Hannah Krafcik

 

Mariana Valencia’s ‘Album’ comes to the Time-Based Art Festival

Mariana Valencia discusses her performance work, Album, opening today as part of the Time-Based Art Festival

“There are periods of time that are marked by the music that surrounds them,” says choreographer Mariana Valencia. We are discussing her work Album, which opens today as part of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival. For Valencia, two “psychologies of albums” come to bear in the work: music albums and photo albums.

Mariana Valencia, Photo by Ian Douglas

In preparing for our conversation earlier that day, I found myself turning the word “album” over in my mind, letting its peculiarities—its phonetics and multiple meanings—strike at me. “What does an album incite collectively and also individually?” asks Valencia during our conversation, gesturing to the ways in which albums can create context. “Conceptually, that seemed like a nice scaffold or platform to work from.”

When Valencia and I were teenagers, CDs were the most popular conduit for music. Both CDs and records, even to this day, have a certain materiality and substance to their packaging, often with special notes that foreground the music for listeners and with album art that pairs visual ethos with sound.  

In creating her own Album, Valencia taught herself to play a keyboard and wrote four original songs, which rest within the performance alongside other music by Miami Sound Machine, Joan Baez, and The Fugees. “A lot of the notes from my rehearsal books became lyrics, and then those lyrics needed sound to them, and so then I just started tinkering around on the keys,” she says. The fact that her rehearsal notes show up within the work seems to reference the notion of an archive—calling memory into what is happening now.

“I really only know how to play these songs, and don’t know how to play any other songs or read sheet music or anything,” Valencia continues, describing the way that humor and levity tend to show up in this aspect of the work. “If there’s a little glitch, I’m like, ‘Well, this is all of I know of this song, so we’re just going to have to go with it’.”

Like music albums, photo albums are also sites for both convergence and divergence of experience, time, and memory. At face value, photos situated within this type of “album” often portray discrete moments in time. However, photos can also reflect the varied experiences of each individual they reference, “from sharing that room together, from that day, from being that age,” says Valencia.  

“No single history is just that history, its the history of everything that surrounded it,” she adds. In this sense, both the photo and music album are resources for thinking about alternative ways that history, or, in the case of Valencia, herstory, might be archived and remembered. Valencia explained that she uses the term “herstory” so that her work of reshaping the archival process will not be sabotaged by its signifier. Herstory also gestures to the strong matriarchal foundations within Valencia’s own lineage.

“I get a chunk of [time] to live in, and so what is that?” Valencia asks, considering what will be remembered of her after her death.

Noting her identity as lesbian Latina, she adds, “I’m probably not going to be the most archivable,” at least given the archiving of history thus far. “So, how do I empower myself to do that? Or, how do I find power within that kind of marginalization or disempowerment?”—especially during this moment in time that contains herstory. These questions have seeded her work.

“It’s kind of like this lineage of: What is my history, what am I aligning with,” she continues, explaining how her Album involved an examination into the the oral histories that have preceded her and lineages she identifies with: her own family’s immigrant experience, her relationship to the postmodern dance artists, and her identity as “a younger queer to the elder queers of, per say, the aids generation.”

As our conversation drew to a close, Valencia, who was in residence at PICA last April, added that she was looking forward to performing Album for three nights in Portland—the first place she will have done so outside of New York City. “As scripted as it might be, as choreographed as it will be, it will always be different,” she says. Of her time in Portland prior to this Time-Based Arts Festival, she shares, “PICA was the most unique of any of the residencies I’ve had. It was really thoughtful, really fulfilling, and super generative and generous. I happily am coming back.”

NOTE

Catch Album at the Time-Based Art Festival, taking place at PICA, 15 NE Hancock Street, at 8:30 PM September 13, 14, and 15. The September 14 performance will be ASL interpreted. Tickets are $20 general admission, and $16 for PICA members.

Valencia will also be teaching a workshop as part of the Time-Based Art Festival entitled “See, Hear, Here,” taking place at New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont Street. Entry is $5 – $15 sliding scale.

 

Beyond the walls: A social practice project goes global

Answers Without Words, a photography project, fosters creative dialogue between incarcerated artists in Oregon and photographers from around the world

I am watching a group of men set a scene to be photographed. Ben Turanski, one of the prisoners at Columbia River Correctional Institution, indicates I am witnessing “prison innovation” in the works. He and some others are turning one corner of a classroom space at CRCI into a faux hospice. He twists a long piece of plastic wrapper into a cord, like an IV, attaching it to the wrist of Joshua Wright, who is lying on a makeshift hospital bed. Now done setting the scene, Turanski sits beside Wright and takes his hand.

From several feet away, Ben Hall takes a photo with a digital camera. When I ask him about what is happening, he indicates that the scenario he is photographing is inspired by his time working hospice in prison.

“What changed you in prison and are you happy about that?” question by Sara Lamens from Belgium, answer by Ben Hall in collaboration with Ben Turanski and Joshua Wright, photographed by Ben Hall

Anke Schüttler stands outside the frame, making suggestions about photographic composition. Schüttler—a photographer by trade and an MFA candidate at Portland State University’s School of Art and Social Practice—is one of the facilitators of this art class at CRCI, a minimum security prison housing 595 *mostly* male prisoners in Northeast Portland, Oregon. (I add the caveat because, in my few hours visiting the facility, I was made aware of at least one female-identifying prisoner.)

Schüttler let me know that many of the incarcerated individuals participating in this PSU art class said they would prefer to be called prisoners, hence my use of the word here. Under the umbrella of PSU art class, these prisoners are also working artists-in-residence at CRCI.

For Wright, the patient in the hospice scenario, the title artist-in-residence felt generative. “You were in prison, yes, but you were also in residence,” he reflected. “You’re an artist. You took this time to pursue your craft. That’s a rare and brilliant idea, and to be able to utilize that in this space has been incredibly beneficial,” he continued, noting that the residency has helped keep him on track creatively while in prison, in addition to benefiting him upon his release. Wright is a published essayist and poet, living incarcerated with a terminal diagnosis of cystic fibrosis.

*****

“[If] someone is asking you a question, like, ‘What’s your favorite place?’, you just go there and take a photo of that place. But what happens if you cannot access that place?” asked Schüttler during the class lecture at CRCI that I attended. Before returning to Germany, her home country, Schüttler will be wrapping up her MFA thesis on a project she initiated at CRCI called “Answers Without Words,” developed in collaboration Roshani Thakore, another PSU Art and Social Practice student, along with the prisoners.

The name of the project is “pretty logical,” says Schüttler.

For the past several months, and with support from the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Precipice Fund, Schüttler has facilitated an exchange of written questions and photographic responses between incarcerated artists-in-residence at CRCI and photographers from around the world.

*****

Schüttler originally started visiting CRCI out of intrigue when she and her colleagues were invited by Harrell Fletcher, founder of the PSU Art and Social Practice MFA concentration. “Often times, when Harrell gets an opportunity here in Portland, he invites his students in,” said Schüttler. Harrell, who had done creative work with a prison in the past, was curious about CRCI and had been extended an invitation to visit an ongoing arts-based class there.

“We went, and had such a deep experience,” Schüttler recalled. “I mean, you’ve seen it.”

I have seen it. In spite of so many constraints, the four walls of the classroom contained an environment remarkable to enter into and be present within—at least, to my sensibilities.

“There’s something about these people…They have so much wisdom, and so much talent,” Schüttler continued. “Something that really stood out for me was also this vulnerability. When does that ever happen? A big group of men being vulnerable with each other? And it’s like, the last place you would expect that to happen is a prison.”

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High Tide in Astoria

Can extremely thoughtful, attentive urban design be art? The Tidal Rock project in Astoria may have some answers.

Tidal Rock—a green space in Astoria, Oregon, formerly overgrown and obscured from the public eye—has received a makeover courtesy of three artists, Agnes Field, Brenda Harper, and Jessica Schleif, who have rallied their community to create a space for public art in an unlikely spot. Known for its role in marking the water level for its coastal community, Tidal Rock is officially designated as a historic site. Since late 2017, the three artists have been hard at work cultivating the space as a place for temporary public art installations and community gatherings. A public art event at the site, taking place Saturday evening, September 8, is the sort of thing they have in mind.

Oddfellows dance collective at Tidal Rock; photo by Brenda Harper

When I connected with the artists to speak about Tidal Rock, I was shocked to learn that Field had severely broken her leg less than two weeks before this big event. “It’s just one of those crazy things that happens when you don’t expect it,” she said. “I was helping my friends with their new roller skates.” At this point, I let an unseemly pun slip out about rolling with the situation, to which she kindly replied, “I think that the truth. It’s the only choice you have.”

“I’m like, ‘gosh, how is she doing this?’” Schleif remarked of Field’s predicament. “She’s chipper and looks great.”

Field’s high spirits bodes well for Saturday’s event, and this pervasive positivity has likely had an impact on the progress of the project thus far. The artists talked me through some of the details surrounding how they were able to convince Astoria City Council to allow them to adopt the Tidal Rock site.

“I don’t think they had experienced anything like this before,” said Schleif. “It was a leap for them to start picturing what might happen.”

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Fragmentation in motion: An interview with Jaleesa Johnston

A free screening and animation workshop for black femmes, women, and non-men in Portland, hosted by the first and the last

This past April, I had the pleasure of interviewing artists kiki nicole (they/them) and ariella tai (they/them) about their work through the first and the last—an experimental film/video and new media arts project. This endeavor offers a platform to amplify and support the artistic work of black femmes, women, and non-men through screenings, skillshares, and workshops based in Portland. During our discussion, nicole cited the influence of another Portland-based black femme artist, Jaleesa Johnston (she/her), whom they were excited to curate into their year of programming.

Johnston will be facilitating a screening and workshop as part of the first and the last’s programming this weekend, July 28 and 29. I had the opportunity speak with her about her incisive body of work and conceptual process, and how all of the above will inform these upcoming events.

Lesson #1: Fractioning Gaze(s)” by Jaleesa Johnston

Johnston describes her artist practice as interdisciplinary: The ideas and concepts come first, followed by mediums for their expression. “If I don’t know that medium, I just find a way to learn it or teach it to myself,” she said, reflecting back a sense of determination that nicole and tai emphasized when I spoke to them earlier this year about the work of various self-taught black femme artists.

“Pretty much all of the themes and ideas that I deal with have to do with black female subjectivity and understanding what it means to stand within this in-between space of being both the subject and object in my work, and historically being seen as both subject and object,” Johnston explained. She described how blackness becomes a “liminal space” that can be defined, in certain senses, but also remains undefined. “That actually can be very beneficial and very freeing,” she continued. “I can use that to harness and activate a radical space that allows me to expand beyond the confines of what blackness has conventionally meant or historically meant.”

On July 28, Johnston will screen an excerpt of the video “Compared to What” (2017) by Ayana V. Jackson. A US-born photographer and filmmaker, Jackson often references 19th and early 20th century presentations of black bodies through her self-portraiture. Her performative and photographic work calls into question the ways the camera has historically been used to construct identities.

“It’s an animated video piece, but through photography, stitching together different photos,” described Johnston, who first encountered the film when she was teaching a photography class at Pacific Northwest College of Art. That same semester, Jackson visited the school and came to speak to Johnston’s students.

“It was through seeing her piece that I started really thinking about what’s not said,” she remembered.

The film piqued Johnston’s interest in the difference between live performance and performance that is mediated by photography or video. “Watching her video piece, I just was thinking about the body…the body in fragments caught through snapshots,” she said. As she encountered the film, Johnston considered how live performative work is often presented comprehensively, from beginning to end in real time for an audience, while performative video or photography can sometimes allow for more discretion and choice-making around what is revealed and what is obscured.

In this sense, for Johnston, what is is not said and what is not seen becomes paramount.

“There’s this fragmented piece of body that is actually still finding a way to function and interact and come alive on the screen,” Johnston reflected of the film.

Following the screening, on July 29, Johnston will facilitate an animation workshop seeded by the notion of fragmentation, a concept that shows up in her own work as well, in pieces such as “Lesson #1: Fractioning Gaze(s)” and her collage work, Between Contact. In this skill-building workshop, participants will have the opportunity to learn how to create a .gif through Photoshop and an animation through PowerPoint.

“Antique White and Flesh” by Jaleesa Johnston

Johnston expounded on the phrase “Fragments from the (W)hole,” her choice of title for this offering. “As people, we break off little bits of ourselves, and that’s what people get to see and interact with, but they all tie back to this part of us that is a larger, whole person,” she said. “There are moments where I feel whole, and then there are other times where I feel like a void, like an actual hole.”

Johnston spoke to the notion of fragmentation as a mode of moving through the world, the act of sharing pieces of oneself that connect back to a unique and complex human identity—yet, without revealing its wholeness. For her, there are a range of affective states evoked by this fragmentation, experiences of “feeling fully present and alive, and then moments of feeling like you’re not really here, not really there.” It is critical to consider, as she articulated, “what that means in terms of blackness, and what that means for how we [black folx] have constructed our identity, especially given the history of blackness as its constructed through photography.”

“My rat race of a mind has wired all these things together that I hope to communicate during the workshop,” said Johnston, musing over the marriage of concept with practical skill-building.

Ultimately, she hopes to give others, especially black femmes, opportunities to work with the camera and to create a kind of narrative—one that “allows for this complicated sense of being to exist.”

*****

Join the first and the last for a screening of Ayana V. Jackson’s work with Johnston on July 28 at 6 pm and an introductory animation workshop on July 29 at 6 pm. These events will be hosted at Alberta Abbey with the Black Life Experiential Research Group (BLERG). Both events are free and open to the public, and the animation workshop will be catered by Platanorising.

the first and the last is accepting donations for their projects and artists via Venmo @firstandlast. Follow @firstandthelast.blk on Instagram to learn more. 

 

A safe space for deep criticism of art

manuel arturo abreu discusses home school, a free pop-up art school in Portland, and its upcoming "field day," June 23

In a recent discussion with manuel arturo abreu (they/them) the co-founder of a Portland-based pop-up art school called home school, a fundamental question surfaced—a question that directly relates to the relevance of this very platform: Why would someone hate art?

For abreu, a poet and artist from the Bronx, the answer is ready and waiting: “Because art sucks. It’s really violent. It’s a violent colonial enterprise. How do we reclaim it?”

In the following discourse, which centers the labor and thinking of home school and its organizers, nothing is sacred. Readers with a love for art, academia, and many of the institutions and frameworks designed to support these, might find themselves set off—but please take that response as definitive sign to keep reading.

Image courtesy of home school and MoMA PS1

The way home school came to be is “a classic story” within the home school-community, said abreu. Victoria Anne Reis (she/her), who now runs home school with abreu, previously lived in New York City and studied at New York University, an institution infamously known for being inaccessible to many students without the aid of punishing loads of student debt.

In search of a different option than “the very marketized education that she was paying for,” Reis began taking classes with the Bruce High Quality Foundation University, an alternative arts education structure that self-identified as “a learning experiment” and “New York’s freest art school.”

BHQFU—which is now defunct—was started by several Cooper Union graduates who, initially, remained anonymous and who derived inspiration from German artist Joseph Beuys’ concept of social sculpture. “Rather than an artist working with paint or cardboard or noise or language, an artist is constructing an aesthetic experience from the social interactions of others,” an unnamed source from Bruce High Quality Foundation said of social sculpture in an interview with Social Text Journal.

Social sculpture is “sculpture where society and community is the medium for the art,” abreu explained.

Continues…

the first and the last: An interview with kiki nicole and ariella tai

A new experimental film/video and new media arts project launches a series of programs by and for black femmes, women, and non-men

I am the first and the last. I am the honored one and the scorned one. I am the whore and the holy one. I am the wife and the virgin. I am the barren one and many are my daughters. I am the silence you can not understand. I am the utterance of my name.

the first and the last, an experimental film/video and new media arts project germinating in Portland, takes its name from the epigraph above. It is spoken by the character Nana Peazant in the seminal film Daughters of the Dust, produced and directed by Julie Dash. In 1991, it became the first full-length film directed by a black, female-identifying director to be released in theaters across the nation.

Last week, I spoke with the first and the last curators, ariella tai (they/them) and kiki nicole (they/them), as they were gearing up for the Screening and Media Literacy Workshop with Melanie Stevens, taking place on April 19 and 20 at Ori Gallery. This will be the first of ten programs at various venues organized by the first and the last, including exhibitions and more screenings, skill shares, and workshops.

In a contemplative back-and-forth, tai and nicole—who are both black femme artists—articulated how the convergence of their experiences led them to create a series of programs by and for black femmes, women, and non-men in the context of the city of Portland, where the erasure of black communities and crisis of gentrification continue to propel dialogues and organizing efforts.

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How to create community with art, and other lessons from Field of View

An artist residency program for people with developmental disabilities rethinks the value of creative labor

Most stories are more complicated than they seem. To really understand why we–individually and collectively–have ended up at this particular moment in time under the often baffling conditions that inform day-to-day life, the simple story just won’t suffice.

This particular story, which looks at how five Portland-based artists ended up at a very special artist residency called Field of View, is far from simple. To understand how this program came to be begs for a brief glimpse into the ongoing public policy debate over how the State of Oregon should support individuals who experience developmental disabilities, for example. And all the nuances, twists, turns and triumphs in this story illuminate the Field of View resident artists’ resilience and creative capacity–as well as the possibility that art-making could play a vital role in the movement toward a more holistic, integrated city, state, and society.

My journey into this story began on a Sunday evening late this past August. Carissa Burkett, the artist who initiated Field of View, a program of the nonprofit Public Annex, invited me over to her home for dinner, where I met five of the program’s resident artists, along with Lauren Moran, Burkett’s co-organizer. Thanks to funding from the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Precipice Fund, Field of View was able to place these artists, all of whom experience developmental disabilities*, in three-month-long artist residencies around the community in Portland, at sites including King School, Performance Works Northwest, and the Independent Publishing Resource Center.

We sat on Burkett’s back patio that warm night and chatted for a couple of hours about the artists’ experience in their residencies. At the gathering, I met Dawn Westover, a visual artists who makes drawings; Sonya Hamilton, a painter and ceramicist; David Lechner, a visual and dance artist; and Olga Shchepina, a painter and sculptor. I also reconnected with Larry Supnet, a prolific visual artist whom I had met earlier in the year.

What made this gathering of artists especially interesting, in my eyes, was their familiarity with one another–the way they cracked jokes and smiled knowingly. I could tell there was a lot more to their stories as colleagues. “How do you all know each other?” I asked…

Dawn Westover’s Instagram @dawn_westover_art

*****

As it turns out, the story of these artists coming together goes way back–so far back that it required a detour into the history of the Oregon state legislature’s attempts to improve its services for Oregonians with developmental disabilities. Burkett filled me in on some of the details.

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