Law of Motion

Yesterday I liquidated my collection of collages. Random venues of varying sizes that I have turned into small habitats with paint, cloth, and objects found over a twenty-five year search. Observable outcomes from my last five years in Portland. And today I release them to the Law of Motion, as social relationships that will come back to me. 

Which Us? Performances of Safety and Belonging in the Kenton Neighborhood

There is something that doesnt feel right about a group of European-American artists (of which I was a part) curating a show about music in the Kenton neighborhood, without acknowledging how our presence (through Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, opened in the neighborhood 2007) is a related to dis-/re- investment trends of preceeding decades. 

The publicity for the show reflects the change in the neighborhood without discussing it directly. Here is a press release of the show.  Here is the K12 news coverage of the Kenton Audio Walk. Here is the article publish in Oregon Artswatch. Its as if this exhibition gave all these news sources an outlet to celebrate the connection between contemporary art and the Kenton neighborhood, without acknowledging the mechanisms behind these shifting plate tectonics.  

Investment into North Portland infrastructure (new max lines, urban renewal zones, bike lanes and grocery stores) requires (especially creatives) to ask: what happens when my possession depends on your dispossession, now or in the past? 

Here are clips from a performance I did in response to the experience of creating The Music That Makes Us. Thank you to Tahni Holt, Daniel Lasunscet, Bryan Suereth, and the Social Practice cohort at PSU, without whom the materials of this piece would not have precipitated.

Rural Magenta Ghettos and Urban Peach Cubes

Dear Visitor to The Enclave, by Richard Mosse, February 2015:

When you assert in passing that the infra-red landscapes of war-torn Angola are “beautiful,” I can only assume that: a.) you are intimidated by the intense subject matter and can only process the work aesthetically; b.) you do not take seriously the people photographed and choose only to reflect on the landscape surrounding them; or c.) the artist so effectively transformed the photospace into a surreal landscape with Dr. Sues hues of a fantasy vegetation to the point which you cannot recognize that it - and the people who live there - are related to your life, even this very moment in a white-turned-pink cube at the Portland Art Museum.

By contrast, I found the still images - faces of generations marked by battle - to be equally completely compelling, and they brought the conflict to a closer place in my heart. Not to mention the submersive experience within the video enclave that ends with birth. Yet around me in the gallery and about town people talk of how “beautiful” the show is, in almost a dirty, scandalized way. As if somewhere the consciousness of a deeper reaction looms beneath their surface pleasantries. And yes, there is a lot to experience beyond magenta treetops. Fathoms, in fact. But the fact that the apparent majority of viewers cannot - or chose not - to engage these chasms indicates to me a problem (not inherent, but present) in either work or gaze. To what extent do magical pink forests and desolate fuchsia landscapes serve to further otherize the people in a place that too often absorbs (white) mass(es of) pain, sorrow, and guilt, Joseph Conrad style? It breaks my Heart (of Darkness) to think that in all of the images of family, children, babies, entrenchment, the takeaway becomes the vibrance of electric hills. 

Then Raymond clutched me as the film reel crunched bones and flesh, and I was brought back again to mine - sinews, veins - as the sight where this work lives, phenomenologically, vis-a-vis my/is/our body. 

Mellons in Pittsbooger

Originally published on YELP on 25 May 2016:

A trip always starts the night before it starts.

Though you lie still/still lie in familiar sheets, your mind and heart have already flown into the pages of a blank clock, imaging and creating memories that will materialize, anticipating takeoff and sights beyond. Tomorrow we depart for Pittsburgh PA. Nona and Papa sent us on our way with a full belly, a few bills, a sack of oranges, and a wellspring of affection that only (grand)parents can supply. And now there is nothing to do but dream.. Soon we will be amidst them. 

Visiting Carnegie Mellon for Open Engagement 2015, I encountered a notable experience within the trajectory of, as its called, "interracial parenting." During Group Bio, a workshop by Lenka Clayton, a group of participants circled up to write a Group Bio: each sentence was to be equally true for each of the twenty-plus people in the room. Our Group Bio reads surprisingly seamlessly, yet moments of the process were anything but. 

Attempting to find commonality, we sat offering possible phrases. Midway through the workshop someone asserted: “We are all of European descent.” I stood up in an exaggerated yet unavoidable knee-jerk reaction. “That’s ridiculous!” I inarticulately blurted out before anyone else - including my socialized self - responded. The room went silent. Even I reeled in surprise at my body’s physical reaction to the statement, and remained surprised as the conversation unfolded. Apart from the inconsideration of Raymond (we had already decided to exclude my son - whose physical form evokes transglobal migration of our ancestors - on account of the age-limited life experience of someone under two), I was disgusted by the blunt, surface assumption only possible by a woman whose life is wrapped in her performance of Whiteness.

Later - while examining my emotional response to that moment - I discovered a notion of posterity that roots itself in those who come after rather than before. Given that I have reproduced myself as a body who is/will be read as a black/brown man, I now parent (and create) a black/brown future. Moreover, the people who carry on my lineage are members of the African diaspora - though one may not read this intricacy from my buttercream surface. Yet if mother is child then they are me and I am them so what am I, oh degenerating world of designation? By looking to the future we find a unity that the here-now requires and it is this inter-dimensionality that is thwarted by homogeneous groupthink. To the woman who assumed her ability to read performance of ancestry was complete, I wish to probe: who or what composes European descent, in the first place? And within the realization that what/who is/was "European" results from voluntary and forced transatlantic and trans-Saharan migration, may the antiquated notion of container-driven (social/physical) spaces unwind through our, my very own, bloodlines. 

Upon our return to Portland Nona asked, “Ray, how was Pittsburgh?” and, pointing to his nose, he revealed both a hidden word within the city’s name as well as toddler-era infatuation with nostrical byproducts. “Pittsbooger” he smiled.

Perhaps language is best kept in poetics.

Black Salt Collective at Open Engagement

Originally published on YELP on 23 May 2016:

At Open Engagement (hosted by the Oakland Museum of California last month), members of the Black Salt Collective shared works that result in atmosphere rather than border-bound notions of land. Through their work and talk, Sarah Sass Biscarra-Dilley, Grace Rosario Perkins, and Adee Roberson explore(d) identity as atmosphere that is not based on land: ownership of it, belonging to it. 

"We don't come from cultures that are about ownership. The commodification of ideas, this is built on stolen land and labor," Sarah Sass Biscarra-Dilley articulated as she explained how her work intersects with her cultural roots. "I was raised as a visitor," yet so often relationships to land are guided by modes of entitlement, ownership and belonging.

For Grace Rosario Perkins, the formal elements of abstract painting express how she experiences identity: "Im trying to map shifting relations to land and identity, and I'm not interested in dominant culture. That's why I use abstraction." Thus an obscured gaze becomes a method of resistance that requires new ways of forming meaning and connection. 

Adee Roberson discussed the migration of a drum as a self portrait, demonstrating how the ephemerality of music illuminates the shifting, contingent nature of how we simultaneously create and receive heritage. 

Together they seek - through their work as a collective - "to create a platform to bring people up together." And it is because of this resistance to ego-based production that the contemporary art world - even the rapidly-commodifying realm of social practice - has much to learn from the Black Salt Collective. Check out their work and keep it movin'. XO

Post .Paak

Originally published on YELP on 5/1/2016:

Two weeks ago I caught up with Deja Gaston after the Soul'd (and sold) - Out show relocated to the Roseland to hear about a different side of the man who sings and drums and moves dance floors all at once. When you receive Anderson.Paak live you realize - whether in the conscious mind or somewhere else in space time - that he (in tandem with the people on stage and behind the scenes, sound mixed by Nevin Thomas) is presenting to you a moment of the future-now navigated by the choices you make right here, right now. And catching up with his high school niece I saw that innovation and intelligence run in the family. She and two friends took an English project to the streets to turn a homework assignment into something more than a means to an end, something with personal relevance. Rather than research an historic author, these young ladies decided to talk to her uncle for the assignment. And, shared over french fries, her stories incarnate the messenger as human, illuminate the body that conduits your star gaze:

"When the album dropped and all the stuff started happening everyone didn't believe me and I was like 'I've been telling you guys since seventh grade like do you need me to like show you the pictures ?'

"Its cool just to see how far he's come like I just remember he had a room for his music and he used to play in his room and I was the bugaboo little kid that was always there. He used to try and scare me out the room.

"Some of the songs he has I remember when he was making the beats to those. Like cellphone  you know that song yea he made that as a joke it was a voice memo on his phone and then that turned into a legit song.

"We all have the choice, the musical talent and the choice. Its passed down through the family for sure but we all express it differently. I do my own thing, like I don't like have a soundcloud or anything you know but I do sing on my guitar I mean, what comes out just comes out. We're still included, the Timan Family Choir that's me and my sisters so its pretty cool that he brings us in. We all have musical talents but we obviously express it differently.

"He doesn't act like a crazy celebrity its cool. I love it. I love him. My uncle. It touches my heart to see all these people who love him and are just like doing the most for him. I'm proud because he touches peoples hearts, not just the music but the way he carries himself. It's awesome."

Check out the voice memo, tangled with the sounds of Saucebox, here. And be sure to follow this rising star @deja_simone (IG/twitter)

After dinner we sent these young queens to the hotel and followed the concentric afterparty circuits. From the green room at Roseland we cooked it at Saucebox with Joey Beach on deck, dance party in the front door lobby while they prepared the balcony for an unexpected party. Pink champagne at Fifth Avenue, a Jupiter pillow fight until the public side ended at Service. Champagne sunrise at PLAT "I got a play COACHELLA tonight" -- tell me Portland can you handle Anderson Paak ??!?

What is Neutral about the British Overseas?

Here is an email I sent to the owner of Saffron Colonial before the name was changed to the "less controversial" British Overseas Restaurant Corporation. The text was also published on YELP on 3/16/2016 before being deleted by administration. 

Dear Sally Krantz,

I look forward to the day when I get to peruse your menu and try the dishes. But until then I must respond to the article published by the Oregonian (http://www.oregonlive.com/dining/index.ssf/2016/03/north_portland_saffron_colonia.html ) about the debate surrounding the name of the restaurant you opened, Saffron Colonial. 

You are quoted: “Im really interested in history and how all societies affect others. Its not always good, but its not always bad either.” I agree that this conversation becomes one-dimensional when we begin using language of “good” and “bad” (which quickly become “us” and “them”…) Yet there are power dynamics that influence how “societies affect others.” To discuss British colonial history without a nod to the wealth extracted from those territories into the pocketbooks of a British throne is just simply ignorant. Since you are “really interested in history,” why ignore the full spectrum of the era you seek to extract profit from through historic culinary re-enactment?

The phrasing used in another quote shows that you privilege the British empire over the black/brown cultures that intersected : “for me its about the cultural melding of food around the world, focusing on how England has transformed and affected cuisine where they've been present.” Just this simple phrasing indicates a huge cultural bias that you and your establishment represent: why is it that “England has transformed and affected cuisines‘  rather than highlighting or celebrating how english cuisine has been transformed by cuisines of the colonies?  This may seem like a simple shift in semantics, but in fact it speaks volumes to your perspective, which seems to align with an historical narrative tendency. To put black/brown people and spaces into a passive verb tense is a form of linguistic castration. This is the hidden bias of white privilege that weaves into so many “multi-cultural” or “post-racial” (ha!) conversations. How can you celebrate (and capitalize on) the “cultural melding of food around the world” without acknowledging the imperialism that generated this cultural melting pot in the first place? The cultural melange that happened around the world in the colonial era was not an equal exchange as your interview quotes seem to imply. It was a process of capture and re-definition with genocidal affect for the purpose of expanding British empire. To capitalize on this era without critically acknowledging its full history (and yourself in its re-enactment) is, again, laced with ignorance. 

Perhaps she has not thought of it from a different perspective? I ask myself, giving you the benefit of the doubt as I sit down to write this during my cherished nap time repose. It would be much easier to assume that you are a white supremacist trotting the globe on the backs of black and brown bodies, labor, and culture to better yourself and your career as a character of contemporary culinary imperialism. But I want to believe that you and I share in more ways than we differ, and that we have the same goals of generating community spaces in our hometown where all people feel safe and whole, while creating legacy to pass down to our children. Yet you have created a space where my son - and many other peoples children - are not welcome, because you are promoting an era of history when his integrity was/is threatened by British arrival. 

The power dynamics re-enacted by the geographic location of your business on a street once known as Black Broadway is another topic all together, but let me say this. 

You mentioned that you feel that “A lot of people are confused… Colonial is used on a lot of things: to describe a period of time with food architecture and literature.. It seems like some people have confused that world with American Slavery.” The word Colonial is offensive anytime it shows up - whether describing architecture food or literature. I and others consciously stay away from those cultural expressions because there is a consciousness embedded into them that does not resonate with me or the reality of my posterity. To think that the backlash against the “colonial” in Colonial Saffron is tied to american slavery is a gross and again naive simplification of a global phenomenon that yes, also touched American soils. A global phenomenon that continues to rework soil through economic investments into business and the wealth extraction from land by people who own them, such as yourself. Do you mind if I ask who owns - or invested into - Saffron Colonial?

I do not write out of anger or guilt or blame. I write to elevate consciousness and create spaces that affirm all members of our community. As a message for - and messenger of - community unity, my recommendation is that, before capitalizing any further on cultural/culinary appropriation, you and your staff hold a six-week inservice intensive to read Karl Marx and David Harvey (focusing on primitive accumulation or accumulation by dispossession) in order to understand more clearly your role in this machine. I am available to host reading groups at your establishment for staff and/or the public if you are interested in pursing this. 

Be the Movement

A short review of a conversation with the women behind the Black Lives Matter movement, published on YELP on 2/17/2016. 

I went to hear Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi at the Peter W. Stott Center last night. It was meaningful not for what they've done (though I bow my head)  or what they said (though I found phrases of inspiration) but for bringing an us together in space and time so that we could look into each others eyes - or at the backs of each other's heads - and align our bodies for a moment of yes. I had to leave to attend to my son's bedtime but wanted to share these thoughts:

The women who co-founded Black Lives Matter changed the conversation around race by creating a platform for people to participate in the river that flows towards peace freedom and justice. Yet let us not look to these women for wisdom or inspiration. Let us turn to the people in the audience, who are the people we pass on the street, with whom we experience this historic moment in a geographic way. And specifically, let us turn to the young people whose eyes and consciousness can see so much farther because their awareness of what it means to live in this place and time developed (and continues to) during this movement.  These are the people that we need to be talking to about the ways that President Obama shifts American consciousness, about how the proclamation that black lives matter creates a deeper expanse of us. Last night I wanted to challenge every adult in the audience, but had to leave so Ill do it for my readership here. I challenge each adult reading this to - within the next week - ask a young person's perspective on President Obama, on what it means to be part of an American public today, on new ways to declare that black lives matter, on black futurism or brown futurism or any other topic they lead you to. Ask. And stop talking. And listen.

Landscapes Revisited

Here is the text of a Yelp review I wrote about Seeing Nature, and exhibition of landscape paintings from the archives at the Portland Art Museum, published on 1/20/2016. 

I always enjoy spectacles where accumulation by dispossession (or the capitalist engine) steamrolls, uninterrupted, across my face. Requiring a visitor to pay nineteen dollars and ninety-nine cents to absorb elements of the culture that creates them is one of the best examples of primitive accumulation, an example of enclosing the cultural commons to extract wealth from what belongs to the public. But thank you to the amazing Arts for All program, this remains a conceptual grievance so that I can turn the space of this review to another illustration of the capitalist agenda at work that I found during our visit on the last Saturday of Seeing Nature, an exhibit featuring landscape paintings at the Portland Art Museum. My interest in attending this exhibit was not the paintings themselves. Instead I was ecstatic for the opportunity to capture people interacting with these paintings and with the Western imaginary they illustrate. And so, Armed with camera, tripod, and stroller, we approached the institution. 

The role that landscape painters played in visioning the West and stimulating migration lingers in the urban landscape embedding this museum. With brands like Timbers and Stumptown, pioneering culture is alive and well in Portland contemporary vernacular. And for the last few months has been consumed and re-inacted by the publics attending Seeing Nature as well

When I "see nature" I see both resilient majesty and covert enclosure. The natural beauty witnessed on a hike or within these paintings exists prior to yet in relation with state power superimposed through the township/range/ownership grid. I cannot "see nature" without seeing people, settlement, ownership, political agenda, state capitalism. Landscape painters were part of a plan to enclose the vast, "unattainable" nature they depict. The federal government sought to expand power in the western frontier through the (mostly white) bodies of European/American settlers lured west through the Donation Land Claim Act and depicted in landscape paintings such as this: And thus land that once existed communally without property now claimed /"owned" by individuals for the purpose of extracting wealth/capital for themselves and for empire. Landscape paintings served as propaganda/advertisement for this settlement/migration. Today, people's consumption of landscape paintings re-enacts the moment in history they were created in and illustrates the continual consumption required by capitalism to function. The "West" is not the end point of a linear trajectory it is a cyclical performance re-enacted with each plaid jacket, timbers ticket, or untouched razor. We perform "West" and until we can see this we will continue to look at nature without truly "seeing" (ourselves in) it.

The Music That Makes Us Makes Oregon Arts Watch

Here is a link to the article about the show I helped to coordinate at Disjecta Contemporary Arts Center. Many thanks to all the people who worked on the show, as well as those behind the conceptual curtains of thought/action including: Naomi Adiv, Luke Wyland, Tahni Holt, Dorian Neira, Daniel Lasunscet. Bobby Fouther, Lucy Neary, Tim Joy, Marla Strong, Robin Gordon, and Antjuan Tolbert, and Julie Keefe. Thank you for contributing your parts to the whole. Love