I work as a creative director, stylist, model, and concept developer. I am passionate about working with all kinds of different people from all walks of life, regardless of any categories that they fit into or any identities that they hold. My goal with the art that I create is to create an inclusive space to uplift all identities, explicitly queer femme folks, and all bodies. Body inclusivity is essential to me, as well. I work a lot on passion projects and building a community of artists who genuinely enjoy creating the stuff that we create. I don't have any specific goals beyond that, and I let things fall into place that ends up falling into that place. Through that, I've built this community of friends that I get to call my best friends and also get to work on amazing projects with. It's one of the most fulfilling things for me to be able to have a social, creative outlet, because a lot of other art mediums that I've enjoyed, and still enjoy to this day, but they're isolated, and I do them in isolation.
As an introvert, that getting out of my comfort zone and working with other people on art projects is something that kind of fulfills a social need and a creative need in one. That the purpose of art to me is to build community and work with other people and listen to their ideas and have that art be shared among people in general and celebrated. So that is why I do art. I incorporate my understanding and studies of sociology and intersectionality into the art that I make and being aware of marginalized identities and how my privilege can be used to uplift those identities in photos and give voices to those people that may not be heard if they didn't have a community to uplift their voices.
I grew up as a pretty confident person. I attribute that a lot to my personality type and also just, I had a stable family life, and I'm grateful for that. I grew up having a good head on my shoulders. That does play a significant role, I think, in being able to feel comfortable in your skin allows you to do things, to put yourself out there in ways that society tells femmes they shouldn't.
People should focus on trying to enjoy parts of themselves. Take a step back and realize how messed up the social structures are in our society. The goal is to keep people oppressed and especially femme people. You're taught to be ashamed of yourself, that if you don't fit into a specific look, you're not worthy of being represented. That's a systemic issue. That's not worth your time being ashamed about. It's not a personality trait within yourself that needs to stay hidden. No. It's empowering to know that it's not you, it's all of us.
When you engage in tearing yourself down and other people down, you are participating in the systems that are trying to tear everyone down. Understanding that gives you a perspective where you can step away from that narrative and say, "Hey, you know what, that's the problem; I'm not the problem."
That gives you a better headspace to feel more confident in putting yourself out there and being exactly who you want to be exactly who you think that you are because it's liberating to give your middle finger to those messed up—the systems in general. You have the power to go against that if you want to and call out the system instead of beating yourself up for not fitting into the system.
That stuff is what builds community you know, that's what solidarity is, is understanding, "Wow, we're all being hurt by the systems that are at play here, and I'm not going to compete with you," because that's what the system wants, they want you to remain silent. it's not a fun thing to do is to hate on yourself, you know?
Community building and art happen simultaneously. When I first moved to Portland, I met some people in one photo community here, and I worked with several different people, and it was fun, but I didn't feel a sense of community. There was a group chat, and a lot of people in the group chat didn't know each other, and some did. But there wasn't this community of people that existed, at least to my knowledge.
I had fun, and I was able to create individual pieces, but I wasn't modeling with anyone else, I was doing solo projects. They didn't have that much conceptual development necessarily. It was kind of on the fly, which was cool, and it was an excellent experience to do that stuff. But I've always enjoyed high school, I would sometimes plan out shoots not extensively, but my friends and I would go out and put on cool outfits that look cute together. We would take pictures together. I liked being in photos with other people that I cared for. I thought it was fun.
When I moved to Portland without having any close friends, I didn't have other people to do those projects with at all, I was doing the kind of one on one with photographers, and that was fun. then, in the springtime of my first year living here, I kind of decided to start reaching out to people on Instagram and kind of start trying to meet my people, you know, because I had met people…I always say that trying to make friends is dating, you meet a lot of people, and I feel you have this feeling when you meet someone, and you know they're your people. that hadn't happened to me that many times by the time it was late winter. I had a couple of people that I was "Hey, consistently seeing these people, but there's still not this community that I have." I kept messaging different people, and people that I had never met before.
Some of them had already, I'd seen on their page that they're into photography, so if that were the case, I'd be "Hey, do you want to shoot?" or something that, but throughout the winter and spring of 2019, I met a lot of people, hung out with a lot of people. The people that I liked and felt they were my people, I kept in contact with them. I would plan gatherings at my apartment where I would invite all these people that I liked, and none of them knew each other. My friends that I had made that had had no experience or no connections in the realm of photography, they were "Oh, that's cool that you're doing that," and then they would come onto projects and they liked doing it, and we kind of built this big friend group community of people that enjoyed working on photo projects, and also hanging out with each other.
Ever since then it's been an excellent way to continue to meet people because I'll meet someone and if I kind of their vibe, I'll be "Hey, we have this group shoot coming up, if you're interested in joining, you should come." then so many people, I've met a lot of people at my school that probably have never done much photo work stuff, and they come, and they do it, and then they keep coming, and it's super fun.
My exposure to social media and stuff compared to a lot of other Gen Z people who are younger than me is different. I would say that I'm maybe one of the last years of people who didn't have the social media explosion. I mean, I learned cursive, and we didn't have iPads when I was in school. It was still people who started getting cell phones that were my age, usually in middle school, seventh or eighth grade. Whereas now, you know, you're in elementary school, and you have an iPhone. If I could put my mind into someone who is a freshman in high school now, I would say that their experience is probably way different.
The images that I work on, regardless of the photographer who takes them, is being kind of a color explosion on people's bodies. My favorite styling era in the late 60s to the 70s, end of the 70s, probably, and that's a lot of my wardrobe. I style with my closet, you know because I don't have some budget to have my styling clothes and then my average person. My styling clothes are my everyday clothes. Most of those clothes are colorful. I love color in general. Color has always been something that I'm drawn to, and I enjoy messing around with primary rainbow colors and pastels. Instead of reds, I do pinks, and instead of primary greens, I do lime greens.
I love 70, vintage fashion in general, and I love it. It also much aligns with my ethics of using all sustainable second hand clothing to style. I don't want to contribute to the fast fashion industry. It all aligns well with what I enjoy in terms of how things look and my ethics, it's a win-win, in my opinion.
My shoots have a pretty diverse range of different looking people. I include short people, tall, whoever wants to be involved, you know? People who show up every time it's different, but our community is quite diverse. Some of them are professional models who are signed to agencies, and they do fit into traditional beauty standards. But then there are plenty of people who are they have never done modeling before in their entire lives.
I try to be as inclusive as possible, honestly. Everyone looking at content deserves to see images with people in them that they can relate to and that they can look at and be "Wow, that could be me," you know, because that when you're growing up, you feel so detached from mainstream media. I remember as a kid…and, you know, I'm a white, thin-bodied, middle-class cis-read woman. You know, someone who sees me and be "Oh, that's a cis White woman," you know? But even with the identities, I hold who are represented in the media; I still grew up thinking, "Oh, those are the models," you know, you just, you don't feel they're a separate category of people "Oh, they're a model," you know, it's just…If I walked into an agency, a regular mainstream agency, they would probably say, "No, bye." That's not something to harp on yourself for. That's society's issue. That's not our bodies' issue.
What is represented in the media should be relatable. Some people want to do modeling, and they may never get the chance to because they only have access to trying to get into an agency. The agencies are in alignment with the status quo of only allowing for a particular body type with specific features and whatever that fit into that category of who's represented, and that shouldn't be the reality.
As far as process, I don't have a structure for figuring out how I want to go about each project. My inspiration is usually the clothing I have. I also think about ways that people can look attractive together with outfits and in a specific location. I don't come up with one particular shortlist or anything. I come up with outfits to a certain extent but honestly, a lot of times I just, I know the color scheme in my head or I have some sort of idea, but I pack a bunch of clothes with me and then kind of figure it out as we go when we actually all meet up together to get clothing and makeup on, and then we choose a location, and then we kind of let, whatever happens, happen, and I don't have a specific goal with trying to get this published at this particular place, or you know, I don't have any expectations of "making it" or anything that. My goal is to make art and have fun doing it.
Start with the skill that draws you to a medium in the beginning. It can be intimidating to look at a skilled person who has taken a lot of time to curate their style and produce these images with high production value. If you're starting and you go on Instagram, you see these images, saying, "Oh my God, the production value of that is unbelievable. I want to do that." It can be discouraging because you started taking photos, looking at the photographers who have fantastic equipment, being shooting in studios, and having an excellent team behind them. All of that stuff isn't salient when you look at an image, and you don't understand all the things that have gone into that and all of the years of practice that person has had.
if you have a specific skill, if you are "I'd to start with taking part in these, and I'm interested in the fashion aspect of it," or, "'m interested in the shooting aspect of it," or, "I'm interested in the concept development aspect because I have so many cool ideas and I don't know how to bring them to life." You might be interested in being in them as a model. You have to start working with people who have the skills that you need, but even if those people don't necessarily have the highest quality skills or the most perfected skills, and you have to be okay with that. Many photographers who I've worked with earlier on in my journey into this world where I didn't take on any creative director role really, and in general, was more relaxed, the whole vibe around it, and the skills weren't as refined. Each time you make something where it's more thoughtful, it's you gone to kind of the next level, and you keep getting more mesmerized by what you're creating.
When I was kind of still new to this world as a model and stylist, one of my best friends, Hannah in Bellingham, had some work on her page with the gel lights. I remember seeing that picture on her page before I had ever even worked in a studio, I explained to her how cool that was and then fast forward to now, it's I've worked with gels so many times. If someone said to me that hadn't gotten into this world yet "Oh my god, that picture is so cool." If they were moved by it, I probably would brush it off too. You need not be comparing your stuff to theirs, and its just…No art is comparable in general. Still, especially if you're a new artist in a specific medium, you can't compare your stuff to anyone else's art but primarily, a professional and super refined technique, because you'll get discouraged.
Start working with a lot of different people, it's okay if you have images that come out that are produced from people you work with early on that you don't love. There have been plenty of shots I've gotten back, especially earlier on where I'm I look back at now—maybe I was excited about it then or somewhat excited about it, but I look back now, and I'm, "Ugh…Oh," I just…that's fine. You know, I'm so grateful for all that experience I had because it helped me…With that experience, that wasn't necessarily "my style." It helped me develop my style, you know, you have to be super flexible with what you create. If it feels good. It's your style that feels good. What I created back then was my style at the time, and it helps me have a more clear path or a clearer understanding of what I wanted to continue to create and what I wanted to kind of leave, you know, and move on from you.
The more you work with people, the more you'll be exposed to different types of artists, and you find the artists that you work well with, and then you keep working with them. That's kind of the case for me, I've found that I produce the best work with people who I have good chemistry with and continuously work with because we have that solid foundation and understanding and trust with each other. I never have to worry about leaving a shoot with someone who I enjoy and have previous experience with, I don't have to worry about the final product, it's I know that I'll get them back, and I'll love them.
When you're starting and working with different artists and trying to develop your ideas, you're going to be working with people who likely have a similar skillset as you, and you're not going to necessarily love all of the images or whatever art medium it is. Still, specifically in photography, you're not going to enjoy all of the outcomes of what you work on with those people, because every artist works differently, every artist has a different style, editing style, communication style, and all that stuff, and you're not going to mesh well with everyone.
Same way when you're trying to make friends or dating people or trying to find a place to live. You're not going to like everything. Through that, you will find the people that you do mesh well with and continue to work with them, and the art that you produce is likely going to continue to get better and better. Or if you see that work and you're "Ah, that's …it's not really... It doesn't have potential, in my opinion," then you can be grateful for that experience and move on and then you have a more precise understanding of what you don't want to be creating, you know,
For a long time to do a rainbow-themed shoot where each person was in a monochrome outfit, it ended up falling through. Fast forward to three or four months later, I was explaining this idea to our friend Mandy. We shot that project, and everything ended up working out so correctly, though, and the images were terrific. I fully creatively directed that and styled it and brought on all the people I felt that was a big game-changer for me and, kind of, figuring out what I want to do with the art I make. My potential with creating projects that, and I don't know, I feel that was a big moment for me to understand that what we can create when we all bring our skills together is impressive.
All of these projects, for the most part, are passion projects, and no one is getting paid. It's literally for the love of art, and I am terrified that I'll be in a position where I don't have the time to do that and feed myself and live under a roof. That is super terrifying to me because I am I plan a lot of the things you know, I carry a lot of weight in the projects that I work on. I love doing that, you know, it's so fulfilling to me, and there's nothing I want in return from people you know, and that goes entirely against…I don't want to charge people to be part of it. That's goes against the idea of the art that I'm making, you know?
Figuring out ways to make it work is still something I struggle with when about the future — how can I do this and even work on all these passion projects? And also be able to do this so that I can live and not have to work a nine to five job that doesn't feel fulfilling to me where I’m thinking about doing shoot stuff? I don't want to be able to be there mentally in a position that I'm getting financially supported from, where my head is in the space of, "Okay, what's next?"
I imagine continuing to do this type of photo work. I'm still trying to figure out how I can make it work, and it turns into this whirlpool of 'what if, what if, what if." I try to take one step at a time and be, "Okay. I got to keep working on what feels right and what feels good." I have noticed that the more I do all this work and work on shoots and stuff, I get more job opportunities as a freelance artist, here and there. Different brands have reached out to me seeing my page on Instagram and saying, "Hey, love your style. Can we work together?"
Those opportunities are fantastic, and I'm grateful for them, but there is no way at this point I could survive off of it. It intrigues me, but relying on being a freelancer, it gives me a lot of anxiety because of the instability. I'd be more interested in either starting my brand — a business but with other people, not by myself. There I could manage, lead, use my skills to the brand's advantage. Other people could bring their expertise. I'd like it to be collaborative and stable.
George Thorn is a co-founder of Arts Action Research, a national arts-consulting group. As a consultant, he works in all aspects of organizational development as well as making presentations to conferences and workshops. In parallel with his consulting activities, for eighteen years he directed the graduate program in Arts Administration at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. He was the Associate Director of FEDAPT. Prior to these activities, he was the Executive Vice-President of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. George spent sixteen years in New York where he had a general management firm that managed Broadway, Off-Broadway, and touring companies. He began his career as a stage manager of Broadway productions. In 1996, he relocated to Portland, Oregon, to open the West Coast office of Arts Action Research. In Portland, he has consulted with over three hundred and fifty arts and cultural organizations and artists. The focus of his consulting is the Regional Arts and Cultural Council’s Cultural Leadership Program. He co-leads RACC’s Art of Leadership, a six-part board training program.
He spoke to us about navigating the uncertainty of this pandemic and creating a strategy for engaging with artists and audiences.
Here are our favorite insights from George:
Arts and culture will never be needed more than they are today. Considering artists and arts organizations, we know that everyone's going to be hurt in some way, except for the very wealthy. There are a lot of people and a lot of sector’s going to hurt really, really badly. That's the world that we are inhabiting. Our message to audiences is: “Please stay with us. We're in this together.”
What’s the next step for arts orgs in putting together a strategic plan for after the pandemic? Some people are in relatively good shape, some of them really have cash flow problems, whatever it is. We know that we're not going to go back to the way it was. It's going to be a very different reality. It’s time to ask t the leadership of each organization to begin to envision what they think this new reality will be for them, how they begin to think about, envision this new reality, what needs to be in it, who needs to be in it, what are the needs within that, what do we need to learn? Knowing as they develop this vision of the next reality, they'll have to be very adaptive and keep learning.
How are we going to evolve? We need a very simple sort of plan of evolution and financial framework and a programmatic framework. With that plan, which will keep changing, leaders can say to everyone who’s close to them, “This is what we know now. These are things we're envisioning. We have a timeline that we want to begin. We have intended to do this project here and there. At a certain point, we have made a decision whether or not we can do that project.” Then it’s a matter of helping keep that information going. So, as an arts leader, you're really saying, “Knowing what we don't know, so and so, what we're doing, please stay with us, we’re this together. We can't wait to get back into a room with you, with artists making art.”
There is a point of no return. If we want to do a show in October, what's the point of no return when we have to do that, when we have to make that decision? What artists are doing now, in terms of streaming and video, that's all testing. Is this a good experience for the artists? Is this a good experience for the audience? It’s different from someone teaching yoga. I think it's pretty straight ahead. We could consider hosting one-person shows, but we also know that people at some point will want to get into a room again with artists making their work, or get into a gallery.
I had some contact with some arts leaders, and they said, “We don't know anything, so we can't plan.” Well, now's the time to plan, because if we wait till we know everything, we'll be too far behind. A good example of someone who's doing good work is Samantha from Shaking the Tree Theatre. When the pandemic began, I said, “Samantha, so what are you doing?”
She said, “I spent half the day in the office. The other half of the day, I'm in the theater. I'm painting eight, six by eight panels. I'm working with a sound engineer and a lighting engineer. I'm going to create an immersive experience called Refuge.” That production may have a life in the fall. But this is the artist’s way of thinking: “I want to be back in the studio. I want to be making work.”
Art’s now going to be redefined in different ways by different people. What is that connection with audiences, with readers, with gallery goers?
Artists give us perspective. They give us a way of thinking. It’s in their responses to what they're seeing and hearing and thinking about. We saw that so much after 9/11: people went out eventually, but they wanted a wide range of things. Some people wanted Beethoven. Some people wanted to laugh, so they went to a comedy club. Some people needed to write. We will come back together, but people will want to experience art in a very personal way, and in all forms: theater, dance, music, literary, AR/XR, visuals. We may get some new audiences through that. Some people may not think of going into a performance venue, but they somehow got into streaming one artist or another online during COVID-19. Oregon Shakespeare Festival is streaming video of shows they've done, but it's a different experience.
Many arts organizations want “the younger audience”. In Gen Z, everyone is a storyteller, a videographer. They're making work. They're showing their work. They're influencers. They participate; their communication is totally participatory. Most traditional art is observational; you sit and observe — a totally different experience. Smart arts leaders need to think about how to market, then, to these people. Normally, when you go into a theater, the house lights go to half, then you turn off your phones and devices. We may be ready to change that model. We need to be thinking about meeting everyone’s needs and making art more participatory. We do have examples of, “After the show, please go on the web and leave a comment”, but that’s not a real talk balk; that is still observing.
Now, if we have phones out at a concert, the older audience may resist it. They want to have a singular focus. We have tension there. It’s time to address it. This is an interesting space. Let’s see if there is some other way to address this, creatively. This is what artists do every day. Artists come up with an idea for a project, whatever it is, and they invest in that, whether it's a single artist or a group project, it’s about problem solving. What they do is they solve problems, they have vision! There's never enough time, people or money, but they still make it happen. How do we collaborate, who do we need to collaborate with? Where is our audience and our buyers? What artists do every day is solve problems, move forward, have a vision, and keep the project going. In that way, the pandemic is not as new — this is the type of thinking artists do every day.
For any artist starting any project, there’s a risk. You have no idea how it’s going to turn out, whether anyone's going to be interested in it, what's the audience that we want for this work, etc. But we do have a process. Scientists and artists share a process: trial, discovery, vision. With a scientific process, the idea is someone puts forth an assumption, and everybody does everything they can do to disprove it. If you can't disprove it, it becomes a new reality. With making art, someone puts forth an assumption and through collaboration and work and so forth, something new and larger is created. The making of art, the creative process, is the best planning, problem solving and decision-making process available to human beings. I'm amazed every day by what artists make with so little.
I'm a non-binary portrait photographer from Portland, Oregon. I'm 32 years old. My pronouns are they/them. I am a White person. I grew up poor, and now I'm in the artist/working class. I experience chronic pain and chronic depression. I have panic and anxiety. I am a recovering addict with four years of sobriety. If I were to call a religion mine, I would say I'm more Buddhist-leaning, but I believe in the power of mindfulness, meditation and prayer to a universal power of my understanding. Those are a few of my identities that shape my perspective. I'm charged by solitude, good music, doodling with my left hand, creative cooking conversations with other creative queers, walking my pup. I'm a Taurus. I'm grounded, mindful, playful, and I love color.
In my line of work, my messages are generally falling on the spectrum of self-love, acceptance, and mindfulness. I try to create and spread positive, honest, uplifting messages to anyone who finds my work. I’m inspired to create photographs that capture emotion and depth paired with words that match the feeling tone of the image. I have an intention of not editing flaws and showcasing folks for who they are and celebrating their bodies as they are. When I take photographs of someone, my intention is to create a safe space to empower the person I'm working with. I feel a lot of folks are misrepresented or underrepresented. Being able to celebrate their bodies gives younger people of those types more agency in finding out who they are and celebrating themselves as they are and not trying to conform to this passing narrative or other traditional beauty standards. That is the future: showcasing beautiful trans and gender-non-conforming bodies, bodies of all shapes and sizes and skin tones, making sure to not edit flaws, pimples, or cellulite, capturing the beauty of bodies that have disabilities, recovering addicts, folks with mental health issues, not the well-off, slim, White cis bodies that Instagram started with.
In the future I want more lifting each other up, more lifting the voices of our Black, Indigenous, trans, and queer friends, more art, more connection to each other, more opportunities.
Before [the COVID-19] quarantine, I saw many people helping each other out. Even folks I know who don't have many resources were offering up the resources they do have to folks with less than them, offering that up freely, not expecting praise, doing it because it was the right thing. I saw a lot of that. I want more of that in the future.
I want to continue to learn and grow artistically as much as I can. My pleasure comes from creating, and being able to create the types of things that I want to create. I see a vision in my head. Sometimes I don't have the correct lens or the correct lighting or whatever to make that image come to life. By growing my skills as an artist to be able to match what's in my brain with gear, skill, and a growing community of creatives, I believe I can create the future I want to see.
My art process starts in usually meditation in the morning. I do a lot of meditation and grounding, lighting incense and candles. I create a space where I feel comfortable and filled with joy. Then play. I love doing some naked dancing in my kitchen while I make breakfast. I love being able to play. If I'm going to paint something, I draw with my left hand first to warm it up and loosen up. If I'm writing, I brain dump before I actually get into writing something. With photography, I arrive on location an hour or two early before the model gets there. I take a slow intentional walk around the area and feel what I want the images to hold. Also, I am looking for the best spots with lighting.
I recommend other creatives to read “The Artist’s Way”. That book has taught me that you know, no matter where you are on the artist spectrum, if you have never made art in your life and you want to start , no matter what, you are not a fraud, you deserve to create. You will make art that you don't like, and it will get better. Collaborate with other artists. Fill your life with art of all kinds and make it beautiful.
Photographs to me are much more than a picture of a person. I feel led by love, and I find it in each person I work with — more about the feeling of a photograph and the emotions that it brings up.
I'm a big optimist, and I see the good side of things. The photography industry as I know it is a beautiful, collaborative and uplifting community. The more the merrier. Anybody is invited to see this art. It's not , “Look at this art, you should pay attention to us.” It's more of, “look at how much fun we're having. You could do this too if you wanted. You can come to the party if you want."
Hi, my name is Sarah Turner. I currently live in Portland, Oregon. I am an artist, curator, community builder. I run a couple different things. I run Pink Noise Radio with my co-host, DJ Mac B, that's on Freeform Portland FM. We [feature] ambient noise by femme musicians in town all around healing. I run a project called Pink Noise Experiential Party that is similar in aesthetics, in that it is mostly noise and ambient-based music with experiential installations that are all pink. So it's a chaotic but peaceful setting for people to enter into. I also make a lot of TV art, I call it. I'm sure people also call it that, but lots of people installations with old CRT televisions, looking at electricity and glitch, and thinking of TV as a sculpture and an object, and building that into different formations and spaces.
I am also part of a collective called The Cult of Artists, and we make experiential lounge spaces for festivals and raves, and just show off things for people to have a good time when they're feeling good. So I grew up moving around a lot. We lived in Maryland when I was born, and then we lived in rural Illinois, and then we lived in Williamsburg, Virginia, and then Appalachia, Virginia. I moved across the country by myself, I think, four times, just back and forth from West Coast to East Coast. Finally, I landed in Portland about four years ago. But throughout that time, I did a lot of weird stuff, I think. Yeah, like I said, I always wanted to get into art, but I just was so discouraged from doing it. I think especially where I grew up, and my family background, it just was more proper for me to get a real job, and make money to save money for a house and get married and have a baby, and all that kind of stuff.that just never felt right for me.
I went to college, and I went to grad school to try to get a good job, a stable job. I did. I did. I had many opportunities that I'm thankful for to be able to learn and grow and. Then I got a job working in the arts and nonprofits. Then I realized that nonprofits ask a lot of you, and can be tiring because they like to pay you in passion, which is great when you're like, 22 and you've got a lot of passion, and a lot of drive. I did, and that was fun. But I think that now looking back on those experiences, things that I'm thinking about towards like creating a different economy around the arts is looking at a different model.
How can you keep your practice and your community and your project sustainable in this capitalist society that we live in? Because ultimately, we do live within this society, and it can be a temporary reprieve to kind of build your own world outside of that. Still, then it's not inclusive, and you spend more time building this infrastructure, rather than the thing that you're trying to do, which is trying to make art, and share that with people.
I'm in this new space where I'm kind of…Well, I'm not working at a nonprofit currently. I'm exploring what it means to piece things together and to do freelance and to do kind of odd jobs again, and thinking about different models of sustainability .it's been funny, I've had a lot of weird inspiration; should we go with the Burning Man rattle? Which is to not be dependent at all on some kind of benevolent grant type of thing, to just have a job, that you can make a lot of money, and then use that money to do things that you want to do. So no strings attached type of work, but the thing is that you need a collective to pool money together to do that, which is great. I love doing that, or is it to create some kind of other for-profit endeavor that can then subsidize the money that you want to use to do art programming. Because that is one thing I've learned, that art programming does not pay for itself, you always need subsidized funding.
Thinking about how to tap into different markets of money to be able to have a pool to take from to pay people what they're worth for their time and their efforts, and materials too. So yeah, it's interesting looking around the country and having that experience too, living in all these different places and seeing different models of how people are interacting with art and entertainment, and how they're spending their money and how much money they have. Portland's about to boom with millionaires. I mean, it already is but with all these other company is going public, there's going to a lot more money here, and so how do we connect those people with art in a way that's not the traditional like donor model, because that doesn't work anymore, at least for the things that I envision for the future of Portland.so that's fun. That's fun to think about. It's a whole new territory, understanding how to play the game, but just find more interesting loopholes, I think.
In my curatorial practice, I like to bring people together who are of varying backgrounds and skills to create this multitude of learning environments for people to come together and share skills and experiences. Because it's not just about displaying art but about building a community around that to create sustainable conversation and relationships in a particular space. How I like to think about that is from more of a holistic aspect of not just inviting someone because they're cool and they make cool art, but because they're genuinely a good person who is deeply invested in the same community that they are participating in.
I kind of look at it as like the social programming aspect. That's a gross word, but it's a way of like thinking about how you can provide this kind of container for people to grow in a particular way. What I like to do is come up with a theme and a topic and a space for people to congregate in to allow this growth for kind of a fourth space, which Ray Oldenburg wrote about the third space, which is this communal type space that people can come and go to. It's similar thinking of a bar or a park, or another kind of public space that there may be regulars who kind of regulate the codes in the space, but you can go in freely and talk with people and forming relationships .that's different from work, or from home, in that you do have flexibility of being comfortable. You're not regulated to particular rules, but you still are presenting your public self to people.
A fourth space, I like to determine as a little bit more pointed, in that, you're meeting in public with other people but for a particular reason. So it could be a church, for example, you're all meeting for a religion that you share. I sometimes think about art like that, as like a church that you go to, kind of feeds you and gives you faith and life. Art's fourth space is developing a particular community around a central issue. So the fourth space that I like to create is around new media art, providing tools and opportunities for people to present their work and learn and grow together.
People can come from all different backgrounds. That doesn't matter, because what they're coming to talk about, coming to learn about, and coming to share is art.so through that commonality, they can kind of shed their differences in order to kind of focus on this one thing together. Then through that, through their negotiations of both participating and presenting and learning, they're then also creating deeper relationships that can be sustainable friendships and potential new collaborations and partnerships.
In thinking towards the future, I just want to create more communities where people have that solid bond together and can then grow collectively and have a collective impact on their ideas and causes that they care about for the community. Because with more people and more resources, you can do bigger things, and that's important.
Thinking about the future, all of the installations and performances and videos are about setting intentions. A lot of times, I make them in accordance with like moon ritual cycles and particular times of the year.so setting an intention for creating a better world, I guess if you want to get that big, but definitely providing something better for personal manifestation. Usually, my own, and then sometimes I lend that out for other people to experience as well.
I've always kind of dabbled in art. I did a lot of dance, I did drawing, I did singing when I was younger. But I kind of came in through the backdoor as an artist, as like a big A artist, I think, because I did more like art administration and curatorial work where I was always in a supportive role of artists. I always wanted to be near art, but I never thought that I had like the chops to do it myself. While I was at Open Signal, I noticed that every single thing that I did with media there, which for those of you that don't know, Open Signal is a public access TV station, and a media center. Everything I did to prepare for anything, an exhibition, a class, a performance, an artist's talk, I had to build the infrastructure of electricity, which just basically means like running an extension cord from a wall to a computer, laptop, projector, what have you. I just started realizing how important that medium was. It's for that particular tool, I guess, but that it can be so fickle and so fleeting, too. I think that that metaphor is interesting.
There's a weird history of electricity and especially, electromagnetism, which is fun. I found this book during this residency I went to at Signal Culture in New York, that was called A Boy's First Book for Electricity, or something, and I read it. It was like, first letter book, or something like that .it's just interesting how we as humans have figured out how electricity works and not how to hone in, and we have advanced so far because of it. I primarily like working in new media, and you literally can't do anything in new media without electricity.
That's kind of how I started down the rabbit hole. Then I don't have great skills as like a filmmaker myself. I don't know how to use fancy cameras. I knew I immediately was drawn to experimental film, because I was like, "Oh, I can just [bleep] something up, and this is fun, and you can extrapolate different means things from that." the best way I found things up was with these video processors, which are all circuit bent, old video wares, so character generators, or video mixers, or VCRs even like, anything people used to use these tools for live editing on TV.now, we don't use those, we use things on our computer. But now people use those tools, and circuit bend them to just like...You can use BPMC, Fluxus, and totally just glitch the hell out of like some video, and it turns into this new, beautiful thing that looks like old tracking lines but beautiful patterns that you can control and manipulate yourself.
What's so interesting to me about that is that you were physically using your hands and hardware to manipulate this image that can seem...Video is weird. It's fleeting and temporary, but it seems so stable and real, because it's an image, right? It looks like our reality. But in fact, it's just all these dots and pixels that are put together to make us think a certain way. It's definitely an optical illusion.so with these different tools, you're able to take this electricity and move them and shape them in different ways that the tools did not originally allow you to do it. To me, that's super punk. So it'll take someone else's footage and [bleep] it up to how you want to do it and like remix it, but then also reshape these tools to do something that they weren't necessarily intended for, and to kind of reclaim that power as the toolmaker, too.
That's why I like kind of creating new works around electricity because it seems like such a dominated manufacturer, a medium that's like so hard to access unless you have this vast knowledge of physics and electricity too. A CRT is a Cathode Ray TV, which is the big boxy TVs. I'm sure a lot of us had them growing up as kids in the 90s. They don't make them anymore. Obviously, they're like all flat-screen TVs now, but what's unique about a CRT is that it has different physical and chemical properties than a flat-screen does now.so it works well to interact with older modes of media players. So VCR is you know, DVD players, anything that has an RCA hook up, those three prongs of red, white, and yellow.
With my practice, I prefer to use CRTs because they work well with capturing electricity and glitches in electricity so you can get that kind of funky, screwed up looking stuff that happens to digital media. I like using CRTs because they are like physically manipulating the electricity within the object, rather than just kind of like a filter, or an app that you can put on top of a video. For me, that's kind of interesting, in that it's this idea of looking at similarities and metaphysical properties in both our bodies and technology.a lot of the work that I do with the CRTs manipulating energy from our bodies to then display on the TVs themselves.
So, for example, like this one project, I just made, what's called an aura reader, or grounding aura reader, which I thought was pretty clever. I'm usually pretty bad at naming things, but grounding in the sense that like grounding your body energy to the earth, but also grounding electricity from the technological object as well, too. So with this one project, you stick your hands on a pyramid sensor, almost like your hands are in the formation of praying, and the sensor is hooked up to an oscillator that I built.then the oscillator translates the completed circuit of your energy touching the sensor to the televisions, and then displays back to your energetic properties. So it's kind of an aura photograph, but it's live with a moving glitchy image, and it's chaotic looking to represent the things that you need to heal inside of yourself.
The electricity goes through the oscillator through RCA cords, and then into the TV monitors, so into like, the video feed, and then it shows up in the black and white static, but it's always different patterns depending on the energy that you are putting out. So when it is working, it'll show you that sort of screen, or it'll be like squiggly lines, or it'll be horizontal lines, or vertical lines.
The participant is able to see their aura on the screen, and then I am there to assist them in reading it, and then have different devices for healing their aura after it, too. So I took that to Spaceness Festival up at Southwestern Washington, and I had Amber Case and Crystal Cortez do sound healing sessions for people, individual sound healing sessions. So they would see their aura, we decipher kind of what they needed to get more grounded. Then they would have an individual healing session where the sound would help to mitigate the chaos inside of them. Then I also made additional healing cards that people could take away with them for prolonged healing afterwards, which a lot of them were pretty funny.
For squiggly lines, people were pretty neurotic and had a lot of energy that had loose ties just kind of evaporating into space. A way to ground them was to get deep moon energy. So I told them to take a walk to the beach by themselves—It's always good to be by yourself when you're trying to get grounded—Take off your shoes, stand in the sand, and then pop open a beer and stare at the moon, and with each sip, as you stare at the moon, kind of internalize this moonshine into yourself. That's a kind of funny and ritual to have this experience with this liquid and the moon and yourself to kind of just get back into your body. So a lot of the work that I do is semi-ritual practice, but also just kind of tongue in cheek and kind of silly too.
Some of the other glitch or archetypes were vertical columns. For that, I kind of interpreted it as saying your energy is strong and powerful and precise, which the vertical columns do represent that fairly intense kind of collected white energy on the screen with little movement. Then I said, as a solid, no rising above the melody. However, it's possible, but their energy could be stagnant, unchangeable, and immutable. So my prescription was to work on themselves in order to let new light in and to become flexible for...
For that one, a lot of them included like little kind of silly things that represents electricity grounding too. So part of the instruction was to touch the first piece of metal that you see and feel the static leave your body. Which is also common in energy healing and aura healing, is to imagine your chakra energy coming out of your root chakra and going deep into the earth.so it is a similar kind of practice of releasing static and releasing your own org energy.
And then yeah, dots and artifacts, and that your energy is ubiquitous. When you enter a room, people can feel it, which in a lot of ways is great, you know, there's certain people that you just can feel coming into a space, but sometimes that can be draining, to be putting so much of your own energy out into the space, and it can also leave less room for others to share their energy with you too.so sometimes you kind of miss smaller details from other friends. That was fun. So I told people to go down to the beach. These were all kinds, site-specific to being the southwestern sea view. So, go to the beach, go along with your phone, and then just count the stars, and imagine each star you see is a beaming array of light down to you.in turn, you're beaming your energy back to it. Which I thought was a fun correlation with the dots too.
It definitely looks stars-like too. Yeah, and it goes on and on. So I like that practice of just being aware of your energy and noticing how other tools that we have created can also incorporate weird metaphysical metaphors for that as well.
I'm not alone in this. I have many friends and collaborators that also participate in Glitch Witchticism, but essentially, it's using video and glitch, in particular, to create these new rituals around things in a beautiful hypnotizing kind of way. I've been on this kick to do these altars recently. I did one... This is going to be a whole series. I did one for the Winter Equinox, or sorry, Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, and then I'll do one for summer and autumn as well. They're all using televisions is a kind of the primary communicative tool to show people how rituals can exist in a space on a loop.
I enjoy participatory theater or participatory art. It's not socially engaging. It doesn't have that feel-good kind of thing. In fact, I sometimes like to make people feel comfortable. I guess it's the same as my curatorial practice, which is I like to provide space for people to do weird things, but with comfort. So I'll create these TV ritual sculptures that have a time-based ritual happening on the screens that seems kind of impersonal and passive, to allow people to approach them in their own way. But as they stand near the altar, the ritual will become more clear, they'll see different movements and different objects being used that are on the screen and being acted upon. Then those objects are also on the altar itself in real life with people. So it's a tool of showing them how to use the different objects themselves. Then they can participate with this kind of like ghostly, headless character who is walking them through this ritual, and so they can participate in it, and as deep level as they want to.
With the Winter Solstice one, I found a ritual for the Winter Solitaire, which is an independent singular which can do the spell to help them get through the winter season.so in the directions for this particular spell, it told you to gather candles, smoke of some kind, so incense, bowl of water, yeah, just different colors, specific colors candle. So red is an important Christmas color, or excuse me, Winter Solstice color. There's silver, there's gold.so I went searching for these on the internet, found footage of all these different objects. I did, but then I was like, these feel like much of the Creator. So then I put them through the different glitch machines to cleanse them, and then put them on the screen to then represent these different objects that would be placed in a regular ritual space. It was this installation that people could go and experience the spell for themselves. Also, put the ritual in the entire space itself so that it was manifesting it for everyone just by being there.
And then for the spring equinox altar, I created my own spell, which was...So, spring equinox is all about shedding the darkness and allowing room for growth and bloom. I created four steps of ritual, which was to cleanse yourself from the space by lighting some incense on the screen, then lit a candle and turned on a baby TV monitor on the screen to allow light into your space to kind of brush out all that darkness that was in there.then made an elixir that you could drink to wash away any remaining negativity from the winter before. Eat a strawberry to then plant the seeds for blooming of love.so then all those objects were also represented outside too.
So it's fun, you know, people often look at art like something that can't touch.so when they approached the altar, and there were strawberries there, they assume that they weren't supposed to touch them or eat them. So I had to kind of like gently guide people be like, "Please eat a strawberry, this will help complete the spell." so we've been looking at that some more just through different collaborations I've had. I just worked with Devin Cabrillo and Sage Fisher and my good friend Alexis Rittenhouse on a video for Dolphin Midwives, where we kind of extrapolated this idea of Glitch Witchicism in more creating this narrative for a song off of the Dolphin Midwives' new album called Flux. Where it's these characters, who are visited by this kind of ominous creature who takes them into Sage's alter layer and instructs them to do all these kinds of ritual techniques to then free her from this alter cave.so a lot of the footage is just of them doing these made-up rituals that are just kind of silly and strange but have similar aesthetics and movements to things that you might find in more of a traditional spell casting.
Art is weird, and it can be anything and everything. I frequently think the loudest stories that we hear from our computers, and art allows another channel for distribution of hearing from other people who don't necessarily have those tools to access, to share their story so loud, so...that's what's important. It's like being able to share your story to create empathy in the world, and more understanding .it's a great way of allowing us to visualize and celebrate and just be excited about like other people's voices too. How do you be an artist? I think the first thing is that you just say you're an artist. I think you just have to say it, because I think for me, I was always intimidated by like, "Well, I can't say I'm an artist. I didn't go to school for it, my art's aren't that good," like, and that held me back from doing it, from practicing it, from like, engaging with it. I can't figure out when... I think it might have just been like, the first time that I showed my work that I was that someone was like, "Oh, yeah, Sarah's art and like, she's an artist," like, describing me to someone and I was like, "I guess I am, I guess this means I am this act means that I am." so then I just was like, "Okay, I'm going to embody this and do what an artist does and extrapolate from there." If you can find space to practice art, that'll let you just go wild. Having a studio is quite a luxury. I highly recommend it if it's possible.
It's also important just to like, take the time to do it, and do not feel ashamed about it either. I think that our culture like promotes so much about productivity. Like, any time that you do, being productive, you need to get paid for it, which I agree to some extent, but also as an adult, There are a slight few times that we play anymore. For me, art is very much about like playing and experimenting and practicing. It's important just to take that time to do it and to prioritize that and not feel guilty about it. Yeah, that's important.
I've always thought that art is a communicative tool. For me, I think why I like experimental art is that it provides a conversation and an idea without hitting you over the head with it allows a lot of room to think things over and over without a definitive answer, which I think is a good thing for us to negotiate with. Obviously, there's a lot of like, chaotic happening right now. I think we tend to fall to yes or no, black and white, us versus them kind of a thing, and I think art can provide this nuance and the gray area that can allow our brains to live in the dissatisfaction of not having the correct answer all the time.
I'm a musician from Plano, Texas, but I've been in Portland for about 12 years, and I've been playing guitar for probably 23 years and been out gigging since 2004. I started out in a band in college called Chico Y Los Gatos. That was my band name for years. I released two albums of original music. I was actually a theater major, and then I switched to English and majored in English, but all at the same time had this band going that I would play in Denton. When I was in Portland, I got into a lot of tribute bands. It's almost all women tribute bands and stuff, so that's been really fun, and got my chops up by doing that.
I never thought I would enjoy tribute bands so much. But it turns out, you know, if you learn other people's music, you're really expanding your Encyclopedia of music knowledge, you know? I love learning guitar riffs from classic rock. That's why my main gig right now is Major Tom Boys, all female-identified David Bowie cover band.
What's next? That's a big theme in my music. Now that I'm in a marriage, there's this... I can write about that. I do, actually. I have one song about the time I fell in love with my wife. She had cancer at the beginning of our relationship. I didn't (until years later) write about that time, but I feel I captured it really well. At the end of 2008, when I met her, it was a hard time.
My album title comes from a drive out to Astoria, Oregon. Out there you'll see trees taken out because of deforestation. I always thought it'd be cool to do a photo shoot out in one of those areas because this is, sad beauty of it. What do these trees have had to say, that are gone now? I'm trying to figure out, what would my ancestors, how would they have responded to this? You know, the destruction that we're seeing, that seems to be beyond our control? When did the scales tip? When did things go too far? When do we let technology run without us? Was there a moment we could have stopped things? Is there still a moment to stop things, you know? Is it okay to still be comfortable in our lives, you know? That's something I asked myself a lot now too.
I have another song that says, "Stand in the middle of the road a crow or a sparrow. Wait for the car to lose control. Ride the wind or the window." When you come upon a bird in the road, it doesn't matter how close you get, they will fly over, you know? So that's what I was thinking about. I was thinking about the way they stand there right at the edge until it's the last second. Don't be afraid to let things get scary, and put yourself maybe in danger artistically as well. Another verse says, "Jump from the highest of the bluffs. Point your feet towards the river. Sink till you're almost out of breath. Kick your legs and go deeper." It's about pushing yourself to go further into your fears. It's essential to practice that in your art and then in your life.
Music, it's a vehicle for connecting with people that you might not connect with otherwise, and always has been, and will continue to be in the future. That song I mentioned earlier called, it's called Oceanside, about falling in love with my wife. I had a man come up to me at a show, talk about how it reminded him of him and his wife, you know, and falling in love. I was, "Oh, that's so sweet." It's relatable to anyone that falls in love. You know, and that that's the importance of music.
Artists, particularly in this country and a lot of countries are not valued. If I was going to change a belief system, and if I wanted to speak to one goal in the life that I've always had in the back of my mind was, how do I sustain artists, you know? And, the belief system is believe that artists are valuable. Practicing art, viewing art, experiencing art, making art, all of that stuff is so healthy for you. It's vital for your health. It's crucial for your education and learning. Art is absolutely essential. You know, I still have trouble committing to the job I'm in, because I feel if I get too stuck in it, I'll never quite get my music out there. I feel trapped in my job. But, be okay with another career -- you're going to do your art, no matter what. If you do it and you practice it, and you get yourself out there, then you're doing it., there's nothing... What else is making it than doing it?
I used to write more about relationships when I first started writing music — the ups and downs of dating. What I've written about has diversified as I've gotten older, and I write about more significant things now than my personal relationships. I write about more social issues now.
I am biracial. I'm half Mexican, half white, Italian, but I'm a white-passing person. So I feel there's the responsibility of white people to do better for people of color. Being that I'm biracial, you know, being true to my Latinx roots about that. I do need to do better as somebody that's both a person of color and a white-passing person of color.
I wrote a song that goes right before…it was around where the inauguration of Trump was, you know. I was trying to figure out how to move forward without a heavy heart. The song starts with, "Quiet down your mind, nobody's fooled, nobody's here by mistake,," basically trying to say this is, you know, we're all here. We all brought us here. The song asks: "I call to the beasts who live within the ocean waves."
What's next? How do I respond, and how do I take responsibility?