GIIIVENS Lights Their Path To Visual Artistry
Written by Vocalo Radio on October 19, 2023
Chicago light installation artist GIIIVENS hopes to create unconventional art to beautify the human experience.
Hailing from South Bend, Indiana, GIIIVENS made their way to Chicago in search of new creative horizons. Over the years, the artist has worked to produce interactive and immersive LED light-based art installations, incorporating thoughtfully crafted design elements and often animation.
GIIIVENS’ path to discovering their artistic talents was all by happenstance. While in college, they jumped between majors, and even briefly decided to become a classical concert pianist. After ultimately deciding to fall into the arms of art, GIIIVENS has grown to express their artistry in captivating ways as a creative director, installation artist and DJ.
The artist discovered their niche in lighting-based works while working in film production. Bored from the general stage lighting and wanting to experiment with something new, they made a simplistic yet meaningful light sculpture, and unlocked a new realm of their artistic expression. Their installations now are often large-scale geometric shapes made up of LEDs, incorporating soft, colorful lights in contrast to harsh overhead lighting. The works are always immersive, and are meant to evoke a sense of tranquility.
“This is an experience that kind of resets your nervous system, where you’d be walking into a dark room with soft lights of yellows, reds, blues, any colors you can think of,” they described. “You’re able to kind of just melt within this umbrella of light that is not overbearing, but almost hugs you … your body becomes a part of it, and you’re kind of encapsulated in this sensorial moment of peace.”
Not content with mastery in the visual arts alone, GIIIVENS is also a DJ, with mixes drawing inspiration from their classical piano training and upbringing in the Black church. Their sound today touches on the Midwestern parallels between the music from their childhood and modern house and techno sounds.
“The sounds of the Black church, specifically in the Midwest, are very unique” they said. “And you can really hear those things echo, specifically in Detroit and Chicago house, throughout melody and rhythm. It’s really cool to see the forefathers of house and techno were using these same beats, pretty much, to produce the things that you hear in her clubs today.”
In addition to their personal artistic endeavors, the artist is also the creative director of the Chicago Fashion Coalition. The organization is a nonprofit that works to uplift local designers and elevate the local fashion community by forming a network to centralize resources.
GIIIVENS’ connection to Chicago and its opportunities for creatives inspires them to break from the monotony of life and fill the world with beauty through their work. For this segment of “This Is What Chicago Sounds Like,” GIIIVENS discusses their discovery of interactive art and their experiences in the Chicago arts community.
What do you mean when you say “installation artist”?
I basically build these geometric forms, and then program LEDs that kind of fit within that. So I can make kind of any shape you can think of, or any variety you can think of, and then change color or patterns to create these experiences that are pretty captivating. And it’s one of those hard mediums where on photo you’re like, “Oh, this is just a box of light.” But experiencing those things in person, it kind of really changes your physical atmosphere, and your perspective and perception of the space. It’s really nice to create work that might alter the senses in ways you might not expect.
Are you from Chicago?
Before here, I was living in Austin, Texas, doing lighting installations in that circuit. And it was great, but once COVID hit, I wanted to be closer to my family. I’m originally from South Bend, Indiana. When I moved to Chicago, I lived in Lakeview for about a year, I didn’t like that at all. Being that close to the stadium and a, like, counter-queer culture to being like a Black queer person in Chicago. After that, I’ve lived in West Town for a bit, I’ve been hopping around, and now I’m in Pilsen.
How did you find your way into the work you do?
I went to art school, but it was very traditional in the sense you were painting, you were drawing. I actually had to create my own class to do my practice, because they didn’t have anything that covered what I was trying to get into. I actually started as a med student. And I was like, “What if I didn’t do this?” And I switched to art later down the line, after also being a music major. I was going to be a classical concert pianist for a minute, it was quite a range. After I realized that I didn’t want to do any of that, I was like, “Well, I have a third secret skill.” And I think just fell into the arms of art.
I originally got into making light sculptures on accident, actually. I was working in film production for a while, and we had to do different lighting for sets. And I got kind of bored with the general way that things were lit. I kind of got experimental and made a baby sculpture, it worked great for the video, the video did not work great. You know, one of those things. But after that I really saw a niche in a way that I could make art that expressed where I was at the time. I was a student and an art major, and a lot of the work was very conceptual. I wasn’t at a place in my life where I felt I needed to get all of my conceptual thoughts out yet. I kind of wanted to make something that was simplistic, but still gave an effect and was more focused on beauty rather than thought. I feel like I think all day, and sometimes it’s nice to just create a space where you can not.
Counter to the harsh white lights that we deal with in our day-to-day that stress out the eyes and the mind, this is an experience that kind of resets your nervous system, where you’d be walking into a dark room with soft lights of yellows, reds, blues, any colors you can think of. They change, so any color that seems peaceful to you, you enter this space, and instead of seeing light overhead, you’re surrounded in this sort of cocoon of light that almost syncs up with your heart and your natural pacing. You’re able to kind of just melt within this umbrella of light that is not overbearing, but almost hugs you. I think making work that is almost intimate with the body – is a way that I would describe it – instead of experiencing the art, your body becomes a part of it, and you’re kind of encapsulated in this sensorial moment of peace.
You also play music and are a DJ? Tell us about that.
My parents are pastors, I come from a religious background. So not only did I grow up playing in churches, but they also made sure to have me classically trained. So I had both sides of the coin. But I think that skill set has definitely come in handy, currently. And now, as I DJ, a lot of the same sentiments apply, and it highly affects my taste, I would say. I think that’s a really fun thing that I got from that, that I did not expect.
The Midwest has its own specific sound, but specifically in Black churches. Whether I wanted it to or not, I think it took me a long time to find the beauty in the music that I grew up around. But I’ve since done so, and now that I hear it reflected in my current music taste, and in music taste of people who I’m inspired by, I think it really says a lot to the testament of how you might not be getting what you expect in regards to your tastes. But it’s reflected anyhow. And that, the sounds of the Black church, specifically in the Midwest, are very unique. And you can really hear those things echo, specifically in Detroit and Chicago house, throughout melody and rhythm. It’s really cool to see that the forefathers of house and techno were using these same beats, pretty much, to produce the things that you hear in the clubs today.
Do you have a day job?
I recently became the creative director of the Chicago Fashion Coalition. They are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that specializes in uplifting local designers. I think my practice is shifting to where, yes, I still want to participate in gallery spaces and design these lighting pieces. Maybe at a higher level, I think it gets to a point where you can only create your work for so long at a certain dollar amount. I’ve kind of paused on that until I can generate the revenue I need to, to make the work I know I can. In the interim, I’ve definitely been focusing more on fashion, working on designing runways and traveling to do that.
What would you say is at the core of what motivates you to make the work you do?
I think today, especially in the world we live in, where capitalism kind of dulls down the variety we have, even in the day-to-day. I mean, to offer breaks from the monotonous forms that we see in our daily lives is kind of my goal right now. I think beauty is so important in the world, because how else could you appreciate the world around you, if you don’t have those moments of relief to reflect on beauty? There’s so much chaos. Everywhere, whether it’s internal or external. I think my goal is to kind of offer an offering of beauty to humanity, because that’s the only thing I know how to do.
Since 2016, we have been profiling people who give their all to Chicago and enrich us socially and culturally by virtue of their artistry, social justice work and community-building. Take a listen. Read their words. Become inspired.
Interview and audio production by Ari Meija
Photography by Ari Mejia, edited by Morgan Ciocca
Written introduction by Blake Hall
Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca
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