Note from the Editor: For this issue we are highlighting Indianapolis artists who are working unbound by traditional art mediums and display spaces. This segment of the Indianapolis Review specifically focuses on artists working in the context of this city’s art scene. A few months ago, the Central Indiana Foundation in partnership with the Simon Family Foundation put out a call of proposals for their creative risk grant, to encourage artists to take risks and experiment with their creative practice. Right now, Indianapolis seems hungry for projects that expect much of the viewer-so this issue is timely. I hope you enjoy reading, seeing, and listening to Bryn and Brent as they dive deep into their divergent artistic practices through Eastside Indy’s ephemeral art, 2 pancakes and coffee, Brooklyn’s dance music scene, and sites of anti-colonial resistance.
-Nasreen Khan, Art Editor
Bryn Jackson is a Filipino-American artist and curator based in Indianapolis whose work centers nature as a means of unpacking and connecting disparate narratives, personal experiences, and material culture.
“I work hard to inspire a deeper understanding of our shared environment and the ways in which it expresses and informs the condition of our being. My goal is to encourage a perpetual state of curiosity and growth in myself and those that I interact with, and as such, my process is often collaborative, organizational, and insistently interdisciplinary. The resulting artworks grapple with the politics, economics, and philosophy of existence and communicate through a wide variety of forms.”
Interview by Nasreen Khan
NK-Tell me a little about you as an artist. Where did you grow up? What is your family background? What about your personal story is relevant for your viewers to know when they look at your art?
I was born and raised on the south side of Indianapolis. My dad’s side of the family has been here for generations, and my mother moved to the U.S. from the Philippines in 1960. I grew up with a lot of exposure to the arts throughout my childhood. My dad’s mom had a passion for landscape painting, and her mother was a ceramicist. And my mom’s mom was a pianist.
My mom was convinced that if my time wasn’t occupied, I’d be getting into trouble, so she kept my schedule booked with visual arts, music, and martial arts. I sang with the Indianapolis Children’s Choir and developed a passion for travel. I painted and made clay sculptures with the IMA’s summer program. And I fought with other children twice a week and competed on weekends. And I carried my love of the arts into my adult life, eventually studying Film & Television Production at New York University and Art & Technology Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
As an artist, I like to consider myself resourceful. At NYU, students competed for equipment and funding, and one year, my entire Experimental Film class was told that we would not be receiving our allotments due to some administrative error. Determined to make something of the semester, I decided to use the equipment I had available to me which, at the time, was a Motorola RAZR. Since then, the majority of my image making practice has been focused on portability and consumer-grade technologies.
NK-You are an interdisciplinary artist working in a lot of different mediums (or sometimes outside the bounds of medium) what is your two minute elevator speech when someone asks you to describe your art in layman’s terms?
I describe myself as someone who makes things ranging from photography and video art to digital media and sculpture with the purpose inspiring a deeper understanding of our shared environment and the ways in which it expresses and informs the condition of our being. My goal is to encourage a perpetual state of curiosity, growth, and critical thinking in myself and those that I interact with, and as such, my process is often collaborative, organizational, and insistently interdisciplinary. The resulting artworks grapple with the politics, economics, and philosophy of existence and provide a platform for myself and my collaborators to practice radical care.
NK-For this issue we are featuring artists who work outside of the bounds of medium. What is your relationship to the mediums you use to create with? ….For example, do you view photography/film as skills to be gained, or in your live ecological work is there a sacred component? How do you straddle the bounds of conceptual and concrete?
My relationship with media is informed by the various associations we make with objects and environments. I think a lot about what it means to use the materials and tools I incorporate into my practice and because of this, I employ a wide variety of processes in order to convey a more expansive narrative. For instance, photography and video are particularly useful when I’m talking about time, motion, truth, or representation. Plants are a beautiful metaphor for the body, systems, death, change, domesticity and so on. To me, it’s willfully ignorant to insist that a tree is just a tree when humans across cultures have spent lifetimes forming personal and cultural associations informed by lived experience. And so my practice is also inseparable from language and the life that I’ve lived.
With the photography and video work, I won’t deny the importance of technical skill. But I think there’s more to be said about a person’s willingness and ability to break the rules of technical prowess and taste. One professor in film school once told me that there were maybe three of the post-production effects one should use and that everything else would make your work tacky. And while that may or may not be true within the conventions of cinema, that kind of absolute does a disservice to the medium itself, which is far more expansive than the narrative conventions of movie making. So, I spend a lot of time unlearning convention as well.
I definitely think there’s something sacred about working with plants. That part of my practice started with a work that came to me in a dream several years back. I hadn’t considered incorporating them into my work, and was, at the time, building out these vivaria just to bring more life into my living space. Once I started exhibiting with plants, I started thinking a lot about containment and sustainability. I considered the effects of removing a plant, whether alive or dead, from its natural habitat, and this led to researching the history and ecological impact of global circulation. There are some species alive today that can only be found in greenhouses and vivaria because of industrial extraction and forest degradation. This is true of some animals too. I haven’t sold any of the living works yet, but I’m fond of the idea of putting the collector in a position to have to actively care for the piece.
NK-Your body of work is extensive but you have chosen a few work samples for us to highlight here. Can you tell us about them and why you chose them specifically?
I chose these samples 1) because these are some of the works I’m most proud of and 2) because I think they illustrate a thematic throughline that has been present in my practice since I started showing my work. I’ve incorporated a lot of different media and gone down a number of aesthetic paths in my practice, but my work, for as long as I can remember, has been rooted in and informed by the environments I’ve inhabited. So, I think these particular works do a good job of conveying where I’m coming from and where I’m going.
(Above) This is a photo from a 2012-2013 series called Visions. For this series, I was using portable 35mm point-and-shoot cameras, long exposure times, double exposure, and color flash. I also lived a pretty robust nightlife, so I was often shooting in the dark. My photographs rarely included human subjects, but I was very interested in the signs of our presence: graffiti, garbage, architectural oddities and hostilities, makeshift structures, fences, etc. I especially loved when these signs intersected with natural forms – mostly leaves, flowers, or water. At this point I was shooting so much, I still have undeveloped rolls of expired film to process. And many of these compositions were unplanned, so there was a distinct element of surprise that brought a really satisfying dopamine rush to the process that, I think, comes through in a lot of images in this series.
This work is titled SHIFT and is one of five videos in a suite called Punctuated Equilibrium. After grad school, I started a really intentional unlearning campaign, and I did this by revisiting techniques and aesthetics I was employing when I was making videos for Brooklyn’s dance music scene. What distinguished this series from previous works is that a handful of years had passed in which digital imaging technologies advanced pretty rapidly. So while I was, again, putting out candy-colored videos of motion in nature, they could now be produced in significantly higher definition and with much more fluid motion. While the previous videos were jittery and erratic, developments in handheld tech allowed me to make something that could be slow and syrupy and hypnotic.
When a Tree Falls (Quartered, Quarantined) was a piece I started in 2019 and didn’t get to finish until 2021. Braydee Euliss, Mike Barclay, and Brent Aldrich approached me for a show with Minneapolis-based artist Alison Hiltner in one of the spaces that Indianapolis Contemporary was curating at the time. With the onset of the pandemic, unfortunately, the museum’s board voted to dissolve the organization, and weeks before the show was set to open, my first museum-backed opportunity was no more.
Most of the materials for the piece were kindly donated by my colleagues at Newfields. The mulberry tree had been struck by lightning and fallen. Jonathan Wright connected me with his staff who helped be extract the trunk from the 100 Acres: Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park. The casework was from a 2018 exhibition of Bes Ben hats and was scheduled for disposal, so the facilities team invited me to take what I needed. And then, Brent Lehker and Michelle McGuire very generously stored the components in their home until the show finally opened. Braydee, Mike and Brent found a new home for the exhibition at 16 Tech, and the work was finally realized in Spring of ’21.
This piece was an expression of grief. I had lost a couple friends to the pandemic; my mentor, Dr. Kelli Morgan had left Indianapolis; and a lot of what I had experienced between 2020-2021 – death, dissonance, removal, containment, isolation – was built into the work. By the time the show opened, I was emotionally and professionally burnt out. In February 2021, I woke up in the middle of my first panic attack. In April, I spent a night praying my partner, Jules, hadn’t been murdered in the FedEx shooting only to find out the next morning that he had had to work through the rest of his shift. I was suffocating, and my light was dimming. So, I faced the glass cage I felt I was in by building one. It was a necessary means of processing one of the most difficult times in my life, and I’m really grateful for the curatorial team’s trust and to everyone who helped me to realize this piece.
By the time I created Archipelagic Seed, Jules and I both left our jobs, and we were scheduled to leave for Oaxaca to work on a botanical garden. I had created three glass-box artworks that incorporated plants – including When a Tree Falls – that I casually refer to as Naptown Nocturne because, when viewed considered in chronological order, they illustrate a death progression. In the time after I left Newfields, I began reading works by Édouard Glissant, whose writings on landscape and history in relation to culture and our institutions inspired me to consider my practice and my experiences through an archipelagic lens.
This work came to mind when Braydee Euliss invited me to create a work for Stove Party, which would be the last exhibition I would participate in before our departure. With Glissant’s writings in mind, I wanted to create something for this suite of works that closed this moment in my life on a hopeful note, one that represented a dawning, an embrace of life and living in the face of adversity , a commitment to cultivating life as a sacred imperative, and an acknowledgement that the land that nourishes us connects us.
From January 2022 to March 2023, Jules and I lived in the southern mountains of the Sierra Madre in Oaxaca to assist in the conceptualization and development of Los Árboles que Llaman el Agua.
Los Árboles que Llaman el Agua is a community-driven, artist-activated botanical garden created in collaboration and solidarity with the community of San José del Pacífico with the purpose of growing ideas that support the transition from an extraction economy to a regenerative one; acknowledging the Sierra Sur as a site of anticolonial resistance by honoring Zapotec histories, practices, and knowledge; modeling endemic plant reforestation methods for creating healthy, diverse forest spaces; and empowering community through equitable engagement and skill-sharing.
Los Ecos del Cariño (The Echoes of Affection) is a series of composite concept sketches I created for the garden that mix photographs with AI-generated imagery with the intention of reclaiming these endemic plants – many of which are becoming scarcer due to extractive industrial practices, monocropping, and forest degradation – in service to the health and wellbeing of the local community. The intended result is a living abundance of orchids, accompanied by local plants local flora that is nutrient-dense and high in medicinal value
NK-A lot of your work focuses on the natural world, and engages the viewer very conceptually. When did your fascination with ecology/environment start?
For a few years after undergrad, I was waiting tables and didn’t always have the money to ride the train from the far side of Bushwick to the Village. So, I’d walk, and I almost always took a portable camera, either 35mm or video, with me. I focused a lot on the spaces between buildings, paths that pedestrians weren’t often taking. With the videos I was interested in the motion of leaves, or dappled light, or water, and because I was in this massive metropolis, each moment captured felt like a rare sighting. Usually, I would mess with the videos in post until the image was entirely abstract, which I think was informed by my early experiences with psychedelics. These weren’t “exhibited” so much as they were played in nightclubs, music venues, and industrial garages, usually alongside a band named Anima Anonima, all of which feels appropriate in retrospect. Growing up in Indy, I had a lot more opportunity to be immersed in nature, so in some ways, I think I was bringing that with me.
NK-You are both an artist and a curator. How is the experience of curating different from the experience of creating?
For me, the separation between creation and curation is blurry, so much so that I’ve been asked in institutional settings whether what I was proposing was an art project or a curatorial project. But I think it’s a matter of relations. With both artmaking and curation, it’s important to develop an understanding not only of what you’re doing, but also why and for whom. When I’m making an artwork, the primary relationship is between me and the subject. In contrast, curation entails a constellation of relational negotiations between one artwork and another; between the artist(s) and the viewer(s); between the object(s) and the space in which they’re exhibited and the viewer’s experience of that space, etc. There are negotiations between the institution’s departments centered on budget, timeline, labor, and alignment with the organization’s goals and strategy. And then there are negotiations between the institution and the funders, the public, contractors, regulatory bodies, and media outlets. And so, with curation, you’re navigating a matrix of interests, each with varying and fluctuating levels of priority and potentially in competition with one another. None of this is to say that one is easier or simpler than the other. But my art practice is powered by wonder and emotion whereas my curatorial practice is driven by pragmatism and diplomacy.