Becca Kauffman is a performance artist, vocalist, and voice over artist based in Queens, New York who works primarily within the fictional world of her motivational avatar, Jennifer Vanilla.
Genre-fluid by design, Jennifer Vanilla is a fantasy vessel and party enthusiast who appears in art, music, theater, comedy, and pedestrian environments, functioning as an ecstatic compliment to the social complexities and emotional challenges of daily life. Combining original dance music, humor, and commercial aesthetics with live experimentation and interaction-based decision making, Jennifer Vanilla performances create sites of celebration and interpersonal realness in places like MoMA PS1, Bowery Ballroom, diy basements across America, Queens Public Television, Times Square, public parks, natural landscapes, surveillance cameras, and instagram. JV has toured coast to coast and shared stages with Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney), Cindy Wilson (The B-52’s), Miho Hatori (Cibo Matto), Yaeji, YACHT, Dynasty Handbag, & more. She released her first dance singles in the form of J.E.N.N.I.F.E.R. EP, which you can listen to here. Her debut full-length album, Castle in the S.K.Y., comes out in Spring 2021 on Beats in Space Records.
Originally from Cambridge, MA, Becca graduated from University of Massachusetts, Amherst with an interdisciplinary concentration in Performance Studies. She then moved to New York City and joined the experimental pop band, Ava Luna, writing, singing, recording, playing guitar and synth, and touring around the U.S., Europe, and Japan for the next ten years. After making a series of Home Music Videos in her Brooklyn apartment, directing a dance play about ego death in a nightclub while an Artist in Residence at Otion Front Studio, and producing a choreographed Scratch n’ Sniff Halloween Pageant soundtracked by Jerry Paper and the Grateful Dead, she discovered Jennifer Vanilla inside of a dew drop in the forests of Jenniferia and committed herself fully to contempo-clowndom. Her work as a professional voice over artist can be heard in elevators, anti-depressant commercials, and toilet paper advertisements across the airwaves.
Portal to all things Jennifer at @jennifervanilla and jennifervanilla.com.
Jenniferwear is Jennifer Vanilla’s official line of merchandise: one of a kind, hand-lettered T-shirts and sweatshirts that manifest the fantasy in material objects and fortify the experience of performance as a journey. Meticulously scavenged at secondhand stores across the US, each item is conceived of as a found object-turned-souvenir, reinvigorated by the addition of a unique philosophical Jennifer slogan (usually appropriated mottos in which the operative word is substituted with, “Jennifer”: “Jennifer is My Co-Pilot”; “Jennifer Happens”; “Dance Like Jennifer’s Watching”). The T-shirt is thought of here as a multi-purpose garment with a wide array of social possibilities: a site for identity pronouncement, personal beliefs and mottos, advertisement and promotion, encapsulation of memories, and most importantly, as a conversation piece. The slogans are cryptic, but perplexingly familiar enough to invite inquiry, and add to the ever-flexible “people’s definition” of Jennifer Vanilla.
Jennifer en Times Square
In the summer of 2018, Jennifer became a self-appointed Artist in Residence on the streets of Times Square in New York City. Playing spy and citizen journalist, she wandered into unlocked buildings, eavesdropped on tourists, opened the stage door to Waitress The Musical, sang with a street entertainer, drank at the last remaining neighborhood dive bar, received reiki on a public bench, performed a daily greeting ritual with a network of public surveillance cameras, and followed an investigative rabbit hole that led to seeing to the worst and longest running Off-Broadway play of all time. This investigative report, documented daily and broadcast to her followers via Instagram Stories, culminated in a ten video exhibit at Lamar Dodd School of Art at University of Georgia, curated by Forest Kelley.
About my work
I like talking to people and finding out which details of life matter to them. I like to keep them in mind as I go about my days and any time I run into things that make me think of them I write them a note sharing the thing. I learned about doing this from my friend Roy who first found out about me by listening to my weekly radio show. He sent me postcards with postage that referenced our interests of photography, letter writing, books, and birds. Now I do the same thing with people I encounter in my own life. For me, taking action on the thoughts I have about another person is an art form, a piece of art made for that person. This means that I am at ease asking questions, enjoy listening to answers, and engaging with people around me.
In addition to my correspondence practice, I embrace projects that incorporate my passion for seeking out hidden details and stories with photography, text, and research. Recently, this involved researching the life and work of Hazel Hall, an internationally-known and forgotten poet who lived in Portland in the 1920s. The research was the backbone of a collaboration between me, a composer, choreographers, visual artists, and a publisher. Our work together resulted in an original work of dance and music, art exhibit, zine publications, sound installations, and a small library.
I moved to Portland, Oregon, in 2016 after living in Albany, New York for 15 years. In my life before graduate school I worked as a graphic designer in the healthcare industry. As a volunteer, I founded and hosted a weekly radio show called Hello Pretty City that aired on public radio for 17 years.
I grew up in the suburbs of Northern Virginia and received a BFA in photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology. After graduating, I joined AmeriCorps, performing service projects throughout the midwestern United States.
When I’m not in school or working on projects, I’m listening to the radio, collecting books and magazines, and using old typewriters to make mail.
Installing artwork by Terry Ann Carter and Chayo Wilson in the exhibit “Sparking Memory: Artists Respond to Hazel Hall”. Part of the event “The Room Upstairs” which was an evening devoted to celebrating the life and work of poet Hazel Hall through research, original music, and a new work for dance at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon, 2019.
Answering questions from the audience with composer and collaborator, Matthew Svoboda on the left, and artist Chayo Wilson on the right, after the premiere of “The Room Upstairs” at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon, 2019
The Hazel Hall Traveling Library is a custom designed and fabricated case that allows the books of poetry by Hazel Hall to be protected while being transported. When one side of the case is lifted, readers can reach into the case and pull out a book to immediately begin reading her poems.
Caryn Aasness wants to invite you into their brain. In it we explore mental illness, and the folk art of coping mechanisms. We investigate queerness and how it forms and severs multiple selves. We look to language and learn how to cheat at it. You are welcome to leave the brain at any time.
Caryn has achieved things and been awarded an award. They have a degree in Fiber from CSU in Long Beach, the city where they were born and raised. They want you to know they thought about you while writing this.
Diana Marcela Cuartas
Colombian artist living in Portland, Oregon
Through multiple approaches, Diana’s practice reflects on the relationships knitted between a place and those who inhabit it. Her projects often scrutinize the discourses, aesthetics, values, common errands, and other idiosyncrasies of a particular context or subject, by breaking through the habitual readings of it.
Diana was Head of Public Programs for four years at Espacio Odeón, an independent organization that promotes contemporary artistic creation and performing arts in Bogotá, Colombia. Formerly she was part of the non-profit art space Lugar a Dudas(A place for doubts), dedicated to promoting contemporary art with a global focus in Cali, Colombia. As an independent researcher, she has been an artist in residence in La Usurpadora (Puerto Colombia), Bisagra (Lima), Tatlelolco Central (Mexico City), and Beta-Local (San Juan, Puerto Rico), studying different popular culture phenomena.
In 2019 she moved to Portland, Oregon, where she has been working independently for the promotion and exchange of interdisciplinary projects between Pacific Northwest and Latin American artists. She also works as a family liaison for Latino Network, serving immigrant families through school-based programs at the Reynolds School District in the East Multnomah County area.
Kiara Walls is a teaching visual artist, originally from LA but now stationed in Dallas, Texas. Her work is centered around increasing awareness of the need and demand for reparations to repair the injuries inflicted on the African American community. This interpretation is seen through many forms including story-telling and site specific installations including audio and visuals.
The Black Box Experience
The Black Box Experience (located in Los Angeles, CA) incorporates visuals along with audio that recreates the black narrative in a large scale wooden box. By combining both visual and audio sensory, the black box creates an experience that is similar to the subconscious mind of a minority.
“Through abstract form and visuals, I create a style that is representational of injuries African Americans have suffered during and after enslavement. These injury areas include people hood/nationhood, education, health, criminal punishment, wealth and poverty. I am focusing on the injury area of reparations that interconnects with wealth and poverty. It intersects with the negative effects of systematic racism that has resulted in the division of wealth and poverty among the African American community. I produce visual interpretations of the injuries through video and sculpture juxtaposed with spoken word.”
Black Box Conversation Series
Justin Maxon (1983) was born and raised in a number of small towns in the woods of northern California, where he grew up part-time on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation. Maxon is an award winning visual storyteller, arts educator, and journalist that often utilizes social practice to examine social, political and environmental issues. He has received numerous awards for his photography and video projects, including two 1st place awards from World Press Photo, the Deeper Perspective Photographer of the Year at the Lucie Awards, the Aaron Siskind Foundation Fellowship, and the Alexia Foundation for World Peace Professional Grant. He was selected to participate in World Press Photo’s Joop Swart Masterclass. He has given more than 50 lectures and has taught photography workshops in over 8 different countries across the world. He was a teaching artist in an US State department sponsored cultural exchange program between the United States and South Africa. He has worked on featured stories for publications such as TIME, Rolling Stone, the New Yorker, Mother Jones, and NPR.
Livin’ the Dream, is a participatory media project undertaken in collaboration with artist’s Leslie Castellano and Laura Montagna, at the Humboldt County Correctional Facility in Eureka, CA. The project centered around the participants identifying an aspiration they wish to pursue once being released and constructing handmade objects, utilizing material available to them, symbolic of their goal.
Rebecca Copper (b.1989) is an interdisciplinary artist that explores the space between symbolic and actionable art. She is interested in using dialogue as a medium to shape experiences and the environment around her. Deeply influenced by the ideas of Fluxus, bell hooks, and writings like the Society of the Spectacle, she supports blurring of art and life while removing hierarchical boundaries that keep art inaccessible. Rebecca has worked alongside people living in hospice, living under incarceration, as well as youth in some of her social cooperative art projects. She is currently in her first year as an MFA candidate at PSU’s Art and Social Practice Program and is a fellow through the Columbus Printed Arts fellowship. She received her BA from Otterbein University, where she focused on darkroom photography and experimental time-based media of which she pursues alongside her social practice.
Emma D. Mitchell
Emma D. Mitchell (b.1995) is a project-based artist, educator, and curator living and working in Portland, OR.
Her work is invested in social engagement, activism, and material specificity. Her work facilitates discussions, collaborations, and creativity using the worldwide web, educational settings, and city sidewalks. Her work is a platform for intimate exchange through gardening, craft, and dialogue. She has maintained a multi-disciplinary artistic career for nearly 10 years and her projects have attained International participation.
She is the founder and Curator at Portland Plant Museum Artist Mentor at KSMoCA. Founder and creator of Sexual Violence Symposium Professor of Introduction to Sculpture within Portland State University’s School of Art and Design. Co-Editor of the SoFA Journal. & ATraveling Bartender-in-Residence.
She has been awarded for her pursuits by Portland State University with the School of Art and Design Scholarship and the Art and Design Gloria Weir Melgard Award and the Fine Arts Division Meneve Dunham Award from Clarke University.
Mitchell is in her third year of pursuing her MFA in Art and Social Practice at Portland State University.
Sexual Violence Symposium is a series of projects which works to empower, advocate, and heal together by amplifying the knowledge and resources to form a community for surviving sexual violence.
The Portland Plant Museum is an Art Museum which presents collections of houseplants and hosts permaculture and horticulture education. The museum is located at my home in East Portland and is accessed by appointment only. The space features a 769 sq ft conservatory upon a 7,000 sqft lot. I collect and curate plant cuttings by organizing open calls, studio visits, and invitations which request plants that hold personal symbolism, relationships, or narratives specific to the individuals who submitted them. Participants range in location across the U.S.A as the evolving collection displays galleries inside, outdoors, and online. The museum hosts public events such as gardening classes, workshops, and plant exchanges that invite participation through virtual platforms, physical events, and through the mail.(more…)
I’m an artist and a citizen cultural ambassador from Ukraine. I’ve received a Fulbright scholarship and currently pursue a graduate degree in Art and Social Practice at Portland State University. On this page, I share the cultural exchange activities I engage in during my stay in the United States .
Ukraine has become widely present in the American media and political discourse since the Maidan Revolution followed by the Russian intervention, and the recent impeachment inquiry. But how well do people in the United States know about Ukraine, about its history, politics, art, and culture? People often ask me about the food we eat in Ukraine but rarely about the Maidan Revolution or political issues Ukrainian artists, or society, are dealing with in their work or everyday life. Currently Ukraine is facing Russian intervention, war, other global and domestic challenges and is desperately in need of being supported as an independent country with its own political agency and representation.
Ukraine was always hard to grasp, define, subject or subjugate, and it often served as a destabilizing factor for the imperialist politics of Russia and the Soviet Union undermining it from the inside. Sometimes it is even challenging for Ukrainians to define their own identity and find a consensus on what their country should be like. But instead of seeing it as a negative factor, I propose to recognize it as an endless horizon of possibilities consisting of constantly changing identities and openness to social diversity and inclusion that is foundational for a sustainable democracy.
I hope this resource will help to establish a deeper mutual understanding between the people of Ukraine and the United States.
This webpage is a social practice artwork. It is not an official site of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed on this webpage are entirely those of the artwork participants and do not represent the views of Illia Yakovenko, the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.
Cultural Exchange Reports
Eastern European Groceries Tour with Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr.
My student mentor Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr. took me to visit Eastern European grocery stores in Portland. During our trip we visited approximately five grocery stores. A map of the stores is coming soon.
Storefronts (visual analysis)
Most of the stores appealed to recognizable Soviet and Russian images in their design. Only one storefront had a sign written in Ukrainian. Although people inside that store were mostly speaking Russian. Whereas some staff members at the store that had an image of St. Basil’s Cathedral at the storefront were speaking Ukrainian.
I very rigorously examined the products available at the stores. Most of the things are being imported from the former Soviet countries including Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, etc. We found the same brand of candy Chervony Mak (UA) or Krasnyi Mak (RU) currently produced in both Ukraine and Russia but that has originated in the Soviet Union. The Russian candies are continued to be produced at the formerly Soviet Red October (Krasnyi Octyabr) candy factory. Ukrainian candies are produced at the Roshen factory that belongs to the former president of Ukraine Victor Poroshenko. I told this to Michael and later to other people while they were tasting the candies. I personally think the Ukrainian version tastes better. We also spoke about the war in Ukraine and the Russian intervention.
The topic of war emerged again when we were trying condensed milk. We got a can at one of the grocery stores. The can had a very recognizable Soviet design even though it was produced in the United States. Condensed milk associates in America with Vietnamese coffee and the Vietnam War.
We further had a dinner made out of boiled potatoes, pickled cucumbers, sauerkraut, Moldavian white cheese (brynza). I told that people in Ukraine are usually having this food during the winter because it is more accessible. Everyone was positively impressed by the food!
PSU Art & Social Practice graduate student
SoFa Journal editorial board member
Social Practice Club student administrator (PSU’s Student Activities and Leadership Program)
Student Art Mentor at KSMoCA (volunteer position)
PSU Science and Education Center (SEC)
2130-2136 SW 5th Avenue, Portland, OR 97201-4908
illia.yakovenko @ fulbrightmail.com or iy2 @ pdx.edu
PSU Art Building
2000 SW 5th Avenue, Portland, OR 97201
Mary Olin Geiger
mo is an interdisciplinary artist working at the intersection of performance, craft practices, and labor. Inspired by the connection between objects and ritual, she works to understand the importance of relationships in tactile learning and research. Often working with salvaged and industrial materials, her explorations value the act of searching. She lives and works between Boiling Springs, PA and Portland, OR.