“Watcher File Project”

Poetry and art from the archives of Big Brother

Kaia Sand and Garrick Imatani search surveillance reports to recreate the lives of anti-war activists

By JUDITH PULMAN

Before entering the Portland Archives and Records Center on the fifth floor of the PSU’s Student Recreation Center, I had to leave my purse in a locker, hand over my driver’s license, sign a form, and promise not to lick my fingers before touching anything, which is apparently a common unconscious gesture.

I sat down with poet Kaia Sand in a room facing an archivist who made sure we didn’t break any rules and tried to answer our questions about the documents in the archive. This Monday, ten other researchers were bent to their tasks.

The archivist rolled out Sand’s cart, and Sand showed me her artistic spur-of-the-past-seven-months: pictures, pamphlets, and surveillance reports made by the Portland police from the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s that are collectively known as “The Watcher Files.”

From these files, Sand and her collaborator, Garrick Imatani, have created a wide range of work—the project has many permutations—that include poems made from the documents and inscribed and printed on different mediums, four mailings of artwork inspired by the files to subscribers, a plinth to house their work, a website, and public lectures. Their work is currently in Houston, but will be back in Portland this summer.

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