Future Prairie Radio Season Four Episode Three: What Speaks to Me with Steven Christian
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.
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.
"Lilies" Wins Big
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.
Future Prairie Radio Season Three Episode Fourteen: Take it All in with Kelly Harland
My name is Kelly Harland. I am a natural perfumer, the owner of Crosby Elements. I create products that center around fragrance for yourself and your space. my primary focus is using natural materials and more of a unisex lens to experience fragrance with.
Prior to moving to Portland, I lived in London for several years. I moved there after I graduated from art school. My mom is from Liverpool, England. I applied for British citizenship and had no idea what I was getting myself into, moving to another country by myself. I was maybe 22 at the time, maybe 20, yeah, 22. that that experience in itself was probably my biggest period of growth that I've ever had because I was… London is this insane melting pot of many different cultures. I mean, it's insane. It's a huge city. I knew nobody, I thought that I would move there and get an internship at some, like, a small design studio, and I thought I was going to be this cool girl from California, the surfer girl, and of course, they're going to want to hire me. that got cut the biggest slice of humble pie when I moved there. no one wanted to talk to me because I didn't go to Central Saint Martin's or Royal College of the Arts. I realized quickly that the design community, especially in Europe, is cliquey. You have to know someone, or you have to have been taught under this specific professor and all this stuff.
I would say that for me, impacted the way that I see life, in general, is because I've never felt vulnerable at, you know, at a young age. I always enjoyed traveling. I used to backpack through South America when I was 19 for two months and traveled a ton, as much as I could, my mom. I said it's from England, we used to go back and forth when we have the time growing up to see my family over there. It was important for her that I get to know them. She used to be a flight attendant, she was always like, "Let's hop a plane over to France or to Switzerland." being exposed to different cultures and different ways of life is important. If you don't have the means to travel, that's also perhaps something you could do by exposing yourself to material that you can learn from or different music or different art or, you know, different parts of your community, whether or not it's a congregation more will have people from India like, go eat at that restaurant that has amazing Indian food. Exposing yourself, to me, to different cultures and ways of life is important. That's stuck with me through now where, I mean, I will obviously travel for any excuse. It's important because it keeps you open-minded. It's what life is all about, and experiencing those things and the way that you can translate that into your work, you know, everything and everyone has a story to tell. Being open-minded and curious about people's lives and what makes them who they are, and traditions and rituals. I mean, it's all to me, interesting.
With our connection now, with all this technology, and we have all these tools at our fingertips to be able to connect with someone or be able to see something that is coming from the other side of the world, it is magical. I have a love-hate relationship with technology, as I'm sure most people do, but for that reason, it's beautiful. for the future, I hope that people can remember that there's much beauty in this world, there are many interesting things to learn and experience and to keep open minded about it and to be curious. , you know, it's hard to not judge. I mean, it's all in us. It's hard to not judge anything, but to keep that door open to learn new things, even if it's completely contrasted to who you are because it's important for the future. That'll all keep us much reminded that we are the same, we are still flesh and blood.
My background in design: I worked in advertising and small design shops in London, San Diego, and Portland, and worked for big brands work for some small brands. after 15 years of doing art direction and creative direction, I knew in my gut that I wanted to continue to story-tell but maybe not visually anymore. I would say the one thing I struggled with the most in this past career and being creative and getting paid for it, and having that be your career, is being a woman in that environment. Most of the time, I was the only female creative in my group. I have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old boy like I can hang, like, nothing can offend me—until you mess with my pay. Then it's like, "Okay, no."
when that happened, that that was the straw that broke the camel's back for me, my heart wasn't super connected anymore. then when stuff that started to happen, I was this is, you know, I thought maybe the creative world was the safe space. That didn't happen there. I didn't plan to get into fragrance. It wasn't something that I always had—it wasn't a side thing or a hobby or anything. It started because my mother is an interior designer. she had moved to Portland because my sister was pregnant, and of course, that makes the grandparents flock to wherever the babies are. I had left the full-time design routine and was freelance. If you've ever been freelance, you know you're either super busy or you have nothing to do. during the times of 'nothing to do,' I was like, "I want to go hang out with my mom," like, they're new in town, she and my dad are getting settled. my mom was like, "Let's figure out how to make candles," and I was like, "Oh, sure, okay," because before it was like, "Let's make jewelry, let's make bracelets," and you know, I enjoyed spending time with her, and it was a good excuse to create while we spend time together.
so, we started making the candles, and that was a beautiful way for us to connect, and that's literally what started Crosby; it came out of nowhere. I guess I completely have my mom to thank for this whole new path I'm on, this fragrance. now that I'm in it, and as I started to make the sensor candles and the hair perfume, I became obsessed with like, "Oh my god, this is how I can story-tell now, like, I don't have to make pretty things, I can make pretty, smelling things and what is nice smelling, not what I've always been known to be, like, what I'm supposed to like."
it opened up this whole new coloring box for me to play it. it was interesting. then that is where I tie my past with this deep, deep respect for the earth and my love for simple natural products. I was like, "I can't… that's all I want to work with." they're beautiful and unique themselves in their raw form before I get a hold of them and start blending them with other things, and it's alchemy, and it's chemistry, and it makes you feel things. That what's been fun for me and impactful is that when I make something and then someone says "Oh, this makes me…This takes me way back to my grandparents' house out in Eastern Oregon," or something, and, "Oh, my god, I have the best memories there." they had bought Earthly Dwellings, which is literally the candle I created to contain that beautiful smell of Eastern Oregon where the sagebrush meets all the rolling grasslands and it's leathery and wet and smoky and but fresh.
It's cool to hear how fragrance can be this little escape, or click the memory and trigger emotions quickly, as you would if you saw this beautiful painting. Or maybe it's not beautiful to you, it makes you feel something. I feel fragrance can take you on a journey, and it can take you to places you want to go to.
I grew up in San Diego, and I have pretty much surfed for my entire life. I was into sports. My dad wanted me to be a son, I played all the sports, and when I injured myself during gymnastics, I learned how to surf. from about junior high, I literally spent the majority of my free time in the ocean. That influenced me as a person. I relate to our natural environment, what I consider to be important in life, in art, and storytelling. It's influenced much of who I am as a person today. with my business, Crosby, how I incorporate the materials that I do, everything is drawn from that childhood of spending much time in the ocean and much respect for nature, how powerful she is, how humbling she is, the great escape she allows you to have when you're in the ocean and hiking or camping or whatever it is you choose to do, but it's impacted my life in many ways with creativity and with business.
Being a teenager in the 90s, there was not the beautiful, bountiful immense options we have right now of perfume and small batch indie, you know, bespoke, all this stuff that we're used to seeing now. In the 90s, it was literally, like, where I grew up, it was whatever is at the strip mall, that was pretty much Bath and Body Works and Victoria's Secret, and then the god awful fragrance counter at Nordstrom or something, which was a nightmare. I was never into cosmetics and perfume, even though I had a mother who would not even answer the front door without a full face of makeup on. I don't know where that disconnect happened, but it was not something I was interested in.
When I began Crosby. I had a specific point of view on fragrance and how it can impact someone's life, as far as what are you presenting to the world when you wear something? from what my mom always wore, what I remember when I was a child, she used to wear Clinique aromatics. to me, and I hate saying this now because I'm almost to be an old lady like I'm almost 40, but I associated perfume with, "That smells an old lady." You know, when I was a kid, that's all I could associate that with and the perfume that my mom wore.
As I began to travel more to other countries and experience beautiful raw materials in different formats, it became something that I was super drawn to and interested in. Being someone who's respectful of nature, and I've never had the tolerance for synthetic fragrances, never been one to use, I guess commercialized products hair products, shampoo, lotions, all that stuff. That doesn't sit with me well; it usually gives me a headache and things that.
That when I started Crosby, it happened out of nowhere. But the one thing that I was interested in is something that now is known as a hair perfume, and I feel that's probably the one product that people would know me by. It's my best-selling product. Specifically, Emerald is, which is my birth stone. The hair perfume thing came from surfing essentially, because I would never wash my hair. I've always had long, thick hair, and I don't do anything with it. Now that it's trendy to not wash your hair as much, which is amazing because we're saving on water and resources. It's amazing that it's trendy right now, and I hope that that trend sticks around. It's healthier for your scalp and all of that stuff.
I remember asking myself, why isn't there a natural hair perfume like something to hold you over in between washing, and you know, dry shampoo is great, but there needs to be that extra step. It's not offensive, it's not overpowering. That's where hair perfume came around to be known. That maybe that connected with many other people.
I have all genders that buy hair perfume. It's not necessarily made for your hair. It can be worn on your skin, on your clothes, you can use it as aroma therapy. Yeah, that was inspired by necessity.
I have four cents of hair perfume: emeralds, opal, garnet, and topaz. I created emerald first because that was my birthstone. I wanted to put all the things, all the notes that I connect with in it, and make it for me, and then the rest of them were inspired by the stones themselves and my interpretation of what that stone embodies. I use that as the concept for creating the actual scent profile from it.
I would say a hair perfume is probably my most well-known product. then I would say candles are probably second to that, which are great, but obviously, candles already exist, and I'm excited that people have connected with my candles and other things because I do try and break a lot of what's expected of like, women to and men to like because I think that's a bunch of bull and, you know, things that like, we're taught at a young age like, if you're a girl then you're supposed to be a princess and wear pink; and if you're a boy, you have to play baseball and wear blue and smell a tree, and then girls are supposed to smell flowers and vanilla. Like, I don't know, cotton candy or something.
When I create anything in my line, I draw from what do I personally like? Without seeing any sort of gender or anything that's been sort of shoved down our throats our entire life, what do I connect with? what sort of story can I tell with that fragrance? How will someone else experience that? What sort of state of mind will it make them go to? Will it be calming? Will it be energizing? Will it make them sit and want to like, stare at the sky and dream or be sensual or anything. It's cool that these beautiful natural materials can make people feel a certain way. you can have control over how you want to feel using fragrance.
Emerald hair perfume, that one is my best seller across any line, any product. Why this one connects with many people is that again, there's no sort of assigned smell gender or anything. I have plenty of men that buy hair perfume, which is awesome. But what connects well with people is that it touches in this maybe humanistic ancestry or ancestral part of ourselves. There's a lot of tree resins and sacred tools or sacred plants that are used in it from different cultures; obviously, there's Palo Santo, there's Sage patchouli, balsam, copaiba balsam, which is a beautiful oil from Brazil, super healing. Just incredible. I'm obsessed with that right now. You can take it internally too, which is amazing for other reasons. Cypress, vetiver, to me, it has all the most amazing things that nature offers. Maybe it's because it's grounding and at the same time refreshing, that there's a little bit of lime in there too and spruce, and that mixed with the Palo Santo, which is getting more of like, a bright citrus woody note, can be refreshing. I don't know, maybe that's why it's the best seller taps on to all those different categories for people.
The product that I love right now, especially during this time of staying inside much is my water fragrance. It's called Ama. I created that because I'm a huge fan of multipurpose products. I fully believe that we do not need to buy as many things as we buy, especially if some of those things we buy concern multiple purposes. With the hair perfume, you can still use that as a room spray. You can use that as an all over body spray as you know, you can open the bottle and sniff it if you need a hit of a good mood or something. It could serve other purposes. But with a water fragrance, I use that because I'm energetically sensitive and being an empath, I can take on a lot, and I was finding myself smudging, clearing, doing all these things every morning, that I enjoy the ritual of it. I'm ritualistic by nature, but I wanted a change and something different.
So, I love using diffusers. I have a nebulizing diffuser that uses air to disperse the oil, which is great because it's keeping the potency of the oils. I was like, I wanted to create an oil that can be dispersed that energetically would be clearing, that is a good way to start the day. It's uplifting and energizing at the same time. But also, I love taking baths. I want that oil to also be able to be used in bath water to nourish my skin, give me that same sort of feeling of grounding and calm, and all the things. That is why Ama exists, but that also has…My two products have Palo Santo, Ama, and Emerald, has Palo Santo, cedar, Palma Ross, balsam, frankincense, cypress, lavender, probably missing a couple notes there, but every note is specifically chosen for specific reasons between energetic properties and also skin healing properties.
While we're staying inside much, it's important to keep your air healthy, your mind healthy, your body healthy. I've definitely seen a spike in sales of the Ama for that reason. That's amazing. Like, I'm happy that it's a tool that can provide people some benefits, both mind and body.
The last year starting in spring, through summer, I began to work on the residency collection, which was my first line of Eau de Parfums. this was all inspired by the idea of artists' residencies. I spent a lot of time traveling, and that is how I gain inspiration, a lot of artists do. It's incredible to feel all the feels and see all the things and experiences that are outside of your normal environment.
I was talking to a friend who owns a hotel out in Eastern Oregon, and he had mentioned to me like, "Oh, I love having artists come here and do artists residencies, and we've never had a perfumer before, you should come out and do one, and that conversation sparked the concept for the new collection. I knew I wanted to come out with a line of Eau de Parfums, but I wasn't sure what the concept was yet. Being a designer by trade, my background is 15 years of doing design. I work from concept; that's how my brain functions. I was like, "There's my concept. That's it. I'm going to go do these artists residencies, and it's an excuse to travel, get out of town, be uncomfortable, go by myself and see the things and talk to the community and have a lot of time to think and experience and take notes and photos and explore flora and fauna and all this stuff and take it all in, and then base that scent off of that experience."
It's not necessarily a literal translation of Joseph Oregon or Joshua Tree or Tofino; it's through the lens of my experience, it's conceptual. That was an incredible experience to have and also to be able to create something an artist would, you know, paint something or a songwriter or anything that. It's just, I now have this physical manifestation of my experience.
That line has three different scents in it natural. I use beautiful organic grape alcohol as the base. Again, they're unisex. The three locations were Tofino, BC, and that was much inspired by the ancientness of that area of Vancouver Island. It's remote and rugged, and I surfed while I was there, which was super fun, and the warmth of the people there influenced that sun, even though it was prehistoric visually. Moved from there to Joshua Tree. That was the one place I had been multiple times, but not using the lens that I was using to make the perfume, and had a very, intense, insane spiritual experience there that was unexpected. that influenced the fragrance to be a lot more on a spiritual side, it's nurturing. I use a lot of sacred resins that are traditionally used in ceremony, and that one feels a cocoon-like. It's warm and spicy and nurturing.
Finally, Joseph, Oregon — which is honestly, beautiful mountainous and prairie and ranching and all this sort of small-town and friendly people, American, but also creative community there, too. that one's green and touched by the history of that like, Chief Joseph and that whole story, I stopped at his gravesite for an hour by myself. It was beautiful and sad. I was like, "Oh, gosh, there's much beauty here. But there's much sadness and repression," all this stuff. that all came out in the fragrance, too, because it felt right. It felt good to express it that way.
I hope that there is more transparency in the years to come. I hope that businesses and politicians and anyone that is influencing other people will be transparent. It's important for us to align ourselves with people who live openly and are honest about, whether it's what they put in their products or their point of view, it's important that we have the information that we need in order to make informed decisions about how we live our lives, and where we spend our money, and who we support.
2020 seems almost overwhelming for small businesses or musicians, artists, creators of all kinds. We need those people around, and what we're all offering the world is important. We need support from the rest of the community to hold other people accountable for that. We can't let the struggling artist thing be a thing of the future. It's as important as the person that's the financial advisor. To me, it's what makes this world a beautiful place. It's what makes things worth it in the end because it's important. I hope that we can continue to build a strong, supportive, creative community by, I don't know, continuing to open the door for the conversation to have more events that talk about that more creative support.
One thing that I find super helpful is connecting with other people that appreciate creativity and appreciate creative minds, and they have more of the left side, and they can give that support by like, you know, "You're an amazing artist or creative, let me help you show you how to get your business going. Let me show you how to structure things that you can actually make money from what you're doing," which we all need. It doesn't make you less of an artist or less of a creative if you're being paid for it properly.
Aligning with people that can help balance out that creativity with the money side of things, because it's really difficult. At least for me in my story. It's I never knew my worth. That's hard to find out, I guess, or do that on your own, because most people don't think of creativity is something that you can profit from or like, build a life off of. I hope that our community continues to provide resources for creatives.
This whole idea of trading, whether that be a physical item or your time, your knowledge is what people used to do before money was this currency. People had a skill and a trade, and they traded that for what they needed. There's much…I feel this more now that I'm in the small business community, especially with a ton of other women who are using, you know, their skills and their creativity to also have a small business is, it feels a sisterhood, or it feels a family. We all want each other to succeed. we all want each other to enjoy what they're doing every day and spread whatever they're bringing to this world to give each other the support.
Crosby is now three and a half years old. Just in the last three years, my community has expanded exponentially. It's like, it's crazy, in the most amazing way. I do see now this supportive network, and there are many times where I've met dear friends of mine through my product that connected us, which is cool. They have something I'm interested in. let's trade our things, and we also share much in common, and it's just, you know, we can help each other out when we need it. That's what's beautiful is you have this deep bond with people, and you can sympathize with what they're going through and, you know, be the rock when they need it and vice versa. Whatever it is that you're offering to the world, it's important to have the support of your community, whatever that community is for you. That's the key too, it's everyone has their own version of what that community is.
I identify with being a right-brainer. I am creative, I'm organized, but I'm also creative, and I can bounce around, and I can get obsessed with the creative process and how it looks and how it smells and how it feels and all the things, and the experience of it. But then, as a business, that's what I do to live off of, that's where I struggled, and I went to art school, and I don't remember ever learning anything of like, "Okay, now here's how you can actually be an artist and be creative but also support yourself." I wish that someone had given me more of the tools needed to apply that to doing your own thing and having your own business. It was easy when I worked in designs, I was always working for someone, I always had a paycheck coming in, and the days that I didn't feel that creative and I wasn't turning out great stuff, it was like, "Whatever, I'm still collecting my pay and stuff, and I didn't have a creative day today."
When it's applied to freelance, if you're doing anything off commissions or whatever, it's, you're only going to be as good as your hustle is and then your network. My biggest advice is to align yourself with people who can support you on the actual business side of things. I wish someone would have told me that like, the day I thought that I could actually turn my newfound love of fragrance into a business, I wish someone would have said, "I know you don't have any money right now, but tap your friend who's actually good at business stuff or financial advice or whatever it is, whoever that is in your life, and even if you don't have money to pay them, offer a trade, like, trade. Be like, 'Can you help me organize my accounts? Can you give me some advice on how to structure things I'm not in debt or I'm not bleeding money out, and I can't pay my rent," or whatever? "I know I can't pay you your hourly rate, or I can't afford your fee, but what if I create something for you I will give you no all the hair perfume you've ever desired and some candles, and let's trade you know my time for your time."
I wish I would have known that back then because that is your biggest ally and your tool, and this is to allow you to be creative but also feel you have the support to still make a living and still survive because that's obviously as important as creating. Being able to use your resources that you have, like, you know, contact your cousin, if that's what they do or whomever it is and ask like, there's no harm in asking, the worst they're going to say is no.
It's important for everyone, especially creative people, to have something that grounds them and quiet their mind in order for the space in your brain and like, the channel from whatever it is you believe in or don't believe in, to be able to be open to get that information. Maybe that's my belief, is that what we're sharing artistically with the world isn't coming from ourselves, it's coming from our ancestors, it's coming from whatever is beyond, alien, whatever it is that you connect with or that you believe in, that works, it's much more, it's like, we're much deeper than what our physical bodies are.
That's something I've leaned on much in creating, because I don't sit down and then say to myself, "Okay, I need to create a new perfume, and I'm going to start pulling my supplies out and start messing around," like, I have to have an intention going into it. Sometimes that intention might be strong, sometimes that intention might be a little not that strong, and then maybe my materials will start to speak to me, and then it becomes strong. But one thing that I personally have been able to lean on for that, sort of quieting my mind and letting that idea come through because that's how I work, I need to have a concept, I need to have that idea, is I do a tea practice. It's connecting again, with nature with beautiful, high vibrational, high-quality tea leaves, and I have a whole ceremony, and it's my form of meditation. It's my form of connecting with myself with spirit with nature. It's all in one. It teaches me patience, and it teaches me to sort of settle in and be more of a vessel to let these leaves speak to me and open up my heart and my mind to receive whatever sort of creative pings I'm getting. That's happened countless times like it's memory, it's experiences, but in order to actually sit down and work and be mind frame, tea much helps me get there and get prepared to start to create.
The pandemic has influenced maybe, from my point of view, the community to rally around each other. I feel it's been super supportive. I feel the community has come through, maybe in this bubble of Portland or some…and I'm hoping it's not that bubble, but my immediate community of Portland and all the other business owner females, all this stuff. It's every I feel wrapped around and then supported, and that… I can only hope that that's the case for other people that they do feel supported and people are dealing with many different variables of trying to get through this and of still maintaining some sort of normalcy, whether that be with their family, their mental health, their physical health, their financial well-being, and it's much as uncertain right now that the community is crucial at this point, this is the time where our community needs to show up for one another, whether that's buying that takeout from the restaurant you don't want to see closed, because they're the sweetest owners and you want them to stay open. Or buying products from someone in your community because that's the money going back into, you know, your local economy. This has been a great time for people to see the string in numbers that we're collectively trying to do the best thing for people's health by staying inside wearing a mask, being mindful of the things we're close to, and touch, and things that. It's forced us to strength in numbers.
The thing that's come up for me the most during this time is how apparent light and dark is, that we've all been forced into seeing this whole thing that's happening right now, the darkness of many things, the lives lost, illnesses, the lack of organization and support from our government and people losing their jobs and hardships. But on the flip side, there's all this light that has come from it, and I mean, that is just—I could go on and about all the light that I personally see in it, but it's become apparent to me that there is no time that the present and that without dark there is no light and vice versa. It's apparent to me right now. It's raw and important to acknowledge that and be okay with it, and/or try and find some sort of peace in that and comfort in it, that everything has this balance to it. Perhaps this will be the time where the most incredible advancements for humankind will come out. The most incredible music will come out of this, and the most incredible art and poetry and novels, and all of this stuff will come out of this time.
Historically, when there's something awful that happens, something amazing will follow. I wholeheartedly believe that there will be more good than bad that comes out from this pandemic.
Future Prairie Season Three Episode Thirteen: No Spectators Allowed with Kanani Koster
I'm Kanani Koster. I'm a Hapa director, filmmaker, AD, and producer here in Portland. My pronouns are she, her. Hapa is pigeon or Hawaiian for half. I'm Japanese-Hawaiian and white. That is a big part of the work that I make in a lot of different ways. I have been living in Portland for the last year and a half. Moving to Portland was the main thing that's driven my career forward. I lived in Seattle beforehand and felt stunted and didn't feel connected to the community. The second, my partner and I landed in Portland. I started getting jobs. I started meeting the coolest people here who were supportive and excited to work on my projects and excited to have me on to help with theirs. That's meant a lot to me.
I find it essential to bring BIPOC people onto my projects and working with women-identifying people because the set is different when you have a nice mix of everyone coming together. I guess that's my background: my racial and ethnic background is precisely that. It's this weird mix of cultures, you know, it's that islander vibe of having all these Asian identities and Hawaiian. All the islanders are coming together and also learning to acclimate to larger, more comprehensive systems. That's a little bit about how I try to build my sets and relate directly to my ethnic identity.
When I was younger and middle and high school, I took a lot of film production classes. I remember I enjoyed the classes at first but eventually got frustrated. Many girls were doing those types of courses because many of the dudes would do all my work for me. they were, "Oh, I'm going to help you out here." Or, "you can be in front of the camera." Honestly, I hate being in front of a lens.
I remember getting fed up and tired of it and not pursuing it, because it didn't seem like a real career, ironically. I went to college, and then I started looking at education and becoming a teacher. That was not fun either for me. As soon as I got out of college, I started a small nonprofit, with my partner, Travis, called Cherry Street Films. It was merging those two things, which was education and filmmaking, and we started teaching filmmaking across Seattle at a different location. It would be more accessible because social justice was also a big part of my graduate degree.
That was fun for a while. I appreciated the work I did, but it bugged me deep down because I love film much, and it means much to me. I was teaching it, but I wasn't producing any of my content. I was supporting all these young people. It was exciting to see them all get inspired by the work that they could have. It made me also want to do that.
I started doing that in Seattle, I started meeting more people who would collaborate with me, and I started learning more about filmmaking on my own and working on sets in different positions. It was still pretty hard, though. There weren't that many projects to get involved in. It was a lot of my projects that I was leading up there. Until, yeah, eventually, I started directing, and then I would work on the side as an AD on a few friends' sets and support other people in smaller producer roles. That's where I made my first big short film as I call it, "The New Frontier," which is a Western all about BIPOC people and reclaiming that history.
I've always loved period pieces, mostly old westerns, but I hate watching them because John Wayne and all these white cowboys are unappealing. I love the imagery. I love the aesthetic of it. I love the idea of what the Old West was because it was such a diverse time. You know, we had many people of color who were building our nation up, I mean, the entire expansion of the West is because we had Chinese-Americans, Chinese migrant workers building outward.
My other piece that I wish I was able to include in the films, during the Old West up until 1865, that's all when we got Hawaii as a state into our country, and that also is a big piece of the Western expansion of the United States. Much of that history isn't told in these old westerns that I wanted to touch upon. That was my first big short, and it was relaxed and fun. It wasn't perfect by any means, and I still cringe watching it. That was the big piece that got me started on this.
Right now, I'm working on two projects. One is currently in production, and the next one is in pre-production. What's currently in production is funded through the Oregon State Film brand and travel Oregon extreme adventure grant, all about diverse women motorcycle riders in Oregon called Any Oregon Sunday. I'm working with Tiffany and Janie and Jasmine Carsey, and we're just...I'm excited. That's what my whole week has been; it has been out shooting.
It's been cool to highlight all these women. Something we're trying hard to do is, of course, in the pre-production and getting grants and sponsorships, we've been using the keyword "diverse women." We're hoping to do that less once we get into distribution. We’re taking those words out of the plotline and logline synopsis, because we want it to normalize that women ride. We want to call it a motorcycle documentary, rather than feeling stuck in this women’s motorcycle box, this mysterious diversity box.
We're hoping to submit it to the festival and have a wider audience come to this film and say, "Oh, there are only women who are in this film." That shouldn't feel that it needs a label to it. That's something that leads to a lot of my work. It's something we're trying to be critical about normalizing things without tokenizing people. That's been necessary when we're interviewing people on; you don't have to label yourself in any one specific way. You don't feel you have to describe how different it is to ride a motorcycle while being a woman because it's not. It's not different at all. You have your own full story, and we want to focus on you being a badass.
The project I'm working on afterward, which is currently in pre-production that we're hoping to shoot in September/October, is called No Spectators Allowed, a short film. That one is a thriller about missing Indigenous women. It's critical of this true-crime love that many people have, including myself, and how we look at women, especially BIPOC women, as disposable, as bodies, as this sexy, gratuitous thing that spices up the story about why you don't ever think about these women who are murdered by serial killers as people and how problematic that is.
That storyline is a tug-o-war between this true-crime podcast host and this indigenous woman sister as they have this tug-o-war on-air over what this narrative will be. Is this focused on serial killers? Or is this focused on the murdered victim or this victim's life and her story and how we need to solve it?
We've been slowly carrying off on pre-production while we are in production for the motorcycle documentary. Jasmine and I have started storyboarding on that, Chelsey Owensby has signed on as a producer, and she's working on getting us some additional funds for that. We're tightening up the script. We're working towards partnering with a few other indigenous orgs. I've got some friends from "The New Frontier" that I'd to show them the script to once I feel it's a little closer to what will be in its final form and have them give some feedback and critiques.
On "The New Frontier," I was lucky, and I was able to have some consultants from the Yakima tribe because we were shooting on that, on the Wapato Reservation. It was important for that story to be told in a specific way that felt authentic. We're trying to do the same thing on No Spectators Allowed, depending on who our lead actress is when we cast her. We want to collaborate with her on tweaking the script. It feels more authentic and filming me at least part of it on the Reservation, and even in the long term, thinking about how we're going to be holding some screening and feedback discussion thing.
A big part of my intention is reclaiming these stories, these genres, and for No Spectators Allowed, it's reclaiming that Fincher murder thriller, but in a smart way that's tackling these larger problems of being gratuitous, of being sexist, or taking advantage of these horrific stories and pointing out the issues and problems that we continuously see in films. A big part of the process I have is how we show the script before we even shoot anything to whoever is our consultant on board and the actresses and actors involved and feeling out what's happening. It's every single step of the process, you know, if it's that bad by post, then I messed up. It's little alignments that I see happening in post-production that I've done in the past, where I'm, "You know what, you're right. The way we cut there didn't feel right; maybe we should have cut sooner. Or maybe that was too gratuitous, and that didn't lend itself to the story in the right way, we should cut that piece out because that's not helping." It's gross at that point, you know, because there's such a fine line. After all, I do love violence and gory things. It's always been a fine line that I play where I'm, "I want to point out this problem, but I also want to have fun and have violence and gore here. For this story, in particular, does that work? How are we going to frame it? Isn't it problematic or something we've already seen a million times?
When I approached these stories, "The New Frontier," which was a Western, I sat down with my writing team, and I said, "Okay, well, when we're writing this, what cliches are we actively trying to avoid and it was, we don't want any white saviors. We don't want anybody blacker brown bodies to be murdered or killed. We don't want anyone raped, of course. It was one of those things, but it's a Western, we have to have some gore. I said, "Guess we're killing the white people. That's going to be fun." In most westerns, we see mostly black and brown bodies being killed.
A lot of the work that I created is with this assumption, and with this hope that we're ready to have these more significant dialogues and discussions. I remember when I made The New Frontier, I focused on what I wanted to tell and what my friends wanted to tell. Each chapter was told by a different BIPOC person, creative, or writer. They helped write a short poem over each of those chapters. I said, take it wherever you want to go, and we're going to build a narrative around that. I didn't think about how it would be taken. Once we edited it together and started showing it to people, I remember how uncomfortable specific audiences were with it. It's a mix. We're ready to have these discussions and especially looking at right now as we're looking at the systemic racism within our country and how that aligns closely with the work that I'm producing in terms of calling that out. It works well. It's timely, or at least I hope it is. I hope that my work aligns in a way that we can have these uncomfortable discussions for the future.
For "No Spectators..." we're hoping to start shooting at the end of September, which is a crazy timeline, but I am hopeful. Chelsea is a powerhouse producer and knocks through things, and Jasmine Carsey, our DP, is also a badass who's ready to work. It is already working on the storyboard with me, even though we're currently amid this insane motorcycle documentary. We're hoping to have that shot in late September, early October, spend the winter in post-production and then, in theory, start to submit something by late spring. We'd have a rough screening cut at some closer local orgs to partner with to get some feedback on and feel it out. See if it is headed in the right direction, or if there is something we do need to reshoot or if something is not feeling right.
Because the story is essential to me, you know? We're talking about murdered women and how their stories and pop culture has always been geared towards the serial killer. What is sexy? What type of story or even most black and brown bodies and has been ignored completely? I take it seriously. It's super important when we're...Even once we're on post, and we've made an edit, you know that it's worth fixing if there's an issue. We'll find a way to do that. To me, having community feedback sessions are such a big part of the story process. That hopefully will happen in the late spring and summer; I imagine it will be this beautiful, shiny, polished project.
I want to continue to grow as a producer, especially learning more about distribution. That's such a crucial part of the filmmaking process that a lot of other filmmakers that I know tend to forget about or at least are exhausted by the entire process. By the point that they get to distribution, they're too tired and throw the reins and are, "I don't care, anybody can have this film if they throw me $2,000 or $5 or whatever the cost is, the check they get.
I want to continue on my career path, learning, and having a firm hold on to continue to support my community of friends and their projects and distribution deals. I want to continue to direct, of course. I want to continue to grow as a director, especially in finding more funding for my projects. I'm pretty good at writing grants. There are many other pieces to funding a film that I am not equipped for that I haven't met the right people yet, and that's something I want to look for in the future. I want to continue to stay in Portland and help everyone else on their projects as much as they've helped mine.
I am a producer of Scott Brown's documentary, Dear Doris, which is all about the drag queen Doris fish and her insane life story and how she made this film called Vegas in Space. That's also RACC funded, and I helped him write a grant for that as well. Continually join that supporting all of my friends and fellow creatives, such as Alberta Poon, who always has the coolest projects. I help her anyway I can as an AD and jump on those projects. I am continuously being a part of this community and supporting everyone else because they've continually shown up for me.
I remember before production started on, I had the blues. It hit me. I got melancholy. I felt I was never going to do a project again, even though I had a Regional Arts and Culture Council grant given to me, and I'd gotten this other grant for the Travel Oregon and Oregon Sunday. I got blue waiting for it to happen, and it's hard to get out of that headspace when you're there. Any Oregon Sunday I reached out to a friend, I reached out to Ashley Mellinger over at Desert Island Studios, who's been a producer for me. She's always working on such cool stuff.
I said, "Hey, I'm feeling down right now, do you want to trade scripts and give me feedback. I'll give you feedback. I don't know, and I'm blue. I need that right now." she's lovely and sweet. She said, "Of course, I would love that." she immediately sent me a script. She said, "I don't know if this will be made. I wrote it in a haze or for fun, or this is an older one." I sent her a script. I don't think we gave each other our scripts' feedback back. It was such a...it lifted my spirits quickly. It's reaching out to your fellow creatives and sharing scripts, sharing stories with friends over FaceTime. Or if they're in your little bubble, having them over in person and having writing parties.
Chelsea Owensby came over, and we wrote a ridiculous script for Hump. "Yeah, we can make this even, it'll be COVID safe, and we'll have a drone, and it'll be ridiculous." She signed on for No Spectators Allowed. We dropped the Hump project, but it's one of those things, it's okay to drop projects, it's okay to keep them on the back burner to throw it in an archived project folder. Continually trying to write and being open to the writing process is a super collaborative process. I was always willing to read other people's scripts. That's a vital part of it, you know, you get excited. Hopefully, suppose you're reading other people's writings. In that case, you'll be inspired not only to write but also to help them do whatever cool film they have in their minds, whether whatever role they need as a producer as an AD, and that's how I've been doing it.
I feel lucky to have many awesome cool people who are doing cool work and are continually pushing me and helping me in my career, and I aspire to do the same for them.
Future Prairie Radio Season Three Episode Twelve: The Art Part with Michael Davis-Yates
Hello, I’m Michael Davis-Yates. I’m a guy that makes audio stuff that I really like. And that’s my motivation for it. I was raised in Benton Harbor, Michigan as an adopted child of two really cool people. My mom was a teacher. My dad worked for the city and sang in the Lakeland Choral Society and St. Joseph Michigan. Through them, I got a real love for music. My dad was a jazz guy. And also, he worked with his vocal group. My mom was the president of our church choir for as long as I can remember, music was always a big part of my life.
As a kid, I was kind of an oddball nerd, and I spent a lot of time alone as an only child, even though I had pretty hardcore group of friends in my neighborhood. I always found time for myself to find things out by breaking electronics by accident and then taking them apart with a screwdriver to see what was inside. Junior High was a big one; I blew up my first speaker with too much power from an amplifier. The smell of the electronic smoking and the impact of the driver blowing out was pretty cool. I wanted to know more, and I kept with it.
I’m definitely not as outgoing as I’d prefer to project. My life as a DJ is an excellent example of that. It insulates me from the public aspect, because I’m out, but I’m not really out and available. I don’t have to interact that much. I’m a huge nerd. I still keep a day job, which was heavily brought to me due to Cstm Math and my speaker building. It all turned into a portfolio. Now I’m working for a company that I’ve been with for about four years that’s in Portland. We build studio monitor speakers for professional recording studios. That takes up a lot of my time. I’ve been DJing at night and on weekends (until COVID hit). Now I’ve gotten a lot more time to focus back into things and realizing that there is no rush. The ideas are there and working on them and making them better has been a great asset to me.
I’m making speakers and boomboxes. A lot of my boombox work now has been based around vector recreations of retro boomboxes, or imagination stuff that pops out. Yeah, that, imaginary stuff. I work with plywood mostly. Laminated plywood is my favorite thing to work with, stacking the layers of Baltic birch to get a really cool edge effect.
Cstm Math is a name that I came up with a couple of years ago for it. I’ve been building speakers since 2011. And at the time, I created a name, Leap — Lamar Exciting Audio Project. Lamar is my DJ name, DJ Lamar La Roy, and that was a thing. I kind of got jaded after a while of working with that, due to outside influences in my speaker building and decided to step away from that.
Cstm Mathematics came up during a point in time where I was reading up on the 5% Nation of Islam. They have a thing called supreme mathematics, which is the numbers one through ten with a symbol that represents a step of knowledge and learning, understanding. Reading through that, it felt kind of inspiring. It inspires me. Custom Mathematics means I do customized speaker work. I need to customize this because I definitely can’t focus on the pre-mathematics because there’s some problematic things with that whole ideology. But the ten parts were pretty prominent, and that’s where Cstm Math came from.
The public art showing was going to be in June, and it was going to be a straightforward showing of my works from the last seven years and up until the latest stuff that I’ve been working on. But over this time, I thought more about reaching out to other artists that I know from my experience in Portland to collaborate with work, and I believe that’s the direction that it will take. Now, as far as an in-person showing, I don’t know if that’ll actually be possible, the entire premise of that would be to have as much traffic as possible, and if traffic is going to be stifled by mandate, that’s kind of a non-starter. At the same time, not needing to produce this live event would open up a lot more time to dial in my website, which is in sad repair at this moment. That could be an excellent formal introduction to everything.
I will have a public showing. There are two parts that are going to be focused on in the showing, when it happens, in whatever form it happens. And that would be the retro design boxes, or things that are straight out of my imagination. When it comes to the ones for me, they’re a little bit more on the hi-fi side of things, where sound quality is the first concern, along with that cabinet construction being solid. And I laminated plywood, because it gives me the ability to mill out internal forms that you can’t make by gluing panels edge to edge, you know, traditional manufacturing processes. It gives a solid sound when you dunk on it, and I like that. Whereas the retro designs are more focused on the adornments which are...Well, it’s a combination of traditional table saw work, along with laser etching. I use a tiny laser in my basement to cut out single pieces. Imagine an old school JVC boombox has little silver buttons for tape deck, play, pause, and all that stuff, or tiny switches and small bezels over the speakers, all those parts, I’m cutting out singly with a saw or the laser, then reassembling them at varying levels of height to add a three dimensional element to the facade of these boom boxes. Vector art and tedious gluing.
As far as art making...the art part of it all is pretty much the main experience. If I can remember that far back, I’m getting pretty old now, I feel a professor actually mentioned that that might be the most essential part of any art — the process.
Living through things is going to be my lifelong art project. I’m a beautiful person inside and out. For the future, I have two things on my mind. I’m a strict nerd when it comes to what I desire. If I have a plan, I chip away at it until it’s finally executed. That’s what all this has been in roundabout ways that I didn’t predict. Hopefully, at some point, I will be creating a venue, but my central part is building a legally insane system that makes people feel something they’ve never felt before. And it’s mostly for that, not for profit, per se or the usual things. But I mean, the system is actually what it’s been called in my mind a lot, but it’s the space that would encompass a music venue, performance venue, with an insane sound system, hence the name. Al recording facilities. It would be a community hub type situation where people can do whatever they want without needing a gatekeeper’s okay to get in and perform or pay absorbing fees, or anything that. Kind of what Regional Arts and Culture Council does for people, except embodied in a tiny venue that’s a niche. That seems a farfetched goal nowadays with COVID dampening the parade. My biggest dream would be chilling somewhere, in a small manufacturing shop, making stuff.
My creative routine is not too creative at all. It essentially involves getting up for work early in the morning, going there, spending eight hours, getting off, taking about 30 minutes to breathe a little bit, and then going in the basement and looking around at what there is trying to get to it. I’m still in the baby stages of it, I feel, I haven’t really hit my stride. It’s more of a, I know if I can keep myself focused on the goal, keep on chipping away at it, I’ll get somewhere at some point. And the chipping away feels pretty good to me. I don’t have a problem with that.
We definitely need more art to get a lot of views across nowadays, especially for things that really matter, because we happen to live in a time where attention spans are very short. And it seems it’s something that’s done on purpose to keep people chomping at the bit of near insanity. To tell the truth, the last few years, culminating with now have been quite frightening. I wouldn’t say depressing, because it’s far too scary to get into a slump for me. It feels we need more art to like, allow people to speak without shouting over each other, and have a comment that actually lasts. You can walk away from your moment of anger and then see that again and say, “Hey, maybe I’ve caught a message here.”
Seek out help, because there’s a ton of support here. Portland is a beautiful city to live in. I can’t say that there’s any place I’ve ever lived in the United States that offers as much help towards its citizens trying to get a leg up doing whatever it is they’re doing. For a long time, I did not pay attention to it. It wasn’t until last year that I spoke with a friend who mentioned to me three or four more friends who had ideas and approached different entities and have their dreams come to fruition. If you have your passion, follow that passion, because that’s going to be the thing that drives you, no matter what.