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Professor collaborates on art based on surveillance files

October 28, 2013

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    City of Portland Archives and Record Center. Record # B/11981. Police Historical/Archival Investigative Files: People’s Army Jamboree (women’s liberation parade)

Research, poetry, art, and activism come together in The Watcher Files Project, a collaboration between Assistant Professor of Art Garrick Imatani and poet Kaia Sand.

Imatani and Sand recently spoke with OPB’s Think Out Loud about their role as artists-in-residence at the City of Portland’s Archives and Records Center, and their project to engage the Watcher Files, a series of surveillance documents on 301 activist groups collected by the Portland Police Bureau over a 30-year span.

One piece of the project is talking to some of those surveilled and incorporating their responses in the art. A poem that Sand is composing is based on all the sentences in the files that start with the word “she,” as a way to catalogue the diverse lives of the women under surveillance.

The project won’t be complete until next summer, but an exhibition of their work in progress can be seen at the Portland Archives and Records Center, 1800 S.W. Sixth Avenue, Suite 550. The artists have also launched a website with progress reports based on their art, poetry, and research.

“What I do in my own work and scholarship has a direct impact on how I approach teaching,” Imatani said. “My most inspiring teachers asked questions of my working process that challenged me to think deeply about how my work was situated within a broader visual culture. I respect my students enough to take this same approach into my own classroom today. Technology always changes and crafts can continue to be learned outside the context of school. The most important tool to sharpen in undergrad is your mind.”

Department of Art The Watcher Files Project