Episode 37

Episode 37: Salty Xi Jie Ng - Citizen Scholar of the Cosmos - Act 2

EPISODE 37: In this episode we continue down the path of the provocative and unexpected with Salty Xi Jie Ng. Along the way we will encounter the secret lives of art gallery security staff, a cooking show called Microwave Magic, bunion fetishes, and a very funny group of incarcerated artists. 



Salty Xi Jie Ng co-creates semi-fictional paradigms for the real and imagined lives of humans within the poetics of the intimate vernacular. Often playing with relational possibilities, her interdisciplinary work is manifested from fantasy scores for the present and future that propose a collective re-imagining through humor, care, subversion, play, discomfort, a celebration of the eccentric, and a commitment to the deeply personal. Her practice dances across forms such as brief encounter, collaborative space, variety show, poem, conversation, meal, publication, film, performance.

As a citizen scholar of the cosmos, Xi Jie explores aging, intimacy, food, lineage, identity, ritual and power, while questioning who artists are and what gets to be called art. Her research of everyday as performance bears fruit as tender presentations somewhere between art and life. Centering the body and its histories, she constructs portrayals of self and space that are ambiguous, raw, dream-like, absurd, mundane. At heart she is a cosmic clown, floating at the intersections of wonder and melancholy, existential meditation and devotional nonsense.

Notable Mentions

Grandma Reporter: We are a space for intimate exchange about: style, isolation, and adventure; aging bodies, wrinkles, bunions, caregiving, and death; considering the struggles of growing old in a young, technology-focused world; swimming as a magical way to keep fit in spite of on-land mobility challenges; food, genes, and other things passed through generations; lost loves, longings, and sex that evolves with age. Presenting perspectives that are tender, poignant, moving and humorous, we are energetically connecting our contributors, collaborators, and readers in a senior women’s culture movement.

Salty Xi Jie Ng: The Cosmos Wait for You: Salty’s web site.

The Inside Show: is a variety show produced at Columbia River Creative Initiatives, an artist-led creative platform in Columbia River Correctional Institution, a minimum security prison in Portland, Oregon. The show is produced in prison, where inmates take on roles of host, performer, writer, and cameraperson. This robust collaboration of eccentric possibilities challenges perceptions of incarcerated individuals and what happens ‘on the inside’. The show’s content includes Microwave Magic— a cooking segment where inmates showcase genius ways of making gourmet meals with minimal ingredients and a microwave; comedy sketches; a goofy sports roundtable; art segments; poignant discussions; braiding demos; musical acts and more.

Change the Story / Change the World: A chronicle of art and community transformation.

Bunion2Bunion: An artistic inquiry into our relationships with our bodies,

​inheritance, beauty, ugliness, defect measurement and DIY self-healing

Walker Art Center: Walker Art Center presents contemporary visual arts and design exhibitions; dance, theater, and music performances; and film screenings. 

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, College of Visual and Performing Art. Galleries: CVPA, the College of Visual and Performing Arts, is a comprehensive college for art, design, and music—with bachelor's and master's programs that prepare students for careers in the arts and beyond. 

Bill Seaman,: Seaman’s artworks often investigate a media-oriented poetics through various technological means – Recombinant Poetics.

Golumpki’s are Polish cabbage rolls stuffed with a mixture of beef, pork, rice, and seasoning.

Arts in Corrections Program in California: Arts in Corrections Program in California: Arts in Corrections is a partnership between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the California Arts Council designed to have a positive impact on the social and emotional well-being of people experiencing incarceration, promoting healing and interpersonal transformation both inside and outside of the boundaries of their institutions.

Columbia River Correctional Institution, Creative Initiatives: Columbia River Creative Initiatives is a series of artist run programs and classes held at the Columbia River Correctional Institution, a minimum security prison in Northeast Portland, Oregon.

Open Signal: a media arts organization in Portland that is also on YouTube.

Portland State University Art and Social Practice MFA Program: PSU’s Art and Social Practice MFA defines what it means to be an artist in society. In our three-year, flexible-residency program, you’ll combine individual research, group work, and experiential learning to find new ways to engage with your art and the community. Our program’s blend of critical and professional practice, progressive pedagogy, collaborative social engagement, and transdisciplinary exploration produces an immersive educational experience.

Greek houses where the first floor is complete and the second unbuilt: Go to 5th answer down on page with the number 11 next to it.

CS/CW EP: 4, Beth Thielen: Bookmakers at San Quentin. Not surprising, given "Q's" clientele. But no, we're talking about real books with real pages that are awe-inspiring works of art.

CS/CW EP: 34, Henry Frank: Henry Frank was rotting in prison alone with no escape. Then, everything changed. In our conversation we talk about the heavy lift of imagining a different future, becoming an artist, discovering true friendship, and embracing his Yurok and Pomo cultures.

Blood Tide, Eli Nixon: I’m working on “Bloodtide” a proposal for a new holiday in homage to horseshoe crabs. This proposal is accompanied by a manual for enacting the holiday in a multitude of horizontalist forms including: pageant, parade, feast, reparations and land return contributions, habitat restoration, tick checks, naturedrag, karaoke (altered lyrics)…and includes an illustrated field guide to quagmires and grapplings toward enacting primordially informed futures. 

Organic Music Society. Published by : Avant-garde jazz trumpeter Don Cherry and textile artist Moki Cherry (née Karlsson) met in Sweden in the late sixties. They began to live and perform together, dubbing their mix of communal art, social and environmentalist activism, children’s education, and pan-ethnic expression “Organic Music.” Organic Music Societies, Blank Forms’ sixth anthology, is a special issue released in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name devoted to the couple’s multimedia collaborations.

Stimming Dreaming: Stimming, Dreaming is an intimate presentation about stimming and other coping mechanisms that people with different needs resort to, to assist them in stimuli that may be different or difficult to process. Stimming, usually used by those who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), involves repetitive or rigid actions that may appear strange and even frightening to the people who are not aware or informed of these behaviours.

freesound.org: Freesound is a collaborative database of Creative Commons Licensed sounds.


Salty Xi Jie NG- A Citizen Scholar of the Cosmos ACT 2


[00:00:49] Bill Cleveland: That was artist and cosmic citizen Salty Xi Jie Ng describing her work with senior women in Singapore and Portland Oregon from our last episode. In that conversation, we talked about growing up in Singapore, grandmas and intimacy, who is an artist, the creative potency of questions, and a global newspaper called The Grandma Reporter.

In this episode we continue down the path of the provocative and unexpected with Salty. Along the way we will encounter the secret lives of art gallery security staff, a gam show called Twistory, bunion fetishes, and a very funny group of incarcerated artists.

This is Change the Story, Change the World, my name is Bill Cleveland.

Part Four: Of Bunions and Art Galleries


You created a project which basically said, “hey, let's look at this, nobody has this conversation, right?”


[00:03:21] BC: So, how does work like this, that is so personal end up translating to broader issues or ideas, or does it?


So there was a part of the project where I meet casts of my grandmother's feet, and my grandfather's hand bunion’s [with] these knobby things on his hands, and that kind of looked at inheritance. There was also a publication where people contributed writing on inheritance, and bunion to bunion tote bag that had the bindings of me and my grandma, and people who contributed to the publication were invited to carrying that tote bag around in everyday life and just giving the publication out to people.

There was a bunion archive that collected bunion stories, and then I also invented a bunion measuring apparatus, which is the poor person's method of getting a reading of your bunion angle without spending money seeing a pediatrist.

Then there was also massage workshop, a Guinness World Record attempt to take a group picture with the most number of bunions in it, which Guinness World Records rejected. And there was the Bunion fetish component as well.


Your interaction at Dartmouth with the university art department security staff there. And having worked at the Walker Art Center myself, I know you have the curatorial artists' world, and then you have this vast other population of support staff who are often completely anonymous, who spend their lives with artwork, and have opinions about it. You basically took down the wall between those two. Could you talk about that project a little? That was very inspiring to me.


At that time there was an installation by an artist named Bill Seaman, who, was doing a project on the overlooked objects in buildings like that. The electric box, the fire extinguisher, and things like that. So there were these kind of esoteric, poetic quotes on the walls of the first floor, but then at the end of the whole tour, I realized that the most interesting thing that happened to me that day was my conversation with Jim, the security guard. I asked him, “Hey, Jim, what do you think of the quotes on the wall?”, and then Jim was like, “Salty. I don't really get it. I don't see why it's art. I don't know.” And then in that moment, like I had this flash of excitement and insight, and I was like, “oh, wait a minute, maybe Jim's quotes should be on the walls.” He is just staring at the walls for hours and days and weeks and months, let’s have his thoughts on the walls instead?

I think it'd be equally, if not more interesting, no offense to Bill, to hear his thoughts, and the thoughts of the other security officers and maintenance staff. So I went about seeking permission to do that, and make friends with the rest of the security and maintenance staff, and interviewed them on your thoughts on art and their work and everyday life and then eventually got their quotes on the walls, in the same spots and new spots, and in the same font, design, everything, and hoping to confuse people who have been familiar with the previous quotes which had been up for some months, and also to challenge ideas of what gets to be called art, and the inside and outside of roles that people play within the art ecosystem.

Then we had an opening with, different activities. Jim had a conversation booth, Wayne on the maintenance staff, made Golumpkis, which are traditional Polish dish, and then Peter, another security staff did a runes writing workshop. And it was like a really nice cozy evening for people to approach these men in a different way.


[00:09:38] XJN: In Portland, it's called the Columbia River Correctional Institution.


[00:10:00] XJN: So, it was like five episodes of which only two have been released. Each ran about 45 minutes to an hour, and it was shown within the prison TV system, their kind of in house content. Then we also showed it on public access TV through Open Signal, which is a media arts organization in Portland that is also on YouTube.


[00:10:37] XJN: Yeah, the men who participated in the project brought so much humor, and they use humor a lot to get by with their days and their time there. Underlying that humor can be a lot of criticism about the prison industrial complex. It can comment on personal pain, on difficult relationships, conflicts, and prison experiences. Humor are really powerful tool for all of those things, and I can say that was the most fun project I ever did in my life, which might be something unexpected to hear, but we laughed so much in that project.

I remember the most fun moments for me were bringing the first cut of the cooking shows, and then we'll watch the edit together and everyone would be like doubling over with laughter. It was a lot of fun and it was very wacky in a way, almost absurd, and impossible to have that premise of being allowed to do that in a correctional facility, bringing in a microwave and ingredients and having this cooking show.


[00:12:00] Announcer: Live from CRCI, it's everyone's favorite game show Twistery with your host Dirk de Dirk?


[00:12:26] Announcer: A brand new car.


[00:12:39] Announcer: A brand new guitar guitar.


[00:12:42] Announcer: I can't answer that question.


[00:12:55] Announcer: Well Alex, I choose true or false teeth.


Wait. Okay. The guy in the middle of here, he’s got it right okay!

George Washington did have wooden teeth, a little history about our first president.

Where did all my cookies go? Where is your mother? Ma, this kid needs a spank over here.

-end of scene-


[00:13:33] XJN: And, yeah, there's a lot that can happen within a small and sterile space if you let your imagination guide you, and in the edit room and on your computer after that as well.

It was thanks to James Handy, who is the correctional rehabilitations manager in that facility for pushing a lot of boundaries to make our project happen. And that was also after years of facilitating art programs there with some of my classmates from the Portland State University Art in Social Practice, MFA Program. So that relationship with the prison was built over years.


Part Five: Legacies


[00:15:00] XJN: This is a really important subject to tackle and for artists working in these ways to think about, and I think there are many different opinions, sometimes conflicting on this as well. I think it's well noting that people who collaborate in these projects, receive particular benefits, it is also important to note that artists receive also a lot of benefits: social, cultural capital advancement of their careers and things like that and, yeah. So all parties have different experiences that can be pretty complex in terms of power, relationships, and continuing or not continuing relationships.

In terms of continuing relationships with people, I often become friends with the people I collaborate with, and I try to keep in touch with those that I'm closer to on and off. I think that in working with really vulnerable populations, like the prison, it is important to think about the ethics of that relationship building even more. It's something that I'm still trying to figure out, and how that the work can continue, and [figuring out] what is the work? especially when they've come out and their lives are completely different and they're dealing with a high potential of recidivism, and the trauma and the shock of being out in the world that is so vastly different from the one on the inside. [There is a] lack of support, and often family issues, relationship issues, and things like that. how does that then transit to the outside? I don't still don't have an answer because right after I finished that project, I went to Massachusetts to work and then COVID hit, and then it's also very hard to be in touch with many of them on the outside.


[00:16:88] XJN: It’s hard, and yeah sometimes you get very sad news about someone that you knew and cared for, that got into some kind of trouble or their lives changed. yeah. It's complex in all.


[00:17:01] XJN: But on the note off of working with in the prison, industrial complex, I try to be a friend as much as I have the capacity for, and then in terms of continuing a project, I'm not sure what you meant by legacy


I think of my work in community as having two parts. Number one is delivering the value, and the creativity, and building those relationships. But the other one is always keeping an eye out for opportunities to plant rebar into the project so that if there is some opportunity for a future iteration, a next chapter, not necessarily involving me, that you've built it in a way that it has the greatest potential to transition. That makes the work much harder, but it has proved to be a good strategy in a lot of circumstances.


[00:19:09] BC: Yup.


[00:19:20] BC: So you mentioned COVID, which has obviously disrupted much of the world. As an artist engaging in a local global continuum of disruption, as hopefully we move back into that world, what have you learned, and where do you see the role of artists who are working and in the community sphere, in terms of the future coming out of this?


The creative tools of art help to create more, imaginative and malleable entry points and more ways to imagine the future, and remind us of our humanity.


Joshua Tonkin: welcome to CRCI. This is Music Culture, and I am your host, Joshua Tonkin, also known as Lone Wolf. Today. I have some special guests with me. I have the native drum circle. I was just wondering if each one of you could, uh, tell me what tribe you're from.

Speaker 1: Uh, I'm from the Oglala Sioux tribe from Dakota.

Speaker 2: Okay. I'm from Dakota, Sioux Poplar, Montana, Montana. Cherokee,

Speaker 3: From Southern Oregon, the Modoc and Klamath tribes.

Joshua Tonkin: 4 And, I'm from the Blackfeet nation. We're about ready to do a song for everybody. This is called The Trail of Tears.

Speaker 1: This is an honor of, uh, the Cherokee nation when they, uh, taken off their homelands in March to the reservation. All the, um, women and children, the elders that lost their lives during that march. And just for everyone else, that's going through tough times in your life, you sing this song in honor of you. Sonny is going to lead us off with prayer and just my, uh, Dakota Sioux language.

~Brief Speech in Native Language~

Sonny Boyd: What that says is that I come from where the fish eaters live in Poplar Montana. My name is Sonny Boyd, crazy bull, and asking the creator to come over here and help us out with this song and guide us.

And now for The Trail of Tears.


Joshua Tonkin: How has the music inspired you throughout your life? Like how've you come to playing the drum and how does it impact you personally?

Speaker 1: I didn't step onto the drum until I came in here. You know, I kinda let my guards down and opened myself, uh, or old songs and fights are old spirits to us to help cleanse us and help us get.

How about you?

Speaker 2: I'm really honored to be a part of the circle and share the unity, you know, uh, the love that we have for this drum, the animal that we're just skin came from that helps make that heart beat. You know it's all connected….


Heartbeat of our people. Our people, mother earth connection. Um, it makes me feel free, feel free on the inside. Takes me outside of these, uh, these walls. I myself have four children, and, um, I've taught them how to dance, and sing songs, and take them to ceremonies.


Through hard times, it’s helped me keep my head lifted high. It’s never ,you know, let myself down, let them keep looking down. I kept looking up, keep looking forward. There's always going to be a better road. It's very uplifting to see other bros want the help, but never, ever given the chance for somebody to be there for them to kind of show them those ways, show them and let them know that there is a better path rather than coming back in here and keep walking that same path.

Speaker 3: I know that you've helped me a lot. So since I've been here, that's for sure.

Joshua Tonkin: And Sonny, uh, I know within the circle, you're, you're kind of looked at as an odor to all of us. Uh, how, how does that make you feel?

Sonny Boyd: Not that old, but I enjoy being here for the roles. I know a lot of songs. I like teaching and I learned from brothers that don't know much about this to some things that I might've missed in life. So I learned it's a two way.

Speaker 1: Druming our songs, they go back many years, and we've always had that connection, and when we sing, that’s how we express our ourself to our creator. So a lot of our songs are prayer songs.

Speaker 2: I know all the bros I've heard, it said that a lot of us feel that we're, we walk a warrior path.

Speaker 3: Being a warrior is being there for the people, being there for your elders, being there for your ones that can't dance, the ones that are in wheelchairs.

Speaker 4: I want to have love for one another and have compassion for my brothers. It’s a way of life, its to walk in the beauty.

~More chanting and singing~


Final question. Three creative works that have really made an impression upon you and in recent times?


So Mookie, his a Swedish wife and the life that they created together in Sweden, that was in this tug up schoolhouse, and the had a lot of community, and experimental music, performance, children learning about art. And, that feels like my vision for the world and my life. And then the third one is one that I have, I did not get the chance to see, but I thought was an important thing that happened in the world. One of my artists friends in Singapore, Ila, did a project called Stimming Dreaming with her collaborator, Jonah, who’s an early intervention educator, and, it's about stimming.

Stimming is repetitive or unusual movement or noise. It seems to help some autistic children and teenagers manage emotions, and cope with overwhelming situations. It's about their own experiences with being primary caregivers for their family members. I think it was a really important project that they put out and that tried to address misconceptions.


[00:30:08] XJN: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to pause and talk about my work.


[00:30:16] XJN: Have a good evening. Bye.


[00:30:34] BC: And to our audience, thank you for tuning in. As you can imagine, there are going to be many interesting links and references in this episode show notes. So, check them out. Also, please know your listening is the lifeblood of this program. So click on the subscribe button on your podcast player, and share us with your fellow travelers.

Change the Story, Change the World is a production of the Center for the Study of Art and Community. We are forever thankful for the extraordinary soundscapes of Judy Munson, and the fabulous sound effects that we get from freesound.org.

So until next time stay well, and spread the good word!


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Change the Story / Change the World
A Chronicle of Art & Transformation