The 2 Gyrlz Performative Arts Enteractive Language Festival ends a banner season for the arts in Portland, yet it also serves as the climax. The Enteractive Fest makes up for what the Biennial lacked in inclusiveness, the Modern Zoo in focus, the sunny Best Coast in a sense of noir, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art's TBA in earnestness, and Core Sample in a sense of humor. Now comes a month's worth of multimedia happenings, performances that don't just push the envelope--they trample the envelope, rip it up and send us the shreds, COD.
The annual festival, which grew out of a series of events called Medios Espectaculo, got the ball rolling last year with an inspired, if sometimes loosely curated, mixture of local, regional, national and international artists holding forth at spaces throughout the city.
"We had three levels of art going on at once," says 2Gyrlz co-founder Llewyn M‡ire. "It was too much to take in at the same time."
Hence the idea of a longer festival, which would allow artists and audience alike time and room to breathe between the often intense avant-garde performances. This year, curators have cracked the quality-control whip, and the resulting program promises a diverse sampling of first-rate visual and performance art, augmented by experimental music, cross-disciplinary collaborations and the group's customary, ballsy bravado.
So what does it mean, this whole "enteractive" thing, and why is performance art--much of which is wholly nonverbal--being touted as a language festival?
"When you come to one of the performances, you have to enter active," M‡ire says. "Nobody's going to spoon-feed you. You can't change the channels."
Adds Lisa Newman, 2Gyrlz's other half: "Language is any kind of symbolic communication. It can be art, politics, sex. It can shift in the same way that we shift modes when we're with different people. So the festival is about putting the audience in touch with those basic elements of what communication is."
Indeed, this may be the key to 2Gyrlz's appeal. The arts group is known for breaking the barrier between performers and spectators. In the 2002 festival, local actors Edie Tsong and Pete Kuzov performed an adaptation of Chekhov's The Seagull at Disjecta. Toward the end of the piece, Kuzov stalked the audience like a madman, eyeing everyone as if he were about to pounce--which he did: onto me, screaming at and shaking me violently. Only two months earlier I had written that if artists are to remain relevant they must "jolt the hipsters and somnambulant yuppies from their respective aesthetic comas."
2Gyrlz fulfills that injunction, and this year's installment will be no exception. At one of the opening-week shows, Jean-Louis Costes and company careened through the International Club Mummy, accosting audience members and splattering them with sundry bodily fluids. Northern Irish performance artist André Stitt has requested a pig's head and lamb's brains, fresh from the butcher, as props for his showcase during the Language of the Body performance (Hall Street Gallery, 630 SE 3rd Ave, 7:30 pm Friday, Nov. 7, $7). The performance promises to be visceral on many levels. A word of advice: Don't forget to duck.
But there's more to the fest than Gallagher-meets-Fear Factor gross-out tactics, and more, too, than just the stunning of the senses into overdrive. Many of the performances will deal with topical sociopolitical issues in a manner more serious than sensationalist. Among them are the Language of Paradox (Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, 5340 N Interstate Ave., 7:30 pm Friday-Saturday, Nov. 21-22, $7), during which pioneering queer-studies activist Kate Bornstein will explore gender identity; and the Language of Silence (IFCC, 7:30 pm Thursday, Nov. 20, free), which will feature a vigil for victims of hate crimes against transgendered people.
"It will be a sort of wake," M‡ire says, "and then afterwards, there'll be a salon, which we're calling the 'after-wake,' where people will be able to talk about what they've just been through."
Other highlights include the Language of Dissent (Pacific Northwest College of Art, 1241 NW Johnson St., 8 pm Saturday, Nov. 8, $5-$15), which will feature 14 Un-Natural Acts, perpetrated by Roberto Sifuentes in defiance of what he sees as "a worldwide revival of religious zealotry." The Language of Slumber (Itisness Gallery, 3016 NE Killingsworth St., 7:30 pm Sunday, Nov. 16, $5-$15) will envelop participants in "a complete Alpha-Wave environment, [with] ambient sound and visuals, a dream chamber, elixirs," and other sybaritic pleasures.
The Language of the Senses (Viscount Ballroom, 722 E Burnside St., 8:30 pm Wednesday, Nov. 19, $5-$15) will spotlight films performed to live orchestral and electronic soundtracks. And don't ask what the Language of Censorship (Tuesday, Nov. 25, free) is about; details of the event are being censored by festival organizers.
To concoct and carry off a festival of this ambitious caliber is a tribute to M‡ire and Newman's inspiration and dedication in the face of adversity. (Newman was fired from her job as admissions counselor at Pacific Northwest College of Art after a particularly raucous 2Gyrlz event at the college reportedly scandalized school administrators, and then the group's headquarters burned down in 2001.)
There's something to be said about people who put their livelihoods on the line in the service of transgressive art. And there's something refreshing about a troupe that invests more grit in actually mounting shows than in wooing the noblesse oblige set in sunken ballrooms, taking junkets to the Havana Biennial, or holding up a Larry Rinder essay as if it were a 19-pound bass.
There's also something to be said for breaking ground, breaking taboos and breaking a sweat, and it's something worth saying in any language. Happily, 2Gyrlz Performative Arts will be saying it all month long.
Visit www.el-fest.info for a complete calendar.