Magazine article Artforum International

Remote Viewing: Matthew Stadler on the Time-Based Art Festival

Magazine article Artforum International

Remote Viewing: Matthew Stadler on the Time-Based Art Festival

Article excerpt

FOR TEN DAYS every September since 2003, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art's Time-Based Art Festival (TBA) turns Oregon's largest city into a temporary international performance hub, casting local artists alongside better-known global acts in a drama that normally plays out at a roundrobin of bigger festivals around the world: Buenos Aires, Melbourne, New York, and beyond. Disused industrial sheds become a nightclub and cafeteria; a crude theater-in-the-round is hewn from a now-defunct press; conventional theaters participate too, hosting shows night after night; tram lines fill with audiences rushing to get from one venue to the next.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The drama was as fresh for most of the Portland artists as it was stale for the handful of mobile acts that periodically fly in and out of these fairs. Australian chanteuse Meow Meow looked simply exhausted, defeated by the provision of an absurdly broad proscenium stage for her disappointing hodgepodge of cabaret bits. Dutch artist Ivana Muller added footage of Portland's downtown area to the boilerplate video of her faux lecture How Heavy Are My Thoughts? touring since 2003. What city are we in now? Granted, Muller adroitly foregrounded her own dislocation by having the talented Bill Aitchison (who performs the piece) open with an apology for Muller's "regrettable absence." She had travelled to Portland, as she does to every peformance, but only appeared "live on remote video" from an offstage room.

Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky) expressly embraced the dislocation afforded by constant travel. In an afternoon lecture that far outshone his indifferent performance of Rebirth of a Nation, 2002, that night, Miller gave a delighted appraisal of the creative milieu global mobility conjures: "I'm in New York when an e-mail comes in from Chuck D. who's in Switzerland, and he's just laid down this vocal track. He's got some wireless hotspot and a free half-hour and he just records this thing and zaps it over. I forward it to Dave Lombardo, the drummer for Slayer, who's at home in LA, and say 'Dave, check this out. Chuck D. just laid down vocals and I need some beats.' So Dave takes it into the studio, lays down a drum track, and by the time he zaps it back to me I'm in Brazil, and we've got it." Miller clicked the mouse on his laptop and the Portland audience heard the Chuck D./Slayer/Spooky track "live"; which is to say, Miller was there in the room with us when its recording played.

The most interesting questions raised by Miller's method do not concern place or placelessness so much as they do a shift in the conditions that constitute "live-ness." Why must the DJ's body be shipped around and made present to convey its meanings? A perhaps archaic commodity--the live performer--continues to structure interactions that increasingly do not require their presence. Muller demonstrated as much with her wry staging, occupying our attention as both protagonist and auteur of her performance without ever physically appearing in front of the audience.

So why travel, then, if the capacities of teletechnology render "live" and "remote" presence interchangeable? The rapidly shifting nature of performance notwithstanding, people still buy tickets to see actual performers. And so we get Aitchison's apology, or DJ Spooky sealed inside his headphones, embedded behind piles of equipment, so that he seems to have given way to some sort of cyborg that manages to offer neither the wellspring of subjectivity nor--and this is crucial--the interactive intelligence audiences expect to engage.

My own expectations for Rebirth of a Nation (Miller's reworking of D. W. Griffith's 1915 Birth of a Nation) were frustrated by Miller's isolation, and, perhaps more justifiably, by the flatness of a "live remix" that showed so little interest in the meanings of live-ness. Miller was there physically, yes, but he was entirely absent, awash in decontextualized information. …

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