The Curation of a Space :: Dao Strom Speaks to Stacey Tran

Stacey Tran is a poet, artist, and event-organizer based in Portland, OR. She is the curator for HOLDING SPACE, a social engagement and evening of art/performance hosted and presented by all artists of color. Dao Strom reflects on the need for “holding space” in Portland, and talks briefly to Stacey Tran about being a 2nd-generation Vietnamese diasporic artist/organizer in Portland.

HOLDING SPACE will be “a night of voice / movement / poetry / music / visual installation by Portland-based artists exploring space, memory, time, lineage, and rituals of sharing.” The event will take place Wednesday, Feb. 3rd, 2016, 8-11 PM, at Holocene Club (1001 SE Morrison St., Portland OR // 21+, $8-$10 general admission). Check out the Facebook invite page for more details


The idea of space is both physical and nonphysical. Undoubtedly we all inhabit space, at the same time we vie for it. Some of us feel privy to it, held/embraced by the spaces we enter, while others of us feel alienated by and within those same spaces. We seek space—for our bodies, our activities, as homes for ourselves and families, our communities; sometimes we search for space within our own cluttered and distracted selves. We try to “make space” for things—activities, reflection/retreat, relationships, new endeavors—that we believe we need to make space for. Space can be navigated, between us and others. We seek to fill our spaces: with communication, gesture, others, celebration, distraction; sometimes we seek to empty our spaces. And some spaces we avoid, unnerved by the air we encounter in them. We react to spaces as physical architectures—this is an open space, a cluttered space, a well-designed space, a modern or classic or defiled space, a limiting space. There is a definitive sense in each of us by which we gauge the qualities of a space when we stand in it. What will it grant or allow us to do, be, share, in being there? Will it welcome us? Will it recognize us? And if it doesn’t, what then? What does it mean—to be rejected by a space? Or, even, to be harmed in/by a space? What are the implications, or the criteria, that cause us to feel dissonance—in our bodies, minds, hearts, spirits—within a given space?

I think that when we talk about “space” in these terms we are often talking about belonging; and it is a form of belonging that is not only physical, but personal, cultural, sexual, social, aesthetic, psychological, ideological, philosophical. We are asking, ultimately, we are also challenging/testing, how much or how well we will be allowed in(to) a space—in essence: are we welcome?—to be, expose, express, share and have received, ourselves in authentic and whole displays. The space might be a literal room. It might be a virtual room. It might be a group of people. It might be a city, a country, a culture, a conversation.

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On February 3rd, a group of artists will be “holding space” in Portland, Oregon. The event is named for its intent to construct and claim “space” for artists of color. This reflects, at least in part, on some debates that have arisen (largely via social media) regarding the “whiteness” of “spaces”—in arenas of art and literary enterprises, namely—in the otherwise very liberal, cultured, and progressive “space” that Portland as a town is reputed to be. This vein of dialogue extends beyond the “space” of Portland arts, of course, and can be seen occurring in many other “spaces” (#OscarsSoWhite) in the current social climate. The most basic distillation of the question might be this: are people of color being justly represented in the “spaces” they (too) occupy? And what is just representation—what should it look like? And who is or should be responsible for curating, organizing, initiating and/or staking claim to and in those spaces?


I have lived in Portland for going on 6 years now. About Portland, I will say this much: it is a town that nurtures its arts much more effectively and lovingly (read: with artists positively supporting one another) than many other places I’ve lived, including arts-friendly-touted places such as Austin and San Francisco; at least this is what I’ve encountered. And yet, in Portland, finding other artists of color, and forums in which multiple diversities are represented, has only begun to occur for me in the past year or less. (Suffice it to say, this is something that never quite occurred at all, in my experience of Austin, and was in abundance – in a different way – in SF.) Granted, this may all say more about me than anything else, but I think it also speaks to the visibility and presence of Vietnamese artists, as well other artists of color, in communities at large. Why do we stay still under the radar, appearing only meagerly (one at a time, much of the time) in so-called “white” rooms? Is this a choice? Or has it been more of an acceptance, a relegation, to/of our (who designated these…) stations?

One of my personal favorite spaces: a permanent art installation of Donald Judd works at the Chinati Foundation, located in Marfa, West Texas. (Visited, in this photo, in 2006.)


It is a hope that events like HOLDING SPACE will serve as a welcome gesture, some slight difference-maker, possibly a step toward new voicing, new angles, in this ongoing dialogue.


Stacey Tran is the curation brainchild behind HOLDING SPACE. The artists she has curated for the event include: Intisar Abioto, Claire Barrera, Ripley Snell, Eileen Isagon Skyers, Takahiro Yamamoto (and myself). In this gathering the realms of dance, performance, music, poetry, visual art/photography, and the melding of some spaces inbetween will occur.

I first spotted Stacey Tran’s name attached as co-curator of a local text/image/movement art series titled “Pure Surface.” She is also editor of Poor Claudia, a poetry small press in Portland. One of the other impressive aspects to mention might be that Stacey is just 24 years old. The child of parents who met in the 1980s at a refugee camp in Malaysia, Stacey is a second-generation Vietnamese, born and raised in Portland.

In her words, on why/how she chose the artists for HOLDING SPACE, and why the choice of artists working across multiples disciplines:

“My immediate response is quite simple: when putting a line-up together, I want to create an event that I would for sure want to go to. For HOLDING SPACE in particular, I have been inspired personally by the work of each of these artists and I hope the same experience will be true for those who attend the event. I can remember the first times I’ve seen each of these artists’ works – each having been powerful and empowering for different reasons, reasons specific to each of their disciplines. I believe in my role as a host to intrigue and reach a wide range of audiences when several disciplines are brought together in the same evening. One of my favorite experiments of doing just that is hosting Pure Surface with Danielle: for each performance, we invite a text artist, a film artist, and a movement artist to create a very short ‘score’ (usually 30 minutes long) and perform it together – sometimes based loosely off a common theme, sometimes with nothing in common at all. It’s like being at a party and you want to make sure all your friends meet and know each other because you think they’re all awesome and they need to know each other. Same goes for Pure Surface, or any event I’m hosting. I’ve been deeply moved by the number of times people have come up to me thanking me for introducing them to someone new whose work really resonated with them. At an event like Pure Surface, the audience is always different depending on who’s performing; some people who never go to art events will come once to see their best friend perform, which means a lot! And of course it’s also gratifying to see those attendees who keep showing up time and time again. For Pure Surface, Danielle and I were hopeful that artists across different mediums could learn more about a form they weren’t familiar with before and perhaps generate ideas and energy to collaborate across disciplines. I’ve carried that same energy and emphasis into other events I curate.”

For more on HOLDING SPACE, please visit the FB invite page.

Dao Strom is an author and musician based in Portland, OR. She has published two books of fiction, Grass Roof, Tin Roof and The Gentle Order of Girls and Boys. Her latest work is hybrid-forms memoir + album, We Were Meant To Be a Gentle People and East/West. She is a 2016 Creative Capital Award artist. ~

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