hannah piper burns

On belonging: The art of remembering

ArtsWatch Weekly: Amid a time of violence in America, art that remembers its roots and looks beyond

YOU CAN FEEL THE FORCE IN ALL-AMERICAN, Portland artist Roberta Wong’s blunt and extraordinarily effective 2003 piece consisting of a thick wooden cutting board, a cleaver, and a length of dark braided hair, severed with a swift swing of the blade from the head it once adorned. Wong’s carefully arranged tableau of the imagination isn’t just a haircut, but a banishment – a denial. The piece implies an amputation of the self, a separation of roots and history and identity in the name of assimilation, of fitting in: Where, then, is the “Chinese” in “Chinese American,” or the “All” in the all too ironically aspirational “All-American”?

Roberta Wong, “All-American,” 2003.

THE FEELING INSIDE THE CAGE that was the downtown Portland prison cell of Minoru Yasui in 1942 and ’43 is different: not a severance, but an entrapment. Yet it also feels very much like the other side of the same coin. Yasui, a second-generation Japanese American born in Hood River in 1916, landed in solitary confinement for his dissent against President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s infamous Executive Order 9066, which authorized the wartime evacuation and incarceration of Japanese American citizens in detention/concentration camps across the West: Once his prison sentence had ended, Yasui was sent to the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho for the duration of the war. 

Continues…

‘Lilies’ Rising

How poet Joni Renee Whitworth transformed the pandemic experience into an award-winning experimental short film

“Of course, lesbians have dreamt of this for years: sleeping in late, reading to each other, fretting over the cat, cooking, stretching, listening to jazz in silks. No parties to attend.” Those are the first words in Lilies, an experimental short film written by poet Joni Renee Whitworth, who wanted it to communicate their passion for finding ecstasy in the midst of tragedy—even during a pandemic.

“I know a lot of people felt like joy and pleasure were not allowed last year, and they would feel kind of guilty or try to hide when something was going well,” Whitworth says. “And I’m so disheartened by that response. We can’t build a society where joy and pleasure are not allowed. Because the hard stuff will always be there, and last year was harder than most—harder than any I’ve known.”

“Lilies” in the field: Collaborators Hannah Piper Burns (left) and Joni Renee Whitworth.

Created in collaboration with Hannah Piper Burns, Lilies is a nine-minute kaleidoscope of sounds and images that coalesce into a rush of hope and anguish. It invokes Whitworth’s experience as a queer artist surviving the pandemic, while offering a sweeping meditation on post-COVID life (Whitworth’s characterization of the “choreographed veering” required to avoid other humans is one of many potent observations about current social protocols).

Continues…

LitWatch Monthly: Love and literature

February brings Valentine’s Day and an abundance of virtual literary events from lectures by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors to workshops on the intimate act of letter writing

On December 16, 1884, Oscar Wilde penned to his wife, Constance Lloyd, a letter of both intoxicating literary prowess and heartfelt affection:

Dear and Beloved, Here I am, and you at the Antipodes. O execrable facts, that keep our lips from kissing, though our souls are one. What can I tell you by letter? Alas! nothing that I would tell you. The message of the gods to each other travel not by pen and ink and indeed your bodily presence here would not make you more real: for I feel your fingers in my hair, your cheek brushing mine. The air is full of the music of your voice, my soul and body seem no longer mine, but mingled in some exquisite ecstasy with yours. I feel incomplete without you. Ever and ever yours, Oscar.

Though now in the digital age of 2021, when letters such as this one are seldom delivered by post, Wilde’s words still deliver the vulnerable sentiment and beauty that they did in 1884. From Zelda Fitzgerald and Jack London to Simone de Beauvoir and Khalil Gibran, writers have injected poetry into their epistolary engagements, drawing from their literary muse and delighting the recipients who read them.

Oscar Wilde in 1884/Photograph by Napoleon Sarony

It is not necessary, however, to be a prolific author in order to write a compelling letter. An upcoming workshop presented by Literary Arts called Four Letters: The Epistolary Form seeks to teach exactly that. This four-session series, occurring on Thursday evenings from February 25 through March 18, was created for the letter-writing literary in each of us. Whether your writing experience consists of having published multiple novels or only scribbling phrases into the notes section of your smartphone, the class suggests letter writing as an inherently generous act that can be done by all. 

Continues…

The rhythm and meaning of Lilies

Fertile Ground 2021: Poet Joni Whitworth and filmmaker Hannah Piper Burns find the mythic amid the reality of Covid-19

Lilies, poet Joni Renee Whitworth tells us, contain multitudes of meaning. The flower is a mainstay in Greek and Chinese myths, as well as Easter ceremonies. It symbolizes, among other things, love, grief, femininity, and rebirth—all themes present in Whitworth’s filmed poem, Lilies, which premieres on Wednesday, Feb. 3, as a part of Fertile Ground’s online festival of new works. Festival projects remain available to stream for free through Feb. 15 on Fertile Ground’s Facebook and YouTube channels.


ONLINE FESTIVAL: FERTILE GROUND 2021


Written and performed by Whitworth with video and sound by Hannah Piper Burns, Lilies is like opening a time capsule from the early days of the pandemic. “It’s like writing future history,” says Whitworth, who wrote the text last spring, when the rules for pandemic engagement were still setting in. “Once it changed from, ‘we’re home for two weeks,’ to, ‘we’re going to be in this for a while,’ there was just an energetic shift” – a shift, adds Whitworth, that was in stark contrast to the beautiful spring Portland was experiencing. “Nature was just merrily carrying along, and thriving,” Whitworth says. Lilies is their chronicle of that time. 

Image from Joni Renne Whitworth “Lilies.”

The poem—which Whitworth describes as loosely autobiographical—ruminates on the tragic weight of Covid-19 as well as the pandemic’s unexpected comforts. It moves between perspectives personal and global. Lilies begins in a place of calm. Whitworth opens with the line, “Of course, / lesbians have dreamt of this for years: / sleeping in late, / reading to each other, / fretting over the cat.” Elsewhere, Whitworth hears Pacific wrens singing by their quarantine window, and remarks, “I’ve worked two jobs as long as I can remember, / I’ve never been home to hear them.” In these scenes, Whitworth’s restrained diction aids their imagery—watching Lilies, I felt cozy.

But these silver linings come at a price. Whitworth calls our new world flat and declarative, “A refrigerated truck for the bodies,” where people’s voices lack inflection. Later, they remark that “War-ravaged Syria just reported its first COVID-19 death. / We’re here. We’re here.” For Whitworth, even the “upsides” of the pandemic resist that qualification. “Is it true / that by lessening pollution, / and workplace accidents, / this industrial slowdown is / sparing lives / as well as taking them? / I can’t follow that logic to its reasonable conclusion.” 

Continues…

VizArts Monthly: March on

You WILL make it through the last dregs of winter, and a new set of visual arts shows will help

I’ve seen March arrive in Portland more than a dozen times, and yet still some part of me thinks “Ok, it’s spring now, right?” It’s not spring, and it won’t be spring for a while. It’s still winter, still time left in the unpredictable progression from spiteful to mightful to sometimes delightful. It’s easy to think things just won’t change. But we Portlanders go through this every year, filling the outdoor cafes as soon as the sun makes an appearance. It’s built into our constitutions to look for signs of progress and renewal when all seems lost.

Checking the news at any point is a quick reminder that the weather’s not the only thing that manages to be both unexpected and depressing in 2018. Even though the clouds haven’t parted yet, some big, colorful developments are already showing. Black Panther is smashing box office records and inspiring intelligent conversation about a comic book movie, vibrant portraits of the Obamas by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald break the stuffy monotony of official presidential portraits, and the tough-as-nails students of Stoneman Douglas have already managed to budge the national conversation about gun control more than Washington has ever been willing to.

Likewise, our local artists and institutions aren’t waiting for the sun to come back to add some color and light to our city. March is chock full of smart, complex, and beautiful shows representing diverse perspectives. This list should give you plenty of chances to jolt the grey away.

Continues…