It's hyperbole, but I mean it: This year's incarnation of The Works, the late-night venue of the TBA Festival, may be PICA's greatest achievement to date. In previous years The Works has set up shop in venues as diverse as the old Machine Works building on Northwest 15th Avenue (now an office building), a vacant warehouse (now offices), Audiocinema, Wonder Ballroom and the Leftbank project, but this year's co-option of long-shuttered Washington High School trumps them all.
The regal 1912 brick high school in the center of Buckman, which ceased regular operations in 1981 and was sealed up for good in 2003, has been begging for some sort of adaptive reuse for decades. PICA's work to turn the school into a temporary art gallery, music venue and hangout spot is a step in the right direction. The only problem? The building overshadows most of the art.
The Works has been laid out to take best advantage both of the building's shape and its history. There's a bar in what appears to have been the administration offices. Performances take place in the central auditorium. Announcement boards have been filled with displays of found objects, artfully arranged. Art installations fill classrooms. The halls are decorated with office supplies: a sculpture of rubber bands, mosaics of colored paper, and index-card mobiles, all designed by Teryl Saxon-Hill. The building itself is a canvas, adorned with colored lights and projected video.
In contrast, much of the art on display is sly but not terribly interesting, amounting to little more than an extended joke by the artist. Stephen Slappe's "We Are Legion" is just a dark room with the video from his website. Fawn Krieger's "National Park" is a sort of adult play area with a man in a bear costume. Antoine Catala's "TV" may "use complex technology and simple physical transformation to alter television images in real time," but it looks like a screen saver.
There are three exceptions that deserve to be seen. Brody Condon's "Without Sun" is an edited series of "found videos" of people, mostly teenagers, tripping out on psychedelic substances on camera, projected on an enormous eight-foot screen. The quality is terrible—much of the footage was drawn from YouTube—but that makes the piece no less unsettling.
Jesse Hayward's "Forever Now and Then Again," a room full of painted wooden boxes which visitors may stack as they wish, was the hit of the show among kids and uninhibited adults. It's bright, joyful and interactive. What more could you ask from an art installation?
Finally, the most profoundly beautiful installation of this years Fest is Ethan Rose's "Movements," a room full of intentionally broken music boxes wired to a computer. They advance incrementally, continuously playing a tuneless but nonetheless lovely chiming. It's actually quite loud.