Future Prairie Radio Season Four Episode Two: Layer by Layer with Annamieka Davidson
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.
Future Prairie Radio Season Four Episode One: The Cannon Will Be Made with Matt Schumacher
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.
Great Press for "Lilies"!
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.