Carissa Burkett

How to create community with art, and other lessons from Field of View

An artist residency program for people with developmental disabilities rethinks the value of creative labor

Most stories are more complicated than they seem. To really understand why we–individually and collectively–have ended up at this particular moment in time under the often baffling conditions that inform day-to-day life, the simple story just won’t suffice.

This particular story, which looks at how five Portland-based artists ended up at a very special artist residency called Field of View, is far from simple. To understand how this program came to be begs for a brief glimpse into the ongoing public policy debate over how the State of Oregon should support individuals who experience developmental disabilities, for example. And all the nuances, twists, turns and triumphs in this story illuminate the Field of View resident artists’ resilience and creative capacity–as well as the possibility that art-making could play a vital role in the movement toward a more holistic, integrated city, state, and society.

My journey into this story began on a Sunday evening late this past August. Carissa Burkett, the artist who initiated Field of View, a program of the nonprofit Public Annex, invited me over to her home for dinner, where I met five of the program’s resident artists, along with Lauren Moran, Burkett’s co-organizer. Thanks to funding from the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Precipice Fund, Field of View was able to place these artists, all of whom experience developmental disabilities*, in three-month-long artist residencies around the community in Portland, at sites including King School, Performance Works Northwest, and the Independent Publishing Resource Center.

We sat on Burkett’s back patio that warm night and chatted for a couple of hours about the artists’ experience in their residencies. At the gathering, I met Dawn Westover, a visual artists who makes drawings; Sonya Hamilton, a painter and ceramicist; David Lechner, a visual and dance artist; and Olga Shchepina, a painter and sculptor. I also reconnected with Larry Supnet, a prolific visual artist whom I had met earlier in the year.

What made this gathering of artists especially interesting, in my eyes, was their familiarity with one another–the way they cracked jokes and smiled knowingly. I could tell there was a lot more to their stories as colleagues. “How do you all know each other?” I asked…

Dawn Westover’s Instagram @dawn_westover_art

*****

As it turns out, the story of these artists coming together goes way back–so far back that it required a detour into the history of the Oregon state legislature’s attempts to improve its services for Oregonians with developmental disabilities. Burkett filled me in on some of the details.

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‘Marilyn Monroe vs. Vampires’: Alien nation

Liminal Group's inventive production of R.W. Fassbinder's satirical play uses video to make humans the aliens

They’re all around us. The butcher, the cop, the wife, the mistress, the lover, the rest. All  with their insecurities, their manipulations, their schemes, their betrayals, their hopes, their fears. If you could see and hear them whining, plotting, hoping, even killing… why, it’d be enough to drive someone crazy. Especially if that someone is a visitor from another planet whose first exposure to human beings puts her in the midst of all of the above. You know, an alien like The Man Who Fell to Earth, or Starman, or Ziggy Stardust, or another 1970s character, Phoebe Zeitgeist, an alien sent to our planet to investigate how our society works — still a tough task, as last month’s election revealed.

Liminal Group’s ‘Marilyn Monroe vs. Vampires’ runs through Sunday at Portland’s Disjecta gallery. Photo: Sumi Wu.

Phoebe is the central figure in the famed German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s satirical 1972 play, Marilyn Monroe versus the Vampires, which Portland’s most inventive and, let’s just say it, wonderfully weird theater ensemble, Liminal Group, has adapted into a “360º immersive sci-fi video opera” that runs this weekend at Portland’s Disjecta gallery. Like every Liminal show, it’s a performance experience like no other, and one you won’t forget.

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