September 5th, 2008 5:33 pm | by HEATHER WISNER News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

TBA DIARIES: Anna Halprin's Blank Placard Project

IMG_0731Photo by Mary Christmas. For her take on the "Happening," see post here.

On First Thursday, the fourth night of the Republican convention and the opening night of PICA's TBA Festival, the Pearl is a hive of art-musing, wine-sipping, chattering activity. At the corner of Sixth and Davis, two unkempt men and a woman hold up an enormous cardboard sign reading, “Travelin' Broke Hungry.” “Spare change for a bigger sign?” the woman asks the gallery-goers who amble past. I have come here looking for signs, although this wasn't quite what I'd had in mind.

Throngs of people are milling around on the street as I head toward my destination, the Pacific Northwest College of Art, where choreographer Anna Halprin's Blank Placard Happening will be revived roughly 40 years after it debuted. At the Albina Bank, where Oregon Ballet Theatre is performing on a pocket-square-sized patch of office floor, viewers are peering into the plate-glass windows from the outside. An inebriated older gent in a natty suit steadies himself on my arm. “They're wearing fufus,” he exclaims. “Tutus?” I ask. “Yeah, I should know that,” he says sheepishly. “But my sisters were all rodeo queens.”

As I approach PNCA, a young woman is telling her date about karaoke night. “So they pulled me up onstage and made me sing ‘Play That Funky Monkey White Boy,' [sic] and I was not pleased. Um … is this a rally?” It is, sort of. Inside and outside of the building, people are holding what look like protest signs, but the signs are blank, just as they were when Halprin originally staged the piece in San Francisco, eliciting a broad range of guesses as to what it all meant. A fairly Oregonian cross-section of people has assembled: men and women, young and old, white and … more white, and for the most part, dressed in white, some carrying sprigs of lavender with their signs. A bearded man takes the stage to give directions, concluding, “Basically, I'm just going to start walking and you can start walking after me.”

At 8:30, the group heads out onto the street, and the response is immediate. “You guys, what does your sign say,” calls a woman in a white VW bug. “What are you protesting?” no one answers. “I don't get it,” she says exasperatedly as she drives past. At Jamison Park, people are splayed out on the grass, watching Casino Royale on an outdoor screen. “What does your sign mean?” one asks as we pass. “Anything you want it to mean,” a marcher replies. “Fair enough,” she says with a shrug. Ahead of me, marchers are discussing Sarah Palin and John McCain. Behind me, there seems to be some speculation about which Oregonian employees will take buyout packages. As we near the Broadway bridge, a man shouts, “Woo hoo! I'm totally against it.” Passing cars honk, although it's not clear whether in solidarity or annoyance. “What was this originally for?” a young woman asks her marching partner. “I not sure,” he replies. “It just sounded cool.”

It is a polite protest: people talk quietly amongst themselves and laugh, and wait at traffic lights. As the gathering reaches its end, at the newly opened Left Bank, marchers file toward the door, where art and a beer garden await. Was the happening a success? Hard to say. “Well, it's a nice night for a protest, anyhow,” one remarks before entering.

Read more diaries from the 2008 TBA Festival here.
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