An Interview with Jordan Martins

On Sunday, February 8th at 4:00pm, we present Graphic Notation 101, the Ten x Ten 2015 Kick-off event, with guest presenters Jordan Martins and Katherine Young. In anticipation, Seth Vanek of Homeroom Chicago interviewed Jordan Martins to learn more about his approach to color and improvisation and who he looks to for inspiration.

To see Jordan speak in person, please join us February 8th at 4:00pm at Spudnik Press Cooperative, 1821 W Hubbard St. #302 for Graphic Notation 101.

Jordan Martins is a Chicago-based visual artist, curator, educator, and musician. Martins’s visual work is based in collage processes, including mixed media two dimensional work, photography, video, and installation. His recent work is primarily concerned with visual codes, camouflage, and gestalt theory. As a musician, Martins collaborates with Angela James and Quarter Mile Thunder, in addition to improvised performances with musicians from varied backgrounds. As Co-Director of the Comfort Station, he oversees general programming, gestates new projects, and coordinates partnerships with outside organizations and artists. He co-founded the Comfort Music series in 2011, directed the Relax Attack Jazz Series from 2011-2013, and is currently on the programming committee for the Chicago Jazz Festival. He received his MFA in visual arts from the Universidade Federal da Bahia in Salvador, Brazil in 2007 and has been an instructor at North Park University since 2008.

Seth: Let's start off with your visual artwork? What medium or media do you prefer to work in? 

Jordan: I've always been a "mixed media" artist--with an emphasis on collage processes–but in recent years I have been shifting a bit. My work used to deal mostly with physical collaging and layering, using resin to build up density, etc, but I started doing more projects with photography in 2013. At that point I made some photographs that were exploring similar patterns and compositions that was in my 2D collage work, but I built them up with layers of fabric that I cut into, hung, lit and eventually photographed.

Also, about a year ago I started making collages on a scanner–which is essentially a camera–at first to create more fodder for the actual physical collages, but now I'm seeing some of them as finished images that stand on their own. Right now I'm really interested in how I can make photographs in a very "painterly" way, that is, in an improvisatory way that riffs on certain patterns, motifs, etc.

In the bigger picture, I'm focusing on creating several tangents of visual processes that get folded back in on one another in various ways, so that similar visual components will be reiterated in different forms: in a photograph, in a scanned collage, in a video, a 2D collage...

Seth: What role, if any, has improvisation played in your work? Are there techniques you've learned as an improvising musician that you've applied to visual art composition? 

Jordan: Improvisation has always played a huge role. I know this can sound cliche to say, but I've always worked with a process that essentially begins with throwing stuff out there and then seeing what can be made of it. I know what kind of territory I want to get at with the process, but I try to set up the conditions in a way that little bumps or mutations can pop up that dictate where an individual piece can go. It definitely reminds me of the kind of thing you witness in the free-improv music scene, like the Thursday night series at the Elastic: there are certain established languages, methods, tricks, ideas, and then the challenge is to see how they can spontaneously crystalize into something. There's sort of an arc that you're watching to see how things can be connected, juxtaposed, contradicted, blended.

Seth: Describe your relationship to color in your work. Is it intuitive or do you tend to use color in a functional way?

Jordan: In the past four years or so color has inadvertently become the "content" of my work more than just part of the visual grammar. There are certain basic color dynamics that are always at play when you're making visual work. Because if it's visual, color is just a given, even when you're making something "without color": hue, saturation, etc. For the most part, yes, those things operate more or less intuitively in the sense that I'm balancing it on the fly. But in another sense I've become more and more interested in the color itself: in terms of how our eyes and brains literally react to it, but also in the cultural associations that can attach to color; and more importantly, how those two things intersect.

I've been obsessed with flagging tape recently (the neon kind that's usually used by surveyors, or to mark construction work on a sidewalk). It's this really fascinating thing because the vibrant colors are used because of how effectively they will stand out from their surrounding, but the colors themselves take on an almost bureaucratic association--if you see those colors, it's "official business", and you don't mess with it. Also, the way "hunter's orange" is based on a similar retinal functionality--humans can see it and deer can't–but it then makes this leap to be a semiotic marker of a certain cultural demographic or ideology (rural hunting culture, traditional values). There's a lot of rampant speculation in this way of thinking, which is part of the fun.

Seth: Do you draw any inspiration from music that can apply to your work? If so, what are some of the musicians that inspire you?

There's no doubt innumerable musical influences, but it's hard for me to pinpoint direct correspondences between someone I listen to and how it might affect the work I'm making. I strongly relate to the whole Charles Ives idea of "simultaneity" and I love when various musical layers–even conflicting ones–resolve in a bigger picture, illogical way. I'll stick my neck out a bit and say that I think the Grateful Dead is actually quite good at that.

It's funny, I make music with my wife (Angela James), and when we're recording I'm conceiving of the arrangements in this kind of chaotic beast kind of way–I think it's kind of like triangulating an arrangement in motion rather than charting it out theoretically–basically the same way that I make my visual work. She has to rein me in at times, but we've managed to build a good working relationship where she let's play around with it.

To hear more from Jordan Martin and the intersection of sound and image, please join us for:

Graphic Notation 101 
(Ten x Ten 2015 Kick Off Event) 

Sunday, February 8, 4:00pm 
Spudnik Press Cooperative 
1821 W Hubbard St. #302
Free, All Ages 
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