In comics in the US, there is a prevailing stigma of creators being misanthropic shut-ins. A stereotype that afflicts not only content but creators’ self-hood alike, and an identity which is defensibly bunk.
I first met Lyra Hill during a class we had together at the School of the Art Institute. Hill is a filmmaker, cartoonist, and the producer behind the experimental comics reading series Brain Frame. Since it’s conception in 2011, Brain Frame has served as a storytelling platform for a mash-up of emerging and more established artists (myself included).
Every other month audiences are invited to a celebration of strangeness and a showcase of eccentric ambition. In it’s many iterations, the event has become a beloved happening among independent artist communities in Chicago. What began as an exploration into what a comics reading could be, has become a site of social engagement within a medium still haunted by rigid versions of its self.
Lyra and I sat down recently to draw upon and reflect on Brain Frame’s final year.
February 7, 2014 · Print This Article
Eastbourne is a quiet town, perhaps too quiet. The fading resort on the South coast of England is a popular destination with old age pensioners, who come to fade out in their turn, amidst tea shops, guest houses and an appealing promenade.
But something sinister is afoot, thanks to a pair of artists from the new home of Noir, Scandinavia. Indeed John Skoog and Bjarke Hvass Kure come from Sweden, where you get the impression that criminal corruption can happily co-exist with outward calm.
So, this overseas team have come to Eastbourneâ€™s fantastic Towner Gallery with a sceptical eye. Having been invited to curate a show based on the permanent collection, they have called it Near Dark and now liken the four rooms it occupies to a crime scene.
â€œWe were just clicking through the database and then we started talking about . . . Agatha Christie, this small town British detective story,â€ says Skoog who, together with Kure, has rifled through the permanent collection for evidence of misbehaviour.
Kure picks up the thread: â€œIt is a mystery and it can be solved, or maybe it can’t. Sometimes what’s interesting about a crime is not necessarily finding out who did it, but more about actually the interpretation or deducing a meaning from imagesâ€.
Some of those images will be familiar to visitors, some less so.Â Both artists report a sense of near dÃ©jÃ vu as local landmarks appeared and reappeared in the vaults of the gallery. And Towner has a monopoly on images from the adjacent South Downs National Park.
But less familiar will be the unfinished works by Eric Ravilious. Eastbourneâ€™s famous son is perhaps best known for his charming watercolours of the rolling hills which form the backdrop to the town. Now visitors have a chance to see him stripped bare, as it were.
Skoog and Kure are exhibiting a previously unseen colour test. The loamy shades of green and brown could only belong to him. Nearby is his incomplete view of Beachy Head, a nearby cliff with the sad distinction of being the countryâ€™s most infamous suicide spot.
And no one is above suspicion. Though both artists insist this show is not a whodunnit, they lay a bold accusation at the Galleryâ€™s door. â€œIn some strange way, it’s Ravilious – but it’s also Sherlock Holmes,â€ says Skoog. â€œHe’s the one, who’s maybe like Sherlock Holmes turned bad or something. â€œ
Well, if Holmes had his violin, surely the world is ready for a painting detective, even a rogue one if it comes to that. â€œIt’s really super exciting to see what people think, especially as Ravilious is The Man here,â€ adds the artist.
Rest assured, as the show was shaping up Monday, thereâ€™s was nothing too sacrilegious in the offing. Kure specialises in hanging arty shows like this: â€œWeâ€™re trying to use the museum exhibition format,â€ he tells me. â€œWe weâ€™re really trying to be very sensitive to a lot of the details, a lot of the traditions, of how you make a museum exhibition.â€
â€œThe exhibition is a narrative,â€ he continues, explaining that variable lighting will give the visitor a sense this story is a cyclical one, from light to dark and back again: â€œYou’re an interpreter or a reader going through what’s happenedâ€.
Skoog meanwhile brings a filmmakerâ€™s talents to the display: â€œThere’s all these filmic terms, like zooming, a pan, a tracking shot. We wanted to use all these terms, to use them as tools for making an exhibition instead of a film.â€
But while those techniques have made the final cut, the artist admits that the visitor may not even notice. Flashback is another technique, and the same local street crops up by two different artists in two different rooms, Skoog describes the slow realisation of this as â€œsilently spectacular.â€
â€œThe crime scene can also be read on a more metaphorical level ,â€ says the filmmaker who intends the show to have the atmosphere of a good thriller rather than the payoff of a classic crime novel. But in a town where the thrills might be limited to chips on the pier, Near Dark should still deliver.
Near Dark can be seen at Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, UK, from February 8 until May 4 2014. The Gallery are also showing new film by John Skoog entitled Redoubt.
Feeling is Mutual is curated by Meredith Weber and Anna Trier, with work by Mothergirl, Jake Myers, and Latham Zearfoss. PREVIEW 3 is curated by Christopher Ottinger and Stevie Reynolds, with work by Annette Barbier, Erik Peterson, Jovencio De La Paz, Oliverio Rodriguez, Marissa Lee Benedict, Rashayla Brown, Reut Avisar, and Sabba Elahi.
Chicago Artists’ Coalition is located at 217 N. Carpenter St. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.
Work by Lena Youkhana and Puppies Puppies.
PeregrineProgram is located at 3311 W. Carroll Ave. #119. Reception Sunday, 1-4pm.
Work by Peter Jellitsch and Theodore Darst.
Public Works Gallery is located at 1539 N. Damen Ave. Reception Friday, 7-10pm.
Work by Molly Zuckerman-Hartung.
Corbett vs. Dempsey is located at 1120 N. Ashland Ave. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.
Work by Sarah Weber.
The Franklin is located at 3522 W. Franklin Blvd. Reception Saturday, 6-10pm.
Last week, it was announced that Carolina Garcia Jayaram, Executive Director of Chicago Artists Coalition (CAC) for nearly four years, is leaving her post at CAC for the position of Chief Executive Officer of United States Artists, one of the nationâ€™s largest grant-making and advocacy organizations supporting performing, visual, media, and literary artists. Establishing herself as a formidable force for change and opportunity in the Chicago art world in such a short time period, Jayaram has transformed CAC from an organization that had seen better days to one that is now flocked to by contemporary artists of all kinds. Checking in before she steps into her new role at United States Artists, Bad at Sports conducted thisÂ â€œExit Interviewâ€ with Jayaram:
Bad at Sports: Carolina, you had notable success founding and leading LegalArt (now Cannonball) in Miami. What convinced you to come to Chicago to take up the Executive Director position at CAC?
Carolina Garcia Jayaram: Iâ€™d like to say it was some benevolent altruistic force, but it was actually love. My husband is from here and longed to return, so we did, and it was the best decision Iâ€™ve made in a long time. Once I arrived, I worked at the Arts Alliance Illinois, doing arts education policy work, which was truly important work but didnâ€™t bring the creative challenge I was looking for and so I sought out something new and CAC was looking for a new Executive Director.
BaS: What was the state of CAC when you inherited it? And now, how would describe the organization?
CGJ: To say it was chaotic and rudderless is an understatement. There were a few loyal and vital board members keeping the frayed ends together, but really, I came in at a time when a few more months would have meant the total demise of the organization. It was a challenge I found exciting and felt prepared to take on largely because I was ignorant to the state of things. Thatâ€™s often the best way to go in for someone like me, who likes making order of the chaos. The bones were there, though, meaning a significant history, a dwindling but loyal cohort of members, funders who reengaged very quickly and a larger artist community that was definitely skeptical, to put it mildly, but welcoming once they realized we were in it for them.
BaS:Â If at all, how have you worked through the organizationâ€™s history while developing programming aligned with your own vision?
CGJ: In addressing the history [of CAC], or evolving past it, I found the biggest challenges. The majority of people are averse to change and so my initial push to make broad and sweeping changes was definitely met with resistance. For instance, one of the fist things to go was a printed newspaper that hundreds of artists still subscribed to and relied on for Chicago arts news. I had angry calls for months, but it was time to move on from that. It was a strategy embedded in the belief that our history was about advocacy and advocacy had changed from the early days of CAC. My vision was and remains one aligned with economic prosperity for artists, which is directly linked with artistic and creative freedom. I felt that this approach honored CACâ€™s history but shifted it in a way to become a lot more relevant for artists working today.
BaS:Â In your mind, how has CAC best contributed to the growth and sustainability of the arts in Chicago?
CGJ: One of the things Iâ€™m most proud of is creating an environment that welcomes partnership. I owe a great deal of our early successes to the partners who took a chance on me and CAC when they knew little or nothing of us, like the Chicago Loop Alliance (our partner in Pop Up Art Loop & Art Loop Open), Groupon, Gensler, The Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events (by giving us Chicago Artists Resource), Pitchfork, Audience Architects, 1871, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Columbia College Chicago, Other Peopleâ€™s Pixels, Creative Capital, and many, many individuals who were instrumental in building BOLT, HATCH, A.B.C., Starving Artist and EDITION Chicago into critical and commercial successes. Each of these endeavors have played a role in helping build a sustainable economic marketplace for Chicagoâ€™s creative community, which I hope is my legacy in the early development of CACâ€™s latest chapter.
BaS:Â What do you think has been your most important success as executive director?
Convincing hundreds of artists that they are capable of more than they believed possible.
BaS:Â What aspect(s) of Chicagoâ€™s arts community has had the greatest impact on youâ€”both personally and professionally? And what aspect(s) have most impressed you?
Professionally, it has been to work in a city that knows the importance of art and artists in a way largely foreign to me before coming here. The level of awareness about the arts here is unusual, and even those who may know less are still convinced of its importance and are usually looking for ways to know and experience more. Personally, the arts community has embraced my ideas and allowed me to take risks and to be creative, which has been deeply rewarding and stimulating. I definitely havenâ€™t gotten it all right, but Iâ€™ve always felt I could count on honest and constructive feedback from the many artists who have been a part of CACâ€™s growth.
BaS:Â Letâ€™s wrap up with a look ahead: United States Artists. Tell us about this organization. What excites you most about this new position? And though it may be a bit premature to ask, we still want to know, what are some of your plans for USA?
CGJ: United States Artists is driven by a very simple yet revolutionary premise: to best support artists we must first provide unrestricted funding in order for them to have the space and freedom to create work ([which is] wonderful) and second, we must create an environment where the larger public understands the importance of the artist in the world around them ([which is also] wonderful, but harder to attain). I am excited to grow USAâ€™s presence, to reengage with hundreds of alumni who, I do not exaggerate, are our countyâ€™s finest artists across eight disciplines. I plan to take what we do well, with a fellowship program that has to date invested nearly $18 million directly into artists and their work, and do it better, by working with alumni and future fellows to determine how we can make a deeper impact in not only their lives as artists but in their communityâ€™s lives, which I believe is a desire many artists have but are seeking tools to do better. But, first, we are going to get the 2014 fellowship underway and by yearâ€™s end, have a new class of fellows, which is the most exciting.
United States Artists is indeed a granting powerhouse that, at $50,000 a pop, has funded and led to the success of a number of household names, including Chicagoans like Douglas Garofalo (architecture), Theaster Gates (visual arts), Aleksander Hemon (literature), and Steven James (film), among others. Though the organization grants to artists living and working all over the country, a majority number of grants go to those based in New York and California. As far as we can tell, Jayaram will conduct her work as CEO from Chicago. If thatâ€™s the case, the fact that Chicagoans will be better informed about this national funding opportunity and the possibility that they and other Midwestern artists will be better represented is pretty darned exciting.
Congratulations, Ms. Jayaram.
Guest post by A.Martinez
Nick Jirasek is a food artist and founder of underground food entityÂ Guerrilla Smiles. He has worked with TonyÂ Fitzpatrick,Â LinksÂ Hall,Â RedmoonÂ Theater,Â LindaÂ WarrenÂ Projects, HauserÂ Gallery, EnsembleÂ DalÂ Niente, High Concept Laboratories, and more. Nick has a strong love of Malort and makes a mean pork shoulder. I got to ask him some questions about who he is, what he does, and his exciting presence in the arts scene.
A.Martinez: What is your definition of a food artist and what you do?
Nick Jirasek: A food artist is one who uses primarily comestible materials to create, explore, or challenge ideas. Â I work professionally in this capacity at exhibition openings, private events, the streets, house-parties, underground dinners, performances, pop-ups, talk-shows, and screenings.
Martinez: You are a self-trained- how did you develop your skills?
Jirasek: Immersion. There are seemingly unending resources, documentation, and wisdom surrounding food. Everyone wants to talk about it, wants to teach you the â€˜right way to do it,â€™ to share the ritual of eating with you, the most authentic place to buy kielbasa, the healthiest diet, the ethical diet, the best place to eat carnitas. Once I had the feeling that being a food artist is what I wanted to do, I made it my entire life. Some of the learning has been traditional in cooking under trained kitchen professionals, but most of it has been in acute observation and guerrilla learning tactics. Iâ€™ll sound like a broken .FLAC if I say the internet has been a tremendous resource, so Iâ€™ll say itâ€™s been invaluable. That of course means the usual suspects of e-books, Youtubes, and blog trolling, but also some harder to find fountains of information in more underground and illicit venues of the www. Once one is cognizant of basic technique, cultural/ethnic culinary tradition, and flavor pairing, is when some cooks then begin to hone their craft or get the fuck out; an Italian chef mastering the different regions of Italy, travelling to the Piedmonts to study centuries of tradition in Agnolotti, or a trade-school dropout in search of Tru. They begin to specialize based on their talents, their genealogy, and interests. But, Iâ€™m not interested in specializing my edible journey. I want to continually challenge the ideas and traditions of food while building a vocabulary of how to articulate that comestibly, socially, and literally.
Martinez: Who and what is Guerrilla Smiles and how long has it been around?
Jirasek: Guerrilla Smiles started as a social project about 6 years ago; to simply spread smiles in unexpected places and unexpected ways that would serve to beautify our lives and the lives around us.
I was a worn-out, director of food and beverage at Chicagoâ€™s 4th tallest building, the John Hancock. I worked a ridiculous amount of hours. The dreams at night of P&Lâ€™s, and the commute home down Chicago on the 66 bus was the cherry on-top of the soul sucking sundae. One day someone at the Hancock had ordered what must have been nearly a hundred gold, helium filled balloons and thrown them in the loading dock after the party was over. Â I grabbed all the balloons and walked down the street, handing a floating ball of gold to anyone and everyone that would take them. People like balloons, or maybe just the color gold more than I had thought. I was overrun by would-be gold-diggers by the time I made it to the McDonaldâ€™s on State street. At that point I walked to the middle of intersection and released the remaining bouquet of gold into the sky. Similar projects came in weeks following like cashing half my paycheck at the currency exchange in quarters and handing them out, then throwing them in the air and off bridges. Safety became an issue.
Around the same time my good friends Claire Molek and Erin Babbin were starting a gallery practice called Studio1020 (later theStudio and thisisnothestudio). Â Building on the ideas put forth on the street, I pleaded with them to seize the opportunity of the ubiquitous gallery food & wine table. Â The idea was simple; to mirror the displaying artistsâ€™ work aesthetically or thematically in comestible form. This way the dialogue of what the artistâ€™s message was, was literally palatable and hopefully led to broaden and ease the discourse. Â Through the past 5 years, a changing cast of cooking professionals, artists, and friends have helped carry on this mission from private dinners of 9 to public events of 900.
Martinez: The Break The Bread series focuses on your collaborations with visual artists at galleries around the city. How do you choose what artists and galleries with which youâ€™re going to collaborate? Or do they choose you?
Jirasek: For the vast majority of gigs, the artist, gallerist, or curator approaches us. Guerrilla Smiles does not advertise, has no website, and uses social media sparsely as a means to communicate. That is to say, we truly relish our underground disposition. My time with Studio1020 afforded me a great opportunity to interact and network directly with interested parties, interesting artists, and share lots of ideas through food. It all started from there and kind of naturally branched out by word of mouth. I have, in special situations, approached artists I want to work with and am looking forward to doing so more in the near future, as well as producing independent original work.
Martinez: What is the process of trying out new dish?
Jirasek: I kind of have an ongoing list of techniques, ingredients, serving vessels, equipment and ideas Iâ€™m waiting for the right opportunity to try. When it seems appropriate, I get to try out new stuff. In general, the basis for everything I make is a new dish as every exhibition or performance is new. There is some safety in knowing my control of flavor is adept, my technique is solid, but conversely an exciting trepidation in knowing that this dish has components I have done before, but altogether is completely new.
Martinez: What is the biggest revelation youâ€™ve had about the way you work?
Jirasek: One needs to be aware of their work patterns and not sabotage their opportunities. I donâ€™t like asking for help, and no one will ever work for me for free.
Martinez: Is shopping for ingredients an important part of your creative process?
Jirasek: Extremely. I devote at least an entire day to shopping for an event that can completely change the menu. The Green City Market is a staple and only occurs on 2 days of the week. But generally I go to local specialty stores and markets that take me from 113th to Skokie. This process of traveling all around the city, of breathing in the lifeblood of our diverse culture, of interacting with ethnicities whose only commonality with me is Chicago and food, is probably my greatest inspiration. Itâ€™s not dissimilar to the interaction I have with people on the night of an event. Most â€˜food peopleâ€™ will disagree with me on this, but Iâ€™m less interested in the local food movement and more interested in small, local family businesses, and traditions in Chicagoland.
Martinez: What is your favorite ingredient to work with?
Jirasek: Celery or Popcorn.
Martinez: Guerrilla Smiles has a dish called Oak Street Beach. Describe this dish and how it came about.
Jirasek: Oak Street Beach started as dish for a thisisnotthestudio show featuring artist Xiao Tse at High Concept Laboratories. Tse took upwards of a thousand pictures from the concrete pavement of Oak St. Beachâ€™s shore, facing the lake and narrowed it down to one piece that combined around twenty of the most discerning shots. It is essentially a deconstructed soup, with the broth held separately so as not to affect the aesthetic and textural integrity of the dry ingredients. The dry ingredients are held in a ten ounce clear plastic glass. The sand is a combination of ground peanuts, cashews, and maltodextrin. Â The grass is julienned wild ramps. The trash is a candied ginger chip. The fish is a rice flour fried smelt. The towel is a soy and turmeric based spring roll wrapper. The wet ingredients are suspended above in a fitting five ounce plastic glass, rimmed with suntan lotion that is garlic mayo. The Lake Michigan water is a kombu dashi. The eater is instructed to take a small mouthful of the dry ingredients and wash it down with a swig of the wet ingredients, going back and forth in a double fisted affair like they are swimming, until they are finished.
Martinez: You were born and raised in Chicago and this has a strong influence on the food you make. Are there any other cities or cultures that you either look to for inspiration or are inherent in your work?
Jirasek: I think Mexican food simply got everything right. We obviously have a large population of Mexican-Americans in Chicago, and benefit greatly from the cornucopia of ingredients, flavor, and culture they have imbued upon us. Aside from that, I took great inspiration from my time cooking in Panama City, whose flavors are a great amalgamation of the diverse foreign cultures who have occupied the area and the local flora and fauna. I look forward to delving into historical American First Nation culinaria as a geographical inspiration, and look forward to marrying Filipino and Czech food with acidic flavors.
Martinez: Food-wise, what do you think are some exciting places or events happening around the city?
Jirasek: I think The Plant in The Back of the Yards is going to be a blueprint for metropolitan farming worldwide. Asado Coffeeâ€™s recent expansion plans and concept of â€˜nano-roastingâ€™ is next level. Smalls BBQ is the kind of approachable, forward thinking neighborhood restaurant that Chicago has lacked to put it on the level of NYC. Florioleâ€™s baguettes are worth lining up for a la Paris when they come out fresh at 11am everyday. Three Aces is what every gastropub should strive to be. I also think weâ€™ll see a boon in quality independent food writing like Graze, Middlewest and whatever Anthony Todd has up his sleeve.
Martinez: What is your favorite Chicago-style food? And whereâ€™s your favorite place to get it?
Jirasek: Chicagoâ€™s hot dog is unmatched. Though not all the classic ingredients are included, Gene & Judesâ€™ canâ€™t be contended with because of the volume they go through and the freshness that entails, and fries like woah. Gotta go with underdog Chickieâ€™s for beef because their giardiniera is only quickly cured and crunchier. Salernoâ€™s for pizza because the true Chicago slice is thick crust and party cut.
Martinez: What does Guerrilla Smiles have lined up in the coming months?
Jirasek: In the great tradition of former Redmoon Theater Development Director Sean Kaplan, we will be curating the amuse-bouche portion of the upcoming fundraiser Spectacle Lunatique, outfitted Guerrilla style, primarily by the underground supper clubs of Chicago. We are in post-production for the next episode of our Break The Bread series with OnTheRealFilm for last yearâ€™s THAW fundraiser for Links Hall, as well as designing a menu for a soon opening southside cafe with one of Chicagoâ€™s champion contemporary artists.
Martinez: Is there a piece of advice, food-related or not that you think of often?
Jirasek: Donâ€™t crowd the pan. When it rains, it pours. Be safe, be strong.
All photos courtesy of the artist.
A.Martinez is a freelance art and music organizer living in Chicago, IL.