My name is Jené Etheridge, also known as DJ Black Daria. I was born in the Kaiser Hospital that's now Adidas headquarters. I grew up in Vancouver, Washington, across the river from Portland. My mom immigrated from Mexico City when she was 13, and my dad grew up in northeast Portland. They met at a club in Portland. That kind of informs my career choices.
People have told me I have a monotone voice like the TV character Daria. She’s from an animated show about a girl named Daria in high school. It’s about her life being in the alternative crowd. It was created in a very politically mature way for its time. Some of the topics that the show covered were pretty serious for an animated TV show. She was very deadpan. Her voice was very monotone. She didn't have any inflection and her voice or anything like that. As a Black woman, I've been told I need to smile more, and I need to be more presentable. Naming myself after Daria is an "FU" to everyone who said I needed to perform a certain way to meet their standards. Daria was a show on MTV in early 2000, I believe. I'm taking something that people try to tweak about me and saying, this is the way I am. Take it or leave it.
With DJing, you have freedom to play. I play what I want, mess with genres and tempos, and all that. It feels nice to embody play.
I had a religious, sheltered upbringing. As I get older, it's been nice to explore my identity and different cultures, and things about Black and Latinx and brown artists that I didn't know about until college or after college. Right now, it is celebrating the Black diaspora. People focus on Black American identity. I'm interested in how Black culture informs different types of art, cuisine, and everything. That's been informing my art more and more as I get older and learn more.
Though it's rare to find Black artists from Portland, Oregon, I look up to them. I like Khaleel Joseph, one of the founders of the underground Museum in LA. He does more mixed media experimental, visual collaging, which I love. He has a project called Black News. The first time I saw that I was, "I need to watch this whole thing through, I can't do anything else."
I admire Emory Douglas, who was the designer for the Black Panthers. Tons of DJs. I mean, DJ Ben Bona, she's from New York. She's a Black Latina DJ.
I'm using visuals and audio to heal. Lately, we've seen visuals and sound used to talk about or create or spread trauma, especially for Black folks. That's my main intention, is healing and normalizing Black and brown folks doing fun, normal stuff. Not for any clout or to make some new meme. I want to see people dancing or having a good time.
Another thing that informs my work is being in club culture. Portland, it's a little different, because we're a pretty mellow city. Being able to have Black and brown bodies in a safe space can change the mood. When you don't have to worry about if your drink's going to get roofied or if the security guard is going to kick out your friend (which has happened to me before), it changes the energy.
I'm in Noche Libre, an all Latinx DJ collective based in Portland. We were doing monthly dance parties where we played all kinds of music from our childhoods: new Reggaeton, Old Cumbia, 90s Reggaeton, Dancehall, all sorts of genres. That's been an excellent way to channel all those different diasporic types of art through music. We're all queer women of color or people of color. People who go dance want to see the DJ reflected in them. They want to go dancing and see, "Oh, that person looks like me. I'm more comfortable". At least that's how I am. I barely ever see Black woman DJ in Portland. I want to see more producers diversifying the DJ lineup. Think about where you're promoting your events. Have a good relationship with the venue owner or manager. Have trust in them. I've had jobs where I know the security guard has our back, and if we say a person is misbehaving, they'll kick that person out with no questions asked.
I want to shout out some other club cultures in particular that are making safe spaces in Portland. There's the UWU DJ collective, it's U-W-U, but it's all queer, trans or non-binary people of color, who DJ. They seem to have the best time. Those are the spaces that people should be paying them to go DJ at those events because those are hard to come by.
We also have DJ Anjali, a DJ Auntie to people I know in Portland., She's been around for longer than us. She has been holding it down for the Indian and South Asian communities, and their parties are always enjoyable.
I was reading an interview with Arthur Java, who I became familiar with. In the conversation, they said, "If you take Black folk's race and history and oppression away, what is left in our art?" about that. I'm, "Okay, well, what art am I showing if all of that doesn't exist?" In my lifetime, that's never going to be a reality, that's not going to happen.
I think about how art can inspire quieter people. Maybe they don't have the capacity or the ability to do things like go to a protest. Perhaps they are taking care of an elder, or they have past trauma from big crowds or don't have the physical ability to go. For those people, art is a great way to send a message or share your voice, especially street art.
There's an artist in New York, her name is Tatiana; she's Black and Iranian. She does these giant pieces in New York that are kind of—it's usually an illustrated portrait of a Black woman. It'll have a text that says, "Stop telling Black women to smile," or, you know, "I'm not here for your consumption," something that, and their displays are huge. They're massive. So if you can't be at the protest, you can be creative in other ways and have a voice.
I hope that in the future, art is more accessible. When I grew up, there was not much art education at all. It wasn't anything I'd ever considered; same for my family. Organizations the Regional Arts and Culture Council, Open Signal, S1, they're all bridging that gap for people, which is amazing. I've been thinking more about the power of media and accessibility.
I use YouTube to find ancient, deep cuts, you can't find the song anywhere else besides on YouTube. I find joy in YouTube, and public media, seeing what's out there and compiling things. I realize that my deep Black holes where I'm looking through, all of these older house 45s from the 80s are different than some other folks. I haven't thought about that more. I was in my own bubble of music and 90s R & B music videos — not thinking about all the other stuff out there.
Seek out artists who don't look you. I need to work on this more, because I get stuck in my world, but thinking about the other types of diasporas out there.
I took a social media break; I was off of it for a month. I recommend it! I was calmer in general, less stressed out, and less frustrated. I was focused more on projects finding music or making mixes or learning music production. It was helpful. I didn't realize it until I got back on social media. I was way more distracted, continually rechecking channels. I thought my addiction was gone, but it's not at all. I'm already looking forward to taking another social media break. I know it's hard, but it was a game-changer for me. Social media can be a place for people to let go and be distracted, but also to experience new trauma all the time. We think it's normal.
I recommend constantly sharing whatever your art is, or whatever craft you're interested in with someone who appreciates it and can return it. Find and follow artists who inspire you, especially artists who are alive today because people are dropping knowledge all the time, but we romanticize people who aren't here anymore. Find artists who are active that you could communicate with.
I didn't consider myself an artist until recently. "I'm a curator. I'm a playlist maker." I didn't call myself an artist and it wasn't in my upbringing. I didn't grow up around a super musical family. It's not that I started playing piano when I was six years old or something that. I would say, keep creating for yourself. If you don't think you're an artist, but you love whatever your art is, create it for yourself, and then eventually it'll kind of transform and grow and evolve without you even knowing. Sometimes you have to take a break to get there.
My advice for Black and brown artists is to double your rate. That's it. They have money. We focus on one Black person dying at a time. A lot of stuff doesn't make the news, even. If you don't know who Breonna Taylor is, you should look her up. It's okay to be uncomfortable and have hard conversations. I've been having them lately. As a Black woman, I'm still learning. If you're White, know that it's okay to be uncomfortable. As long as you're open to learning and taking criticism and being open to changing your mind about things or changing your opinion about something, then yeah, I mean, do the work, do the hard work.
See more of her work here: https://www.instagram.com/djblackdaria
My name is Kayla Brock, and I'm 25 years old. I grew up in the western suburbs of Chicago before I moved to Portland, Oregon, and I studied overseas in London and then from London, spent a lot of time traveling to different countries. I've been to over 24 countries now. That's what I enjoy the most: traveling.
In terms of photography, what I enjoy doing is called "lifestyle". I do portraits, and then I started dabbling a little more in events. I take a wide variety of different photographs. I love working in magazines. Most of my jobs have been in magazines or some type of publishing, so I've always kind of had the dream of either doing photography for a magazine, I would love to see my photos on covers one day or to maybe even create my own scene. Those are my long term goals.
Right now, I’m doing brand photography. Working with different brands around Portland, especially local brands, if they're Black-owned or POC brands, I would love to work closely with those organizations and provide for them. I can provide photography for their online services or for their own personal websites and pages. that's also a great way to just get to know the community more and be more in the city, helping them to grow their businesses. Those are my dreams and goals, as of now.
I have a background in journalism. That's where I spend most of my full-time work, actually. Moving here, I never expected to live in Portland. I always had this idea that I want to live on the west coast, but I wasn't quite sure where. I didn't know much about Portland. When I started living here, I learned that it was considered one of the whitest states in the US, and it had a big KKK group. But personally, I have never experienced any outright outbursts of racism. But I worked in a TV station, I did hear about it a lot. It was sad. A lot of parents, especially, would email us into the TV station, and they would tell us that my kid got called the N-word on the playground, or that someone put something in someone's locker that was kind of racist. It was definitely sad to hear. I know those experiences do exist. But that's also a good reminder. Racism is taught. Many kids will learn racist things from adults and start doing similar things at a young age.
Oregon needs to talk about its history and recognize its history. I know they're working on housing for the generations of kids whose ancestors got pushed out of the east side of Portland. They're trying to reconcile that. But there are still many discussions that need to be had.
I attended one of the protests, and they were doing a march from Southeast to Pioneer Square. I ended up actually meeting them at Pioneer Square. That was such an experience. When we got there, I went with a couple of friends, there was already a little group gathering, they have a truck, and they had mics, and people were just sharing their stories: being mixed, being a Black man or a Black woman, etc. That was powerful. Then what ended up happening was people who walked across from Southeast, who did the Burnside bridge. They laid down on the Burnside bridge for eight minutes for George Floyd, they came into the Pioneer Square, and everyone just met together at once and filled up this entire space.
It was a peaceful protest. People were making sure of that. A couple people were trying to entice the crowd, but they were all so focused. We were all so focused on being peaceful. To see all those people sitting down in the square —they could all fully fit in the square, which was just amazing. We're all dealing with a pandemic right now. People are so scared about the Coronavirus, and still, all those people showed up in one spot, just to show that Black Lives Matter and to create change. That's history in itself.
In photographing protests, I wanted it to look authentic. I didn't want to try to put too much thought behind it. I'm free-spirited; I capture what I feel. For me, it was all about kind of getting the crowd and having this look of solidarity; more focus on the overall aspect.
This time right now is for us, Black people. This is a year, this is a month that will go down in history books, it will be spoken about. If people have the strength to do it, because this time is mentally taxing, people might not have the power to go out into these protests and capture what's going on. But this is a time for us to show our work, show our perspective, think about our own experiences. You know, I went to that one protest, and I hope to go to more, but just being at one alone is a breath of fresh air. It lifted a weight off of my shoulder to see all these people supporting me primarily, supporting this movement. It helps to get through all the pain that we're feeling and all the hurt we've been dealing with for years.
Exercise your right and don't put pressure on yourself. If you want to go to the protests only to be at the rally, do it. If you're going to be there to photograph, do it. You know, just don't feel you have to capture what this is. You can also just be in the moment.
To White artists: it's your role to support Black artists. You know, be conscious about what you're doing, and don't try to profit off of what's going on. I've seen a lot of White artists who are actually donating their money to Black organizations. Still, it's also, you know, that we want to be able to trust you and hold accountability and know that you're actually doing what you're saying. If you're going to write on Instagram saying that you're selling these prints and that they're going to be donating to this organization, it would be nice to have that kind of proof for that transparency that you actually did what you said. You know, I feel people are just hurt if white artists are trying to use this for their own personal gain. I think the only way to reconcile that is to show that there's a screenshot, here's the proof that you can trust what I've said. Transparency is probably the most significant thing you can do right now as being a white artist.
My background is in journalism, so one of the tangible things that I do is, you know when I'm feeling overwhelmed, or I have too strong emotions, I tend to write them down, just write down my thoughts, quick bullets, or even turn it into a little poem. I find that I tend to use a lot of those thoughts and turn them into a creative photography idea to fully release what I need to let go of.
In terms of the protests and what's happening now, your mindset should just be looking at something, looking at it differently. it's good to just kind of be outside, walk around and just kind of make a mental list of "Oh, what can I do with this that's unique, fun and that I would enjoy?" that's also important, is thinking about what you would enjoy to first before thinking about, can I sell this? Or what will someone else think about this, it's it should always be about what you enjoy.
The advice I would give that I have thought about and just I would tell other artists that the best thing you can do for your work is to one, explore your mind. it's essential to not let other people tell you how you have to hone into one form of multimedia. You know, it's good to be kind of, I don't think you so what other people say "Oh, you're just a photographer," you can also paint, you can also be a poet at the same time. I suppose you should use your art as a way for you to escape and to capture reality, and how you're portraying different situations. If you're doing events or if you're doing social justice work or activism work, it's just important to stay close to the reality of what's happening and just be authentic.
Art is a way to showcase what can't be said or what can't be written. It's such a great tool and documenting what future generations will see and how they will feel about what's going on in this world right now. it's an excellent way for people to come together.
In downtown Portland, there's a mural where people are doing artwork against the boards that have boarded up the Apple Store. It has George Floyd's face on it, and that's such a collaborative way to express what people are feeling. Different people can come up and write on it, draw on it, leave things by the doors. That right there in itself is an image of the future and of the role that art plays. I don't think it's ever something that will die down. In times of crisis and turmoil, art has been the biggest thing that has brought people through it and brought people together.
Hi, my name is Megan. I'm an abstract artist based here in Portland. I moved here a decade ago from Arizona. So I was a little bit of a desert rat, and then I came up to Portland. I'm working on a couple of shows. I'm working on some new bodies of work. I'm trying to develop my practice around art as healing. I'm trying to communicate that to other people through some of the different approaches and methodologies. I'm developing that right now. I'm also a writer; I write poetry and essays.
I started making art because I was trying to figure out who I was. I'd always studied art. My undergrad is in art history, my grad degree is in arts administration in museum studies. I have helped a lot of artists build their businesses, but never thought that I was an artist. I started making art probably six years ago because I was in the middle of—I basically up and quit my life for six months, what my life had looked like because I was not living. I had panic attacks every day and anxiety, and I had never had those issues before.
But it was basically indicating to me that I was not in the place where I needed to be in my life, I kept hitting a wall, I was not living authentic and true to myself. I needed to do something drastic in my life that basically changed everything to get back on the path that I need to be on. I wanted my own life according to my personal narrative, versus what other people were telling me was the thing to do: "Have a high-powered corporate job, make sure you get benefits, make sure you have this." Well, that job I was going through every day was making me feel dead inside. I was surrounded by people that I saw going through the motions of life every day, not living life. It was my worst nightmare. I had panic attacks going to work every single day in my car. I had gotten married, and I had always had this in my mind that I wanted to get married before I was 30. I found this person, and we got married. It wasn't going well at all. I was in this place of my life where I was like, "Okay, I'm going to this job I hate, and then I'm leaving that job I hate to go home to a house with someone that is falling out of love with me." that we weren't connecting. This is not the marriage that I wanted.
My grandma calls me one day out of the blue. My grandma's in her 70s; she's a firecracker. She owns hardware stores, and she's a stubborn, no-nonsense, powerful woman. She called me, she goes, "I'm going to buy out my business partner, I'm going to run the hardware store myself." I was like, "I'm going to quit my job this week, and I'm going to come out and help you."
I worked in the hardware store and the greenhouse all summer, and I would sit on the floor watching Criminal Minds with her every evening and start making art. I was in a no-fear place in my life. I was like, "I don't know who I am right now, I don't know what I'm doing. I'm going to be okay with that right now because I'm going to figure it out." But within this space of not having control, I felt the most secure. I left my entire life in Portland, all my friends, everything, to move to the middle of the cornfields in Indiana. I was completely isolated from a lot of the stimulus that I was used to, the opinions.
It may not have been the method that other people would have used, but it worked for me. I needed something drastic to get out of my rut, and to get out of my stuckness in life and to find out who I was supposed to be.
I became more honest with myself about having grown up as a Christian fundamentalist. In that community, I didn't have a chance to explore my sexuality. I didn't have an opportunity to explore who I was devoid of these expectations that had been put on me. I grew up with the idea that women's' principal value was as a wife and as a mother and as an obedient Christian woman.
I came back to Portland after about six to seven months and felt in tune with myself and fearless. That's been a massive part of how I always want to be, is completely fearless, and any fear that I do see, to be in the right relationship with it, to see it, and to see what it's there for and what its use is there for. I become a lot more open and communicative with my mother, who is a pastor. She's a Christian pastor. She's a Methodist pastor, and she's badass in her own right. She has pushed and pushed and pushed against a misogynist Christian environment that has continuously told her that she couldn't be a leader and that always said to her that she couldn't be a pastor. Now she's a lead pastor of a church. She tries to do everything that she can to invite women into the conversation and to be more inclusive. Even though I don't align with those beliefs, and I felt they were damaging, growing up, she's a safe person to talk to. We may have different ideas or approaches to certain things, but we've been able to still come together.
I talked to her about my sexuality and how it was hard growing up in a sort of fundamentalist environment, figuring out who I was. I had to do a lot of things that were damaging to figure it all out because no one taught me. There's no clear, easy path. That conversation has been interesting, and she's been accepting and lovely. The past six years have been a considerable period of growth for me. Gathering a lot of people around me who are also growing and tapping into and doing the thing that they are supposed to be doing despite what other voices might be out there.
Part of that, too, is being a millennial. We 're entrepreneurial. We think outside the box, and we give ourselves permission to do that. I'm not identifying as a lot of things all the time. It's really, more my intentions that guide all my actions and my relationships in my life. Like, my values, it's more about less—I guess it is the values I identify with. It's less about these specific words about how we describe myself and how I want to live my life and the way I want other people to feel when they interact with me. If you feel loved in my presence, and there's that generosity and showing up for somebody.
I'm known as someone that wears head to toe black all the time, but my actions are colorful, and I use a lot of texture. If you were looking at one of my pieces, there's an exciting interplay of having dark and light. I use a ton of white colors to create this bright space and this interesting interplay of negative space with the chaos of all of the colors and the textures that I use. It is gestural as well. When I start doing my work, I purposely don't do a lot of planning because I want it to carry the emotions that I'm feeling at the time. Through that process, it helps me exercise my feelings a little bit through the process of painting and creating these works. I use a lot of greens and blues and teals and turquoise. Then it juxtaposes with this more pastel yellows and pinks and big splashes of red. I do a lot of these big gestural splashes of red, or even neons. I'm using a lot of neons right now. I used a lot early on in my work, but I'm bringing back into the picture because I love how they stand out from painting and are bright and electric.
I love the tactile components of my work, because even if you put a blindfold on and reach your hand out, you can feel the landscape and the topography of the paint on the canvas itself, because it's thick. I have valleys and slopes and hills. They're carved into the shade of my works, which I enjoy the fact that you can appreciate the works on both a visual and a physical level.
I view abstract art and the art that I make as a conversation. So until there's another person there to interact with it and to make their own meaning from it, then the work to me is not complete. The work is continually reinventing itself starting and finishing, even if it's technically a finished piece because of your own physical interaction with it. Like, even people that come into my studio, people will reach out. After all, they want to feel it because some of the pieces also look like you've put a thick layer of icing on the cake. Different people, I see them reach out for it, and then they stop about half an inch from the canvas. They step back. They're like, "Oh, I love this." I'll encourage people, "No, keep going, and put your hand on it."
Because of the health things that I've gone through, people think that my work is a direct reflection of this, grappling with my own mortality, which it's not. It's a form of healing myself. This is a way for me to process and exorcise the emotions and the feelings that are inside. It may feel that six months that I started painting in the middle of nowhere, it was a meditative practice and allowed me to have something to do with my hand and have an outlet that was a ritual that became a way for me to sit with myself and to sit with my emotions and to sit with all of the changes that were going into my life, and create a more concrete way of thinking about them and feeling them. I have forgiveness for myself and for the circumstances around me.
I'm constantly curious about life and continuously striving for the most, I want the most out of life, right? Within going after the most, you have to be willing to accept where you're at in the present.
When you're trying to get from point A to point B at lightning speed without doing the work to get from point A to point B, then you're doing yourself a great disservice. You're not doing the hard work that you need to be doing to level up to get to that next spot because you have to pass. You have to go through each of those challenges, and you have to meet them and develop the skills to meet those challenges that helped in all of your future stuff because if you're floating through and somebody else is doing the work for you, you're handicapping yourself. Even though it may look the easiest thing to do at the time.
Because I've had to spend years in the hospital, that almost has become a meditation for me, I've developed ways of being calm and patient and present, even within something I can't control and something that's scary.
When I was going through my bone marrow transplant, I would sit in my bed. You don't know what's going to happen. I would sit there, and I would go internal, and I would thank my body for doing the best that it can do. I was in my mind, appreciating my body and having gratitude for it. This current situation that I'm in is not ideal. This is not what I've strived my whole life to get to. But because of all of the work that I did to face all of the hard things in my life and to question everything — to try to put things into a place where I wanted them to be — I developed fearlessness. That all served to help get me to a place where I could sit in the middle of a hospital room and use that fear as a tool to heal.
Fear is not always a negative thing. It can actually be our bodies trying to help us and look out for us. Running away from it doesn't help. Why is it coming up, and why is it present? What is it trying to teach us? I do honestly think that the reason I've been able to stay alive for so long in the face of an aggressive illness is 1) this healing practice I have with art and 2) facing hard things with grace and gratitude. That, paired with this strong community of support I have around me, has done probably about as much as the chemotherapy that I've received.
Art is a daily practice. Focus on the ritual rather than the output in the beginning. It's not about what you're making, but how you're making it. It was in that ritual that I was creating, sitting down every night, when I first started making art, getting some supplies, and exploring and giving myself permission to make bad art. Whatever that looked like, to me, there's no objective definition of what it looks like. But obviously, what I started with is not where I'm at now.
So the ritual to me is the most essential part. When I do teach my workshops, what I do tend to see is that when people, even the ones that keep painting, keep drawing, keep making things, they're doing it daily. They're actively creating. They may not be making that specific thing that they want, but by creating every single day, they're going to get to that point where they're finally figuring out their style and their rhythm and the aesthetic and their vision and approach.
There's never going to be a right time or a perfect time to be an artist or to create. It's never going to be suddenly you reach a particular day, and you're like, "Today, I'm an artist. It finally struck me, it finally occurred to me, my entire vision has come true. This hand of God has come down from the sky and now has anointed me as an artist. I am off to the races." You do not be yourself. You are the hand in the sky. You are the one that can basically speak into existence, when you're going to start and how you're going to do it. When you start to let go of any expectations, any preconceived notions of what you should be doing or making, comparing yourself to other people, letting go of the creative shame that has been in your life, you can go from there. It may be that to get over that, you're not even making anything in the beginning. Maybe it's you're reading art magazines, and you're getting inspired that way, and you're going to shows, you're going to galleries, you're observing. You're becoming more of the observer, but you're doing it in more of an intentional way. You're creating tension around seeing how other people are doing work. Developing that piece. Don't use it as a way to avoid doing, but as a way to help feed into the doing.
When I start my workshops, I usually give people a small canvas and a couple pieces of paper. The paper is meant to be more practice. The canvas is a permanent piece of real estate for the thing that you've conceived. Even that can be intimidating for people. They're already intimidated: "Okay, the paper is fine, but the canvas here means serious business. I have to commit to something, but I don't even know what to do. I've never used any of this before." So we ease our way in.
Think about who you are at your core. What do you like? What are you passionate about? What are your values? What are your experiences in your life that have moved you the most?
Your art reflects who you are and your experiences and things you want to put out in the world. Start there. You're not going to know what you're supposed to be making or what your concept is supposed to be or what your progress is supposed to be until you figure out where to begin. Begin the process of figuring out who you are. Being able to articulate some of those core foundational things that make you.
I've never liked the technical pieces of painting. I want to make it. That's how I knew that my practice is always from the hip. It's just, how am I feeling right now, I'm going to go with that. Then pick out the colors that I want. Make the gestures, pick out the landing place for it. Yeah, I knew that that's how I was able to make the best because if I started to think that I needed to prep more, or do more of this setup work that's too restrictive to me a little bit too overwhelming, a bit too prescriptive. That's not how I view the work that I want to be doing. That's a more accurate reflection of who I am or the work that I'm even drawn to. I don't believe in art for art's sake. That's never been my philosophy. Art should accomplish something or should help us be doing something or tapping into something.
I want my art to be a lens for people to figure out their own lives if that makes sense. I want people to see that through me doing my practice in many different settings and developing it. I was an artist, but I hadn't realized that until recently, I started making, that you too can do that, that that is something totally graspable, that you can go and start making art as well. That is essential to who we are as humans, is an art practice, and being creative saves us in many ways, and everyone should have some outlet in that respect. There are many times in our lives that we've been shut down in doing that, whether it's because we were told that our sister was the artistic one, or we were not the artistic one. You know, those kinds of voices stick in our heads. Those are traumas that we carry with us. Creative traumas stop us from making the art we're supposed to.
That's why I teach workshops. That's why I invite a lot of people to come into my studio and make art with me, because I want it to be approachable, and I don't want it to be this thing that is fear,, a fear thing for people that they don't feel they can make art.
How do I invite people into my practice with me, so they can go off and do the creative things that they're supposed to be doing?
Life is precious to me, and time is valuable to me. I want people to be living their most authentic selves in this life, and not thinking it's later and later, or living according to other people's expectations, or thinking they don't have options in their life. I also want to be able to communicate that, which is a lot to teach. Some of the events that I do are almost an art installation. They help to elevate other people and elevate the creative community. Demonstrate to other people the value of going after what you are passionate about.
All the time I hear, "I've never done this before. Where do I start?" or "I had a horrible art teacher that told me that I wasn't doing art the right way. I didn't do it anymore." Or, "My mom told me that I would never make money off of it. I decided to do something else."
You get people in a room together, and you give them the tools to make a piece of art. Everybody leaves that room having made multiple pieces of beautiful art that they are super proud of, and they go off, and they start making more.
It's important to me for people to escape the small traps that people get into in their lives. relationships are interesting to me too, those subjects, talking about, our relationships with each other and…Yeah, that's definitely a theme that I want to explore more in my work. Another development is having more interactive pieces to my work, whether it's actual pieces of neon versus using on paint, using lights in my work, or sort of audio. It's been a vision of mine to try to incorporate some of the health things or the medical tests that I have to go through regularly into my work somehow.
In the noise of everyday living, those moments bring us back to the thing that is keeping us alive, which when you're in these tests, and you're faced with like, nothing else matters, it matters that your heart is beating at that moment. That's the only thing that matters. It matters if it's the right way. Because if it's not, that completely changes everything. Distill thoughts down to the rudimentary level of no one else is living this for me. I'm the one that is having to do this. This matters more than all the other petty things that we can distract ourselves with, or that we've been convinced should be vital to us. Because at that moment, the only thing that is important is what your blood work looks like, what your bone marrow looks like, what your heart looks like, which are the core things of who you are physically. It's a strange thing to be on such a fundamental foundational level with yourself.
I would love to reset what it means to show art and to share art. I'm somewhat wary of the white box experience of art. How are you building off of that? What else is it accomplishing, other than asking for someone to come to your art to experience it? We need more avenues around art, inspiring people to create their own experience.
In galleries, people see things in a passive way. We're all standing around art. It's often the same people showing up in the same place talking about the same things. I wonder how then the painting itself is moving the needle toward being a little more significant than maybe a pretty picture on the wall.
Not that art can't be its own appreciation and it is decorative, I don't think that there's anything wrong with that. We're in such a time in our world, and in history, that art does need to be doing a little bit more heavy lifting.
Art needs to have a perspective, and it needs to have a voice, and it needs to have a purpose. Whether that's raising awareness about certain things, whether that's bringing people together into more meaningful dialogue, I don't know what that exactly looks like. Still, we need to be challenging it, and we need to be asking ourselves, is this the best way to share art, to show art? Can we make this better? Can we make it more powerful? Can we make this stand for something more?
That's at the forefront of my mind as I'm developing shows this year and creating new bodies of work and creating opportunities for people to come together. This is something I'm challenging myself on, and something that I want to continue to write about and research and explore to challenge other people.
Hi, I'm Sam Gehrke. I'm a photographer working out of Portland, Oregon. I've been here working independently for almost five years now. Before that, I was down in Eugene, working as a video editor. I went to school for video and cinema. Three and a half or four years into working as a video editor and on productions, I like, lost my love for it, and started moving towards still photography.
I'm originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Since moving up here and going off on my own working independently, I have a pretty big clientele base locally and nationally. And I've had my work appear in Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Spin, The FADER, locally in Willamette Week, in the Mercury. And then I've had a few things pop up. The New Yorker and the New York Times and LA Times, and a few other things, but I do a lot of photography related to music, a lot of portraiture, commercial stuff for agencies, lifestyle stuff, food photography, anything I can do to survive and make a living. But I really like music, portraiture the most.
I'm working on a personal project of quarantine portraits, which is just a way to pass the time and do something creatively for myself, which I haven't really been able to do for the past five years. One of the reasons that I started getting into photography was doing self-portraiture to get out of that rut of being extraordinarily self-conscious and, you know, a problematic use on myself and my body.
There were a lot of things that I did wrong with addressing my social anxiety. The time that it lasted could have been cut much shorter if I did. I will say that photography was perfect for combating that anxiety and just making me feel I was useful, or I had something to contribute. That it applies to a lot of like, creative things. You know, I was just lucky enough to—like, a camera is something you can take with you. Having that sense of identity that you're contributing something rather than letting yourself get in your own head or sink into your thoughts, you know, negative thoughts or whatever, it is a good distraction. It's translated pretty well into my regular life, I feel because I'm a lot more social even without my camera.
I started doing this personal project of quarantine portraiture, probably towards the end of March. And honestly, it was born out of an individual need to want to get out and see people and talk to people and see friends in any way that I could. And also just to scratch my itch to photograph people because that's probably my favorite thing to photograph. I had the idea to do it a lot more naturally than what of it now. That started out with just messaging a few people that I knew that I thought would be good for it. And I did the first few over like, two days and they came out really well. And actually, the first one that I did got around 800 likes or something which is, you know, I averaged approximately 70 to like, 100 or 110 typically, so that was really big. It was only at that point that I was like, "Oh, well, maybe this is something that could become something more," or, you know, obviously, people are connecting with it in some way. I continued on, and it was a combination of reaching out to people directly that I wanted to photograph, but also a lot of social media, crowdsourcing, in a sense. After that, the first two that I put out on Instagram and Facebook combined, it was just 30 or 40 people right off the bat. I would try to average four to five every day. Sometimes it would be a little less, but it allowed me to see people that I knew, and I would typically see every day. It allowed me to see people that I hadn't seen for like, five or six years, and sometimes even 10 years, but I'd remain friends with on social media.
I realized, about 10 shots in, that this wasn't something that was only fulfilling a need to see other people and be social in some way, it was a two-way street for a lot of people because I started getting a lot of the subjects that I photograph telling me either like, while photographing them or after the fact that, you know, I was the first person that they had seen in a really long time, or they just being able to talk to me a little bit, made their day a lot better.
So, it started out as just something that was like, self-serving in a sense, just me wanting to see people, but as it grew, it became something that was like, this is—it's suitable for other people. The particular way that it fulfilled my desire for socialization and seeing other people started to translate through the photos. And that's why so many people really connected with the series and continue to do so. Because even if it's not face to face, other people get to see images of other people stuck at home. And it's right in a sense to know or see some like, visual of others being in relatively the same boat and you know, stuck at home, staying at home with pets or family. It grew into that; I did not expect it to, but that's where it's at now. I'm trying to reach 100 people for the initial goal, but it's going to probably be spread out more depending on how long this lasts.
I go to wherever they're residing. I am using a 70 to 200-millimeter lens, which is a pretty sizable zoom lens. And I will photograph people either in their yards, porches, windows in their apartments, front steps, anywhere that creates a sense of distance and a sense of home or personal space, from a technical standpoint and making me think more about how I'm shooting. I can usually shoot from like, only a certain point, give or take, and I'm stuck in that plane. And then I have to think a little bit more about how I want to present it, making sure that the geometry in their house or apartment is all lined up. And then how I want to convey that feeling of distance along with like, personal space.
It's nice to do that for once and not have the freedom to just go wherever I want and get as close to a person or at any angle that I wish to when I'm photographing. It's strange to say, but it is almost—it's so like, humanizing, being able to see other people that I would typically only see in a setting of them working, or a set of them DJing or people that I usually would see at concerts or even performing at concerts. Now we are all stuck at home. It's almost the great equalizer. It's humanizing and very interesting to see people all kind of, at their homes in their own spaces. From a photographer's standpoint, I want them to be incredibly at ease and comfortable. That it makes a big difference in how subjects act in front of the camera when they're photographed in their own spaces. It's less like an in your face, this is a photo shoot, and they can relax and be themselves. A lot of that comes through in the photos that I've taken so far.
I've done all of these for free. I didn't want to have that underlying like, I'm going to make money because of this. And it's charming to work outside of that constraint because I feel even subconsciously, it affects my mood and my attitude towards my time. Also, I didn't want to feel I was profiting off of others' anxiety or misfortune. People have insisted on paying me for these, and they've donated, but it's totally like, whatever they can afford. And I do think that from the standpoint of this being a personal project and more of an art project or examination of humanity during this time, that if you were to charge, you limit your subjects. And specifically, for what I wanted to do, it's more just seeing people, and that's better than any monetary exchange to me. It reminded me that when I was just starting out doing this, I was doing a lot of work for free. And a lot of work because I wanted to do the job and I wanted people to feel good about themselves when they saw a photo of themselves and be able to just like, get stuff to people and get my work out there. And it reminded me that that type of thing is never—just because you're not making money doesn't mean it's pointless, you know? It always comes back in some form. Ultimately, with this project, I don't even want to think about money right now because it's just that, you know, it's an added thing to think about that that I have thought about incessantly for the past five years.
I will do free work and do my personal projects as long as I can scrape by, and that a lot of people, especially in photography, are going to have to just settle for that and buckle down and maybe think more about what they want to do creatively because, I mean, honestly, freelancing as a photographer, unless you're in that, upper echelon, it's a hustle, and you don't get the chance to think about your creative things that are bouncing inside your minds all the time.
There may be a shift towards a little bit more artistry, but I mean, in a commercial sense, probably a lot more product photography, a lot smaller shoots, a lot more one on one shoots and just possibly a decline in it overall. My bread and butter financially were event photography. Yeah, there's going to be a real downshift in that, but that's all from a commercial sense. That hopefully, this will meet the time that photographers aren't spending on working in the business realm. Maybe this will be a catalyst for a lot more creative stuff that comes purely from people's minds to go to the forefront.
In the past 20 or 30 years, photography has receded into the background as fine art, because images are principally what we see in a commercial sense. Hopefully, this may change that a little bit, we will feel a little bit more, what you would think of as fine art or human base photography coming to the forefront.
My end goal is just making people feel as comfortable as possible in front of the camera. And also working within their comfort zone for how long they want to talk to me. It's like, if somebody wants to speak to me for a half-hour after the shoot, I'm not going to be like, "Hey, listen, I got to go 10 minutes in." I'll basically stay for as long as you want to talk to me. And you know, I'll leave in five minutes if you're like, you don't want to communicate that long. My first approach to it is to make it as fun as a photoshoot as possible. Because the more you put those words "photoshoot" on that forefront or pedestal in people's minds, the more performative they become, and the less themselves they are.
The main thing is to just throw the rules out the window, in terms of a photoshoot, and also work within the confines of shooting from a fixed point and according to the geometry of the architecture of people's homes or apartment buildings. Once things are whatever, like, the new normal is going to be, in many forms of art, people are going to value interaction and socialization in a way that they didn't before.
What I want to do now is totally driven by my—it's something I want to do, and I didn't want to do it because of money or putting money in my account. I wanted to do it because I wanted to do it, and I wanted to see all those people.
See his work on his Instagram @samgehrkephotography
I'm a non-binary portrait photographer from Portland, Oregon. I'm 32 years old. My pronouns are they/them. I am a White person. I grew up poor, and now I'm in the artist/working class. I experience chronic pain and chronic depression. I have panic and anxiety. I am a recovering addict with four years of sobriety. If I were to call a religion mine, I would say I'm more Buddhist-leaning, but I believe in the power of mindfulness, meditation and prayer to a universal power of my understanding. Those are a few of my identities that shape my perspective. I'm charged by solitude, good music, doodling with my left hand, creative cooking conversations with other creative queers, walking my pup. I'm a Taurus. I'm grounded, mindful, playful, and I love color.
In my line of work, my messages are generally falling on the spectrum of self-love, acceptance, and mindfulness. I try to create and spread positive, honest, uplifting messages to anyone who finds my work. I’m inspired to create photographs that capture emotion and depth paired with words that match the feeling tone of the image. I have an intention of not editing flaws and showcasing folks for who they are and celebrating their bodies as they are. When I take photographs of someone, my intention is to create a safe space to empower the person I'm working with. I feel a lot of folks are misrepresented or underrepresented. Being able to celebrate their bodies gives younger people of those types more agency in finding out who they are and celebrating themselves as they are and not trying to conform to this passing narrative or other traditional beauty standards. That is the future: showcasing beautiful trans and gender-non-conforming bodies, bodies of all shapes and sizes and skin tones, making sure to not edit flaws, pimples, or cellulite, capturing the beauty of bodies that have disabilities, recovering addicts, folks with mental health issues, not the well-off, slim, White cis bodies that Instagram started with.
In the future I want more lifting each other up, more lifting the voices of our Black, Indigenous, trans, and queer friends, more art, more connection to each other, more opportunities.
Before [the COVID-19] quarantine, I saw many people helping each other out. Even folks I know who don't have many resources were offering up the resources they do have to folks with less than them, offering that up freely, not expecting praise, doing it because it was the right thing. I saw a lot of that. I want more of that in the future.
I want to continue to learn and grow artistically as much as I can. My pleasure comes from creating, and being able to create the types of things that I want to create. I see a vision in my head. Sometimes I don't have the correct lens or the correct lighting or whatever to make that image come to life. By growing my skills as an artist to be able to match what's in my brain with gear, skill, and a growing community of creatives, I believe I can create the future I want to see.
My art process starts in usually meditation in the morning. I do a lot of meditation and grounding, lighting incense and candles. I create a space where I feel comfortable and filled with joy. Then play. I love doing some naked dancing in my kitchen while I make breakfast. I love being able to play. If I'm going to paint something, I draw with my left hand first to warm it up and loosen up. If I'm writing, I brain dump before I actually get into writing something. With photography, I arrive on location an hour or two early before the model gets there. I take a slow intentional walk around the area and feel what I want the images to hold. Also, I am looking for the best spots with lighting.
I recommend other creatives to read “The Artist’s Way”. That book has taught me that you know, no matter where you are on the artist spectrum, if you have never made art in your life and you want to start , no matter what, you are not a fraud, you deserve to create. You will make art that you don't like, and it will get better. Collaborate with other artists. Fill your life with art of all kinds and make it beautiful.
Photographs to me are much more than a picture of a person. I feel led by love, and I find it in each person I work with — more about the feeling of a photograph and the emotions that it brings up.
I'm a big optimist, and I see the good side of things. The photography industry as I know it is a beautiful, collaborative and uplifting community. The more the merrier. Anybody is invited to see this art. It's not , “Look at this art, you should pay attention to us.” It's more of, “look at how much fun we're having. You could do this too if you wanted. You can come to the party if you want."
Hi, my name is Sarah Turner. I currently live in Portland, Oregon. I am an artist, curator, community builder. I run a couple different things. I run Pink Noise Radio with my co-host, DJ Mac B, that's on Freeform Portland FM. We [feature] ambient noise by femme musicians in town all around healing. I run a project called Pink Noise Experiential Party that is similar in aesthetics, in that it is mostly noise and ambient-based music with experiential installations that are all pink. So it's a chaotic but peaceful setting for people to enter into. I also make a lot of TV art, I call it. I'm sure people also call it that, but lots of people installations with old CRT televisions, looking at electricity and glitch, and thinking of TV as a sculpture and an object, and building that into different formations and spaces.
I am also part of a collective called The Cult of Artists, and we make experiential lounge spaces for festivals and raves, and just show off things for people to have a good time when they're feeling good. So I grew up moving around a lot. We lived in Maryland when I was born, and then we lived in rural Illinois, and then we lived in Williamsburg, Virginia, and then Appalachia, Virginia. I moved across the country by myself, I think, four times, just back and forth from West Coast to East Coast. Finally, I landed in Portland about four years ago. But throughout that time, I did a lot of weird stuff, I think. Yeah, like I said, I always wanted to get into art, but I just was so discouraged from doing it. I think especially where I grew up, and my family background, it just was more proper for me to get a real job, and make money to save money for a house and get married and have a baby, and all that kind of stuff.that just never felt right for me.
I went to college, and I went to grad school to try to get a good job, a stable job. I did. I did. I had many opportunities that I'm thankful for to be able to learn and grow and. Then I got a job working in the arts and nonprofits. Then I realized that nonprofits ask a lot of you, and can be tiring because they like to pay you in passion, which is great when you're like, 22 and you've got a lot of passion, and a lot of drive. I did, and that was fun. But I think that now looking back on those experiences, things that I'm thinking about towards like creating a different economy around the arts is looking at a different model.
How can you keep your practice and your community and your project sustainable in this capitalist society that we live in? Because ultimately, we do live within this society, and it can be a temporary reprieve to kind of build your own world outside of that. Still, then it's not inclusive, and you spend more time building this infrastructure, rather than the thing that you're trying to do, which is trying to make art, and share that with people.
I'm in this new space where I'm kind of…Well, I'm not working at a nonprofit currently. I'm exploring what it means to piece things together and to do freelance and to do kind of odd jobs again, and thinking about different models of sustainability .it's been funny, I've had a lot of weird inspiration; should we go with the Burning Man rattle? Which is to not be dependent at all on some kind of benevolent grant type of thing, to just have a job, that you can make a lot of money, and then use that money to do things that you want to do. So no strings attached type of work, but the thing is that you need a collective to pool money together to do that, which is great. I love doing that, or is it to create some kind of other for-profit endeavor that can then subsidize the money that you want to use to do art programming. Because that is one thing I've learned, that art programming does not pay for itself, you always need subsidized funding.
Thinking about how to tap into different markets of money to be able to have a pool to take from to pay people what they're worth for their time and their efforts, and materials too. So yeah, it's interesting looking around the country and having that experience too, living in all these different places and seeing different models of how people are interacting with art and entertainment, and how they're spending their money and how much money they have. Portland's about to boom with millionaires. I mean, it already is but with all these other company is going public, there's going to a lot more money here, and so how do we connect those people with art in a way that's not the traditional like donor model, because that doesn't work anymore, at least for the things that I envision for the future of Portland.so that's fun. That's fun to think about. It's a whole new territory, understanding how to play the game, but just find more interesting loopholes, I think.
In my curatorial practice, I like to bring people together who are of varying backgrounds and skills to create this multitude of learning environments for people to come together and share skills and experiences. Because it's not just about displaying art but about building a community around that to create sustainable conversation and relationships in a particular space. How I like to think about that is from more of a holistic aspect of not just inviting someone because they're cool and they make cool art, but because they're genuinely a good person who is deeply invested in the same community that they are participating in.
I kind of look at it as like the social programming aspect. That's a gross word, but it's a way of like thinking about how you can provide this kind of container for people to grow in a particular way. What I like to do is come up with a theme and a topic and a space for people to congregate in to allow this growth for kind of a fourth space, which Ray Oldenburg wrote about the third space, which is this communal type space that people can come and go to. It's similar thinking of a bar or a park, or another kind of public space that there may be regulars who kind of regulate the codes in the space, but you can go in freely and talk with people and forming relationships .that's different from work, or from home, in that you do have flexibility of being comfortable. You're not regulated to particular rules, but you still are presenting your public self to people.
A fourth space, I like to determine as a little bit more pointed, in that, you're meeting in public with other people but for a particular reason. So it could be a church, for example, you're all meeting for a religion that you share. I sometimes think about art like that, as like a church that you go to, kind of feeds you and gives you faith and life. Art's fourth space is developing a particular community around a central issue. So the fourth space that I like to create is around new media art, providing tools and opportunities for people to present their work and learn and grow together.
People can come from all different backgrounds. That doesn't matter, because what they're coming to talk about, coming to learn about, and coming to share is art.so through that commonality, they can kind of shed their differences in order to kind of focus on this one thing together. Then through that, through their negotiations of both participating and presenting and learning, they're then also creating deeper relationships that can be sustainable friendships and potential new collaborations and partnerships.
In thinking towards the future, I just want to create more communities where people have that solid bond together and can then grow collectively and have a collective impact on their ideas and causes that they care about for the community. Because with more people and more resources, you can do bigger things, and that's important.
Thinking about the future, all of the installations and performances and videos are about setting intentions. A lot of times, I make them in accordance with like moon ritual cycles and particular times of the year.so setting an intention for creating a better world, I guess if you want to get that big, but definitely providing something better for personal manifestation. Usually, my own, and then sometimes I lend that out for other people to experience as well.
I've always kind of dabbled in art. I did a lot of dance, I did drawing, I did singing when I was younger. But I kind of came in through the backdoor as an artist, as like a big A artist, I think, because I did more like art administration and curatorial work where I was always in a supportive role of artists. I always wanted to be near art, but I never thought that I had like the chops to do it myself. While I was at Open Signal, I noticed that every single thing that I did with media there, which for those of you that don't know, Open Signal is a public access TV station, and a media center. Everything I did to prepare for anything, an exhibition, a class, a performance, an artist's talk, I had to build the infrastructure of electricity, which just basically means like running an extension cord from a wall to a computer, laptop, projector, what have you. I just started realizing how important that medium was. It's for that particular tool, I guess, but that it can be so fickle and so fleeting, too. I think that that metaphor is interesting.
There's a weird history of electricity and especially, electromagnetism, which is fun. I found this book during this residency I went to at Signal Culture in New York, that was called A Boy's First Book for Electricity, or something, and I read it. It was like, first letter book, or something like that .it's just interesting how we as humans have figured out how electricity works and not how to hone in, and we have advanced so far because of it. I primarily like working in new media, and you literally can't do anything in new media without electricity.
That's kind of how I started down the rabbit hole. Then I don't have great skills as like a filmmaker myself. I don't know how to use fancy cameras. I knew I immediately was drawn to experimental film, because I was like, "Oh, I can just [bleep] something up, and this is fun, and you can extrapolate different means things from that." the best way I found things up was with these video processors, which are all circuit bent, old video wares, so character generators, or video mixers, or VCRs even like, anything people used to use these tools for live editing on TV.now, we don't use those, we use things on our computer. But now people use those tools, and circuit bend them to just like...You can use BPMC, Fluxus, and totally just glitch the hell out of like some video, and it turns into this new, beautiful thing that looks like old tracking lines but beautiful patterns that you can control and manipulate yourself.
What's so interesting to me about that is that you were physically using your hands and hardware to manipulate this image that can seem...Video is weird. It's fleeting and temporary, but it seems so stable and real, because it's an image, right? It looks like our reality. But in fact, it's just all these dots and pixels that are put together to make us think a certain way. It's definitely an optical illusion.so with these different tools, you're able to take this electricity and move them and shape them in different ways that the tools did not originally allow you to do it. To me, that's super punk. So it'll take someone else's footage and [bleep] it up to how you want to do it and like remix it, but then also reshape these tools to do something that they weren't necessarily intended for, and to kind of reclaim that power as the toolmaker, too.
That's why I like kind of creating new works around electricity because it seems like such a dominated manufacturer, a medium that's like so hard to access unless you have this vast knowledge of physics and electricity too. A CRT is a Cathode Ray TV, which is the big boxy TVs. I'm sure a lot of us had them growing up as kids in the 90s. They don't make them anymore. Obviously, they're like all flat-screen TVs now, but what's unique about a CRT is that it has different physical and chemical properties than a flat-screen does now.so it works well to interact with older modes of media players. So VCR is you know, DVD players, anything that has an RCA hook up, those three prongs of red, white, and yellow.
With my practice, I prefer to use CRTs because they work well with capturing electricity and glitches in electricity so you can get that kind of funky, screwed up looking stuff that happens to digital media. I like using CRTs because they are like physically manipulating the electricity within the object, rather than just kind of like a filter, or an app that you can put on top of a video. For me, that's kind of interesting, in that it's this idea of looking at similarities and metaphysical properties in both our bodies and technology.a lot of the work that I do with the CRTs manipulating energy from our bodies to then display on the TVs themselves.
So, for example, like this one project, I just made, what's called an aura reader, or grounding aura reader, which I thought was pretty clever. I'm usually pretty bad at naming things, but grounding in the sense that like grounding your body energy to the earth, but also grounding electricity from the technological object as well, too. So with this one project, you stick your hands on a pyramid sensor, almost like your hands are in the formation of praying, and the sensor is hooked up to an oscillator that I built.then the oscillator translates the completed circuit of your energy touching the sensor to the televisions, and then displays back to your energetic properties. So it's kind of an aura photograph, but it's live with a moving glitchy image, and it's chaotic looking to represent the things that you need to heal inside of yourself.
The electricity goes through the oscillator through RCA cords, and then into the TV monitors, so into like, the video feed, and then it shows up in the black and white static, but it's always different patterns depending on the energy that you are putting out. So when it is working, it'll show you that sort of screen, or it'll be like squiggly lines, or it'll be horizontal lines, or vertical lines.
The participant is able to see their aura on the screen, and then I am there to assist them in reading it, and then have different devices for healing their aura after it, too. So I took that to Spaceness Festival up at Southwestern Washington, and I had Amber Case and Crystal Cortez do sound healing sessions for people, individual sound healing sessions. So they would see their aura, we decipher kind of what they needed to get more grounded. Then they would have an individual healing session where the sound would help to mitigate the chaos inside of them. Then I also made additional healing cards that people could take away with them for prolonged healing afterwards, which a lot of them were pretty funny.
For squiggly lines, people were pretty neurotic and had a lot of energy that had loose ties just kind of evaporating into space. A way to ground them was to get deep moon energy. So I told them to take a walk to the beach by themselves—It's always good to be by yourself when you're trying to get grounded—Take off your shoes, stand in the sand, and then pop open a beer and stare at the moon, and with each sip, as you stare at the moon, kind of internalize this moonshine into yourself. That's a kind of funny and ritual to have this experience with this liquid and the moon and yourself to kind of just get back into your body. So a lot of the work that I do is semi-ritual practice, but also just kind of tongue in cheek and kind of silly too.
Some of the other glitch or archetypes were vertical columns. For that, I kind of interpreted it as saying your energy is strong and powerful and precise, which the vertical columns do represent that fairly intense kind of collected white energy on the screen with little movement. Then I said, as a solid, no rising above the melody. However, it's possible, but their energy could be stagnant, unchangeable, and immutable. So my prescription was to work on themselves in order to let new light in and to become flexible for...
For that one, a lot of them included like little kind of silly things that represents electricity grounding too. So part of the instruction was to touch the first piece of metal that you see and feel the static leave your body. Which is also common in energy healing and aura healing, is to imagine your chakra energy coming out of your root chakra and going deep into the earth.so it is a similar kind of practice of releasing static and releasing your own org energy.
And then yeah, dots and artifacts, and that your energy is ubiquitous. When you enter a room, people can feel it, which in a lot of ways is great, you know, there's certain people that you just can feel coming into a space, but sometimes that can be draining, to be putting so much of your own energy out into the space, and it can also leave less room for others to share their energy with you too.so sometimes you kind of miss smaller details from other friends. That was fun. So I told people to go down to the beach. These were all kinds, site-specific to being the southwestern sea view. So, go to the beach, go along with your phone, and then just count the stars, and imagine each star you see is a beaming array of light down to you.in turn, you're beaming your energy back to it. Which I thought was a fun correlation with the dots too.
It definitely looks stars-like too. Yeah, and it goes on and on. So I like that practice of just being aware of your energy and noticing how other tools that we have created can also incorporate weird metaphysical metaphors for that as well.
I'm not alone in this. I have many friends and collaborators that also participate in Glitch Witchticism, but essentially, it's using video and glitch, in particular, to create these new rituals around things in a beautiful hypnotizing kind of way. I've been on this kick to do these altars recently. I did one... This is going to be a whole series. I did one for the Winter Equinox, or sorry, Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, and then I'll do one for summer and autumn as well. They're all using televisions is a kind of the primary communicative tool to show people how rituals can exist in a space on a loop.
I enjoy participatory theater or participatory art. It's not socially engaging. It doesn't have that feel-good kind of thing. In fact, I sometimes like to make people feel comfortable. I guess it's the same as my curatorial practice, which is I like to provide space for people to do weird things, but with comfort. So I'll create these TV ritual sculptures that have a time-based ritual happening on the screens that seems kind of impersonal and passive, to allow people to approach them in their own way. But as they stand near the altar, the ritual will become more clear, they'll see different movements and different objects being used that are on the screen and being acted upon. Then those objects are also on the altar itself in real life with people. So it's a tool of showing them how to use the different objects themselves. Then they can participate with this kind of like ghostly, headless character who is walking them through this ritual, and so they can participate in it, and as deep level as they want to.
With the Winter Solstice one, I found a ritual for the Winter Solitaire, which is an independent singular which can do the spell to help them get through the winter season.so in the directions for this particular spell, it told you to gather candles, smoke of some kind, so incense, bowl of water, yeah, just different colors, specific colors candle. So red is an important Christmas color, or excuse me, Winter Solstice color. There's silver, there's gold.so I went searching for these on the internet, found footage of all these different objects. I did, but then I was like, these feel like much of the Creator. So then I put them through the different glitch machines to cleanse them, and then put them on the screen to then represent these different objects that would be placed in a regular ritual space. It was this installation that people could go and experience the spell for themselves. Also, put the ritual in the entire space itself so that it was manifesting it for everyone just by being there.
And then for the spring equinox altar, I created my own spell, which was...So, spring equinox is all about shedding the darkness and allowing room for growth and bloom. I created four steps of ritual, which was to cleanse yourself from the space by lighting some incense on the screen, then lit a candle and turned on a baby TV monitor on the screen to allow light into your space to kind of brush out all that darkness that was in there.then made an elixir that you could drink to wash away any remaining negativity from the winter before. Eat a strawberry to then plant the seeds for blooming of love.so then all those objects were also represented outside too.
So it's fun, you know, people often look at art like something that can't touch.so when they approached the altar, and there were strawberries there, they assume that they weren't supposed to touch them or eat them. So I had to kind of like gently guide people be like, "Please eat a strawberry, this will help complete the spell." so we've been looking at that some more just through different collaborations I've had. I just worked with Devin Cabrillo and Sage Fisher and my good friend Alexis Rittenhouse on a video for Dolphin Midwives, where we kind of extrapolated this idea of Glitch Witchicism in more creating this narrative for a song off of the Dolphin Midwives' new album called Flux. Where it's these characters, who are visited by this kind of ominous creature who takes them into Sage's alter layer and instructs them to do all these kinds of ritual techniques to then free her from this alter cave.so a lot of the footage is just of them doing these made-up rituals that are just kind of silly and strange but have similar aesthetics and movements to things that you might find in more of a traditional spell casting.
Art is weird, and it can be anything and everything. I frequently think the loudest stories that we hear from our computers, and art allows another channel for distribution of hearing from other people who don't necessarily have those tools to access, to share their story so loud, so...that's what's important. It's like being able to share your story to create empathy in the world, and more understanding .it's a great way of allowing us to visualize and celebrate and just be excited about like other people's voices too. How do you be an artist? I think the first thing is that you just say you're an artist. I think you just have to say it, because I think for me, I was always intimidated by like, "Well, I can't say I'm an artist. I didn't go to school for it, my art's aren't that good," like, and that held me back from doing it, from practicing it, from like, engaging with it. I can't figure out when... I think it might have just been like, the first time that I showed my work that I was that someone was like, "Oh, yeah, Sarah's art and like, she's an artist," like, describing me to someone and I was like, "I guess I am, I guess this means I am this act means that I am." so then I just was like, "Okay, I'm going to embody this and do what an artist does and extrapolate from there." If you can find space to practice art, that'll let you just go wild. Having a studio is quite a luxury. I highly recommend it if it's possible.
It's also important just to like, take the time to do it, and do not feel ashamed about it either. I think that our culture like promotes so much about productivity. Like, any time that you do, being productive, you need to get paid for it, which I agree to some extent, but also as an adult, There are a slight few times that we play anymore. For me, art is very much about like playing and experimenting and practicing. It's important just to take that time to do it and to prioritize that and not feel guilty about it. Yeah, that's important.
I've always thought that art is a communicative tool. For me, I think why I like experimental art is that it provides a conversation and an idea without hitting you over the head with it allows a lot of room to think things over and over without a definitive answer, which I think is a good thing for us to negotiate with. Obviously, there's a lot of like, chaotic happening right now. I think we tend to fall to yes or no, black and white, us versus them kind of a thing, and I think art can provide this nuance and the gray area that can allow our brains to live in the dissatisfaction of not having the correct answer all the time.
I'm a musician from Plano, Texas, but I've been in Portland for about 12 years, and I've been playing guitar for probably 23 years and been out gigging since 2004. I started out in a band in college called Chico Y Los Gatos. That was my band name for years. I released two albums of original music. I was actually a theater major, and then I switched to English and majored in English, but all at the same time had this band going that I would play in Denton. When I was in Portland, I got into a lot of tribute bands. It's almost all women tribute bands and stuff, so that's been really fun, and got my chops up by doing that.
I never thought I would enjoy tribute bands so much. But it turns out, you know, if you learn other people's music, you're really expanding your Encyclopedia of music knowledge, you know? I love learning guitar riffs from classic rock. That's why my main gig right now is Major Tom Boys, all female-identified David Bowie cover band.
What's next? That's a big theme in my music. Now that I'm in a marriage, there's this... I can write about that. I do, actually. I have one song about the time I fell in love with my wife. She had cancer at the beginning of our relationship. I didn't (until years later) write about that time, but I feel I captured it really well. At the end of 2008, when I met her, it was a hard time.
My album title comes from a drive out to Astoria, Oregon. Out there you'll see trees taken out because of deforestation. I always thought it'd be cool to do a photo shoot out in one of those areas because this is, sad beauty of it. What do these trees have had to say, that are gone now? I'm trying to figure out, what would my ancestors, how would they have responded to this? You know, the destruction that we're seeing, that seems to be beyond our control? When did the scales tip? When did things go too far? When do we let technology run without us? Was there a moment we could have stopped things? Is there still a moment to stop things, you know? Is it okay to still be comfortable in our lives, you know? That's something I asked myself a lot now too.
I have another song that says, "Stand in the middle of the road a crow or a sparrow. Wait for the car to lose control. Ride the wind or the window." When you come upon a bird in the road, it doesn't matter how close you get, they will fly over, you know? So that's what I was thinking about. I was thinking about the way they stand there right at the edge until it's the last second. Don't be afraid to let things get scary, and put yourself maybe in danger artistically as well. Another verse says, "Jump from the highest of the bluffs. Point your feet towards the river. Sink till you're almost out of breath. Kick your legs and go deeper." It's about pushing yourself to go further into your fears. It's essential to practice that in your art and then in your life.
Music, it's a vehicle for connecting with people that you might not connect with otherwise, and always has been, and will continue to be in the future. That song I mentioned earlier called, it's called Oceanside, about falling in love with my wife. I had a man come up to me at a show, talk about how it reminded him of him and his wife, you know, and falling in love. I was, "Oh, that's so sweet." It's relatable to anyone that falls in love. You know, and that that's the importance of music.
Artists, particularly in this country and a lot of countries are not valued. If I was going to change a belief system, and if I wanted to speak to one goal in the life that I've always had in the back of my mind was, how do I sustain artists, you know? And, the belief system is believe that artists are valuable. Practicing art, viewing art, experiencing art, making art, all of that stuff is so healthy for you. It's vital for your health. It's crucial for your education and learning. Art is absolutely essential. You know, I still have trouble committing to the job I'm in, because I feel if I get too stuck in it, I'll never quite get my music out there. I feel trapped in my job. But, be okay with another career -- you're going to do your art, no matter what. If you do it and you practice it, and you get yourself out there, then you're doing it., there's nothing... What else is making it than doing it?
I used to write more about relationships when I first started writing music — the ups and downs of dating. What I've written about has diversified as I've gotten older, and I write about more significant things now than my personal relationships. I write about more social issues now.
I am biracial. I'm half Mexican, half white, Italian, but I'm a white-passing person. So I feel there's the responsibility of white people to do better for people of color. Being that I'm biracial, you know, being true to my Latinx roots about that. I do need to do better as somebody that's both a person of color and a white-passing person of color.
I wrote a song that goes right before…it was around where the inauguration of Trump was, you know. I was trying to figure out how to move forward without a heavy heart. The song starts with, "Quiet down your mind, nobody's fooled, nobody's here by mistake,," basically trying to say this is, you know, we're all here. We all brought us here. The song asks: "I call to the beasts who live within the ocean waves."
What's next? How do I respond, and how do I take responsibility?
Hi, my name is Emmanuel Onry. I'm a Portland native, an opera singer, and a contemporary, soulful artist. I'm an educator. I strive to bring all these worlds together and bring culture and diversity to my listeners.
As a kid, probably about seven years old, I turned on the TV one day, and there was an opera on. It was the only thing, the only channel that came through at that time. I sat down and I started to recognize a connection between Marvel and the superheroes that everyone celebrated back in the 90s. I witnessed a connection between superhero culture and what I saw on TV before my eyes, which was classical opera music.
We think it's a stuffy thing, but for this seven-year old's eyes, it was: villains, people cheating on one another, hearts being broken, death, betrayal. It was extremely exciting. With that in mind, I said, “This is what I want to do.” I ran to my siblings and to my stepdad at the time, and I said, “I want to be an opera singer...ooo-ooh!” I hadn't hit puberty yet. I had this huge, high soprano voice, and I was singing around. Little did I know, several years before I was born, my mother also wanted to be an opera singer. She auditioned, and she was accepted for the Portland Opera. Then someone came along and told her that she couldn't do it because she had three kids. She totally gave up that dream. She never told me this until later on in life.
When I was ten years old, my father passed away, and there wasn't a lot of conversation around his death. From that moment on, I went mute as a kid. That year was a very silent year for me. Other than music, I was fairly quiet. It was the year that a lot of people didn't have a chance to get to know me; I lost a lot. However, there's one thing that stood very, very close to me during that time, and that was singing and music. There were moments I would sing over myself. I’d weep and cry. I would sing hymns I witnessed at church at the time, or sing different songs that would breathe life into me, would comfort and console me. Oftentimes, I'd be singing at one or two o'clock in the morning crying and weeping myself to sleep. That was the thing that comforted me. And yes, I did hear, “[knock-knock]...you need to cut that out. Cut that out, son. It's late, like, stop that.”
Music was a real tangible thing for me. My whole family sang, but I didn't have any training. I was told I should probably never sing. The gift “wasn't given to me” (quote from my aunt). “Baby, you need to grow up and be a doctor if you're going to do something, because you didn't receive the gift.”
Then at age thirteen, Miss Helen Deets from Clear Creek Middle School came to me. She told me that I should sing in choir. I was like, “Okay, sure, my family sings.” She heard me sing, and I was like, “This was fun”. She was like, “You actually have a really, really, great voice.” She gave me a song from “Carmen” later on; she started putting me into different competitions.
When I went into high school, I was told that I should not sing classical music because my voice was soulful, and that the color of my skin was connected to my soulful voice and therefore, I should stick with what I know. That was a subtle way of saying, “You're African American; this type of music is not meant for you.”
There was another moment that I found my voice, and I would say that it was probably around the age of eleven. I was going to church one day, and I was allowed to walk to church for the first time by myself. I didn't have to go to Sunday School, so it was a day to be celebrated. On my walk there, I witnessed a dog that hit a fence, and the fence toppled a little bit. I was like, “That was a close call.” He kept on hitting the fence and eventually the fence falls over. This dog is charging in, and all the sudden, I use a big voice. The dog stopped. I was thinking to myself, “This dog is listening to me. This is strange.” I continued to talk to the dog, yelling with a huge voice. My voice was traveling a block and a half, trying to get this dog's attention. The dog stops, goes back. There was a voice that lived inside of me that was really, big, and there was something about it that was convicting, honest, authentic, real. It had command to it. Later on, I realized that's the same sound classical singers use.
I eventually started to mimic that same sound. I had this big space. I knew that space; I knew that command, emotion, healing, how to sing to the soul. From that moment, I started to cultivate those things. I studied about three hours a day in my garage. Then I started to compete. Two years after that, my junior and senior year, I became the number one [high school] opera singer in the state of Oregon.
I was doing gospel music and trying to keep both worlds very separate. I had a chance to tour to sing background for Josh Groban. Then I witnessed a moment between pop music and gospel music like with his “You Raise Me Up”: gospel backgrounds, classical singer in front. I thought, “There might be a niche to this.”
Now I'm using the same technique with a little bit more soul, and a lot more authentic classical music, or traditional classical music and more, and also very traditional gospel music that I know, and fusing them into an EP project, which I'm creating now.
Everyone has a voice, and everyone has the ability to sing. I believe that the human voice can be strengthened like the human ear by working on intonation, vibrato, breathing, and other technical things. Some people have it naturally, and other people have to work for it, like myself. The great thing about working for something is that you can also create a science out of it as well. That is the part that I really love about being a vocal coach and working vocal health and public speakers. It's a major thing of knowing what someone is doing with the voice in order to change it and create a healthy voice.
Many public speakers lose their voices quite often because of their speech patterns, using the voice wrong, speaking too harshly on the voice, or not remembering to simply breathe between sentences. They're running out of air by using the voice wrong. That's where we as vocal coaches, and people who've studied vocal health, are able to assist both speakers and singers.
Everyone has the ability to sing, you just have to work for it.
We're losing the power of the voice in many ways: being able to advocate for ourselves, speaking out about right and wrong. We’re constantly using technology, where we communicate silently with our hands. We're more increasingly losing the ability to use the voice. Why do we need to reclaim the voice? Well, you have to wonder why it's so scary to do karaoke in front of our friends. There's something vulnerable about using the voice. The voice is very telling. As a vocal coach, I'm able to assess if a person is sad, depressed, what they've drunk the night before, what they've eaten the night before, what they've eaten before the lesson. I'm able to tell if the person is having issues with coming in on entrances too late or too early. Maybe they have issues with hesitating in their daily life or they deal with issues of being on time. There are tons of assessments that I can assess from hearing a person sing. We can change the voice by changing regimens in our daily lives.
There's power in using our voice when we use it correctly.
There are small changes that we can make, both in our daily lives and in our musical lives, by simply using the voice — to breathe life into individuals and circumstances, and also to to kill off or damage. Action follows the voice.
When I am teaching a technique in vocal sessions, I will tell someone to do a visual action that reminds them of where the sound is going, or how to visualize the sound. Usually that causes a change instantly within the voice. If a person is singing high, sometimes we think of squeezing the voice. When we get stressed, or we think something is difficult, we squeeze the voice, we put stress on the voice. What if we do something with our hands and make our hands fall down while the voice is shooting high? That's called contrary motion. We can use that same contrary motion in life to decrease stress. Reclaiming the voice in that powerful way can both bring forth a change in mental health. That is the power of the voice.
I’m someone who, like many other artists, never fit in. We live very, very lonely lives, and then we find other people who don't fit in who are like us, and then we're like, “Wait a second, this might be a thing. Maybe if I live life long enough, I'll maybe find a community of people who are not status quo, who see the world as I do, who are authentic.”
I grew up in the ghettos of Portland. There were ghettos, believe it or not. One summer there were six killings. They didn't happen to die, they were murders. To grow up in a space like that, but then to somehow arrive into a community and culture of singing week after week inside auditoriums with predominantly White audiences...there's a dichotomy there.
My first rehearsal: I walked into our rehearsal space right off of Water Avenue. I see this Russian woman who is the custodian. She greets me. I see that she's Slavic, and start a conversation. She says, “Yeah, I'm Russian. I'm from Ukraine.” I say, “I spent time in Ukraine.” We have this full conversation in Russian; she's helping me out as I'm, you know, stumbling through. She tells me that no one has spoken to her in the last three weeks, because her English is broken. She appreciated me taking time to speak to her. So then I go to rehearsal.
Then the artistic director approaches me, “So, your last name is French?”
I say, “Yes, it is.”
She says, “...but you speak Russian.”
She goes, “You also speak French?”
“Yeah, I'm okay.”
She looks me in the eye a little bit, and then I look her in the eye. We take a pause, then she goes, “What are you, a part of the witness protection program or something?”
We both laugh. Then she looks at me again. I realize, “Hmm, that's a very odd statement. If I said that I was a part of the witness protection program, that would be more convincing than for me to be an African American young person that also has the skill set that everyone else in this room has. They are all linguists. You have to study about three or four different languages in order to be in the opera. It'd be easier for me to joke about being a part of (or to be a part of) the witness protection program, than to be in the same space and simply love the same music.”
I realized from that moment, all eyes were on me.
The Russian woman said, “I like the chernyy guy.” Chernyy means Black. People were talking. I was new, young, African American. All eyes were questioning why I was in the room. “How did you get here? Why are you here? Everyone is twice your age. You've got to pay attention and you got to show up. Learn your music, and whatever issues that you have with learning, just learn the music, figure it out, do your best to shine.” I did. I ended up being recorded on a few things with OPB, having different photo shoots, being heavily involved in the company. Other doors began to open up as well. But it was odd, it was lonely. I had friends come along and help me and teach me along the way, but the experience of going into this space with no one else looking like me was a very lonely experience.
In many spaces I felt like I had to work overtime in order to regain soulfulness. The soulfulness that's experimental in Portland, the indie and jazz communities, that fuels my soul. I had to reach out to all these different communities to fuel this space, because I was doing rehearsals at time, which was heavy. I knew I needed soulfulness to maintain my own authenticity. With my own music I hope to take all these fusions of sounds and put them into one EP.
I have felt like the poster child. You dress up, you play the part, and then you go home into a world that looks nothing like the opera. I've been on stage, and seen people in the audience. After the show, they give me a thumbs up, “Good job.” Then I take off, you know, the wardrobe and makeup, and I'm walking home, and I try waving at people. They grab their purses and pull their partners closer. They don't speak, they don't use their words. I’ll go out of my way to say, “Hey, did you enjoy the show?”
They'll say, “Yeah, I enjoyed the show. You should see it sometime.”
My response is, “Ah, thanks. Actually, I was on stage.”
“No way. That is so cool. Wait, you mean you were on stage?”
“Absolutely. I was on stage.”
People don't see you. You bring them into an experience on stage and they see you as part of a story. Outside of that, they don't necessarily see you.
A friend of mine performed “The Color Purple”. She was getting on the subway in New York. “I got on the subway” and someone called her a “black b****”. They said, “Move out the way.” They pushed her out of the way and they got on to the subway. It almost made her late for her show.
She gets to the show, she performs the show, you know, raving reviews. Aterwards, they have a talkback, and they're signing autographs. That same man who called her a “black b****” comes up to her and says, “Hey, that was the most amazing performance. Thank you so much...” raving and raving and raving about who she is and her performance on stage.
She's looking with a blank face like, “You don't see at all that I'm that black b**** that you pushed off the subway. You don't see me at all.” He's asking for an autograph.
That is show business. Some people see you on stage and they see you as your gift, they see you as this stunning thing, but they don't see you day to day, and nor will they treat you with honor, dignity, or simply, “I see you, you're here, you're human, you're like me,” common courtesy.
That is the strange dichotomy I experience hour by hour, place by place: Portland, LA, New York. People don't treat you a certain way in the States, till they think that you're worth something. We need to work on that, treating people with utmost respect. You never know who you're talking to, who you're listening to, or who you're sitting on train with, or who you've cut off on the street. It's always good to simply do good because good is good. You don't have to taste all of the best pies in the world to know that a pie is good. You know that it's good because it's good. That's my way of navigating the world. You know some things are good, because it's good. You know what is righteous, because it's righteous. It feels good down to my soul.
If I have to question if it is, then maybe there might be some ill intention there. Let's search and see what that is. But goodness is good and it's important to treat individuals as such.
It's extremely important for artists to a) be an artist, and b) use your superpowers and your influence for good.
I’m finding ways to use my voice as an activist.
I'm working with this company called Third Angle New Music on a project called “Sanctuaries”. It’s an opera about gentrification in Portland.
Gentrification is a dichotomy. Classical music is a mostly, European, White form of music that an all-black cast will be performing. Most African Americans come from a soulful, gospel, type of music, a jazz background, rock and roll. Our culture was the genesis of those. To end up doing an opera about the gentrification history of Portland, being initially a White utopia, is wild. These are the things that are and that were, and are again becoming. I was not necessarily wanted in this city; my family was allowed to be here. They created red lines in order for us not to be in certain spaces. “Let's get rid of the riff raff. It's wrong. It's bad. Crime rates. There's no good in this space. Let's totally change it. And not only change it, but push everyone out that looks like this specific demographic.” It's hurtful. So to navigate this story artistically and honestly, to do the soul work together, is exciting.
I encourage every artist to use your voice to your advantage by helping educate. Educate, and educate in love. Continue to be the students, as well.
I’m working with an African American Requiem. Damien Jeter, is a phenomenal composer and opera singer, is talking about our story, the American story.
For African American roles for men, we have two stereotypes: either you are overweight and funny, or you are muscular and sexy; you are the sex symbol. Very few roles have anything in between. If you're short, skinny, this or that, you're not fit for the camera, you're not fit for the role. It breaks my heart when other ethnicities are able to show who they are.
I have to break that mold and do that work.
In activism, speaking, singing, living, it's important to me to encourage other creatives to no longer fear, or feel like they're alone. I'm in it with you.
I'm extremely excited about the EP that's coming. It is the only time in my life I've felt like I have had work that represents who I am as an artist and an individual. I have to navigate many spaces in many worlds every day. I can put them into one song: the Slavic community, the Black community. I’m able to add all these beautiful, inspired sounds, and visuals, and I'm able to put them into one project and be very intentional about that. We've created it in classical form, but we have traditional sounds of gospel music, and also soul music with pop technique. There are different formats and different cadences that we use and different canons. These inform the listener about what's coming next. We're planting small sections that are preparing the listeners’ ears for what is to come. In my song ”Living in the Light”, we have taken three or four different melodies from other tracks and planted them.
Joal Stein is a civic curator, poet, and activist focused on investigating spatial and social power through contemporary culture, working across art, urbanism, architecture, and social engagement. He serves as a lead editor and writer for The Changing Times, and a contributing editor for Deme Journal. He's worked with nonprofits, governments, and institutions across the United States and internationally in Colombia, Italy, Ethiopia, and India. He's received an Autodesk Foundation Design Futures Scholarship, a Banff Curatorial Residency, and he's been a cultural agent for the US Department of Arts and Culture. He holds a Master of Science in Design and Urban Ecology from Parsons, the new school for design. He's organized exhibitions and progressive activist art projects for the UN Habitat, the Institute for Public Architecture, People's Climate March, and the Fight for 15 Coalition.
Joal Stein: Hi, my name is Joal, and I am a curator and writer. My background that led me to be a curator and writer is actually as an urban planner and designer. That led me to do a lot of work in different cities and different communities around the country, and internationally. What always captivated me about that work were hearing the stories of people and their lives, and how their lives intersected with other lives in particular places, leading to an understanding issues of power and access, inclusion and exclusion, both on the individual level and the community level.
Now, as a curator, I work with artists, mostly social practice artists, who are asking these questions through their work, and about places and people and systems and structures and I help them find a way to put that work into content but also to make them happen. And more recently, as a writer, I've been leaning more into my identification as hard of hearing, sensorineural hearing loss from birth, having had hearing aids since I was a baby. I've been trying to understand how that has shaped my view of the world and lead to more questions of how other people experience their capabilities or disabilities in different ways in space. Not just as people that are hard of hearing, but people with all different types of disabilities across the spectrum. Then also reframing disability not as a source or a lack thereof, but as a different way of viewing the world that has its own power and insight and ways of being.
When I graduated, I was working for the City of Portland and what is now called Prosper Portland. And at the time, it was the Portland Development Commission. I was doing community economic development and sustainability. And I realized I am not a bureaucrat. There's a lack of creativity and not really space to ask critical questions in those kinds of situations. You don't get to ask difficult questions. And so working with artists became a way to enter into that. That opened up this whole exploratory and critical, creative practice, right? What is a job? Or what is a good job now? What is work? And what does it mean to be a community? And what does it mean to be a community in transition? And how do we ask questions about race and legacy, legacy and race, and these communities and address them?
I went to graduate school in New York after doing that, in a program called Design and Urban Ecologies. So in a sense, we were doing a lot of political economy. Like, what are the things that created this place more than the actual physical elements of it. So it became such an experimental forum for all of us. And we were actively shaping that program too. And so it gave me a lesson in what it means, like, to make a pedagogy, to create knowledge and to produce knowledge. How can you take a personal and political stance about the type of work you wanted to articulate whatever project that you're proposing, and pick your place and then make it happen, figure out how to correlate forces around that. So the idea of knowledge, it wasn't this thing that we necessarily acquired. It was the thing that we made.
One of the most compelling projects in graduate school, so we were working in Medellin, Columbia, and the premise was to do sort of a community planning project that use arts as a form of social and community engagement. We were working with a theater group, it was called Casa Amarillo, the Yellow House, they called it. It had started as a theater of the oppressed workshop crew, a theater troupe. The theater troupe would go out into the streets and do the performances, these street that people were afraid to be in as a way to reclaim space through art, as a way to use their body as a form of protest and use movement of body and use these stories as a way of reclaiming this space. And that was eye-opening to me around where we talk about who gets to be seen as the arbiters or the holders of knowledge or expertise because they were tasked by the city - or they were given responsibility by the city - to run the community planning process in their sort of regional of the neighborhood.
What ended up in that experience was a way to be flexible with different methodological frameworks. So our forms of producing knowledge weren't going around with reports and surveys or we weren't just doing traditional data research, but it was using these games and players almost. These immersive theater plays with them, and our understanding of that place was so much more granular because knowledge is never necessary like this person moved here and this was the date. But knowledge is oftentimes in the body, right? You know this when you see dancers, it's like, oh, there's so much that the body holds, and trauma or joy or desire that you can never articulate fully, but the way the body moves expresses it differently. And those are things that are hard to capture and to... See, it's not accepted in a formalized education system, right?
Another project, the idea was just to use art as the vehicle of organizing, right, like let's turn this march into one giant art parade in a sense, where all these different coalitions can have their sculptures and dances and songs, but also to learn to work with one another and to see themselves as part of a larger whole. And so we use art as a way to bring the different groups together and housing and climate justice and became such a joyful thing. And that was really special where it's like you'd ask people to come and help make a banner or a really cool giant sculpture or paint together, and then you build a relationship that way.
Art is important in terms of politics, not as a decorative tool at the end of things. Frequently, you will be told, "Artists can paint the banner and make it look beautiful." But artists can actually be creative strategists in many ways. They ask questions and think of out-of-the box solutions or approaches to things. One big question is: what is the role of an artist in society, what's the role of an artist in public life? How do you support those things? And you're seeing that more and more where you have artists-in-residence in City Hall, state governments. What role can an artist play in society? What role should an artist play in society today, and what role should they play in politics?
I've heard this phrase a lot, and I'm just trying to decide whether I believe in it wholeheartedly. There's merit around the notion that 'the battle of the future will be won through a battle of imagination.' That battle for imagination is a very political one - it's what kind of future do we want to build? What kind of future do I want to live in? And who else gets to be in that future with us? And the power of artists is in creating a sense of this imagined future that you can touch feel smell, you get a glimpse of a little bit of it you never get the full future. A lot of the politicians right now that people are excited, really mobilized by, have a sense of this moral and civic imagination that they offer, of here are the things that we can build, not necessarily empty promises that we want to give you this, but here is a society that we can create. Politics should ,in my opinion, be a forum where we develop an imagination of how things could be. And artists are so good with that, are so good about telling these stories about here's how things could be and here is a story about us right now."
There's this idea that a lot of artists, at some point, have to reckon with where they came from. You have to come home to yourself at some point. The home that you stepped out of, if you don't reckon with that, you're missing a large part of who you are.
An artist named Allison O'Donnell had a piece at the Hammer [Museum] in LA — they're hard of hearing. Her art statement talks about the first time she got digital hearing aids, she's hearing the sound of a banana peeling for the first time. And she's been doing this years-long video piece asking these questions around essential community questions.
Walking into that exhibit or the video is showing, there are a lot of the people there that had been cast. And it was like mostly community members, high school students, lots of different types of people. And a lot of these sort of teenagers, younger people, all deaf or hard of hearing. are in it, and they were there to see this exhibit. And so many of them are on their smartphones, signing to their friends and showing them. And I had never thought about how Facetiming had opened up a whole new world of communication for signing people and deaf people. And so that was a whole cultural aspect that I just didn't engage in, right. I was more in the hearing world and hard of hearing, but never in the culturally deaf community. And so I was like, "All right, I need to figure out how to think about what this means," because, to me, I was always just normal. I never really felt like…
There were times when I was like, "Okay, the hearing aid's battery's dead, now I've got to, deal with it," but to me, it was just like having eyeglasses, right? And then I had this readjustment almost where I was like, "What the 'F' is normal? There's no normal." And to redefine normalcy as this range of embodiments and knowledges and capabilities, right? To redefine normalcy as this spectrum that everyone exists on an individual level and plane. And the ways in which specific environments are set up is what, in fact, dictates whether or we're seen as capable or disabled. It's almost like turning that idea of disabilities on the head.
And now, I was reading this book. It's the best book of poetry I've read in years called Deaf Republic, written by a hard of hearing poet. And there's a line in there that says that "silence is the invention of the hearing." And so to integrate that where deafness isn't necessarily a lack of hearing, it's just another way of being in the world, to not define these things as a lack thereof, but as a different source, a different way of operating and being a part the world.
Being hard of hearing has shaped how I view the world and how I move through the world and how I communicate with others in the world and how I choose to be present in the world. And how then bringing in my sort of urban design and architectural background of what are specific spaces that work for me and don't work for me?
I'm trying to bridge the sense of understanding either the products and the systems and structures and what it means to be hard of hearing and move to those things and how I can ask more significant questions about that, and use that as a way, as my point of view, to then highlight systems of inclusion or exclusion. The battle of the future is also itself a battle of imagination, and offering a vision of the future that people want to believe in and see themselves, and then providing a vision that people can see themselves coexisting with other people in that. In that battle of imagination, it's frequently seen around the corner as something that isn't quite there yet. In articulating these glimpses of what is yet to come to be, an artist has a particularly unique ability to draw from that sense of unknown. Give it form and provide it with life in the present so that people can see or taste or touch or hear or move through something that they don't necessarily know fully yet, but they understand a bit more. Artists have this ability to reinvigorate a sense of imagination in public life and a real sense of vision for the future. Not one that's sold to us, but one that we are actively participating in.
Think About the Periphery
We only step into the frame
in small moments, where
the beauty is in the background
where life plays out
where a world is made
and holds you steady
our bodies can be our own borders
lured in by a reckless promise
we index ourselves against the crowd
subtitling the intentions of others
a neediness for the parts
of the world i cannot control
while focused on narrow affairs
life walks through stage
blocking in the periphery
and with my hands I
am still running through my lines.
If you'd like to see more of Joal's work, you can check out his website at radagenda.com.