PICA Symposium: 'How Do You Mean? Culture in Translation'

The interdisciplinary weekend includes performance, dinner, and dialogue connecting the artistic process to the daily interpretation of ourselves. June 6–9

By Sam Coggeshall June 6, 2013

Emily Johnson with trout

Translation isn't just a matter of language and interpretors on the floor of the UN—or in California, as the case may be this weekend, when President Obama hosts Chinese President Xi Jinping for a summit about cultural interpretation writ large. We're constantly translating body movements, emotions, complex ideas, and art. This weekend, PICA's second annual symposium will ambitiously dive into the many ways we make sense of ourselves, our surroundings, and contemporary art through these processes of translation and interpretation. Heady? Yes. But potentially great fun, and in some cases delicious, too.

Using the work of two artists as the locus, the multi-disciplinary gathering offers three packed days of performances, talks, dinners, and interactive exhibitions designed to fully immerse the audience in these enigmas.

Choreographer Emily Johnson will debut her new piece Niicugni (listen) with her Minneapolis-based company Catalyst (she's in the photo above with a trout). “I often think of and talk about my work being in conversation with the world,” she tells Culturephile. “How is my work in conversation with the regular patterns of our lives? With the birds migrating through in the fall months? With weather? With history? This doesn't always include language, but I do think there is a dialogue present there, and it is my intention to create space for that dialogue to exist.”

Visual artist Ann Craycroft, who will be in residence at PICA throughout the summer, will present C’mon Language, which she explains is “an exploration of how language develops as a social activity through the exchange of knowledge across shared symbolic understandings.” To do so, she has organized a series of professionals in fields like photography, linguistics, dance, law, psychology, music, and writing who will each lead activities based on the vernacular of their particular field.

Also participating will be a range of other artists, local and national, from last year's Symposium artist, Keith Hennessy, to PSU art and social practice prof Harrell Fletcher to visual artist Wendy Red Star.

"We recognize these questions and ideas to be timely, urgent, and ripe for discussion in our current social, political, and cultural climate," says the Symposium’s organizer, Roya Amirsoleymani. "And as with any symposium, our goal is to generate rich thinking and discussion in group settings, to consider issues and questions creatively, and to bring a diverse group of artists and audiences together in Portland for eating, drinking, and critical conversation on a broad yet intimate scale." So put on your thinking hats, and grab your dinner plates.

Highlights from the schedule include:

Symposium Opening Night Dinner
Friday at 6; PICA, 415 SW 10th Ave

As Portlanders well know, nothing gets folks talking like a communal meal. Featured artists Craycroft and Johnson will be introduced alongside the many themes of the weekend. Craycroft will lead an interactive activity designed to promote dialogue. You will eat and be merry. $10 suggested donation

Emily Johnson Workshop: Awareness, Environment, and Impulse
Saturday at 11; Naya, 5135 NE Columbia Blvd

This dance class is designed to elevate awareness about the self, environment, and the dialogue between the two. It’s about reconnecting through movement and visual projection. $5

Richard Taylor: Defeating the Art/Science Divide
Sat at 2; PICA

University of Oregon physicist and fractals expert (yes, go on...) will show why new research labels these little guys the “fingerprints of life,” discussing how they appear both in nature and in art like the paintings of da Vinci and Pollock, not to mention in cell phones, retinal implants, and future computers. Can they bridge the divide? Free

Emily Johnson + Catalyst: Niicugni
Sat at 8, Sun at 6, special matinee Sun at 2:30; Bodyvox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave

Johnson’s central event of the symposium is an original dance inspired by a word from the Yup’ik tradition that is a directive to pay attention and to listen. Layered dances, live music, and stories incorporate a light and sound installation of handmade fish-skin lanterns to address issues of attention and listening to yourself. $16-20

If you really want to get inside her dance, go to the matinee performance on Sunday at 2:30 when artist and PSU social practice professor Harrell Fletcher will interrupt the performance intermittently to insert his thoughts and questions about Johnson and the performance. You know you've always wanted to press "pause” on a show and speak your mind. Now's your chance (at least to watch someone else do it).

Johnson will also offer a four-day workshop on sewing fish-skin lanterns June 10–13, culminating in a fish bake.

Anna Craycroft: C’mon Language
June 3–Sept 30; PICA

PICA has literally transformed its exhibition/meeting space into a classroom for Craycroft’s summer residence exploring the question, “how do we make ourselves understood?” Based on the teaching methods of Reggio Emilia, each week will offer different interactive workshops, lectures, and events in fields ranging from music to basket weaving to market research—all working towards a shared artistic vocabulary. Free

For a full schedule of events, visit



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