Portland has "art and culture in its DNA," according to Angela Mattox, artistic director of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and one of the organizers behind its 14th annual Time-Based Art Festival.
Considering our resident Darth Vader unicyclist with the burning bagpipes, and those symbolic plastic penises that displaced entire families of crows from their telephone poles last summer, we agree. (Were the penises a metaphor for gentrification?) And even though we didn't land one of those coveted statues of a naked Donald Trump as Seattle did last month, Portland is still something of a national ringleader when it comes to artistic expression. Just ask Japan.
The TBA Festival, like any great art installation, is both sensual and inclusive. It harbors several of the world's most innovative contemporary artists, many of whom have never set foot on U.S. soil before. TBA offers foreigners a chance to comment on the big issues facing local Portlanders, and unsurprisingly, people seem to universally understand people. This festival doesn't need to be political, though it probably is.
For those of you unfamiliar with the setup of TBA, it's a 10-day citywide guerrilla contemporary art show that's a mesh of visual installations, stage performances, coveted speakers, film screenings and, of course, late-night parties.
This year's theme is based loosely on loss and its consequences, not all of which are bad; in fact, PICA itself is symbolic of this year's ethos. PICA is moving—having finally found a permanent home in Northeast Portland. TBA festivals will continue for the foreseeable future, even as our housing crisis looms. In the past, the festival relied on empty or abandoned spaces to manifest its seasonal cornucopia of intellectually triggering events. Many of the former event spaces have now been demolished or leased. Some were even converted into New Seasons.
"For me, there's this real sense of optimism and possibility," says Mattox. "During this turbulent time, I think people are really struggling with Portland's future. This festival gives people a place to gather. TBA is a place to lament and mourn; there are a lot of crazy things happening in the world."
The festival is hardly an MTV Cribs episode for PICA's new digs, though. TBA is marketed as both a safe space and a hub for sociocultural criticism. This year, there will be an emphasis on gender, race and sexuality. Juxtaposing identity with loss is perhaps the winning formula that has attracted one of TBA's most diverse, educational roster of participants yet.
"There's not a whole lot of returners, but the performers and the ideas they're tackling are very timely," says Mattox, who admits that she travels around the world in search of acts to bring home with her.
And though many visiting performers are proud resources in terms of spreading culture that might not be so homogenous to those born in the U.S., the TBA Festival still maintains a homegrown Portland flair. This year's event, for instance, will feature a pop-up art museum, a movie screening where adults will be blindfolded and rely on schoolchildren to narrate the films for them, and even a woman imitating her dad, faux facial hair and faded plaid button-down and all.
Another welcome change to this year's TBA includes its decision to ax its 21-and-over policy for late-night events. Now, aspiring art majors still in high school can really taste what they're up against.
With prices that are generally amenable, perhaps the most accessible aspect of the TBA Festival is that the general public can pick and choose which spectacles they need to witness and which ones they might reject for a sampling of new fall beers at 10 Barrel.
Should you go? Do you want to be one of those people who prefers beer over art? Think about it.
See IT: PICA's TBA Festival is at various venues, pica.org. Sept. 8-18. Festival passes $60-$250.