Virtual Landscapes Come to Life with Jared Theis

In his latest group exhibition, FÜNF, at Blue Star Contemporary, Jared Theis creates an immersive two-part installation with performance, video, costuming, animation, sculpture, and set building to explore a system of mythology specific to his life experiences. Theis’ environmental installations feature the debut of a two-part tragic love story, The Seasons and Vissi d’Arte. The exhibition also features his 2018 works Lolita in the Grass and What Night Tells Me. FÜNF highlights the fifth year of Blue Star Contemporary’s Berlin Residency Program and features the work of 2017-18 resident artists: Amada Miller, Andrei Renteria, Ethel Shipton, and Jared Theis. 

I had the opportunity to meet Jared Theis at one of the open studio days during his residency at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft this summer. As I approached his studio, I saw several large-scale works in progress and Theis sitting on the floor against a wall. He was meticulously painting an appendage to one of his sculptures. I creepily stood by the doorway for a few minutes, haha. There is nothing more entertaining than an artist in their element of creation – don’t judge me. We briefly talked and I asked if I could email him some questions about his exhibition at BSC. The following interview was conducted electronically. 

Unfiltered SA: Your exploration of personal mythologies within your work led you to a three-month residency at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin in 2017. What was your experience in Berlin like? What influenced your work the most?

Jared Theis: Berlin changed the game for me. It was less about locking myself away in the studio and more about opening myself up to having a life experience. I made friendships at Bethanien I’ll cherish the rest of my life. I moved back to Berlin in 2018 and have been based there ever since. I imagine I’ll always have a special connection here.

The energy of living in an international city influenced my work more than anything. Berlin is a magnet for creative people who want to build something. The possibility that I could walk a few steps from my studio and have a conversation with someone from Iceland, Japan, Iran was something I haven’t experienced in the United States outside of NYC. It opened up new worlds of possibilities. 

Unfiltered: In your environmental installations at BSC, you feature a two-part tragic love story, The Seasons and Vissi d’Arte. It vaguely suggests a children’s television universe but upon closer inspection, there are these eerie elements that reveal themselves. Can you elaborate on the creative process? How do your ideas develop into physical works of art?

JT: My practice has been rooted in the development of a system or mythology since 2012. My ideas develop from what’s happening in the culture and in my life. I never plan anything. Sometimes it can be the vaguest thing that gets me started. I’ve recently been drawn to social media and internet culture, which has permeated the work. 

Installation Photo by Jacqueline Saragoza McGilvray. Courtesy of Blue Star Contemporary.

Unfiltered: Because of the dichotomy of the video space and installation space, did you have any expectations of how viewers would engage with both spaces?

JT: I was excited to have two distinct spaces to work with. I was drawn to the intimacy of the video room as an inner domestic space. I had tried using striped wallpaper in a previous installation, which wasn’t as successful. I wanted to treat the large space as a kind of open virtual landscape that viewers could engage on a physical level. I like challenging how viewers engage the work; like walking through a forest, crouching down and discovering things along the path.

Detail Photo by Jacqueline Saragoza McGilvray. Courtesy of Blue Star Contemporary.

Unfiltered: We sometimes see recurring characters in your installations. How have you seen these characters evolve over time? Have you followed a specific narrative for them?

JT: I don’t have a specific narrative in mind for them. They evolve in relation to things I experience in my own life. Early in the mythology, the characters were primitive; frolicking in a kind of Garden of Eden. Over time they have evolved and now have language and other means of engaging their environment. They’re starting to discover social media as well.

Unfiltered: Outside of creating art, what are some projects and passions that you like to pursue?

JT: Sometimes I think I’m a better cowboy singer than artist. I’ve been writing and performing music since I was a kid. There’s an immediacy and interaction with an audience that I simply don’t get from making videos. It brings me a lot of joy. I compose most of the soundtracks for my work. I also love cooking.

Installation Photo by Jacqueline Saragoza McGilvray. Courtesy of Blue Star Contemporary.

Unfiltered: You have very busy upcoming months, can you share where we can see your work next?

JT: I have a Joan Mitchell residency in New Orleans from September – December 2019 and a residency at USF Verftet from June – September 2020 in Bergen, Norway. In-between, I’m looking forward to living and working in the city I love… Berlin. 

Jared Theis is an interdisciplinary artist and composer. He earned an MFA from the University of California, Davis in 2012. While in California, he received a Joan Mitchell MFA Grant and the Robert Arneson Award. In 2014, he was awarded a Statens Kunstnerstipend from Kulturrådet Norway Arts Council in Oslo. In 2017, he was awarded a three-month residency at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, Germany, through Blue Star Contemporary in San Antonio, Texas. He recently exhibited his work at Kunsthall Stavanger, Stavanger, Norway; Mass Gallery, Austin, Texas; and the Oslo Prosjektrom, Norway. 

Experience Jared Theis’ immersive exhibition at Blue Star Contemporary before it ends on September 8th. Aside from stopping by BSC’s normal hours, they have a special event coming up. In conjunction with the group exhibition, FÜNF, BSC will be hosting an evening of conversations with artists and community members who have been integral to the past and present of the Blue Star Arts Complex on Thursday, August 29, 2019, 6:30 – 8:30pm. With an entrance fee of $30, you will have access to the exhibition and this one-of-a-kind event. “If Walls Could Talk: Beauty in Time” will include conversations with Ethel Shipton, Sarah Fisch, Nate Cassie, Jayne Lawrence, Leigh Anne Lester, Tatum, and Ramin Samandari. 

Author: Deliasofia Zacarias

Deliasofia Zacarias is one of the Unfiltered San Antonio co-founders. Double-majored in business and studio art, Zacarias is interested in art politics, food, and a whole lot of Netflix. She is currently LACMA's Emerging Art Professional Fellow in Los Angeles, CA.

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