponder, but important issues that should be at the center of any discussion about the internet. Who has the power to congregate virtual communities? Who has the privilege of toying with open source code without being seen as a hooligan? Who gets to troll? Who gets censored?  South speaks about her work with room for these questions, with allowances for infinite uncertainty.

When an audience member asked what would happen if internet art kept professionalizing, she was quick to say she that she isn’t psychic. She’s not trying to predict what will be trending next week, she’s reflecting on the life of the internet in her life, she’s creating and recreating their co-evolution.

Olivia Mitchell writes about art occasionally and lives in Vancouver, Washington.

Trajal Harrell: Of course it was intentional.

by Satya Byock


After the show, my friend walked up to him and asked about the tag still connected to the shirt he’d worn on stage. “Was that intentional? Did you mean to leave that on?” Trajal laughed as he looked at her and said “of course,” of course it was intentional. It was part of the show. Then she told him: “That thing at the beginning was no big deal,” attempting to offer comfort for what seemed a monumental mistake in the performance. He smiled at her and laughed. That was intentional too. “It was?!” she laughed in surprise (and she’s no amateur in the world of experimental performance). ”Of course!” Trajal replied.

It was all intentional. The minutes of discomfort as we watched Trajal’s partner, Thibault Lac, dig through his bag looking for a prop, halting the show shortly after it had begun. Then the interaction between Thibault and Trajal in the front row and the tiny wrinkle of concern on Trajal’s otherwise stoic face, as if he were hiding anger at his partner’s ineptitude. Then Thibault’s quick departure from the room to look for the missing element, and his small smile that I interpreted as boyish humiliation. And Trajal’s speech to the audience, an audience that waited in line outside, behind closed gates for the sold-out show. Trajal apologized for the fact that they would have to begin the show over.

I was sitting next to Trajal as all this was occurring, an un-intentional move on my part when I chose my seat next to two empty ones reserved by a hand towel. I was next to Trajal when he sat down after his apology, and as he waited for Thibault to return. Trajal’s body folded at moments, his eyes sometimes looking in anguish at where Thibault had run off stage. At first, the audience was silent. But the initial feelings of respect and compassion, and perhaps thoughts that this was an intentional interruption, soon gave way to chatter and then palpable discomfort. As Trajal sat next to me, alone in embarrassed silence, the whispering in the audience grew increasingly loud.

A young woman seated on the floor in front of us, her head half shaved and dyed blue, whispered with friends. I looked over at her as she laughed and rolled her eyes in what seemed a moment of mocking disbelief. Trajal saw her too. He sighed next to me, as if the humiliation has just reached its peak, and turned his head away in sadness. Should I offer him a word of comfort?

Every moment is an opportunity to assess our own reactions, and TBA’s performances have a knack for bringing those moments into stark relief. If nothing else, this was a social experiment, I figured. Was I, as the woman next to the performer, expected to offer condolences and reassurance? Should I, at least, be careful not to turn my back on him as I too defaulted into mid-performance conversation with friends? What was my role to play in this performance?

Trajal stands and walks to the wall to continue waiting. Then, after a time, he decides to simply begin the show again. He announces to us that this search for the prop has taken longer than expected and that he’s just going to go ahead and start. Thibault is still not here. Trajal returns to the black open stage and, without much cue to anyone, the music begins. But this is not the music where things left off. This is a new act altogether. And after a couple of minutes, Thibault joins him on stage seamlessly. I wonder for a moment again if this hadn’t all been planned after all. But why?

The show Antigone Jr. (not to be confused with the “Made-to-Measure” version performed on Friday and Saturday) was an exploration into a hypothetical cross-breed of cultures. In Trajal Harrell’s words, all of the Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church performances explore the same question: ”What would have happened in 1963 if someone from the voguing dance tradition in Harlem had come downtown to the Judson Church in Greenwich Village to perform alongside the early postmoderns?”

And it was, in the end, a pleasing performance. A combination of voguing interspersed with an occasional beat generation musing from Trajal, a reading of Antigone by Thibault, and singing from them both. But it was also, always, this highbrow, intellectual work and high-skilled dance on a foundation of seeming disarray. It was not unlike what you might find if walking in on two smart, trained dancers high on something and joking around in a bedroom at 3am. Certainly, this impression was influenced by the costuming: boxer shorts and socks, a gray bathrobe, t-shirts, and an inside-out white something (with the tag still on). What would it have felt like with different clothing? And was that the impression Trajal intended to convey?

Satya Byock is a Portland psychotherapist specializing in dream work and Jungian psychology for individuals in the first half of adulthood. She recently delivered a workshop at PICA on the Language of the Unconscious Mind with Anna Craycroft as part of the C’mon Language series.

Sense Memory Snacks: Campo

Collected from audience interviews by Ariana Jacob

Parenthetical Girls| The Works | Gia Goodrich

“In the first five minutes we are casually and personably introduced to the performer in such a way that we forget he is sitting balanced on the strained legs of his fellow performer. We have to remind ourselves of this this ongoing strain, as we keep being charmed into what feels like a shared sense of ease. ”

“He cajoled us into being with him and then got all bossy on us, forming us into being his audience.”

“That direct and friendly connection is an entry point that sticks with you throughout the piece and prevents you from being put off from what might otherwise be uncomfortable. He really took the audience into consideration.”

“No score, just the lion-like, or lizard-like, gruffing monster, godzilla-ish noises.”

“Feeling shudders go through the audience of collective empathetic discomfort or relief.”

“The interesting percussive moment made by the slapping of privates on lower abdomens. I am a man, so I’ve heard that sound before, but never in a room full of people.”

“As the performance goes on you are really more an more aware that you are sharing an experience with the people sitting next to you in the audience. We began giving each other our own personal space in a sort of viewing dance. She would let me lean into her space to see more and I would lean away so she could come into my space.”

“Dueling penises: sweaty, competitive, potentially platonic man love.”


Ariana Jacob is an artist whose work focuses on conversation as shared subjective research. Her project Working/Not working: What do you do all day and how do you feel about what you do? is on view at the Littman Gallery as a part of the Emerging Tactics exhibition curated by Recess Gallery.

Sense Memory Snacks: Trajal Harrell

Collected from audience interviews by Ariana Jacob


“Hearing ‘don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop” for so long that strangely, I eventually wanted him never to stop saying it – and when he did I longed for more.”

“After such a long introduction, there was an energetic charge when he finally started to move: sashaying with his arms like a really slow hula dance.”

“People were leaving, walking right across the stage, looking at us still in the audience, so you were hyper aware of your choice to be there. ”

“Two white guys with euro accents sitting on the front of the stage, commanding action from a tragically moaning black guy behind them, who never the less seemed entirely in charge of himself.”

“Watching Kaj-anne’s reactions down the row in the audience: he was my meter of whether it was going to be alright.”

“With a performance like that half the time what you are doing as audience is gauging the energy of the room, seeing if other people are sharing your feelings and how they are dealing with them.”

“The who’s-who of Portland choreographers were all there, hungry and taking note.”


Ariana Jacob is an artist whose work focuses on conversation as shared subjective research. Her project Working/Not working: What do you do all day and how do you feel about what you do? is on view at the Littman Gallery as a part of the Emerging Tactics exhibition curated by Recess Gallery.

Campo: Still Standing You

by Craig Epplin

Campo - Gia Goodrich

Photo by Gia Goodrich

Still Standing You, the dance piece by Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido, is by turns endearing, violent, silly, and solemn. It begins with Ampe lying on the floor, his legs straight up in the air, the soles of his shoes providing an awkward platform where Garrido sits and smiles. He greets the audience and talks amiably—talks about whatever, thanking everyone profusely and giving a lengthy, tongue-in-cheek introduction to his dance partner, who by now seems tired of holding Garrido up. The long soliloquy ends, and the dancers begin to engage one another. They grunt and snarl. They attack, retreat, and play dead. They gradually strip naked, deploying their clothes as weapons. They hurl shoes at each other. They snap their shirts like towels in a boys’ locker room. They spit. Sometimes they hug or pick lint off each others’ bodies. The show lasts around an hour.

The audience mostly laughs, for despite its violence, the scene we watch is often ridiculous. The dancers’ attacks on one another are interspersed with nipple twisting, penis twisting, beard twisting. They play constantly with each others’ and their own bodies, making noises like kids or dolphins. Minimal pop-culture references punctuate some of the most aggressive scenes, making them feel lighter than they would otherwise. It is only in the second half or final third of the performance that the audience grows mostly silent, as the two dancers explore more sedate, extended poses. Their bodies slowly meld into each other, the way a rider and a horse seem to become a centaur. In one pose, Garrido laid his torso over Ampe’s in such a way that I can’t quite describe, but that I remember as producing the effect of a many-legged mammal that walks haltingly across the stage. Their initial aggression toward one another has given way to the intensities of interpenetration.

Throughout, and perhaps naturally, I kept thinking about old cartoons, in particular the classic antagonists: Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, Tom and Jerry. All these pairs enact a mad, constant aggression against one another, an aggression that stops just short of causing death. Watching Ampe and Garrido pass seamlessly from afflicting pain on one another to grooming each other to holding one another up with their thighs, I understood something very simple about those TV shows: that Tom needed Jerry and vice versa. Their aggression was the essence of their relationship, but it had necessary, constitutive limits. Their interactions involved tolerating the other’s madness. I thought about this also in relation to the work’s title, Still Standing You. Various languages have words that connect the experience of standing, as in tolerating, to the act of carrying or holding: the verb to bear, for example, in English. Garrido is Portuguese, and one way to translate the work’s title into that language is via the verb suportar; tracing etymologies, to support is also to tolerate. The cartoonish aspect of Ampe and Garrido’s performance made this connection clear to me.

The great Russian director Sergei Eisenstein once wrote that the animated substitution of animals for humans in Disney cartoons responded to a desire for more fluid forms of social life. I think that something similar applies to this performance, which to my mind aims to represent the pleasures and potencies of ill-defined affects. The dancers’ dispositions move across registers of aggression, eroticism, and playfulness, and similar sorts of shape-shifting define all honest relationships. The specifics are obviously different (for most of us likely don’t throw shoes at one another), but the gray ambiguity between the dancers is the stuff of real friendship. The end of the performance, which comes gradually, through nods of acquiescence between Ampe and Garrido, thus seems less like a truce than the expression of a formless, enduring solidarity.

Craig Epplin is an assistant professor of Latin American literature at Portland State University and an editor at Rattapallax.

Sense Memory Snacks: Opening Night

Collected from audience interviews by Ariana Jacob


“Walking on the erratic pallet steps, focused on the fun of keeping balanced feet.”

“Sunset colors and weird, unfathomable perspective lying flat on the floor.”

“Middle-schoolers and High-schoolers punked out, invested and going hard.  Moved by seeing them rocking-the-fuck-out at that age with this audience.”

“Not being able to tell what was the recording and what was actually happening: Somewhat reliving a distorted moment that had just happened.”


Ariana Jacob is an artist whose work focuses on conversation as shared subjective research. Her project Working/Not working: What do you do all day and how do you feel about what you do? is on view at the Littman Gallery as a part of the Emerging Tactics exhibition curated by Recess Gallery.

A.L. Steiner: Feelings and How to Destroy Them


by Mary Rechner

This video-based survey of A.L. Steiner’s work includes “You will never ever be a woman,” “C.L.U.E. (color location ultimate experience),” “Extended Paintbrush (Yves Klein),” and “Swift Path to Glory.”  Predatory sexuality/environmental degradation/consumerism is set next to freedom/fluidity/complexity of desire and gender identity.

Steiner’s work feels like another step alongside nonlinear journeys taken by artists such as Nan Goldin, Marina Abramovic, David Wojnarowicz, Kara Walker, and Steve Paxton.  Steiner is political and playful, part Guerilla Girl, part Merry Prankster.

“Extended Paintbrush (Yves Klein)” is a video of five naked women and one naked man moving in front of Yves Klein paintings.  It’s as if all the nudes in the museum have escaped to these galleries to dance and touch outside their confining frames.

Dance vocabulary plays a big part in “C.L.U.E.” too, as does fashion, music and landscape.  The pop 80’s feel of this video is buoyant, joyful, though the constantly shifting scenery/setting communicates insecurity/instability.

“Swift Path to Glory” features diverse actors reading a script about the construction of masculinity, as well as vulnerability (ties to mother).  Always beyond the actor at the microphone is a view of the street.  At the end, the actor is in a storefront window on display.

“You will never be a woman,” is an intimate, complicated dialogue exploring desire, dreams, gender identity, abuse, the abject, and the way human beings internalize and externalize hatred; it reminded me of Jean Genet’s “The Maids.”  The actors are alternately sad, playful, funny, mean, kind, loving, hateful, and self-hating.  The piece feels both scripted and improvised, too-close-for comfort, haunting, mesmerizing; I’m still thinking about it.

Mary Rechner is the author of Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women.  She lives in Portland.

El Año Que Nací: A Play in Documentary

by Satya Byock

I am running late from a meeting, but I am here. I join friends in the front row. The theater lights dim. The show begins. I had worried that I might be lacking the energy needed for a two hour show, but within minutes I find that I am already deeply engaged. I am teary eyed. My hand covers my mouth in moments of anguish and admiration. I am riveted and moved.

El Año Que Nací is true documentary theater. What unfolds is not a script recounting history and retold by actors. It is a performance of individuals telling their individual stories, both to the audience and to each other. It is a Truth and Reconciliation hearing in performance. A weaving of the statements of eleven Chileans born between 1971 and 1989 when Pinochet’s unrelenting dictatorship polarized and terrorized the country. This is history being told and history in the making. It is the story of war and dictatorship. It is the battle between good and evil enacted in the lives of each person, an exploration of the effects of war on children and psyche. This is the story of my mother, one woman shares. This is the story of my father, another offers. This is the story of my birth. This is the story of my life as an exile and as a citizen. This is my story, as a Chilean and as a person.

El Año Que Nací is not only an inspiring piece of art, but an inspiring piece of healing.

Photo by David Alarcón
Photo by David Alarcón

Americans: imagine eleven children born in Birmingham, Alabama in the ’50s and ’60s taking the stage to tell their story in artful poetry. They are the children of parents who helped to establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, but they are also children of the Ku Klux Klan; their parents were among the Freedom Riders and among the mobs who beat them; their mothers and fathers were Southerners, black and white and mixed, juggling their ideological positions with their responsibilities as employees and parents. Where did your parents stand? These southerns ask each other in front of their audience. What color is your skin? How dark are you? How radical were you? How poor and how righteous? Where were your parents when it mattered? What side were they on? Was your mother a leftist who sent you letters from prison? Was your father a police officer whose only ideology was allegiance to commands?

In El Año Que Nací we are shown microcosms of history and macrocosms. The lens focuses in on one story and then back out again to the collective. Abstract dates are doted with personal details: births and deaths; murders and incarcerations; moments of transforming discovery. This is not dry history that struggles to penetrate the psyche. This is life, they tell us. This is your life as much as it is my own. The story in Chile is unique but it is not unrelated to the stories of power and oppression and struggle that have taken place in human history from moment one.

The use of mixed media and costume throughout the production is spirited and engaging. The flow of the show is a carefully orchestrated emotional rhythm, never unbearably heavy nor intellectually abstract. The Chilean spanish of the actors/participants is a pleasing departure from the mostly English language performances, as are the occasional inaccuracies of translation and departures from the subtitled script. In moments, it is clear that the English-speaking audience is missing nuance, and when the actors obscured the view of the subtitle board for an entire scene, it also became clear that this show was not made for us. This is a story that has crossed nations to be here. And we are reminded in those moments that these actors are people first. Their humanness reminds us of our own.

We all have stories. Our parents, no matter the conflict or the period of history, have taken sides. And we have too. This piece of work, by the brilliant Argentine writer, director, and performer Lola Arias, is a reminder that there are stories in us all. It just may take a particularly painful, burning fire to bring them to the light of history, and courage to bring them to consciousness in the present time.


Satya Byock is a Portland psychotherapist specializing in dream work and Jungian psychology for individuals in the first half of adulthood. She recently delivered a workshop at PICA on the Language of the Unconscious Mind with Anna Craycroft as part of the C’mon Language series.

More on Lola Arias: El año en que nací / The Year I Was Born

by Craig Epplin


Photo by David Alarcón

I’d like to add just a few thoughts to Lacy M. Johnson’s comments on Lola Arias’s El año en que nací / The Year I Was Born. One of the show’s insights is that memory is a highly mediated process. We always remember through and with something or someone. We remember through old clothes and documents, through ingrained habits, through conversation, through meals and rituals. Etc. Each of these channels is limited, and thus our memories always remain partial and subject to revision. Arias’s work stages this process, revealing the fragility and instability of memory.

One of the more striking ways that we see memory unfold onstage is through the use of props. Most of the actors wear, at some point, an article of clothing that belongs to their parents. On several occasions, these clothes trigger monologues, as if their very presence demanded an explanation. Clothes are always enmeshed in sign systems, and in this case their meaning is both public and private. A pair of overalls, such as those worn by one actor toward the end of the show, might denote many things about class and profession, but they mean something entirely different when they are symbolically tied to the violent loss of a child. And the impact of that meaning is magnified when the person wearing the overalls and telling the story of that loss is the daughter of their original owner.

At other moments, memory is produced collectively, through dialogue or argument. One actor, the son of an ex-naval officer, mimics his father’s love of order by asking everyone to line up, in turn, according to class, ethnicity, and the political persuasion of their fathers and mothers. Consensus is never achieved, and what emerges from the fractious conversation is a partial reconstruction of the way Chilean society both functions and imagines its own past. At another, more harmonious moment, the actors sit around a table and eat, recalling their families’ reactions to the 1987 visit of Pope John Paul II to Chile. Their individual memories coalesce, swelling into what is probably the most extended period of joy in the show, until one character describes the censorship and abuse of a woman who had spoken to the pope about human rights while the media’s cameras were rolling. In this case, the ritual of sharing a meal leads into the memory of state terror.

Finally, we watch memory take form through a complex, very beautiful choreography of speech and action. During many monologues, the speakers refer to postcards, photographs, or letters that are on display under a document camera. We see, simultaneously, the documents being manipulated by the other actors, who draw on them with sharpies and move them around, and their projection onto a screen in the middle of the stage. The process works like an extended metaphor for the way memory is always produced: through an assemblage of individual experiences, material artifacts, and the actions of others.

In other words, remembering doesn’t happen in isolation, but rather through conversation with others and in contact with the material remnants of the past. El año en que nací / The Year I Was Born opens a window onto that process and its necessarily incomplete, fragmentary nature.

Craig Epplin is an assistant professor of Latin American literature at Portland State University and an editor at Rattapallax.

Lola Arias: El año en que nací / The Year I Was Born

by Lacy M. Johnson


[photo courtesy of David Alarcón]

In El año en que nací / The Year I Was Born by Argentinian playwright Lola Arias, eleven artists born during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship take the stage in an attempt to reckon with the crimes of the generation before. In a series of intertwining monologues (in Spanish, with English subtitles), the artists construct a story of the past that draws from the full spectrum of political ideologies, across lines of power and class and ethnicity. They rely not only on the irrefutable facts of public memory (the dates and locations of bombings, the names of political figures and the material consequences of their actions) but also on the private memory of the artists’ parents, recounted through personal artifacts that have survived from that time (family albums, wedding photos, postcards and letters, family videos, long-expired passports and articles of clothing).

What emerges is a riveting work of documentary theater that stays in the mind long after the lights go out and the audience exits through the door. This morning, I keep thinking about one particularly gut-wrenching scene, in which one of the artists reconstructs the execution of her mother, gunned down by eighty special forces officers, who then strip her body and drag her into the street “as a trophy for the media.” The artist recites this line lying face-up on the ground, stripped of her shirt by one of the other performers, while another snaps photographs with a camera. A fourth artist in the scene draws a chalk outline around the artist’s body as she speaks. The cast gathers, center stage, for her funeral. Moments later, the scene ends, another begins as a table is brought in for a feast. For a moment, the chalk outline remains on the floor as the artists sit down or stand around the table and begin to to eat. They’re laughing and smiling, nodding to one another, taking handfuls of food from each plate. One of the performers pushes a mop across the floor, and in only a few strokes, the chalk outline is gone, making clear how easily the space itself can be remade, reinvented. The feast goes on, as if nothing happened. Only the memory of the chalk outline remains.

In one of the final scenes, one artist says: we’ve talked a lot about the past, a little about the present, but we’ve said nothing of the future. The cast agrees to flip a coin to divine which side will win the next Chilean election: the left or the right. In this moment, after all that has transpired on the stage, the audience believes that, yes, the future is as arbitrary as the flip of a coin. We cannot change the past, only better understand it; and it is unclear how we can affect the future. Do we protest? Do we take up arms? At the end of the performance, each member of the eleven-artist cast takes up an electric guitar. The sound of their music builds and builds in a frenzied crescendo until there is only a giant wall of sound: the entire cast is alternately screaming or dancing, or shaking their heads — no, no, no — and on every face is a look of determination, of defiance. When they exit the stage and the lights go out I believe, for one, that there is something we can do. We can affect the future the only way we know how: by making important art.


Lacy M. Johnson is a writer and digital artist living in Houston, Texas, where she is the Director of Academic Initiatives at University of Houston’s Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts. Her second memoir, THE OTHER SIDE, is forthcoming from Portland-based Tin House Books.

Alex Mackin Dolan: Cycle, Sun, Limit

by Mary Rechner

Alex Mackin Dolan


When you enter Cycle, Sun, Limit you see a large photo on the floor: a slice of bed, a table top filled with glasses.  On top of the photo is an actual empty glass.  The room is filled with tables and glasses, all empty,  many of them etched with the phrase, “three liters recommended daily; every day do not forget.”  I feel both encouraged and warned.

On one table sits an open backpack; I am pleased by the invitation to look inside, curious to see what has been deemed necessary in this world, and not entirely reassured.  A sweater, notebooks, a scientific chart, a can of CO2.

Two of the other tables display games: solitaire on a computer, and an elaborate board game.  Games to me suggest the need to engage the mind and pass the time.  A need for an engaging structure, a way to facilitate the interaction between people, or a way to relate to the self.

I’ve always been a reluctant gamer; I’d rather just hang out and talk.  Thus I am drawn to the pictures on the walls.  Mostly people in groups.  In one, a tour guide walks backwards; the image below it is the same but distorted, as if to illustrate the energy either absorbed or emanating from the people.  We are all in this together.  But then, another image, a singular girl absorbed in what she’s holding– another game?  We are all alone.


The final table holds the fragment of a stone sun, and another empty glass.  I suggest ignoring the pamphlet available at the entry to this installation/series of sculptures/images at least until you’ve experienced it… and maybe altogether.  It might be more interesting to discover what you bring to the work, rather than to feel confident about what you take away.

Mary Rechner is the author of Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women. She lives in Portland.


Trajal Harrell Interviewed by Ariel Osterweis over email in early September for PICA’s Time-Based Art Festival.


Ariel Osterweis: The last time we sat down to discuss your work, we reflected on Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (S). What struck me from that discussion was your claim that, for you, voguing functioned as a “theoretical praxis,” that you refused to embody it. How has that notion changed, developed, or remained the same since that time? For example, does taking a voguing class (if you have) undo that claim? And how has your idea of voguing as a theoretical praxis brought you to your current work, which you will be presenting at PICA’s TBA festival?


Trajal Harrell: I think it is always important to say that I am not a voguer. I don’t make voguing. I make contemporary dance. I work with voguing and early postmodern dance as theoretical praxes. I am not trying to learn voguing moves and fuse them with postmodern dance moves, if those exist. I am addressing the theory and tenets underneath the two different aesthetics. Mainly, I am working through voguing’s idea of “realness” and postmodern dance’s “authenticity.” Yes, I have taken a few [voguing] classes, but class is not the praxis I speak of. When I speak about voguing, I am speaking about the voguing ballroom scene. You cannot learn that in a class. It is a form of social performance and a practice of community.


In terms of the two pieces I am presenting at TBA, it is the same thing—“twirling,” so to speak, between “authenticity” and realness. Too often, I think people forget about the early postmodern dance part, and they focus solely on the voguing. With the Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem piece, the early postmodern dance praxis is hard to miss.


AO: Twirling between (voguing’s) realness and (postmodernism/Judson’s) authenticity! (Do we want to make explicit a discussion of quotation marks here? I’m more inclined to put quotation marks around “authenticity.” I feel the ballroom scene and Judith Butler have done a pretty good job of defining realness, allowing the word to mean what it performatively means—performing to the extent that one passes and cannot be “read”; whereas, “authenticity” opens up a huge can of worms.) I’m excited about Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made to Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (M2M). How does it differ from the other “sizes” I have seen (such as S, (M)imosa and XS)? You suggest that your praxis is a sort of practice-meets-theory in which a particular socio-cultural history (of ballroom culture) informs your choreography and interacts with Judson’s postmodernist explorations of authenticity. Do you even like that word, “choreography?”


I agree that the term “fusion” has no place in describing your work. First of all, fusion indicates a mixture of two or more elements, and when it refers to dance, it typically indicates the blending of codified techniques (or at least highly stylized forms). Whether embraced or shunned, the word “fusion” tends to emerge alongside a colonialist or exoticizing impulse, at least in common discourse (think “Asian fusion” cuisine, for example. The “Asian” is inevitably effaced or bastardized at best). And there’s something anti-colonialist or recuperative about your project, about exploring what could have happened if a Harlem voguer from the ballroom scene in the 1960s had gone downtown to collaborate with the Judson Dance Theater (famous for Yvonne Rainer’s No Manifesto, which declared “no to virtuosity” and “no to spectacle”). Of course, voguing’s end goal is virtuosity, specifically virtuosity that can be described as “fierce,” virtuosity so precise and breakneck that it can’t be touched by questions of realness (so “unreal,” colloquially speaking, that it is undeniably “real”). If size S served us deceleration and (M)imosa’s exploration of drag was a total gender-fuck, how might you distill “(M2M)?” 


TH: Church! And, yes, I like the word “choreography” and think we should indeed place quotation marks around “authenticity.”


AO: Church. You had mentioned gospel. Are we now going uptown to a church in Harlem? What does this mean for Yvonne and her Judson cohort? I mean, on some level they must have loathed having the name “Church” associated with them, as in the Judson Dance Theater rehearsing at the Judson Church. Do you think postmodern “authenticity” embraces the idea of the secular person devoid of religion? So often in concert dance training (especially, in my experience of ballet and modern—think, Graham and Ailey), one speaks of a “calling,” a “gift” of talent that one holds a responsibility to fulfill (similar to but not identical to Weber’s Protestant ethic of capitalism), and this is not far from a religious mentality. However, the Judson aesthetic seems so stripped of religion and spirituality. I’m curious to hear how you envision Judson at church. What kinds of praxes are at work in this project (M2M)?


I know it’s not my turn to email, but something just struck me. I was reading a Time Out magazine interview of Wendy Whelan describing her new project, and she says she found Kyle Abraham so “hot and passionate and intense” that she wanted to “feel what that feels like” and subsequently asked him to choreograph on (!) her (8/15/13). We don’t need Miley Cyrus’ recent VMA antics to tell us that appropriating blackness is one of the foundations of American popular culture. But what of high art appropriations? Claims of “authenticity” often come with charges of appropriation. So, what would it mean (and what would be the stakes of) appropriating the Judson aesthetic? What happens when we accuse (or don’t accuse) performers of appropriating whiteness?


TH: Ha! That is super-loaded, and here I have to quote myself a bit: “My position in all of this is not without problematization. Though I am African-American, I am not a voguer from Harlem. I am much more from the legacy of postmodern dance [and Judson Church]. I wanted to problematize this location and the space I occupy within it. Therefore, I also felt the series had to have the classic double migration. So, we go back from Judson Church up to the balls in Harlem. For this I wanted to go directly to my own personal cultural roots and see how they affix themselves between these two locations. The Made-to-measure size, thereby, activates a singular position that I needed to acknowledge in the final piece of the series.” That’s all to say, most people do not come to me to appropriate blackness. My work is steeped in post-blackness (maybe the “post-” isn’t fulfilling enough). My roots are also in “white” culture. I don’t feel at all that I am appropriating whiteness. I am aware that the Judson aesthetic was developed by white artists, but I don’t think minimalism and pedestrianism nor any of Yvonne Rainer’s anti’s are white, per se. Sure, we cannot separate the means of production and distribution from the realities of sex, race, class, and sexuality, etc. Regardless, authenticity was a fiction that Judson constructed as well. In terms of performativity, we find it very useful in the work that we do. What people do appreciate in the work is this problematization, because if we are honest, that’s where everyone sits. My career and Kyle’s have blossomed in the same historical moment. I hope one day someone looks specifically at the links and differences.


I turn the proposition around: what would have happened in 1963 if someone from Judson Dance Theater had gone uptown to perform in the voguing ballroom scene? What would it mean to come from Judson Church, to go uptown from Judson to Harlem? In my imagination, you would have to “give church” at the balls. In a voguing context or African-American context, “giving church” means giving it your all or taking it to the umpteenth degree.


AO: I appreciate your reflections on authenticity and appropriation. Because of my mixed-race identity, I am continually preoccupied with the idea of belonging. Your discussion of “roots” and your use of the pronoun “we” intrigue me. What exactly do you mean by your “cultural roots” and who is the “we” to which you refer?


TH: By cultural roots, I mean the topography of influences and socialization that have informed my personal identity and history: Polo Ralph Lauren, Madonna, The Flintstones, country and western music, the Clintons, CNN, Andy Warhol, Ralph Lemon, Adele,  fried chicken, South Beach, bell hooks, Andre Agassi, Mark Rothko, Marguerite Duras, the Indigo Girls, Patti Labelle, the list goes on and on. And the “we” I refer to are me and the dancers with whom I work.


AO: Can you tell me about your upbringing and your experiences growing up? I mean, (pop)culturally, we are urged to “own it,” on the one hand, but not to steal it, on the other. I wonder if “owning it” is only a message for the marginalized or weak, or if it gives license to appropriators at large, regardless of race or class. You and your fellow performers own it all over the place!


TH: I grew up in a small town in southeast Georgia. There were no voguing balls and no contemporary dance, but I did lie when I was eight years old about what time my gymnastics class got out. I said it was an hour later so I could stay and watch the girls’ ballet class. No boys took ballet, but I was always there with my head in the door, watching from 4pm-5pm.


AO: Ha!


On the one hand, you seem to point to blackness (and/as gay black men and queer black masculinity), but on the other hand, you are working with forms that you haven’t necessarily lived with for a long period of time (voguing and postmodern), relatively speaking. What I’m wondering, more specifically, is, how and when do you find yourself an insider in ballroom culture (whether or not you vogue or don’t vogue) and how/when do you find yourself an insider in the Judson tradition (and perhaps more broadly, in “Western Civ,” since you tackle Antigone and Greek mythology in one piece you present at PICA)? Conversely, when do you find yourself an outsider?


TH: As an artist I am constantly shifting my location between insider and outsider. It goes beyond Judson and voguing. As an artist it is important for me to simultaneously occupy that dual positionality in order to experience the world.


AO: I assume that these terms (insider/outsider) are problematic for you, which is why I ask these questions. Especially now that I teach in a university environment, I find the issue of education very interesting in relationship to dance. Those of us who grew up in conservatory environments (not to mention the ethic driving American pop culture) were encouraged to “shut up and dance” and the trope of the dumb dancer persists today. Nevertheless, we find tension in the dance world between those who speak and those who do not (by choice or otherwise). More “conceptual”/”experimental” dance makers rely on text, discourse, and dramaturgy in a way that is sometimes looked down upon by more traditional/presentational concert choreographers. Few compelling contemporary dance makers steer clear of such reliance on a discursive backdrop, one informed by certain bents of critical and performance theory.


TH: I think that relying on text, discourse, and dramaturgy can be limiting when you want to engage more than a (S)mall audience. That’s what I worked on in the series. Too often in experimental dance, that’s where dance makers stay, and it blocks engaging a larger audience. In (S)mall, the performative operation is transparent. That is what makes that work important. But after (S), [my concern is] that too much focus on the performative operations can block the experience of the work.


I have never heard someone say, “I can’t wait to go read that dance.” My work is founded in theory, but I work to build on the theory, not to rely on it as a status symbol. So both sides have a point—the presentational and the conceptual. I’m interested in making Art with a capital A; and for that, I must always remember that theory and discourse are tools, not the thing itself.


AO: It’s interesting to hear you discuss size not only in terms of a piece’s scale, but in terms of the size of an audience in relation to a piece’s reliance on (or exposure/concealment of) theory.


Ariel Osterweis is Assistant Professor of Dance at Wayne State University (Detroit, MI). She earned her Ph.D. in Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and B.A. in Anthropology at Columbia University. At work on her first book, which theorizes virtuosity, race, and sexuality in the dance career of Desmond Richardson, Osterweis also researches contemporary African dance and the disavowal of virtuosity in feminist and transgender live art and performance. Publications appear in Dance Research Journal, Women and Performance, e-misférica, Theatre Survey, The Oxford Handbook of Dance and the Popular Screen, and more. She danced professionally with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Mia Michaels, and Heidi Latsky, choreographs, and is dramaturg for choreographer John Jasperse and performance artist Narcissister. Osterweis is currently living in New York City.

Apparitional Tools

Artist Karen Sherman Interviewed by Ariel Osterweis over email in early September for PICA’s Time-Based Art Festival.

In anticipation of PICA’s TBA13, Karen Sherman and I exchanged several emails about the role of dance, gender, and carpentry in her performance work. Because emails can quickly blur boundaries of style and appropriateness, some shuffling and excising took place. What ensues may appear to be an arrangement of words following other words, but our exchange was, in virtual-reality, temporally and visually fragmented, punctuated by roving, unreliable returns. (A dance?)

Karen Sherman, One With Others. Photo: Jeffrey Wells

Karen Sherman, One With Others. Photo: Jeffrey Wells

Ariel Osterweis: Hi Karen. Your new piece, One with Others, proposes a set of questions: Can movement be a refuge from words? Can objects be language? Can words be visuals? Can we, in our groping toward self-realization and being with others in the world, do without even one of these? How have you gone about exploring these questions over the past year? Did you begin with them or did they emerge from observing your own process?

Karen Sherman: Perhaps some of both….I didn’t ask myself those questions in that language at the time, but we experimented with all of those ideas….The piece we made is one arrangement of material, one troubled response to those questions. There is choreography, text, talking, conversation, music, crude carpentry, but I’m not sure there are any answers. I’m interested in space and objects and design and all those things that are part of art-making, but I’m more interested in how people are together. I think the things that pulse from project to project for me are presence and feeling.

AO: Of course, “dance” is such a tenuous term. I should ask you, what does “dance” mean to you in your own practice?

KS: I used to say that the dance world was the only one that would have me. (I shouldn’t presume the feeling is mutual, though!) There is definitely dance in One with Others….and we do talk in the piece about what a dancer is supposed to be and if any of us fit the bill. I should say that while we [do] address it head-on, the piece is about more than Dance. I have a pretty open-minded idea of what dance is, including that it can be a tool and not a product. Sometimes I make pieces that don’t have any dance in them. That being said (maybe especially with that being said) I do like to see that tool wielded by those who know how to use it. (Depending on the day, I may or may not include myself in that club.)

AO: In a description of One with Others you relay your troubled relationship to dance, that you came to it late and found your experience of dance-making in conflict with the comfort you felt with language. Are you referring to language’s capacity to signify, a certain correlative reliability (or lack thereof)?

KS: It’s not so much that dance was in conflict with a reliability of language (and in fact, I can think of fewer things less reliable than language). It’s that dance was causing me pain—not physical; psychic, emotional, artistic pain. One of the things I find fascinating and horrific about dance is that you are the in-person representation and embodiment of your artwork. A painter doesn’t have to stand next to her painting in a gallery for the entire run of the exhibition and endure critiques about the painting as critiques about her body, brain, skill, etc. Here is the unique locus of judgment in dance: you are physically scrutinized, assessed, and evaluated, and this is inseparable from the conclusions made about the artwork itself and the art-maker’s skill….I think I was drowning in the frustration to separate, not even drowning in the judgment of others. The abstract nature of dance—the way you have to start over every day because the dance doesn’t exist unless you’re doing it—all that was wearying. Words on a page stay until you change them. I always talk about that in regards to building physical things, that I find relief in how, say, the cabinet you’re building (or even the painting you are making) doesn’t change overnight when you leave. Your opinion of it or plan for what happens next may have changed, but it hasn’t. You can see it (and in the case of words, read it) and go from there. But with dance…well, it’s a constant apparition, especially if you dance in your own work. I think a few years ago, words were not only offering a kind of tangibility but they suddenly felt so much more accurate and efficient. I didn’t need many of them and the ones I did need already existed. I didn’t have anything to say with movement. It was all a bunch of babble. White noise. I was forcing myself to use it because of a sense of obligation. But after a while, I realized that my untrained dancer-ness and my weird movement and my physical failures were a language of their own.  In this way alone, dance has changed my life. It has changed how I see everything in the world. It has reordered my brain.