My name is Damon Smith. I'm 28 years old, my pronouns are he, him. I'm from Portland, Oregon, born and raised, grew up mainly in Beaverton. I'm of mixed background; I have a black father and a white mother, which informs my art in many different ways.
Things that influenced me have always been comic books and stuff like that, very animation-influenced growing up. I didn't get into doing murals and street art until after I had received my first box of comics from my dad, who was in prison at the time. It was one of the first gifts I had received from him after probably 8 or 9 years of absence growing up. I cherished those comics and really dug into them. I had this golden vision of him being this really great guy, and I wanted to make him proud, I did all I could to learn as much as possible about the comics he sent me, and in turn, I was already into art. My mom is an artist. She didn't take it professionally, but she's always been painting and influencing my art, as well as my grandmother before she passed.
Once I got the comics, it was kind of this combination of I want to draw these things and being inspired by something my dad gave me. I really want to make both of them proud, and I really thought it'd be a good idea to see how comics are made. That's when I started getting into comic books. It wasn't until about a year or two after that my mom showed me the movie Beach Street. 80s movie about hip-hop all elements, rapping, and graffiti, break dancing, and to this day, it's probably still my favorite movie. She showed me that because my dad was an old school big boy, he was a breakdancer, and dancing was always my hobby as well at that point. I did dancing and art a lot growing up. Once I saw Beach Street, it kind of made me want to push the art in a graffiti direction.
I had this comic book background already, now meeting, seeing those characters in a graffiti typesetting, I thought they look similar, they're very vibrant, very poppy and your face. I wanted to do as much hip hop and art-related things with comics as possible, which was my main focus. All growing up, I was into break dancing. I moved up to do dancing for Nike, and they flew me around here and there to do certain events for them while doing graffiti forum later on for a little while.
It wasn't until about 6 or 7 years ago that I decided that I should transition into only artwork because I saw its longevity. I saw that I could do this the rest of my life; unlike break dancing, it's a minimal timeframe. I was really enjoying break dancing into it. Still, I felt the need and call to really get into doing art entirely. That's when I started expanding into painting portraits and using different mediums, playing with oil, acrylic and trying all sorts of other things. I was doing concept art, comic books, life studies, and anything to advance my skills.
My focus and how I've gotten into art is about trying to make my parents proud. Then I found out I have a real passion for art, and I noticed it was affecting other people; they were enjoying it, it was bringing out different conversations that I might've been afraid to have through my art. That fed the fuel on the fire, kept me going, and that's kind of how I got to where I'm at now.
When I was 16, I lived in Beaverton, and I had a buddy in a gang. I was his best friend; I knew him since I was 5 years old, we always did art together, he was still into break dancing with me, and it wasn't until high school that gangs appeared. It basically came down to his initiation being a robbery of another opposite gang. I got caught up in that. I was there when the initial conversation happened. I was stuck between not feeling like I could tell an adult, and as an adult now, I realize I had different routes I should have taken, but I didn't feel like I could tell anyone. My mom was a single mom, my dad wasn't really around at the time, and I was alone a lot. I felt stuck between trying to help my friend and doing the right thing; I ended up getting caught for the robbery (burglary), I was actually severely beaten, I was stabbed through my hand and pretty beat up by the people in the house, I was left in the place by myself.
But that's what happens. I don't make any excuses for it. I got what I deserved in my eyes. I'm not angry about that. I don't blame any of my friends for leaving me there because I didn't want to be there either. It was a horrible situation to be in without feeling like I had a way to get out of it. Once I was incarcerated, I was sentenced to 5 years, I started receiving mail from my mom while I was imprisoned, and she would send me comic books every week while I was in County jail. That's when I really thought this could be my way out, and this could be something that I can find peace in while I'm in these walls, and it would help me to explore different worlds, different ideas, and study art at the same time, and I ate them up.
I read as many comments as I could, and I would draw pages from them all the time continuously, and the entire time I was incarcerated, I focused on art solely. I ended up only doing 3 years because I got out for good behavior, I had half my time, but then they had to take another 6 months or something to get you situated and find a place to live. I did about as good as you can do while in that situation. I wasn't in any more trouble, I didn't cause any fights, I kept my eyes down and focused on my work. Luckily, many people, regardless of background, respect artists, wanted things for their mothers, for their girlfriends. I didn't have issues as far as gang affiliation or anything like that. I am always about respect. If I give respect, I expect it, and that's a pretty level playing field for everyone. You know, if I'm respectful to them, they were totally fine with me, and I didn't bother anyone, because I was always drawing the whole time.
While I was in there, I got my GED right away, and then my high school diploma. I even started getting some of the college credits as much as I could, all in there. My senior project was what career path are you going to take? I said, multimedia artist. I'm trying to live up to the thoughts I had of myself while I was away from the world.
I did the life of Frederick Douglas graphic novel with a guy I met at Rose City Comic-Con, named David F Walker. He does many professional comic books. He was a mutual friend of another guy, Abraham Mustapha, another Portland citizen who does comic books that were also a breakdancer growing up. That's how we knew each other. It was through dancing. It wasn't until years later that we realized we were both into art. But he connected us… he had a deal coming up for a book that he wrote, and they were looking for an artist. He threw my name in the hat, he told me they had gone through like 20 different artists trying to figure out who and kind of how I was like the last resort.
I guess they liked my work and said that they wanted to see me draw quickly — something that I would be able to do really fast, not take much time on. I went on my break, went to my car in the middle of winter, drew Frederick, and sent it in, and then later that week, I got a call saying that I got the job. The book was basically about Fredrick Douglas's life from beginning to end, fighting against slavery and for women's rights and equality for people. It was about how you started out as a slave and ended up a free man and his journey. I mainly worked in pencil for that book. Usually, you do pencil and ink, but the publisher thought it would be a good idea because he like my pencil work to get in there and add hard lines, really sick outlines. I decided to do it in real pencil instead of thinking about it, to give it that texture of being worn down.
I was not super precious about all the forms and everything being precisely correct because I wanted it to convey the mood more than looking pretty. It wasn't a pretty time, and I thought studying old photos that are already grainy, and the expressions on the people's faces that I saw during that time, and the audio that I was listening to, talking to you about the events that were going on and the documentaries and all those things kind of made me feel like I had to do more about a rugged look to it.
As far as the murals I've been doing lately, during quarantine, it's…Because I did that book, I've always been aware of racism and inequality and all these issues. I've had plenty of racist things done in my life. I'm not the darkest skin, but most people know that I'm different, and I had a big fro growing up, and braids and you could tell that I was mixed. I've had people write nigga on my artwork and call me mud and all sorts of stuff like that. When I did the book, I was very aware that it really opened my eyes to even more of the issues and how long everything's been going on because I had to dive into his life. I had to study this stuff for a year.
Once George Floyd was killed, I felt like I needed to do something with my art. I felt called to do it. I couldn't sit around and do nothing. It took me a while at first because I have a 3-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter, and I work long hours, and between commissions and whatnot, I didn't have time to really get out there. But when I saw people were doing murals and painting and showing their support and getting it out there for the world to know, I felt it would be wrong of me if I didn't do something to shine some light on the situation or give some hope or anything that art does. I thought I need to go out there and do these paintings and let it be known that these are people, and regardless of any background or wherever you're from, no one deserves to be killed, and everyone should be treated equally no matter what. It's a human right, that's as simple as it gets, and that people don't understand that is where the conflict lies, that's where it becomes problematic.
I'm not the kind to start busting people's heads out there. I respect everyone on every part of the protests going on, but I know I had a specific skill set, and I know that an image can speak a thousand words. I thought I would do that. If it's in your face, you can't ignore it. You're forced to see it, whether you said you did or you didn't. If that can shine some light, then I'll keep doing it, and that's the reasoning behind why I got out there. Because after Frederick Douglas and being stuck in that world for a while, and everything that's been going on lately, I couldn't sit by and do nothing.
I tried to find imagery with good lighting and capture as much of their essence as I'd want to see, or I want people to be introduced to if they have never seen them before.
I did a lot of photo reference, and then went in there with aerosol spray paint and did it very old school, didn't use very many different caps or anything, straight can on the wall.
I tried to make the pieces pop; I wanted them to be kind of in your face. I wanted there to be good contrast of color. The first one I did was a blue man, a head shot of a black man and an orange around him. To kind of get your attention, I want you to look at it. I wasn't trying to do something that you could walk by quickly. I wanted it to be something that catches your eye.
The next one was Breonna Taylor. I thought a grayscale with yellow, bright yellow around her would make her glow. I wanted her to shine because she's gorgeous. I liked that to transfer through to my artwork the best I could, and then the blue is very mellow and kind of welcoming, but then we have the orange around that as well, around the blue lettering to drive it home. Those were the ideas behind that.
The next mural I did was "protect your future," which I did with a couple of buddies I've worked with. On three of the projects, I worked with an artist named Steve Limits. I grew up with him as well, and that was nice.
Then the last one I did was Elijah Woods, and I did that one myself, and I really liked the idea of it being like a purple, cool purple with a bright background to really make you look at him. I wanted you to look at his face, how kind he was, how sweet he was, and how sad it was that his life was taken for no reason.
I would love to keep making art that impacts people and that I feel matters and needs to be seen. My hope is that people that see my work in the future and in the past can put me into a kind of different category of caring for people and know that it's not a way to make money or that I'm trying to draw superheroes in capes, that I'm trying to send a message of equality, and that people need to be accepted, and…I guess my goal is to hopefully make a living off of doing these things, I'm not currently making a full-time living off my art, I'm still in the trenches trying to work my way there. But the goal for the future is to support my kids and my life by telling these stories and continuing to do murals and work on comic books and anything that people can consume and just…I don't want to limit myself to one thing. Right now, I'm teaching myself more airbrushing, trying to learn the digital side of things. I'm doing whatever I can to continue moving forward, creating content that matters.
I've come to realize that if you're not feeling it, don't force it. We're our most prominent critics, right? We don't like our own art. I try to find what's good about it, I try to get pumped upon myself, it's essential to see where you're going, what you've done, what you feel like you can do better, pointing out your own flaws to yourself and seeing what did work. The main thing I try to do is look back through my whole post on Instagram, and see how my videos come together, or mild illustrations, or flip through my book and get into the mindset of okay, I've done this before, I can do it now. What did I enjoy about it, what didn't I enjoy about it, what works, and what was I feeling during that time. How do I like the lines and how the lines came out, how do I like the figure, what about the composition that works? I found looking at your work helps loads.
Obviously, you're looking at people that inspire you. I would do that sparingly because you can also discourage yourself a little bit. After all, you're like, oh, I'm not that good, or I'm not going to be like that, or it's not going to come out how you want, but I would try and capture the essence of what inspired you by their work. Look at someone else's work that you like, and instead of looking at the image or listening to the piece or whatever art form it may be, think about why you like it and what inspires you about it, and then try to put that into your own work. Because I feel like if you're inspired, it's much more comfortable, right? If you're not inspired, if you're sitting there unsure of what to do, you need to get that spark going by seeing something you enjoy, whether it be your work or someone else's.
My name's John Akira Harrold. I am a fourth-generation Japanese American of mixed heritage. My dad is white, and my mom's Japanese-American. I'm 33 years old, and I've been living in Portland for 7 going on 8 years, I think. I'm originally from Colorado. I was born and raised there. In terms of how identity intersects with the work, I feel it's primarily through the lens of race. The current job that I do now tends to be around the concept of publishing and is frequently—although not exclusively in print. I'm interested in thinking about how publishing can work to coalesce either a group of people, or a conversation, or this moment around whatever thing you want to connect that energy around. It commemorates or culminates that or expresses it within the physicality of a printed item, a book.
That hasn't always been how I've approached creative work and printed work, but it's what's interesting to me now, about creative work. I'm also in a place where a lot of what I'm interested in changes, and I don't have a strong sense of who I am as a creative person. More than anything, I actually respond to whatever interests me at the moment, and then I try to pursue that.
Another thing that informs what I do creatively is also this interest in graphic design and art. ever since I learned about typography and image-making, I've never looked at the world the same, and studying those disciplines, has opened up things creatively for me even though their primary application is commercial. Thinking about visual languages and visual work through the lens of graphic design has helped me create new work and find ways to problem solve in the creative process.
Before that, I didn't go to school for anything creative. I did get the opportunity to go to school to study a discipline called ethnic studies. I majored in Asian-American studies, which was a hybrid degree. Which was an exciting experience, and I learned a lot about political things, and got to do a lot of self-exploration during that time as well, to understand more about my identity and my own family history, and what my role was in society and what responsibilities I would have because of certain privileges.
I carry a lot of that with me today, although my politics have changed. But then again, similar to my art practice, I don't even know how to put words to it. I guess it's just-- I don't comfortably fit into a category of wokeness. I would have when I was in college, and now my politics are grappling with finding a political home. It seems part of being a politically active, creative person is also engaging in developing your politics and its consequences. Again, I feel this is a constantly changing process that I have a hard time articulating and setting in stone.
When about bookmaking and typography, I definitely think of this non-profit in Portland called the independent publishing resource center. I got involved with them maybe 5 years ago and learned about letterpress printing. It's a traditional form of printing used to create various printed media types, from books to posters to newspapers. But it rests on this idea of setting type by hand, so, putting individual letters of words together in a string. Something about being able to pick the letters and construct the words without picking up a pencil: I was able to make marks on paper, and for me, that was new because I've never felt compelled to illustrate. It's coupled with you also using letters, and you can say something and articulate something and communicate.
It is also a rich medium for people interested in language, specifically poets, because setting many words by hand can take a long time. People who can have an economy of speech can find a home in letterpress. Letterpress led to this interest in print, and it also led to an interest in type and typography. From there, I figured out how to learn all the Adobe programs, and I still consider myself learning. Even though I use them daily, there's so much depth to them.
Then I also spent a couple of years apprenticing with this guy named Spina, who recently moved to Arizona about a year ago. He ran a small print shop in Portland that was a unique business where he worked mostly with artists and made custom books. He was embedded in Portland's music community, did many show posters, and did a lot of art prints. I learned more about what it would take to run a small shop, make books, find ways to have more time where I'm spending actually making stuff, and printing and learning how to do it and learn how to put everything together.
So I'd say type and bookmaking come together with the political stuff, is…well, to put something out into the world, you have to figure out what you want to be saying. Combining it all together is thinking in a way that, for me, still feels very academic and heady, but then trying to represent that a bit abstracted and then also graphically, and wrapping it all together in the format of a book. I feel sometimes I do that, sometimes I don't do that, but I think generally, that's kind of, I don't know, a process that I feel would resonate with my experience.
A project I did last year that was meaningful was this book that I made in my grandpa's memory commissioned by my grandma. My grandpa passed away a couple of years ago. At his memorial service, my grandma wanted to find a way to get the community's memories together and share them. as someone from a different generation, very comfortable with print media, she was let's try to get people to write letters. We'll put them together in a book, we'll include some photos, and then we can give it out, because they live in a small town, and my grandma still does. It's called Alamosa Colorado, It's a unique place in southern Colorado.
, that project was great because I got to read through 70 or 80 handwritten letters that were all of the people sharing stories about the time they had spent with my grandpa, and funny times, sad times, meaningful times, everything in between. So, we put them together in a layout and print it off, maybe 130 copies or so, and my grandma gave them out to everyone who came to the service, or anyone who's in her network in that in that community. That was a cool project because I felt I got to use all these skills I've been trying to acquire for the past 5, 6 years and put them into something that I thought I would want to look back on in years and be oh, this was a very worthwhile thing to do.
Another noteworthy project is one that I recently completed, and it was actually funded—partially funded by RAAC, so, thank you, Regional Arts and Culture Council. It's called ACNBF, and it took years to make. It took a long time to figure out how I wanted this book to speak, and I wanted to do it in collectivity with other people. I reached out to nine different people who all have a background of either full Asian or mixed or mixed Asian and something else. They have various sexual orientations, mostly men, but not all men but most men and primarily male.
I wanted to talk about masculinity, and I wanted to talk about the unique position of the intersection of Asian-ness and masculinity. It's an exciting position that is rich, in the sense that there's a lot there, but we don't have a framework for understanding it or how to talk about it. I interviewed people, and many were creatives and had casual conversations with them about their lives. I asked about their relationships, upbringing, relationship with their parents, how they deal with racism, how they want to grow personally, off the cuff, but meaning—I would consider them to be meaningful. Hopefully, others did too.
I transcribed all the audio. It was over a hundred pages of audio. Then, it categorized every sentence into a category, then printed out those sheets, then chop them up into sentences, and then rearranged them to form composite poems. , each line from the poem is from a different interviewee, and you don't know who. They're not attributed to anyone, so, in that sense, they're a little more anonymous. I then gave every interviewee a disposable camera and paid them a stipend to fill it up with photos, show me what their life is like, and give me a perspective through their eyes. So, everything got put together in this book called AZMBF, and it was set to be released right when COVID hit, and so the release got canceled, and so, that was also a particular project that I'm still excited to release into the world, and I have no idea. I've given it to a few people, and they're oh, this is sweet, but I haven't had the opportunity to get a ton of feedback on it or see how it's going to land with folks, so I'm excited and interested to see what's going to happen with that.
I also feel too I should shout out Dao S. Dow's work was part of a collective of Vietnamese American women writers called "She who has no masters." some of their work inspired the format for AZMBF. , I feel it's important to acknowledge that-- they didn't do the same exact thing, but the idea of how do you speak in collectivity, as a group coming from a position, but also like, I don't know, they do way more stuff, but the idea of that inspired this book.
The book is basically a combination of image and text. The images are the 35-millimeter photographs from the disposable cameras from the nine different people I interviewed for the project. The text is pretty big on the page, it's basically set in Arial, a stock font, but it looks pretty all right. It was printed on a reason graph printer, which gives the images a distinct texture, its a bit grainy maybe, and it also prints one color at a time, so each image is one color. The photos are either red, yellow, turquoise green, blue, or purple, and they change throughout the book. Then all the text is white, and all the negative space is black.
, when you print, you have to print on white. Well, you don't have to, but I printed on white paper and basically didn't print the text itself. I printed everything around the letters. , it's a lot of blacks, it's when you open up the book, I wanted it to feel you were going into this space of emo darkness because that's my jam, or at least it was. Or it's this space that I, for some reason, feel comfortable communicating from, but I wanted that not to be so overpowering that it was aesthetic in and of itself, but I wanted it to be an element of it. I would say there's this element of a little bit of darkness to the book, but in a way that I hope actually helps further the message and give it a distinct tone.
Then I guess the last thing I'll say aesthetically about the book is that it was all done a hundred percent in my studio. It was a run of 150, and so, each copy was handled quite a bit, and I put more care into this project, into this physical production than I've probably had any other thing in my life. My hope is that some of the detailed work shines and comes through visually when people are…visually and effectively compelling when you're actually engaging with the result. The book is bound using this method called Japanese stabbed binding, and it is an old way of binding books, where you take a stack of loose pages, and on the edge that you're going to bind, you drill holes through the top and out the bottom, and then you stitch them together with this thread that's called waxed linen thread. It's a specific type of thread that basically is meant to be archival so that it doesn't have any acids in it, so that if you have the book 20 years from now, hopefully, it won't leach any chemicals into the paper and ruin the quality of the book, and it will hopefully still last.
Then, each cover was debossed, which is a way of saying a graphic or a shape was scored or engraved into the cover paper, the cover paper's thick, and I use this machine called the digital dye cutter. It's very tactile, it's very textural, as well as functional.
The future is a lot of anxiety right now, and that is affecting my work in the sense of—like, I'm not sure what's important to be doing right now. There's a lot of stuff happening in the world right now, everything feels very urgent, and I think work should be engaging with that urgency and responding to current social and political life. I know this is going to change things for me creatively. I would like to continue to teach. The IPRC, who I mentioned earlier, allowed me to create a class last year and lead in this program that was a 9-month program. Last year was the second year that we did it, and I enjoy teaching, so I would love to someday have a more stable teaching gig, preferably at a university or somewhere that's working with adults or young adults, that's an age group that I'm interested in working with. Doing that may be a part-time gig, teaching one course a term, or something that.
I'm interested in trying to make a living more in the design space as well, whether that's totally commercial work or whether it's at that intersection of art and design, it's definitely something I'm interested in for myself, both creatively and professionally and what I would say, I spend a lot of time working towards now. Ideally, in the future, I would have some set up to where the creative world and the professional world continue to merge and merge even more so. that that could be possible in Portland and as a Portland person living here in the future, what I want is leadership in place that responds to the community's needs. I want the community to feel they're heard in our local government and that local government is by the people, for the people, accountable and effective.
Take advantage of the fact that Portland is a smaller place. We can try things out here, make changes, and do things that can meet the specific needs of what people in Portland need. I want civic leadership that is doing a great job and effective.
Art can help shape hearts and minds, and I'm not sure how it can help us get there. Still, I guess in the past, I've seen a lot of art change how people think about otherness and perception and representation, by putting creators from marginalized backgrounds at the helm and letting them dictate what content is gonna look like. That can be effective, and that's necessary.
I want to create work that makes me feel that it was a worthwhile endeavor, but coming into a project with that mindset is sometimes challenging. I'm a big fan of developing a practice, it could be daily, it could be three times a week, where you engage in something, set a timer, and do it no matter what, and you might come up with stuff you're not stoked on. But what I find is usually when you start getting into things at about 15 to 18 minutes. You typically are at a place that seems inspiring, and maybe something creative could happen that otherwise would not have happened had you not force yourself to sit down or force yourself to engage in whatever it is you want to be doing.
I liked the concept of an archive, and I liked people making their own archives out of ordinary, mundane things in their lives. That smartphones for those who have them, have opened up a lot of opportunities for individuals to be able to document their daily experience, whether that's taking a picture of something every day and having a record of that, or whether that's… you get so much data from your phone. So, I feel there are creative ways that you can mind through that information and take the time to represent it in some way visually. That's a fun thing to do that gives you insight into something you may not otherwise think of — then for people who are visually oriented, to be able to take that and put that into something that's a visually appealing package, I love that stuff, I love it when people make archives of their own experience, in whatever way they want to and see how they do it and what they choose to pay attention to. It is a fascinating practice, both as someone who's doing it and as someone who's experiencing it.
Oregon Humanities has awarded our podcast, Future Prairie Radio, a 2021 award of recognition for social practice-based arts. Season Four was produced, recorded remotely, and transcribed during quarantine. You can listen to the podcast here. Thank you to our recent guests, to those of you who help spread the word about show notes and interviews, to sound engineer and editor Mat Larimer, and to OH for their financial support and leadership as we co-create the future of a healthy, thriving, sustainable Oregon.
My name is Steven Christian. I go by he, him pronouns. I'm from the Bay Area in California, and I was a former football player. I retired from playing football after having two hip surgeries, I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to play at the University of Hawaii and then Oregon State University. Afterward, I sort of dove into the creative arts as a means of expression, and it provided some opportunities for me to make a living. One of the things was, I did a documentary on student-athlete rights, and the effects of college sports on athletes, and how it affects them later on in life.
From there, I've decided to come to Portland and journey down the road of trying to become a physician as a medical student and then on to a primary care physician. Throughout that journey, some of the experiences of creating work in Portland, as a creative artist and as a teaching artist, focus around finding the opportunities in health education and in medicine. It's been rewarding. You know, technically, I'm a full-stack augmented reality mobile developer. All that means is I make augmented reality experiences with mobile devices that incorporate all the senses to improve equity in a lot of different spaces in art and tech.
I would say that the AR piece is the new piece in the puzzle. Most of it has been focused on visual storytelling and New Media Communications with video production, primarily animation, video editing, and stuff. But with the introduction of AR into my skill set, it's expanded to me being able to create experiences that people can access on their mobile devices holistically and then take those digital content pieces and bring them into the real world to expand that interaction and that knowledge.
With being a physician, we see many opportunities—within the AR space— we're seeing many options in medical training and medical education that I hope to continue pursuing as I become a physician. I'm a retired football player, and the journey from playing to real life has been fascinating. I spent my time trying to find myself for the past five years, and I've stumbled across a few things that have stuck, obviously with comics and animation, and I have focused on community-oriented and culturally relevant visual storytelling. That stuff has defined who I am and described what I do as a creator.
Most of my stuff, which is actually relevant now than it ever has been. But a lot of my work focuses on what the Black experience is, and how Black people in particular, or particularly kids that have a lack of role models in specific areas like medicine and business, and seeing how they have those aspirations. I explore fantastical, quirky, whimsical stories that I can tell with lead Black characters, which take the essence of the Black experience dealing with racism and police brutality and all those things? How can I make a story that resonates with people? How can I make a story that resonates with people but still has an impact that forces people to question the experiences that people have that they probably shouldn't have because of their skin color and stuff?
That approach has definitely been a long journey. Obviously, it came to a head this summer, with everything that's been going on. I feel fortunate to have had the time behind me to sort of develop these stories out so that I know how to approach telling them in a time that is definitely pertinent. Again, for me being a part of the Black community in Portland and going down those stereotypical trajectories for young Black men, looking at where I'm now, it's interesting to see that this is where my life is turned to, rather than being in the NFL.
Eyelnd Feevr is my pride and joy. I would say I started Eyelnd Feevr as a portfolio piece to get hired when I was working on the documentary. I wanted to hone in on the idea that, like the #Oscarsowhite thing and the rise of the concept of Black Superheroes Matter, and all that, we weren't necessarily seeing a lot of adventure stories with Black characters in it. I started this back in 2015, 2016, so there was nothing. So I put pen to paper and started writing out stories, adventures that were relevant to me, but that spoke to the broader concept of what diversity looks like in adventure stories.
I've used Eyelnd Feevr as a way to explore the different mediums that I'm interested in, whether it's digital 2D animation, whether it's 3D animation, whether it's actual physical comic books, or comic strips, or even 100-page graphic novels. The project has lent itself to that, and with Eyelnd Feevr, sort of expanding. I would say it's come into its own in a way that I'm pretty proud of because of the inundation of emerging technology with it. Every book that I create in the Eyelnd Feevr series ends up being a test of the extent of emerging technology, particularly augmented reality in it.
In the grand scheme of things, I make augmented reality comic books, where you have the text in your hand, and you can read it as a regular graphic novel. If you have your mobile device on with you, you could shine your phone over the pages, and it sort of brings the book to life to where you could read a regular book, you could watch a video, or you can listen to it on an audiobook. It creates an immersive experience that incorporates the visuals, a little bit of the textual dynamics, and the auditory pieces that make it just immersive.
Fortunately, the Coronavirus and everything has allowed me to focus on it a lot more because nobody's going outside, and there are not as many distractions. Unfortunately, I've had to shift gears from relying on third-party sources to manufacture the books, create everything, and promote things. My goal was to go to every bookstore across Portland and try to get the book in there and do conventions. But all that stuff has pretty much been shut down for the rest of the year.
So for me, it's been trying to hone in on creating the product. When the opportunity lends itself, I'm going to look at digital avenues and stuff like that. So it's definitely been interesting. One of the big things that I guess I try to undersell is that all the books are made by hand because I make them by hand, which creates a unique experience for the reader. Because from start to finish, outside of the paper and ink, all that stuff is made by me. As a creator, that's one of the more powerful things to do, especially with books because you don't often read a handmade book that checks a lot of boxes on the unique scale, with emerging technology and augmented reality, there's an app, and they're also made by hand.
I do all my printing through the Soul District Business Association, a community organization or nonprofit in north northeast Portland. But outside of that, yeah, I got a printer, a bookbinder, and then I have a tape, like a label maker that allowed me to print all the information on the spine. Then I design all the pages, illustrate, write, and put the book together to design and print it out. I have a paper cutter, like a stack paper cutter, so I put the books together, put the spine on, and then I start cutting the books. After that, I interface with the app, and then I put it out there, then people buy the books and stuff online and download the app.
I make about 20 to 30 books each round. I've been logging who buys the books and stuff. I've been logging how many books I make. There'll be a letter in the book, and there'll be a number corresponding to that. That lets you know what batch of books I made this from and the number on that batch of books. Roscoe was the last character that I've developed in the series, which is interesting because he's the main character, and everything's pretty much focused around him now. I initially created him as sort of the antagonistic kind of annoying character similar to Cartman in South Park, where he's annoying. He was a side character to my previous main character, TJ.
I started to sit down and think about like, okay, when I'm looking at an adventure story, and I'm looking at the character dynamics, what speaks to me? For Roscoe, he's adventurous, he's outspoken, he's all that, and TJ is sort of the soft-spoken, supportive leader, or supportive dependable person that Roscoe goes to. So I started to develop stories out of what would happen with an experience that stays true to the character; it lent itself to Roscoe. But more importantly, for me as a creator, I develop both of those characters as sort of two sides of the same coin. I have my own experiences that I sort of revere, and the people I revere, particularly with my father, and my relationship with that, and being an athlete.
Roscoe is the athletic one who didn't have a relationship with his father, and TJ is the stable home one that wasn't an athlete. So with it, I sort of explore what my life would be like in this weird fantastical way if I didn't have one of those two things in my life. it's definitely allowed me to reflect on my experiences because I find myself in my life trying to find ways to be successful in things that I'm not necessarily well-versed in. I have the idea of the American Dream. That speaks to Roscoe's drive, but what that American Dream looks like is up for debate. It's subjective. For me, and for other Black people across the country, outside of sports, and entertainment, that idea of achieving the American Dream is something that you don't know, you don't understand, and you don't see your capacity in until you're given opportunities and exposure.
For Roscoe, he's trying to put himself out there to get that exposure. Unfortunately, he doesn't have much direction with it, and he's likely to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing because he doesn't know. that's what drives the story because there's a dynamic where the world of Utopia plays on the idea of race, and plays on the idea that there's the human race, then there's other races. The concept of different races interacting with each other allows me to exploit that idea and talk about police brutality in a visceral way but doesn't hit close to home, as it were if it was two people attacking people. This is the beauty and joy of being creative, being able to tell these stories that resonate with people and develop characters that speak to me, but also talk to the broader audience. see them see the growth in it, and that's been great.
I am trying to get into medical school right now. This is my third time applying. I recently applied back in 2017. I took a gap year because it's expensive. It's taxing on your mental health, your physical health, all those different things. I took a gap year, I applied last year in 2019. I ended up getting two interviews, but I wasn't fortunate enough to make it to the other side. So I am currently in my third application cycle right now. I will be going back to writing my personal statement and putting together all my work and experiences, and putting together the application, and scraping together every ounce of pennies, and nickels, and dimes that I could find to pay for all this stuff.
I was a health and wellness coach before the Coronavirus and everything. Now I'm sort of biding my time to get back into the healthcare space. I didn't get my rejections till the end of April, like, April/May, and then I didn't get my feedback sessions to last month, and applications opened up last month. So I spent like three weeks trying to figure out if I actually wanted to apply this cycle or wait till the next process. So it wasn't until last Monday that I officially decided to apply to medical school. Then that's when an onslaught of reality hit where it's like, I got to do this, this, this, this, this, this. Then I got to come up with $1200.
For primaries, I have all the schools that I'm applying to, I'm applying to 30 schools, which is actually not a lot, that's sort of the expectation. If you applied to less than 20, then you're not applying enough. It's one big primary application where they have your personal statement. They have your work and experiences, your "disadvantage" statement, letters of recommendation, all your coursework and everything, that is your cover letter, and then you send that in. I'm sending it to 30 schools, but it'll cost me around $1200 for that. You pay that price; can't write it off in your taxes, nothing like that. Then you hope that you don't get immediate rejections, and any schools that respond back to you, they'll send you a secondary. The primary is around $45, the secondaries are about $100. Then you have another wave of applications where it's probably three to seven questions, and they're all essay questions, so around 700 words for each question. Typically, half of the responses will come with secondaries. You submit the secondaries, fill those out, submit those to the specific schools because they're all school-specific. Then you pay that $100 for each one of those, which will probably run me another 1500; then from there, you get interviews. Last year, I got two interviews, so I had to fly out and do all that stuff. They're going to be doing those remotely this time, so I don't have to travel, which will save me money. After that, you wait and see if you get in.
That's pretty much the journey that I've been going through for the past three years. There's so many different things, and it's interesting to see how the Coronavirus has perpetuated those inequities, where people in certain areas can't take the MCAT and because they can't take the MCAT, it's hard for them to apply and make their applications more competitive, and then you can't get clinical experiences. You're not working in healthcare. You're not volunteering and shadowing. You can't even do any of the stuff you want to do to show that you want to be a physician and staff.
Much like everything else, the Coronavirus is definitely exploiting many of these flaws in these institutions that are not necessarily known for their diversity. I'm curious to see the lasting effects of this on the pathway towards being a physician. We're going to be in a pandemic, for at least the next year or so, based on empirical evidence. So I'm curious to see how this moment will affect so many industries over the next 10 years because this is like the great depression for us.
It's one thing that people are dying, and people are losing their livelihoods and stuff. it's another thing to see the perpetuation of inequity and how that sort of furthers the gaps between people and communities. I'm curious to see what some of the solutions will be. Hopefully, the work that I'm doing with emerging technology and trying to get more Black people into emerging technology, health education, training, storytelling, I hope that I end up being on the right side of history with this. For me, it's a matter of sticking to my guns and seeing how I can sort of leave an impact with the work that I do.
I know what it feels to not see—to not even be aware of something, not even saying that it was impossible or possible, just, it wasn't even on the radar. Once things start to become more—I become more aware of things. It kind of came to that conversation. That a level of imposter syndrome that a lot of Black people have is just, "I'm doing this, I have interest and stuff, but will I get the opportunity to show what I can do? When I do have that opportunity, because I don't see people doing it, will I be able to rise to the occasion?" and that is a real thing that, like, for me, at least there's not a lot of people in AR. So when I put something out, I'm self-conscious that it's going to break when somebody downloads it, or I'm self-conscious that this is going to be a brief reflection of why there isn't diversity in the space because I wasn't able to see the project through and live up to, the expectation.
The beauty and curse of Twitter are some people feel that way, the same reason some people don't see the grounds for making AR hardware cheaper or having low-cost solutions for head-mounted displays. There's a sect of people in the industry that only care about enterprise solutions, only care about things that cost $3000 to $4000 for entry-level points, only care about those corporate branded sorts of solutions for AR, rather than some kind of consumer-oriented ones that are low-cost solutions, which are the things that I focus on.
In the distant future, I guess continuing the AR work that I'm doing as a creator, as a developer, and as sort of a teaching artist. I do a lot of teaching to get people to learn how to create comics and stuff. Now that I'm in the AR space and emerging technology, I'm trying to incorporate a lot of that skill set of teaching into the work that I'm doing, to where I'm teaching people how to do the projects that I'm making, and developing online curriculum around those things. So that's one of the immediate things that I'm continually building out now and putting out. Hopefully, as we get towards the beginning of the year, I get accepted into medical school. I get to sort of close some doors that I currently have open now and open more doors towards a different career that is sort of tangential to some kind of creative stuff that I'm doing.
For me, my role in AR is one to sort of being a use case for why there should be more diversity and emergent technology., with the work that I'm doing, particularly with Island Fever, I'm trying to find an opportunity to create a seamless, low-cost, immersive experience for physical books. I want to do that because, you know, books in and of themselves are the essence of us knowing anything and everything; they're the conduits for us to explore and learn and all those things. Any YouTube video, any speaker, anything comes from their ability to read, parse down information, and transmit data to others.
The only problem is, now particularly with the Black community, is that illiteracy rates are high. That's because there's stories that people don't identify with, people don't have access to the right books, and many reasons that are byproducts of lack of equity. So creating books and telling stories to sort of get books in the hands of Black kids and set them down this road of learning to read and appreciating books.
With Augmented Reality and stuff, it's sort of lowering the bar of entry barriers for early readers and people who haven't necessarily appreciated literature growing up or in their lives. So even if it's gimmicky or with bells and whistles, by adding sound, adding video, incorporating more senses, into the reading experience, so that they are eager to pick up the next book and go down that journey again. For me, that gives me the most joy when I'm developing and coding and animating at two o'clock in the morning. It's like, okay, this is why I'm doing it, and this is the angle that I have. Hopefully, I get to that angle sooner rather than later.
I approached everything as I approached football. So with football, there were specific reasons why you did certain things. Those were sort of, you built some kind of tasks around doing those things to achieve the end goal of winning a national championship every year, or getting a scholarship or getting drafted. Those were always, like, the specific goals. You sort of mapped out the trajectory for that. So when I retired, I realized that that part of me didn't quit. It was still there. It sort of drove me to explore other things and get that sort of fix that football gave me despite it not being there. So what I've done in my creative career, my journey towards medicine, is make a lot of lists. I have a wall with a dry erase wallpaper on it, and I have tons of dry erase markers. I literally have a wall, that the sole purpose of that wall is for me to write down ideas and mind map how I go from the concept to the actual thing I want to achieve. It feels great to go to the wall and erase one thing because I accomplished it. I sort of continued to do that repeatedly until I sort of reached the point that I could erase everything off the wall and figure out a new goal and continue that. The other thing has been time management and time management to juggle different projects throughout the day and throughout the week or the month.
I want to make more money and learn new skills. I'll do that right when I wake up, it will be from 8 o'clock to 10 or 11, and that time is solely for me to learn something new, learn something about blender, learn something about 3D modeling, or if I saw a tutorial video on YouTube, it's like, "Okay, I'm going to watch that video and learn about that new skill in the morning," and then once 10 or 11 hits, then I go about my day. I work on the different projects that I want to do.
Those have been the two things that I encourage other people to sort of look into or add to their work or whatever it is, finding ways to have a wall or space or a document to throw ideas on there and then look at that, be able to get out of your head and look at what's in front of you and say okay, how can I get from point A to point B? and then you make lines. You try to connect them in feasible ways. Then put the time in and block out your time to understand how long it's going to take and make the idea less of an idea and more of reality with actions.
My name is Annamieka Hopps Davidson, and I also go by Mieka, and I’m 35 years old. My pronouns are she and hers. I grew up in Eugene, Oregon, and I’ve been in Portland now for over a decade. The most significant part of my identity that’s important to share is that I recently became a mother: I have a one-year-old.
I live and work as an artist, and I am primarily a painter: I’m a painter, drawer, illustrator, and occasionally surface designer on fibers and textile. My work has also led me to be a teacher. A lot of my creative practice is this fluid motion of learning, figuring out how to do something, sharing my discovery, sharing the delight of the creative process, and sharing it. I do this by teaching creativity courses and mentoring artists one-on-one.
I have this funny little niche where I basically shout enthusiastically through a Zoom screen while people work in their own studios. Or I can go physically to their spaces if they live locally, but I work with people worldwide. I also founded an art studio in Southeast Portland called the Nurture Artists Collective, and five of us share space here. We collaborate frequently, and we created a community.
In the Nurture Artists Collective, we’ve all been friends for years now. We decided to name ourselves Nurture Artists Collective because a lot of what we do in our community and with each other is to nurture and uplift and encourage and “water” each other’s creativity, and see each other through times of challenge.
I do the same thing in my year-round course called Let’s Go Deep. It's basically a community that I facilitate, but I’m also living my process out loud for the participants: I’m completely transparent about my creative practice, the highs and lows, and the times of great productivity—and so, we work through the whole year together in that way.
I feel that I have two creative communities. I have Let’s Go Deep, my year-round course that I’m about to launch again for its third year. Then I have the Nurture Artists Collective, my physical studio in Portland with my fellow artists. The Nurture Artists Collective also has a Patreon, and we are starting to do more collaborative offerings with our growing Patreon community.
For many years, I’ve been teaching in-person classes. I got my start in 2007 as an intern at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, which is this fabulous little nonprofit on the coast that is centered on a nature preserve. The Sitka Center brings artists and ecologists together from all over the world! It’s a significant creative hub for the Pacific Northwest. I told my students, “Let’s go explore out in the woods!” I’d teach them to identify plants and then paint them in layered paintings. I taught that workshop for years and simply loved it. It inspired the content for my first online course: I basically adopted the process I taught at those workshops to the online format.
It was fun! I hired a videographer friend of mine, and we went out to the old-growth forest, where we filmed the botany parts of the class. Then we filmed all the other parts of the class here in the studio. That class, Wild Wonder, has now been taken by over a thousand people all over the world. It’s super fun for me as an Oregonian to share the gorgeous natural beauty of our region, and I can’t help but get enthusiastic when I’m doing that kind of stuff.
As a teacher, there’s a point when we have to make a decision: Are we willing to give it all away? I firmly believe that there’s genuinely no competition in creative work because the most rewarding, fulfilling career is finding our voice and sharing that. The more we work, the more undeniably true to ourselves we’re being. So there’s no fear for me when teaching my process, because one of the most fun things I do is keep innovating and thinking of something new.
In my year-long course, I have a cohort right now of 35 artists that are doing this with me for the second year I’ve taught it. The whole point is for them to get a creative practice going that fits them and supports them as they make a cohesive body of their work. I teach lessons and the students do exercises and work on their own artwork as we follow the yearlong curriculum. We learn basic design and color theory. We look at art history and creative practice, and the participants end up making a body of work that’s all their own. Each artist’s unique, original voice gets gently revealed, even if they were having trouble distinguishing it before.
I’m trying to imagine, if you’re listening to this podcast from, maybe in your kitchen, or you’re chopping vegetables or folding laundry or maybe driving somewhere and trying to picture my paintings in your imagination. I typically start with quite a bit of color. I’m a huge fan of blues and greens, and there’s usually botanical imagery—and I can’t help but make some sort of all-over pattern. I like to weave and dab the color all around. There’s a story inside every painting, so sometimes there are people. Sometimes there are animals. Sometimes there are plants—it’s either based on an actual walk I’ve taken and something I’ve encountered or a memory or a wish for the future.
Almost always, if we have a chance to talk about the painting, I’m going to tell you about the process of making it because the picture itself, when it’s done, feels kind of like a moment in time. It’s one bit of the whole experience, so that’s why I like to make videos about the process and teach the process, too.
Layer by Layer and much of the process is the title of the body of work that I’m working on now. This is the first proper full body of work I’ve created since I went through a considerable metamorphosis and became a mother. Layer by Layer and much of the process is the name I came up with because it will be interesting to share the process. My plan is to create and edit a video that shows the process of creating this new body of work.
This project is also giving me accountability and a deadline. Due to COVID, my gallery placement fell through. I don’t have my deadline on my venue anymore, but I’m still trying to keep to the same timeline because I very dearly need to make a new series of paintings.
Right now, we’re in the middle of a massive opportunity for transformation as a society, and we see that with Black Lives Matter and the civil rights uprising. COVID and quarantine have caused us all to reconsider what’s essential. We’re learning that connection is necessary—and we’re creative beings, and so creating our art and expressing our truth in that way is essential, and we have to find ways to do that on a personal level. I’ve learned that the more I can learn to love and accept myself, the more I can help my students learn to love themselves and move themselves forward on their creative journey.
Then, my big dreamy hope is that that self love and acceptance ripples out, and we’ll have a more tolerant society because people are learning to love and accept each other and provide for each other. My hope is that this time is an opportunity to realize our impact on each other, to learn how much connection matters, and for the artists to remember that your work is needed; it is generous to make your art and to share it, and that’s enough; get out there and do it now!
In the future, I want to continue to be a painter and be healthy and happy and provide for my family. I say that because I’m squarely in the struggling working class right now, and I want to live in a future where it’s not such a grind to be an artist—a future where we have the ability to have our work be supported and valued by the community. I want to live in a society where healthcare is a priority for everyone. It’s scary to live in a community that feels like it doesn’t truly have your back. My vision is for personal resilience that then ripples out into societal resilience and the realization that everyone needs to be loved and cared for. That, I hope, is part of the new paradigm that we’re fighting for right now, that we’re actively creating. I believe that as artists, by practicing and keeping our creative muscle and our imagination healthy, we can keep visualizing and actually creating that possibility so other people can see it and then help direct the whole collective thought that direction.
My name's Matt Schumacher, my pronouns are he, him. I'm a resident of the Kent neighborhood here in Portland and managing editor of Phantom Drift, a Portland-based literary journal whose mission is to celebrate and support the strange and fantastic writing in the Northwest and worldwide. I had been working on the magazine since its inception 10 years ago. I'm also a poet who made six collections of poetry, most recently the collection of Missing Suspiria de Profundis published by Grand Gus Press last summer. This fantastic story collection is about a time-traveling poet, an anti-hero, who eventually collides with the opioid crisis in the drug war.
Having been raised in Iowa, I often think I was drawn to the fantastic due to long-term exposure to cornfields and prairies, wide-open spaces, and imagining what might be performing. As a poet, too, I've been most influenced by the surrealists. In the 1970s, poets believed in the Fantastic's revolutionary power and in its ability to create alternate worlds and hypothetical situations that multiplied possibility. In what Todoroff, or was the V. Todoroff called the 'duration of uncertainty' and Victor Schwabskis notion of defamiliarization, i.e., presenting everyday things to your readers in strange ways to rethink reality.
At Phantom Drift, our mission is to nurture and advance fantastic writing, writing of the word, surrealism in the Northwest and throughout the country and then in the world. We do get international submissions as well as—well, a lot of submissions from the area. We're currently in the process of publishing our 10th-anniversary issue, which I'm really excited about, almost done selecting work, and we're nearing the proofing stage. The last few stories are being decided upon as we speak. We have four poetry editors, four fiction editors, and a webmaster, a graphic designer. The Regional Arts and Culture Council grant allowed me to pay early, which I felt really great to do.
We're hoping that this year we'll be able to print our most special issue. It's even more work than usual, including semesters, in particular by our editors. I know that we should be featuring an essay about the premium poets and the next Mexican fiction writer, Ampara Davila. I do think about the future. I have quite a few goals for the journal. First of all, let's say just stability and being solidly as constant in the literary field. I see us as a sort of precarious rare bird, and I really don't think there's another journal like us in the United States at this time.
The tangible goals for us would include an expanded readership, more submissions. I'd like to see, particularly in poetry and poets out there, bombard us, saturate us, please. as long as we're able, I see us as continuing to offer area writers and artists publishing opportunities and an unusual lively showcase for featuring their work. We'd like our journal to help inspire and kindle the dust of writing, and we welcome submissions from Portland authors and artists. Ideally, we'd like to partner with other local organizations and hold literature events. I have this pipe dream of owning a carnival of the weird fundraising event, with poetry readings, booths, music from local bands.
Stubbornness first, I guess, is some advice I would give on longevity, perseverance, the careful management of what you have before you, and surrounding yourself with people that will help in any necessary capacity. I feel like it's easier than it used to be when I did all the poetry. I usually write the intros to the journal too, I would say, you know, you get kind of accustomed to what you're doing, and you figure out what works best. So, in the decade of making a journal, there are benefits to longevity. It's kind of like teaching, you keep what works, and you jettison the rest.
It's obviously a challenging time to be making art. It's an appropriate time for workers to protest and advocate for the victims of police brutality and social injustice. I'd say it's heartening to remember that great art can and will be made, even in the most challenging moments. I would say the great art of this era needs to be and will be created, and it will face some of the racism and injustice our country has failed to acknowledge, and that's an exciting prospect and a necessary one.
I was giving a friend of mine this advice the other day—a friend of mine, he's been talking about not writing poetry anymore. I advised him to remember the life force of all creative work is play. There's a Dutch theorist, Johan Huizinga, and it's become a lens that works as a beautiful reminder of this concept.
In the more highly organized forms of society, religion, science, law, or politics gradually lose touch with play. Prominent in the earlier phases, the poet's function still remains fixed in the place sphere where it was born. CoExist, in fact, is a play on role that proceeds within the playground of the mind, in a world of its own, which the mind creates for it. Some things are different physiognomy from the one, they were an ordinary life, and they're bound by ties other than logic and causality. It'll be defined as one that may be made in terms of waking life.
Poetry will never rise to the level of seriousness. It lies beyond seriousness on that more primitive and original level, where the child, the animal, the savage, and the seer belong in the region of dream, enchantment, ecstasy, laughter. To understand poetry, we must be capable of dawning the child's soul like a magic cloak and forsaking man's wisdom for the child.
Try to move a bit more play into your process. Think about enlivening the process with whatever tools you have to make it more ludic, I guess, more celebratory, more fun. I would say that most of the literature that I encountered that I really loved for Phantom Drift has that as a centerpiece. It's playful at the level of language, or it's attentive to the sound of the language, just active in that realm and the realm of ideas. I don't think you can lie if your practice includes fun and play in it.
I would go straight to the source, read Huizinga's book, chapter seven. If you're a poet, dabble a bit throughout it, it's an informative piece, I think. Of course, as a writing teacher, I can tell you that collaboration, seeking, which of course, social distancing at the present time most certainly. If you have friends that can present you with prompts or possibilities for creating art, that's an added benefit. You can form a group where you give each other prompts, sometimes that's freeing, that frees you out of any sort of block you're having. If you're writing to a different goal or purpose than you'd written to before.
Something that I try to do as a poet: cross out what you've done before. I don't want to write the same term over and over again, so each time that I start a new project, I say, 'Hey, I've done this in the past, I can't do this again,' sort of disallowing that, and that creates a new space to work, and that's invigorating, it takes you different places. Constraint, oddly enough, can be liberating.
This article by MAX TAPOGNA about FERTILE GROUND '21 made us so happy to see!
Lilies, poet Joni Renne Whitworth tells us, contain multitudes of meaning. The flower is a mainstay in Greek and Chinese myths, as well as Easter ceremonies. It symbolizes, among other things, love, grief, femininity, and rebirth—all themes present in Whitworth’s filmed poem, Lilies, which premieres on Wednesday, Feb. 3, as a part of Fertile Ground’s online festival of new works. Festival projects remain available to stream for free through Feb. 15 on Fertile Ground’s Facebook and YouTube channels.
Written and performed by Whitworth with video and sound by Hannah Piper Burns, Lilies is like opening a time capsule from the early days of the pandemic. “It’s like writing future history,” says Whitworth, who wrote the text last spring, when the rules for pandemic engagement were still setting in. “Once it changed from, ‘we’re home for two weeks,’ to, ‘we’re going to be in this for a while,’ there was just an energetic shift” – a shift, adds Whitworth, that was in stark contrast to the beautiful spring Portland was experiencing. “Nature was just merrily carrying along, and thriving,” Whitworth says. Lilies is their chronicle of that time.
Image from Joni Renne Whitworth “Lilies.”The poem—which Whitworth describes as loosely autobiographical—ruminates on the tragic weight of Covid-19 as well as the pandemic’s unexpected comforts. It moves between perspectives personal and global. Lilies begins in a place of calm. Whitworth opens with the line, “Of course, / lesbians have dreamt of this for years: / sleeping in late, / reading to each other, / fretting over the cat.” Elsewhere, Whitworth hears Pacific wrens singing by their quarantine window, and remarks, “I’ve worked two jobs as long as I can remember, / I’ve never been home to hear them.” In these scenes, Whitworth’s restrained diction aids their imagery—watching Lilies, I felt cozy.
But these silver linings come at a price. Whitworth calls our new world flat and declarative, “A refrigerated truck for the bodies,” where people’s voices lack inflection. Later, they remark that “War-ravaged Syria just reported its first COVID-19 death. / We’re here. We’re here.” For Whitworth, even the “upsides” of the pandemic resist that qualification. “Is it true / that by lessening pollution, / and workplace accidents, / this industrial slowdown is / sparing lives / as well as taking them? / I can’t follow that logic to its reasonable conclusion.”
Hannah Piper Burns’ editing helps create that sense of illogic. Burns, a found-footage filmmaker, says that in making Lilies she was interested in “this idea of our crises of attention, where one minute we are looking at our phone and the next minute a pot is boiling over, or we’re staring out the window and all of a sudden we’re thinking about death.” Fragmentation of thought plays a large role in the editing; the cuts are almost constant. The effect is that the film’s pacing is simultaneously brisk and meditative. Burns’ imagery is largely domestic (plenty of cooking, old homesteading footage, even clips from Animal Crossing), and we see lots of raindrops—on flower petals, windows, skin.
Whitworth ends Lilies with the sobering acknowledgement that “There will come a Monday,” and when that Monday comes, they beg the question:
We are jobless artists / in a nation that hasn’t paid for art in years, / if ever. / Will society rise to meet us? / Will there be a place for us in the new world order? / Will I make something / with both of my hands?
Nearly a year has passed since the first lockdowns, and these questions are still in search of answers.
Lilies debuts at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3. All festival projects will be available through Feb. 15 to stream on Fertile Ground’s Facebook and YouTube channels.
Our short film "Lilies", written and performed by Joni Renee Whitworth with video and sound by Hannah Piper Burns, has been taking home some big awards at film festivals! Congratulations to everyone who helped make this quarantine love story a big success.
Future Prairie is now on the Oregon Cultural Trust’s list of best cultural nonprofits!
Thanks to Trust Manager Aili Schreiner and team for all the hard work to highlight Oregon's arts and culture organizations during this difficult year.
Future Prairie Radio Season Three Episode Fifteen: Through Questions About Hands with Arcadia Trueheart
My name is Arcadia Trueheart, and I use she/her pronouns. I grew up in Portland, Oregon. The first and probably most significant influence on me becoming an artist was being raised by parents who are working artists. Art was always much integrated into my life. There was a seriousness about it because it was the work; it was how my parents made a living. I was involved in that. I was always on job sites with them and around their studio and making things on the sidelines. It was also integrated, and our relationship and are in play, and I'm an only child, I have a close relationship with my parents. We would go on road trips and spend a lot of time quietly drawing and painting wherever we were on the coast or in Eastern Oregon.
Art was also the unspoken religion of our family. By that, I mean looking closely, being observant, and appreciating beauty and truth. That was a big part of what they taught me or more, what they modeled to me, and my life growing up. Now I have a lot of gratitude for them for everything they taught me.
I wanted to be different than them and find a way to be my own person. I got into theater and performance, which to me, felt different than visual art. I was involved with circus theater with aerial dance and more traditional theater and acting as a teenager in my early 20s.
A big part of that was exploring my queer identity. I wasn't out at all as being gay at the time. I was curious about the different ways of being and how other people are. It felt this hidden something about myself that was different than other people. It made me curious about all the ways that people are, especially internally, and what we might not see about other people what their experiences are.
Over time, theater more became not this exploration of personalities for myself but learning about theater and social practices. I spent time living in Guatemala and Bolivia. In those countries, I had the opportunity to observe and participate in several different groups that use theater of the oppressed and theater in a healing modality. That has inspired my work, and it's important to me to have that social justice practice through theater. Stories should be amplified in that way and shared in that way, specifically by the people whose stories they are.
Handmade Stories, that project, the seed of that started when I was in college, and I went to Western Washington University up in Bellingham. I took this radical theater class, and we were supposed to create an assignment for ourselves that brought randomness into our work and chance. I made myself a series of clues to go around town and whoever I ran into a task if I could draw a portrait of them, but I quickly realized that it would be less intimidating for both me and the person I was talking to if I drew their hands.
The project was to draw their hands. I would do that, but while I was drawing their hands, they would start telling me about their hands. Through that, they would tell me all about their lives. There was one person, in particular, I remember who is a painter. He told me how two weeks earlier he had gone blind in one of his eyes and how, because his vision has had changed, he could use his hand, and his brush had also changed, which made what he made differently and changed what he painted. Stories like that fascinate me.
Several years later, I applied for a grant with Awesome Portland to do a project in which I interview people specifically about their vocation through the lens of their hands. I ask what their hands do in their careers and how their experience with that informs them. I began to see that hands could be a map.
I remember interviewing one person who is a farmer. He was showing me his hands and going through every scar or mark on them. Each of those held an entire story about his family — where he lived growing up, his culture, religion, healing practices. In that project, I displayed those drawings in public parks, and we invite whoever was walking by to come and write their story on the back of a pre-printed postcard. I sent all those postcards around. Everybody got a postcard from an anonymous other person in Portland with a story about their hands. It wasn't much part of that grant or that project between recorded interviews, but I decided to anyway.
When I applied for this grant with RACC (the Regional Arts and Culture Council in Portland, Oregon), Handmade Stories Live, the idea was to bring these recorded interviews to life somehow. I love interviewing and oral history, and that's part of what I studied in college. A transcript or recording that gets archived away somewhere doesn't do justice to the initial interaction's aliveness. Especially with that project, I was often interviewing people at their place of work. I was in the back of somebody's food cart, in their metal shop, or on their farm. Those were such rich encounters. I felt a selfish experience that I got to have this encounter and gifted with the stories of the people I was talking to.
I wanted to find a way to bring live performance, which I believe can bring much life and heart and energy to whatever the subject is. I can use these interviews as the inspiration for live performance using shadow puppetry, as well as live music and edited audio from those original images views and poems that I've written in response to them, and to combine that into a performance for the public to watch.
I started this project two years ago as a rebellion against technology or wanting to remind people of the importance of touch and physical connection and being in the same place as somebody. Also, to see more and more, jobs and skills that are done with the hands are undervalued and not paid in the same way, and jobs done with the hands touching a keypad are valued in such a different way. That was an essential part of the project for me.
How do I bring in technology? I do appreciate technology during this time, mostly, and that it's been important for many people. That's a question that I have going into the performance now: how to hold both of those things.
My work is connected to the body. It has been since I was 11 years old doing aerial dance and expressing myself through my body. Through learning about masks and puppetry, having an opportunity to create a body outside of a human, putting life back into an inanimate object, learning about other people's stories through their bodies, and asking people questions about their hands, I've developed my work.
This pandemic quarantine — I live alone — has made me look inward and start looking at my own body, which I didn't use to do. My art was always about understanding other people's bodies and stories. During this time, I started exploring, what is it to touch my body, and how does that experience look visually? I love painting and drawing as a visual language to describe an experience you can't express in words.
It's vital that audiences that the stories they are hearing will inform them in some way, which will inform how they are moving in the world in the future. My hope with that is for more curiosity and compassion, you know, hearing some people start understanding that these are people who live in Portland. Their hands hold a vast wealth of stories. Let's bring more curiosity into it. What are other people's hands like in this city and what do they know, and what have they experienced?
I want to continue along this path of exploring my body's interior experiences and sharing that technique — the way that I'm doing it. I'm exploring how it would work best for others to do it. Others can take the time to get them to get to know themselves physically and express that visually.
I've been working with a friend of mine who is a theater artist as well. We're exchanging images with experiences of touching our body and creating dance movement pieces inspired by those images. We're sending them back and forth to each other, which has been a beautiful way to connect that's not in-person or touching. It feels healing. It feels healing for my relationship with my body, as well. I want to bring healing into art. That's always something that I've admired in other artists.
I admire the artist Lily Yay, who's worked around the world. She's Chinese and has worked in places worldwide, creating art with people who have experienced a lot of distress. That experience of people being involved in their healing and collective healing, by going through that process with other people, is something that I'm looking forward to working on.
A significant influence for me is the theater of the oppressed, which is based on the idea that ordinary people — people who aren't necessarily trained actors or performers — are involved in practicing a future they want to see. Whether that is standing up to their oppressors, or interrupting discrimination and oppression, or creating better relationships with each other, you know, it's not a technique that I have spent a lot of time doing personally. It's something that I admire. that even outside of that specific technique, and it's a particular way of doing theater, but that all theater and performance should be a practice for reality. You know, it's improvisation, and it is real. It's this opportunity to create something real now, but that's a practice for life.
The biggest thing for me is having limits. By limits, I mean structure. Some of the limitations that, you know that are pretty easy are limits on what materials you're using, how much time you have to make something and how much space you have to make it in, and what you're making it about. If about, you know, if you had all the materials in the world in front of you, you can make something about anything. as much time as you want it to make it, it would be overwhelming. It also might not be poignant and specific. I would say to others that we all have these restrictions already. Be grateful to them, use them as a guide and structure, and limit it even further.
I'll make an assignment or an exercise for myself. I will listen to the news for half an hour, and I will make something for half an hour using only paper I find in the recycling bin. It's not the thing that I'm making is this masterpiece, but it is about the process of being creative. The whole debate about round process versus product, I do believe in a high-quality product. That is important to me. The process is about practicing, and it's about practicing being concentrated and absorbed in something and spontaneous within that and playful!
"Handmade Stories" was about limits and structure I made for myself. I was only going to draw people's hands, and I was going to ask them about their lives and talk about their hands. Having that limit, not asking about their experiences in general, brought up much more specific stories that illuminated who they were more extensively. Working on the "Handmade Stories Live" project for performance, I'm working on setting limits. I listen to the recordings. I'll type whatever words or phrases catch my eye and catch my ear and that I can type fast enough. I use all of those to put into a poem. I cut up small pieces of paper and make 20-inch drawings that are inspired by that poem. Maybe one of those ink drawings inspires a shadow puppet that I will make for the show. That can be done quickly, creating a limit of time and material and subject, and playing within those boundaries.