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In Conversation: Jared Brown with Madison Smith

Opening Image

Jared Brown performs at Links Hall in ECLIPSING: the politics of night, the politics of light, 2018. Photo: Ally Almore

Intro Text

On the occasion of the MCA's partnership with ECLIPSING, a multimedia festival organized by local artist and cultural organizer Amina Ross, local artist and art historian Madison Smith presents an insightful look into the practice and collaborative efforts of fellow Chicago-based artist Jared Brown.

ECLIPSING is a festival celebrating darkness and exploring blackness beyond the binary. Artists AuMar, Jared

Brown, J’Sun Howard, Porsha O., and Ariel Zetina will participate in the MCA's In Progress public program series, allowing visitors a further glimpse into the development of their practices.

Intro Body Text

Madison Smith: Central Air Radio is a program on WHPK, a Chicago radio station based on the South Side, specifically Hyde Park. Central Air can be heard live and on the internet as well—how did Central Air begin?

Jared Brown: I applied for a grant when I lived in Baltimore to launch a sort of nomadic radio station. It was just meant to keep boppin' and changing and adapting to the sociopolitical climate of Baltimore. Needless to say, I didn't get the grant, but I had all of this language when I moved back to Chicago. I pitched the same kind of show to WHPK, only it wouldn't be nomadic, it would be at a real station. And they totally got it.

MS: Did you feel there was a sense of urgency for that platform and program in Baltimore at the time?

JB: Well, it feels weird to speak on Baltimore now. I think if you would have asked me a few years ago, I would have had all of these different things to say—but Baltimore is not my city. Like, I'm not from there and I haven't been tried in Baltimore in the way that some of my Baltimore peers of mine have been tried. So I don't really know what's dire, what Baltimore needs. But I felt at the time it was a clever and seemingly non-invasive way of trying to be a part of the discussion happening there. It just so happened I didn't get the grant—and it was the first grant I had ever applied for—but it felt dire to do it in Chicago. I didn't really know how to be an adult here, I didn't know how to be an artist here or maneuver [through] communities as much. So it felt dire to have a platform to talk about my experience being back. I'm a DJ outside of radio, so it was also a way to connect the movement happening here.

MS: How has collaboration touched your artistic practice? Within Central Air Radio, collaboration is a huge part of the radio programming, right? You're inviting local DJs, community members, musicians, artists, and performers onto the show for an interview or to design their own set. But you have been a part of many collaborative creative projects within F12 and sexoesthetic . . .

JB: The collaborations I've had taught me that collaboration as a term means a lot of different things for a lot of different people. But the way I understand collaboration is trying to meet each other in this halfway mark that's really vulnerable. It's like, you can bring what you have and the other person brings what they have. It's not so much about fixating on what we don't have, but what to make from what we both can do. It's been really interesting, and it's helped me welcome in this idea of limitations being a part of my sound or being a part of what I'm working on as opposed to being so fixated on what I don't have.

Damon Green performs at Danspace Project in Working on Better Versions of Prayers: Volume 1 by Chicago dancemaker J'Sun Howard. Photo: Ian Douglas

Main Body Text

MS: The ECLIPSING: Death & Transformation festival is partnering with the MCA for several public programs and performances in late January. You'll be performing on Friday, January 25. Can you talk about how are you preparing for this performance?

JB: Me and J'Sun Howard are performing together. This is not the first time me and J'Sun have performed together, so there's already this rapport, and I feel really comfortable with J'Sun. J'Sun is also performing in the Links Hall festival this year and we're trying to make our work talk to each other. We found a common denominator, which is gospel music.

I have always been interested in gospel. I think I was understanding my relationship or devotion to church as a kid by just saying, “Oh I love going to church,” when I probably really didn’t. I enjoyed the style. I liked being with my family because I loved seeing what my mother and my grandmother would wear. But I also love the music. That is what held my attention at the time . . . . We’re going to sample some aspects of the church and bring it to the MCA so it’s like an institution fostering a conversation about another institution. Me and J’Sun are definitely just in incubation, sharing ideas and a lot of media. J’Sun shared these spirituals with me that I had never heard before and I was like, “I want to remix these, I want to play around with these, I want to slow them down and put them on top of the techno beat or something.” So we’re just going to play around with form, the form of how the black church handles death. Death and transformation are very heavy—a lot can come up, so we’re also trying to protect ourselves a bit.

MS: Totally. It requests a lot of you to look deeper and I think that protection is essential.

JB: Especially when you're collaborating, right? Going back to that, because I know how far I can go, I'm not scared to go far. But I don't think it's right to push people there. I think when you're working with other people you have to respect that because not everyone can come out of it as easily.

MS: Speaking of collaboration, Central Air Radio is a partner of the ECLIPSING Festival, a multimedia festival celebrating folks who find inspiration and strength within self-defined interpretations of darkness that is curated by Amina Ross. I wanted to ask you how this collaboration came to be.

JB: [The collaboration] came to be after Amina asked me to be a part of the first ECLIPSING last year. [Last year's festival] was all about artists unpacking darkness as a concept, as a construct. I think white people get to maneuver anywhere and not have to think about things like the word “dark” and use it to mean a morbid, evil thing. They don't think about how that might make a dark-skinned person feel. You know? It just makes me feel so many things when I think about the amount of language that came out of just seeing these different performances, and then the physical art show, last year. So eventually Amina and I started talking about 2019 and I shared some artists who happen to be on the bill and Amina was like, “I want to do a radio program,” and I was like, “That is so dope.”

Main Body Text

MS: [Central Air Radio] adds a sonic component to the festival, which is especially useful if you can't make it to the programs or performances. It's great that there are archives and other ways of understanding this idea of darkness. You can listen in your car or while you're in the studio working . . .

JB: And keep listening because it's one of those things where people can just say, “Oh that's a really simple theme.” I remember I told someone last year's theme and they were like “That's so simple,” and I was like, “I don't think it's that simple.” I think it's vast and I think that it gives people a lot of freedom. You also see people negotiate how much permission they want to give themselves to investigate something that's vast. And so this year, I'm just seeing how everyone's handling and processing transformation and death. If they're not addressing both of them, it's one or the other, but in such different ways. It's pretty cool.

MS: Yeah, I'm really excited for the next guest. How are you structuring each new show within the partnership?

JB: There is no structure! All of them are so different from each other. Again, trying to borrow from Amina's methodology of making artists feel seen. So we kind of went through the roster of artists and Amina connected me to some I knew less [about] and just saying, “I think I understand your work enough to indulge you so let's just see what we do.”

I saw Yun [Yun Ingrid Lee] perform a year ago and we were emailing about the sound components . . . . They answered some questions, and it was a bit on the formal side. I inserted some songs that reminded me of the energy of their performance and when I saw them perform live, it was giving me like The Prodigy and this sort of 1990s cold rave sounds. [The broadcast] starts off real formal, like an NPR-adjacent interview, but then it just gets into this like, weird experimental audio text from Yun where they're talking and [the audio] just gets more and more distorted. And I always am now thinking about someone listening in their car and just kind of like, “What is going on? What is happening at Central Air?" That's what I want to be doing.

Concluding Body Text

MS: And that's what I love about the ECLIPSING festival . . . this boundary-crossing aspect of it. All these programs happening throughout the city with performers who live in different neighborhoods and folks who live outside of Chicago as well. And that the airwaves are a part of that, that there is no boundary ECLIPSING can't cross.

  • JB: Yes I know, Amina really was getting all ground covered. What's been great about getting all types of people from all over [on Central Air Radio] is collectively trying to get Chicago, and Chicago natives specifically, to unlearn the psychic attack of being segregated. The whole city belongs to us. And I hope that by all of this abundance of programming, we take steps to transforming that—because that Chicago needs to die, and I'm not going to miss her.

Jared Brown and J’Sun Howard will perform In Progress at the MCA on Fri, Jan 25, 6–8 pm.

  • Other ECLIPSING and MCA In Progress events include:
  • In Progress: Porsha O. and Ariel Zetina, Tue, Jan 22, 2019, 6–8 pm
  • In Progress: AuMAR, Tue, Jan 29, 2019, 6–8 pm

Episodes of the 2019 ECLIPSING and Central Air Radio collaboration will air live on January 22 (featuring AuMar) and January 29 (featuring Rashayla Marie Brown) at 11 am CST on WHPK 88.3 FM. Episodes can be streamed after their air date at soundcloud.com/centralairradio.

For more information about ECLIPSING: Death & Transformation, visit ECLIPSING.info.

Artist Bios

Madison Smith is a Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist and art historian exploring ideas of intimacy, flatness, and autobiography using fiber art and sculptural installation. Smith has managed a diverse range of public programs in partnership with institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, the Evanston Art Center, and LATITUDE Chicago. Smith is a cofounder of Monarch Art and Wellness and project manager of ECLIPSING: Death & Transformation festival. Since graduating with a BFA in art history from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2017, Smith has demonstrated a commitment to emerging artists and creative platforms in Chicago.

Jared Brown is an interdisciplinary artist born in Chicago. Brown's work constructs a mythology around their origins and archives their existence as a black celestial being. In recent work, Brown has presented audio and text-based work on the radio (CENTRAL AIR RADIO, 88.5 FM), in live DJ sets, and on social media. They consider themselves a data thief, understanding this role from John Akomfrah's description: a figure that does not belong to the past or present. As a data thief, Brown makes archeological digs for fragments of black American subculture, history, and technology. Brown repurposes these fragments in audio, text, and video to investigate the relationship between history and digital, immaterial space. Brown is interested in exposing the contradictions and complexity within black American subculture. They consider these gaps and slippages as a type of code that holds the key to a personal and collective future. Jared Brown holds a BFA in video from the Maryland Institute College of Art and moved back to Chicago in 2016 in order to make and share work that directly relates to their personal history.