TBA:19 – Interview with Kevin Holden

In honor of the opening of the 2019 Time-Based Arts Festival (TBA), the Quest recently sat down with Portland interdisciplinary artist Kevin Holden; Holden is the Institute Coordinator for TBA at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) as well as a volunteer at this year’s fest. They are also a featured artist in the Portland Biennial hosted by Disjecta Contemporary Art Center.

Quest: So I guess first I just wanted to ask what’s been your history briefly with TBA and PICA in general, and your role in this year’s festival?

KH: So I started out in 2014 as a volunteer at the Time-Based Art Festival. I was working a lot with actually this person here [pointing] Spencer Burns. They’re now the exhibition director for the festival and food coordinator managing the corner store. But when I first started volunteering I was primarily helping out with the build-out crew for PICA and TBA’s visual art exhibitions which initially, I mean, for a long time, it was more of a nomadic curatorial and exhibition process of finding spaces and actually building them out for shows and performances and then breaking them down. I was a volunteer in 2014 at TBA, when we used to be downtown and the visual art exhibition was in this space called fashion tech. I volunteered again in 2015 and 2016, and I was an intern with Kristen Kennedy for the visual art program. I helped out again at TBA [2017], but it was during that festival that I was kind of brought on very, very quickly just doing a quick contract role supporting an artist for their exhibition– their name’s A.K. Burns. But my primary role since then has been a curatorial system and gallery manager for the visual art program and for visual art exhibitions. And for this festival and the last festival I was Institute Coordinator with Roya Amirsoleymani, who was the Curator of Public Engagements.

Q: In your opinion, what makes TBA unique or different from other arts events and festivals in Portland?

KH: Oh, my gosh. It’s too broad… Can I think a second?

Q: Or what makes it different from other art festivals or events in Portland? Or it could be in general.

KH: That’s.. I think that’s a tough one for me just because I’ve been so involved with PICA and TBA for so much of my life. That’s kind of what I know; what TBA is and what PICA is, but I think it’s kind of different from other models or frameworks for other kinds of projects like biennials or other art fairs… this is primarily bringing in cutting edge and very critical and important contemporary art and performance and music and dance. Here in Portland in a community that I think is a really great place and location to engage in that kind of dialogue without the pressures of the expectations to conform to any specific thing [is what makes] it a great place for experimentation for radical practices and for work that may not be fully fleshed out, or may not be clear or may even be controversial. I think that’s a really beautiful thing that the curators and the artistic directors have in mind about curating and organizing a festival like this. And with that, you know, the curators are just way more… I mean, it’s not just the curators too, it’s all the other staff here at PICA that are really interested in forging relationships with artists and supporting artists and supporting the staff and crew that go into making this kind of thing happen here. There really is an “us” here; there really is a dedication and a sense of care. Yeah, I think that’s important and essential for curating. I mean, the root word of “curating” comes from “to care”. So I definitely feel that a lot here, even if we’re having to get here at 10 in the morning, and then working until like, midnight, or 2 a.m. You know, there’s care for artists, there’s care for people, and somehow you just got to fit in care for yourself.

Q: Totally. Yeah.

KH: I think to further expand upon what I was saying there: even though we are hosts, even though we are curating exhibitions with specific objects, or we’re identifying specific projects or performances, it’s not coming out of the sense to try and objectify specific practices or artists or to commodify things. We’re not a collective institution. One of the most common questions that I hear a lot from the curators when people ask them about how they curate, or how they can get involved, is…  they’re very interested in artists, and they’re very interested in asking the question, “What’s next?” And I think that’s another important thing I think. One thing that does help to support artists is to ask them what do they want to do next? Do they need a residency? How can PICA support an artist doing something that they want to try? Not just like, regurgitate? It’s not just about regurgitation. You know, we try to be open and embrace all artists as they come. And really, really about having them put forth what they think they want to do.

Q: As an artist, how do you feel about the current changing landscape of arts programming in Portland? Dealing with this topic of new leadership of arts in Portland that’s focusing on nonprofits and particularly their new leaders who are women and people of color. How have you noticed that [in relation to PICA?]

KH: To be honest, I don’t stay too in tune to different trends and administrative things. Sometimes it gets hard to follow really quickly, but I mean, I know the artistic directorship here at PICA is shared by three women, one of them being a woman of color. The curators of the Portland Biennial are women of color.

Q: Have you noticed a transformation while you’ve been working with PICA, or just as an artist in general?

KH: I think so. Not like a super, extremely dramatic change. But there’s this gradual change, where we’re trying to slowly shift paradigms around like art administration, and arts organization. From the beginning, PICA was founded by a woman, Kristy Edmunds, and she ran almost the whole program by herself. PICA for a long time was, and still is predominantly women-led. It’s really great and exciting to see. Now that image, and that focus is trying to incorporate the voices and the experiences and the perspectives of women of color. I just wish as a whole Portland could really focus on that, bringing in more women of color. But I think we try to do that. And you know, whether we try to navigate as best we can, programmatically and curatorially, trying to reach out to specific community partners and organizations that are doing great work. I think really considering the places that we occupy, the neighborhoods that we exist in, and who our neighbors are and who our communities are, or even recognizing the fact that we are on the stolen occupied lands of many indigenous peoples, including the Cowlitz and the Chinook, and the Multnomah and Willamette, and various other nations and tribes both recorded and unrecorded is really, really essential and important to facilitating the kind of world we want, but the kind of art that we want, the kind of art that we need the kind of our community that we can all thrive in and engage in. 

Q: Is there any advice you can give to students for ways they can get involved? Or how they can support local arts?

KH: (Asking Spencer Burns) Spencer, what do you think?

SB: I mean, the first thing to do is show up. I mean, that’s the first thing. And it’s also the hardest for students. I realize that a lot of students don’t always have money, but a lot of our events are free, especially visual arts things, and ways to get involved, to see what’s happening, and volunteering.

KH: Yeah, I really agree with that. Like, it’s just showing up and being open and curious. I think so many of us have our own expectations or own assumptions about what being in the art community is like? It can involve showing up to people’s exhibitions and openings. One of the first things I did when I got involved in TBA was fashion tech, and for like, at least two days straight I helped paint a giant wall white. Yeah, but multiple times. I think there’s so much that’s involved in crafting, and organizing or setting up an exhibition, or, curating all these performances or even like, getting a talk setup. For example, as the Institute Coordinator, when I have to set up for an event, there’s chairs involved. You have to be mindful of how certain people may need to access the space or even to show up to this. You know, presenters, and facilitators need to get paid, and just other kinds of stuff. And all that, too, is part of showing up. And there’s so many different ways to show up that I think people at least here at PICA can find their own niche, whether it’s greeting people coming in [at an event], or like mopping the floor after a Kiki Ball. There’s endless possibilities, endless ways to show up.

Q: If you were to gauge any sort of long term goals for TBA, what would you think they are? 

KH: There was a really great panel Sunday on hospitality and how that relates to art-making and art-curating and art-organizing. I think with that in mind, at least for me, my experiences here helped to shape my understanding of how to care not just for artists and for admin, but for other people, too. Yeah, for myself. So I think the biggest long term goal that I have is being open to the many, many changing ways people want to or need to be cared for and being open to being in tune to the ways that I can care for myself. Because like I said, caring for other people and caring for yourself is all about curating. It’s all part of art making and art practice. 

Q: Any personal highlights of the festival so far or things you’re anticipating to see? 

KH: I mean, Laura Ortman. Amazing. If you missed it then that sucks. Yeah, it’s awesome. Kara-lis Coverdale was great, too. I’m a big sound and music person, so those were big highlights. For me the Kiki Ball was incredible. The opening night was fun. The opening nights for TBA are great because at least this year it was a very open and public event. Also, I think that’s really important because this festival isn’t just about highlighting local [art]. I mean, there’s plenty of people around the country and even around the world that are coming. From Seattle and LA, and New York, so I think to have something like that rooted in the community here, I think that’s really special and unique. For the rest of the festival, Anthony Hudson’s performances are coming up, which are really exciting. Adam Lind is performing this weekend, which I think is going to be super exciting. As far as the Portland Biennial, the 21st is something I need to prepare for. There’ll be a lot of racist antiques being destroyed that are racist depictions of indigenous people.

TBA will continue this weekend with performances through Sunday, September 15th. Information about Kevin Holden’s performance art piece at the Portland Biennial is below.

Saturday, September 21

7 p.m. SHATTER///

An extractive performance–

Transdisciplinary Indigenous Diné artist Demian DinéYazhi’ will be joined by Intermedia sound artist Kevin Holden (Navajo and German) to debut a new performance and noise based work. SHATTER/// is the aftermath of destroying an accumulation of Indigenous stereotypes. It is an extractive ritual of settler colonial romanticism and a cosmic seedling dependent on the nurturing of Indigenous Queer community. It is a celebration of forgetting what should have never been manifested through genocidal violence.

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