Time Based Art vs. Blazing Saddles

Organ Review of Arts, Winter 2004

By Bryan Markovitz

I was thinking about the movie Blazing Saddles recently. The satire is brilliant throughout, but things are really taken to an ultimate end in the last few minutes of the film. Just when the resolution of the drama is all but evident, Mel Brooks shifts the camera’s frame from the old West to a Hollywood soundstage, then to a studio lot, and then to Wilshire Boulevard with outlaws, horses, and guns blazing past car washes and laundromats.

I love art and entertainment in which the creators expose the artifice of their medium and blur the line between art and everyday life. It happens in theater when actors break the fourth wall and directly invite the audience to think on their feet and become part of the world of the play. Of the performances at PICA’s second annual Time Based Art Festival (TBA), a good handful pushed audiences into active roles. Andrew Dickson’s course on eBay power selling engaged audiences in real-time online auctions. Amos Latteier’s cell phone audio tours invited audience members to experience the performance on their own time in several locations throughout the city. James Moore and Emily Stone invited audiences to cheer them on and help with score keeping as they competed for Olympic greatness in exercises of physical futility. All of these Portland-based artists were very focused on the most unique part of a performance—the live audience.

The best performance was by Lone Twin, a British duo, who presented a series of stories and observations based on their walks around the globe, including Portland’s streets and riverbanks. Those who gathered at a Pearl District warehouse on a crisp fall night to throw cups of river water onto the performers, making clouds rise from the heat of their bodies, took part in creating an experience that was not quite a performance and not quite real life. More than any other work at TBA, Lone Twin’s was sincerely and powerfully situated on the margins of festival space and time, and it connected me emotionally and intellectually with the performers, my fellow audience members, and the city.


While TBA’s lectures, discussions, and workshops are a great start, I encourage PICA to find additional ways for audiences to have experiences with artists beyond the venue stages. I would also love to see more space made for work from regional artists, which would give TBA an identity distinct from festivals in places such as Philadelphia and Edinburgh.

One idea is to carve out dozens of rooms at TBA’s central Machineworks space for both regional and international artists to fill with time-based acts and installations that audiences could explore throughout the festival. Perhaps this could be curated and managed by a regional team of artists. In this way, PICA would lend further support to the new investigative art being developed by artists like Dickson, Latteier, Moore, Stone, and Lone Twin. It would also complement the main-stage events, which seem painfully focused on aesthetically beautiful dance-centric works. Another idea would be to bring on additional curators with different interests and sensibilities to infuse TBA with new kinds of music, theater, and performance.

If TBA can be financially sustained, it will continue to be one of the most interesting and important events in Portland’s cultural calendar. But its most compelling elements aren’t the dozens of scheduled events and high-profile participants that characterize the contemporary performing arts circuit. What I really love about TBA are its in-between spaces and events and the chance to be an insider among so many interesting people. At Machineworks, on the street corner, and at venues between acts, there is an abundance of activity that you can only get by being there. TBA’s best performance is itself.