Kelly Rauer

Risk/Reward 2016: Creative tensions

Multi-disciplinary performance festival explores the contrasts between multimedia elements

Ah, summer: that season when the only arts our sun-drunk brains are capable of handling are explosion-laden superhero films and simplistic beach read books. Or so the entertainment-industrial complex would have us believe.

Not in Portland. Portland Center Stage devotes its annual July Just Add Water festival to workshop readings of new plays in progress. The end-of-summer Time Based Art Festival is dedicated to edgy, category-free performance and visual art developed by fringe festival-style artists from around the world. The city’s season of experimentation really gets started with the annual Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance, “a developmental platform for the creation of new performance works,” according to its mission statement, which cites criteria including “adventurous,” immersive,” and “cross-disciplinary”; it’s like a mini-TBA Festival, but geared exclusively to artists from our region.

Anthony Hudson as Carla Rossi at 2016 Risk/Reward Festival, Photo: Chelsea Petrakis.

Anthony Hudson as Carla Rossi at 2016 Risk/Reward Festival,
Photo: Chelsea Petrakis.

This year’s ninth annual edition, which ran June 17-19 at the valuable arts hub at Portland’s Artists Repertory Theatre, showcased new works whose quality and appeal often matched and sometimes surpassed those higher-profile incubators. The most successful drew their power, and often their humor, from the interaction of two or more media forms—artistic friction that struck sparks.


How to have a body: Five things I learned from Kelly Rauer’s ‘Locate’

Video artist/choreographer Kelly Rauer entwines her two art forms at Disjecta's Portland2014 biennial

Kelly Rauer's "Locate" at Disjecta/Photo by Mark Stein

Kelly Rauer’s “Locate” at Disjecta/Photo by Mark Stein


The first time I saw Kelly Rauer’s Locate, I gasped. I’d been watching the screens Rauer placed in two corners of the room when a figure appeared on the wall between them—and then disappeared as quickly as she’d arrived. I was hooked and couldn’t look away—darkness, light, dancers in red tunics and shimmering tights, in black and white stripes, swaying, lifting, bending, turning, sitting still. It felt like a kind of magic.

Rauer calls Locate a “choreographed experience,” and it is magnificent. She has combined movement, video, and sound to create an immersive, multi-channel video installation on three screens—a triptych that features three bodies. Two of the bodies belong to Rauer and a second dancer, Leah Wilmoth, whom you can see on the screens, and the third belongs to the cameraman, Seth Nehil, who also composed the perfect soundtrack.

Rauer locates her work between dance and video, straddling the two disciplines. “I am always teetering. I have always been in these two spaces for my whole life,” she said. “My mom gave me a camera when I was six, and I didn’t leave the photography department in high school, but I was also on stage performing.”

Though her ability to work in many mediums and across disciplines has caused some visual art critics to overlook her, I think her deep cross-disciplinarity is part of what makes Locate electric, unexpected, and surprising, unlike anything I have seen before. “I don’t just do video for video’s sake,” Rauer said. “I use video to make a performance. I use video to make a photograph. I use video to make moving sculptures.”

When you visit Disjecta Contemporary Art Center to see Portland2014: A Biennial of Contemporary Art, curated brilliantly by Amanda Hunt, leave yourself plenty of time to spend with Locate. I interviewed Rauer there, and for most of our two-hour conversation, a woman sat on the floor in the middle of the room where Locate is exhibited. That’s the kind of art this is—Locate will call you to it, and you will want to stay.

I stayed with Locate because I wanted to understand how it worked. Not the technical parts—which are a feat in themselves (though Rauer makes it look effortless)—but how Rauer uses bodies to reclaim bodies. How she engages the language of advertising, music videos, consumerism, and even pornography and turns it back on itself to make something new, something resistant, something feminist.

Here is what I learned:


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