Portland’s Time-Based Art Festival

by | September 15, 2010
filed under Feminism, Pop Culture

This past weekend I had the opportunity to hit up the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival, thanks to winning a contest through the Georgia Straight. So my roommate and I headed down for a couple days. We had a pretty awesome time and it wasn’t just because of the crazy Voodoo Donuts or the massive Powell’s book fix. Here’s the low-down on the shows we caught:

1. Women Without Men

Women Without Men is a feature film by Iranian-American filmmaker Shirin Neshat. It’s based on a magic realist novel that chronicles the lives of 4 Iranian women in 1953 during the period surrounding the overthrow of the Mossadegh government by the British. Both the roomie and I agreed this was the thing we liked best out of the shows we went to. Right from the opening moments you’re grabbed by the dream-like visuals and you find yourself caring deeply about the characters.

The trailer (below) makes it look like the film primarily focuses on Iranian women’s oppression by men, but it’s much more than that. The film looks at the secular and cosmopolitan history of Iran prior to the revolution that brought the Ayatollah Khomeini into power and illuminates some of the history of Western involvement in Iran. The women characters refuse to be victimized, instead searching for “a new form, a new way” and a magical place of refuge away from their violent pasts. At the end, though, we’re not sure whether such an escape is possible.

2. Ten Tiny Dances

Ten Tiny Dances is made up of pieces with small numbers of dancers choreographed for a 4X4 stage with audience on all sides. In the interests of full disclosure we did leave after 6 dances because it started late and we’d spent 8 hours on the train that day. But what we saw was pretty cool, albeit really random. There was a robotic George Washington dance, a dance by two people pretending to be trophy-obsessed erstwhile ballroom dancers, and a woman dancing with and on what seemed to be a giant, pillowy, paper flower. Overall I didn’t really get into it, but I think a different venue would’ve made a huge difference. The venue at Washington High School’s The Works, didn’t have staggered seating so you we missed a lot of the dances unless the dancers were standing, and we were only halfway back. There was video that showed the dance from above but you still didn’t get the full effect.

3. Sorted Books by Nina Katchadourian

This exhibit was tons of fun. Nina Katchadourian’s project was to sift through individual and public libraries and collect titles that can be placed next to one another and read in sequence. Half the exhibit was photographs like the one at right, and the other half was actual physical books arranged on shelves, apparently put together collaboratively with a local family

If you Google “Sorted Books” you an get a good sense of what Nina Katchadourian’s exhibit was like. Definitely makes me tempted to have some fun with my own library. If I do, I’ll post the results here. And if the itch strikes anyone else, feel free to email me your sorted book pictures at jarrahhodge@gmail.com and we can make a slideshow!

Gloria's Cause

4. Gloria’s Cause

Gloria’s Cause was a work in progress by Dayna Hanson, and I mean work in progress. Described as a musical, it was really more of a very weird dance performance very loosely based around the American Revolution (the robot George Washington dance was taken from this). That said, it was definitely entertaining, the dancers were highly skilled and the dances were very watchable. There were also a few brief moments where the lines really grabbed you and hit home, even if there were an equal number of places where the jokes fell flat and the audience was left wondering what Hanson and her team were trying to get across. There were also some neat gender and racial dynamics such as the dance portrayal of the story of Mary Jameson, who was kidnapped by an Indian tribe and eventually chose to live among the Senecas. The mixed periods of the costumes seems to speak to the fact that the issues and conflicts America grappled with during the American revolution are the ones it struggles with today.

The show really opens in Seattle later this year and will be making it up to Vancouver for the PuSH Festival in the new year and I’ll be interested to see what changes they’ve made.

So that was our fairly random sampling of the TBA10. Overall I’d definitely recommend checking out Women Without Men, and if you’re around Portland check out the festival’s other offerings. TBA10 runs until September 19th.


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