In August 2019, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF) caught up with musician and 2016 NACF National Artist Fellow Laura Ortman (White Mountain Apache) to discuss her career, her NACF fellowship, and her personal metamorphosis from artist to musician. Ortman discussed her passion for music, and how she fell in love with recording and composition early on in her career as a visual installation artist when she realized she could use the voices of different instruments to be emotive and express herself through her work. “As a Native artist the work is deep rooted, emotional, and serious,” says Ortman. “Music is another voice that draws me to my tribe, my family, and my story,” she adds. Eventually, Ortman decided to focus her art solely on music, and is now well known for playing an amplified violin and an apache violin made of agave stalk.
Last November, Ortman received a request for a studio visit from Whitney Museum of American Art curators Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley. She was stunned that they were interested in featuring her work as part of the Whitney Biennial 2019 exhibition, and she asked them: “You guys know I’m a musician, right?”. Ortman showed Panetta and Rujeko a music video – My Soul Remainer – made for the title track of her most recent solo album of the same name, and a week later they had a plan to project the video during the biennial with two scheduled performances during the four month exhibition.
Ortman’s video My Soul Remainer has garnered a lot of attention in the exhibition, and it is easy to see why. The video My Soul Remainer is a labor of love created by Ortman and director Nanobah Becker, in collaboration with cinematographer Blackhorse Lowe, gaffer Autumn Chacon, and choreographed by Jock Soto, former New York City Ballet dancer. “I have always been drawn to the unknown, mystery, and the adventure of music,” said Ortman. The video, which took a year to edit without a budget, is a moving piece that tells an enigmatic story through sound, landscape, and performance. You can hear the audio version of My Soul Remainer here. The video will be on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art through September 22, 2019.
The Whitney Biennial 2019 is a four month exhibition (May 17 – September 22, 2019) in New York, NY, that brings together work by artists in an array of mediums, and is often described as a snapshot of art in the United States. Ortman is one of eight Native artists who were selected for the biennial including 2017 NACF Mentor Artist Fellow Nicholas Galanin (Tlingit/Unangax̂), 2017 NACF Mentor Artist Fellow Jackson Polys (Tlingit), and the late James Luna (Luiseño/Diegueño), 2015 NACF National Artist Fellow.
Laura Ortman will be performing in Portland, Oregon, as part of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s (PICA) Time Based Art Festival on September 6 and 7 at 8:30pm in Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall. You can also see her on September 7 from 2:00pm – 3:00pm in a conversation with NACF’s Director of National Artist Fellowships Reuben Roqueñi. Click here for more info!