Opening Night at the PICA TBA Festival

September 3, 2009

Last night’s opening of PICA’s Time Based Art Festival was quite a scene. The walls of once abandoned Washington High School were once again filled with people. Ages must have ranged from 0 to 100. The walls were decorated with colored copier paper and colored rubber band garlands adored the front staircase (works by Kenneth Aaron). A film superimposed on the front of the school, traced the windows and beams, played with color and light, and distorted the surfaces. Two floors of classrooms were filled a artist’s installations. The art ranged from video pieces of people on drug trips to configurable living paintings in the form of hundreds of abstractly painted cubes.

The one thing that struck me was how wonderful it was to see so many people engaging in art. When viewing art exhibitions, the viewer is so often only allowed the role of spectator. In so many of the pieces at TBA, the viewer is an integral part of the art. Last night’s event was full of exuberance and energy. People were having a great time, and I think the artists may have been having the best time of all. One thing that clearly differentiates many of these works from other art exhibits is that audience interaction is imperative to the piece’s success.

In Friday’s Chat at PNCA, the unexpected connection between Sol LeWitt and so many of the artists came up. You can certainly see the connection in the three pieces I’ve focused on. Each artist provides a formula, environment, or stage and the final, most important element of the piece comes from the unpredictability created from public interaction.

My three favorites for the night were the works of Fawn Krieger, Ethan Rose, and Jesse Hayward. Each were experiential pieces that implicitly invited the viewer to take part in the piece. Whether that meant moving around the room, rearranging objects, or quietly observing others, their involvement became the content of the piece.

Fawn Krieger – National Park
Fawn Krieger - National Park

This fake-real creation made out of carpet padding, wood, concrete, foam, and tar is born from Fawn Krieger’s desire to bring a National Park experience into a public art space. The piece includes a cave for you to relax in, there is even a pillow supplied for naps, a large field of foam rocks for reconfiguring, and a cushioned mesa area for more relaxing. Fawn kept a journal in the spirit of Lewis and Clark which chronicles her journey west and the creation of National Park. It can be found on her website.

In her journal, Krieger often makes references to land art. As they worked on tarring their prairie, Krieger tried to recreate Robert Smithson’s Asphalt Rundown from 1966 where he poured a dump truck load of asphalt down a cliff made from construction. And while Annabel is patching the asphalt patio, she makes a rock stack reminiscent of Andy Goldsworthy’s rock balancings. The playful way with which Krieger’s work references land art, mixed with her craft based, reminiscent of Claus Oldenberg’s objects, is an interesting use of pastiche and reappropriation of styles. I kept thinking about land art’s attempt at trying to move art out of the galleries and into natural spaces in order to remove attempts of commodification of the work. Krieger’s work seems to be in conversation with this work. Instead of creating her work from, and in nature, she creates an imaginary nature inside of an art space, using industrial, man made materials. The potential commodity aspects are replaced with human interaction.

Krieger’s work brings up feelings of nostalgia and longing for childhood memories of the familiar and of family trips. When time seemed to stand still and we seemed to be able to sense everything around us with clarity. We seek out these experiences in old photographs but with photos or memorabilia, there is always a sense of loss. We become spectators of our past. Though her park world is not real, if we choose to engage, if we are willing to suspend our disbelief and find ourselves in the moment, we will be rewarded with that same sense of clarity we felt as children. Krieger separates the spectator from the participant in her work.

Small scale model of National Park:
Fawn Krieger - National Park

Ethan Rose – Movements
Ethan filled a room with music box mechanisms, all connected to electrical boxes. Some of the teeth were bent back on each piece so that only certain notes would play. Notes played from around the room, randomly and harmoniously so that the room was filled with gentle chimes. It was fascinating to watch each box, waiting for it to turn and make a note. Great care was put into the installation and the piece was stunning visually as well as aurally. People were moving about the room, listening from different angles or focusing in on one music box, waiting for it to chime.

Jesse Hayward – Forever Now and Then Again
Jesse created hundreds of painted cubes for his audience to create their own sculptures/paintings/objects. This was definitely the funnest room in the building. Kids and adults were running around, stacking and re-stacking, trying to get pieces to stand on point. One man asked if anyone had any chewing gum, someone else replied that they did and the man had to explain he was only kidding. People were trying to stack boxes as high as they could. One kid explained that when a box stood on it’s tip, it looked like a diamond. It was a blast to be in there and watch everyone create their own artworks.

Jesse sites Sol LeWitt as a major influence on his work. As a teenager he had the privileged of executing one of LeWitt’s Wall Drawings. LeWitt’s ideas of process driven work have been an integral part of his art practice ever since.

Another piece that I liked quite a bit was housed at PNCA. Robert Boyd’s Conspiracy Theory was a large, two screen projection of clips from various conspiracy theorists and the general public. Theories ranged from the Aids epidemic to lizard people from outer space living among us. The footage was fantastical and bordered on the hilarious to the eerie. Loud, happy techno music played along with the videos, enhancing the experience of witnessing pure media spectacle.

All installations can be viewed at Washington High School
from September 4th through the 13th,
every day between the hours of 12 – 6:30 pm
and from Sept 17 to Oct 18
Thurs – Fri . 12 – 6:30 pm;
Sat – Sun . 12 – 4 pm.

Visit the PICA TBA website for details.
Visit PICA on Flickr for more great photos from the TBA Festival.