Time-Based Art Festival stuns on last night

The event incorporated Portland’s Willamette River, playing with the motion of water.
Photo by Justin Howerton

The Portland Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA) hosted its 19th annual Time-Based Art Festival from Sept. 10-30. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the festival had to adopt a primarily virtual format, but a few outdoor events allowed the Portland community to engage with artistic practice and performance in-person. 

One could argue that the festival’s intentionally vague theme of time serves a practical purpose: under such a broad category, nearly any artist can exhibit any artwork. While the pandemic continues to loom in the background, the theme of time this year seemed all the more relevant and appropriate given that, on the collective and individual level, the public’s conception of time has been radically altered by quarantining, social distancing and other isolative measures.

On Sept. 30, PICA, through the efforts of Portland’s Mobile Projection Unit (MPU), an outdoor video projection studio founded by Sarah Turner and Fernanda D’Agostino in 2018, hosted a screening of the video piece “Against the Current” that was projected onto the Markham, Burnside and Morrison bridges. PICA’s catalog for this year’s festival notes that “Mobile Projection Unit (MPU) is a roving studio that presents new, experimental, site-specific outdoor video projections throughout Portland, Oregon.” On the concluding night, PICA arranged for a collection of speakers and projectors to occupy the spaces below the bridges along the Eastbank Esplanade. The artists who collaborated on this event displayed the bizarre videos, which were accompanied by ethereal, ambient audio tracks, onto the undersides of the bridges. The water below the bridges reflected the videos back towards the audience. 

While most of the videos, which worked as compositions of brightly distorted colors and physical bodies in motion, remained incomprehensible to the unfamiliar viewer, the visual effect of the media reflected in massive proportion along a bridge’s underside and the water below was impressive in and of itself; the MPU’s use of public space seemed ingenious and accessible even if the reflection was blurrier than I had expected. One of the scenes depicting standing figures in a field stood out as one of the more unsettling scenes of the video series, which played predominantly below the Morrison bridge. Most of the videos seemed to examine motion, projection and space through the architecture of Portland’s bridges. 

Situated along the Eastbank Esplanade, the event drew critics, neighbors and random passersby as “Against the Current” demanded the attention of anyone lucky enough to pass it.

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