Through embedding herself in surf culture, Brianna Ortega uses art as a tool to explore the relationship between identity and place through questioning power in social constructs and physical spaces. She engages with topics of gender, race, Otherness, place, and the in-between spaces of identity. Her work is multidisciplinary, spanning across performance, publishing, organizing, video and facilitation. She is interested in experiential education, and concepts like home, localism, and boundaries.
Brianna (Bri) Ortega is currently a candidate in the MFA in Contemporary Art Practices: Art and Social Practice program at Portland State University, and holds a B.A. in Art Practices with a focus in drawing, video, performance, jewelry, psychology and family studies. She is the Founder, Publisher, Editor and Director of Sea Together Magazine, a global project uniting and rewriting women’s surfing through art, writing, and community. She has been surfing for over a decade and has moved 28 times in her life, which ignites her passion to connect with people across oceans, and be a bridge between others. She has shown & facilitated her work in Italy, Portland, SDAI (San Diego Art Institute) in San Diego, CBAA in Cannon Beach, with Aoka Surf Studio in New Zealand, and SDSL in San Diego.
Belonging in the Library (Conversation and Site-Specific Performance)
I walked around the Parkblocks of Portland, Oregon asking 50 strangers to respond to the question “What does it mean to belong somewhere?” in a 50-page book. While having a conversation with each stranger, they each wrote a response on their own numbered page in the 50-page book. I tore out each page of the book as a performance, and placed each page into selected library books, matching the page number with the page in the selected library book, at the Central Library in downtown Portland, Oregon. A Dewey Decimal code list now exists in the book with no remaining pages in it. By using Dewey Decimal Code list in the book, anyone can find where the 50 pages now belong in the Central Library, and see if the writing still belongs on the assigned page in the specific book or not.
When a stranger or new acquaintance asks me the “Where are you from?” question, I hand them a map with data. It is up to the person to determine where I am from based on evaluating the data on the map. If you want to email me that question, I will send you the map.
Local Fruit (Live Performance & Video Remakes)
In this live performance, I ate local fruit from each state I have lived in. Each box of fruit had a large label identifying where it was from: “Washington Local Blueberries,” “Hawai’i Local Pinneapple,” “California Local Strawberries,” and “Oregon Local Apples.”
The performance began with me saying “I am a local.” I repeated “I am a local” over and over while simultaneously eating the fruit. I stuffed my mouth with more and more fruit while repeating the phrase, increasing the speed of placing more fruit into my mouth and increasing the speed of chewing over several minutes. Eventually, too much fruit was in my mouth, so the “I am a local” words became more and more blurred from “I am a local” to “I am local” to indistinguishable words. Fruit came flying out of my mouth and out of my hands all over the table, as the speed of eating and talking progressed almost violently. The audience finally could not distinguish the words “I am a local” coming from my mouth due to the amount of fruit being stuffed into my mouth. Finally, the amount of fruit inside of my mouth stopped my ability to say “I am a local” at all.
The work was created as a response to people socially engaging with me in my day to day life. When I am in Oregon, people label me as, “the girl from California” or “the girl from Hawai’i.” And when I am in California, people label me as “the girl from Oregon.” When I am in Hawai’i, people label me as, “the girl from California” or “the girl from Oregon”. According to people’s social engagements with me, I do not feel that I am a local anywhere. I created this work as a response to the everyone who labels me as a local of somewhere other than where I am located with them at that moment in time.
Control (Participatory Performance & Performative Video Installation)
Shown from April 1, 2017 through May 15, 2017 at the “DIVERGE/CONVENE: CONTEMPORARY MIXED MEDIA” exhibition at SDAI in San Diego. A video performance was playing on repeat on a computer monitor with mouse and keyboard available for use. The video performance itself became an socially interactive performance by the audience/viewer using the mouse and watching the video performance on the screen. The viewer experiences a loss of control with the relationship of the spaces on the screen.
Elevator Locals (Site-specific Performance & Conversation)
From a physical and aesthetic standpoint, elevators are a space of non-belonging. Most elevators look similar, with plain walls and no decorations, similar to the feeling of airports and Costco. You would not normally think you are anywhere in particular, for you could be anywhere.
I spent hours across multiple days existing in elevators on the Portland State University campus. While inside of the elevators, I told strangers that I was a local of the elevator. I asked them questions such as, “Are you a local?” and together, we explored the meaning of what it means to be a “local.” Strangers responded in multiple ways, including: ignoring me, walking out of the elevator, staring at the wall silently, telling me I cannot be hanging out in the elevator and how I must leave, partaking in conversation with me about localism and identifying ourselves as a local or not, explaining their personal history of developing a relationship with that specific elevator, and asking what it meant to be a local.
Artists Annie Benz and Hana Gustafson documented this project and provided morale support to me in the elevators. We were kicked out of the elevator three times, even though we were performing as locals of the elevator. We were kicked out for having two chairs in the elevator, for “hanging out” in the elevator, and for taking photos.
Local Map (Conversation, Public Performance, and Map)
I talked with strangers around downtown Portland to determine if they were a local or not. If they were a local, I would ask them what their favorite part around the Park Blocks (in downtown Portland, Oregon) was, and if they were not a local, then I would not ask them this question. I let them know that I was creating a local map, featuring locals’ favorite spots. I paid locals $1.00 in compensation for sharing with me their favorite local spot. I created a map, featuring all of the spots around the Park Blocks. Locals were given the map for free, and non-locals had to pay $2.00. Both locals and non-locals were notified about the varying price difference. I asked a few people if I could take a photo with them or of them, with the map. This project considered the social and capitalistic social power structures and privileges that come with being a local or non-local in the world.