Imagine you’re an office clerk hunting for a specific manila folder. You open the filing cabinet and pull the drawer out, but to your stupefaction, the drawer just keeps coming out, out, out, three feet, four feet, five—the damn thing won’t stop. It’s a funhouse grotesquerie, the office-job equivalent of those teeny cars at the circus that clowns pile out of by the dozens. This administrative assistant’s nightmare is conjured up in Anna Gray and Ryan Wilson Paulsen’s installation, Don’t Worry We’ll Fix It, and it numbers among the highlights of this year’s installment of the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival. The visual arts component of TBA is curated by Kristan Kennedy and displayed on multiple floors of the old Washington High School building. Gray and Paulsen’s installation offers a Kafkaesque take on bureaucracy gone mad. In addition to the never-ending file cabinet, there is a stack of gigantically oversized index cards, a chalkboard with nothing written on it, a gold-painted shredder and fax machine, and an immaculate row of burned books, still reeking of smoky ash. Witty, well-executed and just inscrutable enough to titillate, it makes for a compelling exposé of the ludicrousness of corporate culture.
Another intriguing installation is Claire Fontaine’s USA (Burnt/Unburnt),
a wall-spanning map of the contiguous United States, Alaska, and
Hawaii, composed entirely of green-tipped matchsticks. Striking for both
its intimidating scale and droll humor, it’s one of the most memorable
works at TBA this year. But for sheer “What the hell?” audacity, turn to
Kate Gilmore’s Sudden as a Massacre. A digital video shows four
women in identical sundresses grabbing handfuls of clay from a mound and
hurling them with vicious abandon onto a stage and at a yellow
wall. The results of this messy endeavor are all around you as you
watch the video unfurl: dried chunks of clay everywhere, littering the
floors, staining the walls. Why were these women compelled to do this?
What does their tirade symbolize? What is the source of their ferocious
energy? Freud would have had a field day with these ravenous, angry
women, who so methodically destroy the clay monolith, tearing it down
like a coven of crazed witches. Gilmore’s piece, like Gray and Paulsen’s
and Fontaine’s, demonstrates the marriage of unique premise,
unconventional media and dedicated execution that is the hallmark of TBA
at its best.
SEE IT: Washington High School, Southeast 14th Avenue and Stark Street, pica.org. Closes Oct. 30. Free.