This episode originally aired on Nov. 3, 2018.
American fantasies: This subject has only picked up more resonance since we first brought you these interviews in fall 2018. If you’ve been feeling like the lines are blurring between the America you imagined and the America we all live with, take a listen. We found some incredible artists and writers addressing the magical thinking and fantasies that shaped our world.
Ever visited the Willamette Meridian? Tucked away in a tiny state park on Portland’s Skyline Drive, you’ll find a little metal plate that marks the meridian line around which all other Oregon mapping lines are organized. We begin this week’s journey here, considering the expansionist imaginings that gave rise to modern-day Oregon.
Artist Abigail DeVille creates macro-sized art installations that bring stories of marginalized communities to vivid life. Her site specific works — like “The American Future,” which was on view at PICA this winter — use found objects, architectural forms, and natural materials. They’re fantastically complex and immersive, inviting you to stroll around, or sit and contemplate her inquiries into the most highly redacted American narratives.
“The American Future” took a full year of preparation and research. Taking as her point of departure the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, DeVille structured the exhibit around massive forms recalling Monticello and other neoclassical archetypes. But her assemblies juxtapose these powerful forms with reminders that American philosophies haven’t always matched up with American practice — from Jefferson’s slaveholding to modern-day Portland’s breathtaking housing crisis (the installation incorporated thousands of back issues of “Street Roots,” Portland’s weekly street newspaper).
The exhibition period for “The American Future” has ended, but you can read more about this enormous artistic undertaking on PICA’s website. Abigail DeVille has a current exhibition for view at THE SUBURBAN in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Illusions of Freedom in Leni Zumas’ “Red Clocks” - 19:00
Portland writer Leni Zumas’ novel “Red Clocks” imagines a world in which reproductive rights for women have been more or less eliminated. Her future, not terribly distant from 2019, is built around an ideology rooted in traditional gender roles. Zumas introduces us to four women and weaves their lives together in a narrative that’s satisfied readers and her own questions about biology and identity.
“I was doing research on fertility treatments for my own sake,” Zumas told us, “and I happened to stumble upon something: the Personhood Amendment. Versions of this have been proposed by lots of lawmakers. It really captured my imagination and my fear.”
Since our original airing of this episode, “Red Clocks” won the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction at the 2019 Oregon Book Awards.
Typhoon’s Journey Through Memory - 27:44
If you wanted a soundtrack for a journey into our collective fantasies, the latest record from the band Typhoon, “Offerings,” might be the thing. This 10-piece outfit fronted by Kyle Morton has never lacked for ambition. But the high-concept music in this record raises the bar.
“Offerings” came out in January 2018. It imagines one man’s descent into a world of illusions as he experiences memory loss and madness. Morton asks, if we forget our past, what’s left of us? It’s a powerful allegory for an entire culture losing itself.
We talked with Morton and got treated to live performances in a special, extended opbmusic session last year.
Illusions of Safety: Omar El Akkad’s “American War” - 37:00
As a reporter for the Toronto Globe and Mail, Omar El Akkad has seen his share of conflict. He’s filed stories from Egypt during the Arab Spring, and covered military trials at Guantanamo Bay, refugee camps in Afghanistan, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Something from each of these events found its way into his novel “American War.” It’s a story about a family living in the South during the latter part of the 21st century, where political extremism has erupted into a second American Civil War.
The novel, El Akkad explains, was born of his own frustration with the chasm Americans perceive between their own lives and those ensnared by global conflicts. Is their suffering all that different? As he explained to “Think Out Loud,” his fiction offered a larger canvas to explore the idea than even his reporting could provide.
Since our initial broadcast, Omar El Akkad appeared onstage in Portland with Margaret Atwood, in a conversation recorded for Literary Arts show, the Archive Project. It was truly an amazing conversation. Please keep an eye on the Archive Project schedule so you won’t miss it, or better yet, sign up for their podcast.