This is the fourth in a series of stories about outstanding Oregon-based artists to follow on Instagram. The series focuses on accounts that are regularly updated with engaging content and high-quality images that allow followers to enjoy artwork regardless of location. Curated by the artists themselves, Instagram accounts offer a relaxed opportunity to view completed and in-progress artwork and to get a glimpse into the artists’ ideas, process, and studio practices.
In 1983, artist Keith Haring wrote, “Our imagination is our greatest hope for survival.” Crucially, Haring speaks in the collective: our imagination, our hope. In the context of a global pandemic, a divisive election year, and an ongoing fight for social justice, imagination offers not just “hope for survival,” but a tool for visualizing and creating new futures. Together, the works of Laura Weiler, Laura Camila Medina, and Shanalee Hampton investigate relationships between past and present, suggest how the experiences and actions of individual relate to the community, and ask everyday people to consider the imaginary not as something opposed to reality, but rather as a reality that has not yet been brought into existence.
Tigard-based artist Laura Weiler (@cutandplaced) draws on her background in film, photography, and art direction to make eye-popping analog collages. Many of Weiler’s works reimagine landscapes as surreal spaces. In Yellow, five smiling women stand in a field of bright flowers, each cradling an armload of freshly picked blooms. On the horizon, a huge yellow rose with orange-red streaks hovers like a setting sun. Rows of overlapping sunflowers at the horizon give way to single flowers and green foliage higher in the atmosphere, mimicking a typical sunset’s streaks of color and cloud. It feels surprisingly normal, as if we’re glimpsing an average day in an unflaggingly upbeat alternate reality.
Weiler achieves this same sense of wonder in mountain scenes, urban environments, desert trails, and outer space. In Road Less Traveled, a diagonal path stretches far into the distance, sparsely populated by a few scattered figures hanging fishing poles over the edges. The path is flanked in the foreground by craggy gray rocks that give way to a sea of people, many of whom wield colorful umbrellas. One figure in the foreground walks without a fishing pole, caught mid-stride and with their back to us. They are an unknown traveler heading to a destination we cannot quite see.
Road Less Traveled reconfigures the present through imagery from the past. On one level, the collage is a metaphor for, in Weiler’s words, the hope that “more people are taking that road of doing the work of anti-racism.” On another, it visualizes the difficulties of navigating life during a pandemic. The figures on the path keep their distance, exposed to and at odds with the nearby crowd. Road Less Traveled is evocative, but not prescriptive; it provides visual metaphors for the present without telling viewers what to do or think. One of the reasons Weiler loves this medium is that it allows her to “take this reality and reconstruct it to be the image of something that I hope for.”
Portland-based interdisciplinary artist Laura Camila Medina (@lil___lau) makes work exploring the complexities of memory and identity. In Hope To Dance With You Again, Medina grooves across the screen five times—each in a separate outfit and performing different moves—while two colorful, animated backgrounds seem to pulse with the music. Medina created this solo “imaginary, animated, psychedelic, safe, dance party” to enjoy the freedom of movement during the strictures of social distancing. The work is about connection: with others, with oneself, and with home. “The real and imagined qualities of my work were born from the sense of a ‘lost home’ and the need to create an ‘imaginary home,’” says Medina, who was born in Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Florida before moving to Portland. “For me dancing is a traveling home, a home that lives within my body, that can manifest itself with music.”
Many of Medina’s Instagram captions combine contextual information, personal reflections, and original poetry. “Writing is an essential part of my creative and introspective practice,” she says. In a video in which Medina shapes maize dough into the form of a body and eats it, the caption uses a hybrid of Spanish and English to communicate her desire “to recreate the same taste” as her grandmother’s arepas, and the significance of “consuming my past self” to “nourish my future self.” During her recent residency at Future Prairie, Medina paired her collaged self-portrait with an original poem about literal and metaphorical self-reflection that adds more layers to the viewer’s perception of the work.
Nosotros Comiamos is a clear example of how Medina’s writing and visual art practice feed one another. Medina started this work by pulling lines from her journal. “I grabbed these fragments, aware that there was no linear narrative, and began to organize and reorganize them until they felt cohesive,” she says. “Most of my work appears in a non-linear format because I believe it mirrors the way we remember, one memory flowing to the next, jumping from present to past and back again.”
The first frame reads, “Nosotros comiamos sardinas en la salsa de tomate con arroz” (“We ate sardines in tomato sauce with rice”), accompanied by a blue and white drawing of two plates laden with this meal atop gridded placemats. Past and present collide even in this scene of a simple meal. “In the midst of a global pandemic, I found myself with sardines in my pantry for the first time in years,” says Medina. The smell made her remember meals with her father so potently that it is as if she were immediately transported: “I find myself at 25, feeling that I am 8 years old again sharing a meal with my father.” Memory is the generative space in which reality and imagination converge and transform. Medina’s work investigates those relationships in a way that is deeply personal, but still relatable for a general audience. More of her work, including a “memory sculpture garden,” will appear in the exhibition Loopholes at Fuller Rosen Gallery later this summer.
Shanalee Hampton’s (@shanaleehampton) exhibition at PDXchange has been rescheduled for Fall, but you can still see her work all over the city’s streets. A self-described “Artist drawing with needle & thread,” Hampton attaches embroideries to utility poles throughout the city as well as exhibiting in galleries and selling work online. Her grandmother taught her to sew and embroider as a child, but Hampton shunned these media until she was older. In a period of social and personal upheaval starting around 2013, embroidery became Hampton’s way to express herself, find inspiration, and align her art and politics. Today, she loves embroidery because “it’s very meditative. I do it with a lot of intention, trying to get that message out into the world.”
Hampton’s street art is called the Horrible & Wonderful Project, the title of which comes from a the late comedian Harris Wittels’s Tweet, “we are all horrible and wonderful and figuring it out.” Hampton says she might have found it on Tumblr or a blog, but ultimately, “That quote was really important to me. And part of what I always thought about with that quote is that you never know where you’re going to find those things. . . . It was totally random, but it stuck in my head and it really changed my perspective in a huge way.” The concept of unexpectedly finding a significant phrase or idea fuels the Horrible & Wonderful project. Sometimes Hampton’s embroideries ask people to do things such as “make tiny changes,” “leave space for magic”, or “write someone a love letter.” Some pose questions, like “what’s bringing you joy” or “what do I give back?” Some affirm Black Lives Matter, while others suggest more generally the stakes of ongoing fights for social justice, as in “we don’t want normal. We want a revolution.”
The messages are poignant in the context of the streets, interrupting everyday life with a chance for unexpected reflection. Hampton says the effect might not be immediate; “I think that a lot of times you can read something, see something, and it just plants a seed for later. Even if you’re not thinking about it actively, it’s in there. I think art does that all the time.”
Like Weiler and Medina, Hampton’s work has addressed life during Covid-19. She has created masks—both those intended for wear and those intended for display—embroidered with the Lauren Morrill quote, “I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people.” In another work, Hampton posted numerous embroideries on the streets reading “wear a mask” with a depiction of a person doing so. When she created a new version with the same image, but changed the text to “show love,” she received this comment: “I love your art but not your preaching.” But the text is fundamental to Hampton’s work; attempting to separate the aesthetics from the content misunderstands the work and Hampton’s intention.
Hampton says masking shows love because “It’s not about our health and our comfort, it’s about other people…It’s an act of community care to put on that mask.” Her craftivism is part of a broader practice of radical love. Hampton cites as a key influence James Baldwin’s words on love and critique: “The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.” Hampton’s work imagines that a different world—one that is kind, empathetic, and equitable—is possible. Her work asks viewers to consider that possibility, and what role they could play in bringing it to fruition.
In a recent Vogue article, artist, activist, and filmmaker Tourmaline wrote about freedom dreaming: “Freedom dreams are born when we face harsh conditions not with despair, but with the deep knowledge that these conditions will change— that a world filled with softness and beauty and care is not only possible, but inevitable.” In this moment of working toward systemic change, Tourmaline reminds readers that the small things matter, too: “I want you to know that it’s not frivolous to have dreams about seemingly small or pleasurable things; it is vital.” It is vital because we spend most of our time doing small things. The little acts that make up the everyday are the spaces in which we truly live—or at least, they could be.
The art of Laura Weiler, Laura Camila Medina, and Shanalee Hampton reimagines the world around us as liberatory practice. Weiler collages disparate images into imaginative, unified scenes. Similarly, Medina creates fluid yet cohesive intermedia works from fragments of memory and text. Hampton turns thread and scraps of fabric into embroideries that transform the space of the city street. These are ways to infuse the everyday with imagination and creativity, and, ultimately, to dream a different future into being.
The other installments in the Accounts to follow series are available here, here, and here.