by Juleana Enright
The award-winning sound/art duo Beatrix*JAR – Bianca Pettis (Beatrix) and Jacob Aaron Roske (JAR) – are not your average couple. Since they formed Beatrix*JAR in ’04, they’ve produced three noisetastic experimental albums, hosted numerous hands-on workshops on circuit bending (a.k.a. coaxing sound from children’s toys and other battery-powered gadgets), created a line of adorable handmade plush toys known as Art Pets, and actively toured the country visiting everything from art museums and night clubs to universities and hacker spaces bolstering awareness for DIY electronics and art & sound experimentation.
This year, after a sound sabbatical and California-based performance and art tour, the pair have returned to the Twin Cities to team up with St. Paul’s Irrigate project to produce the “Open Experimental” series. Commissioned by the City of St. Paul, Irrigate is an exciting arts funding initiative with the goal of “creative placemaking” through art along the six mile route of the Central Corridor light rail transit project. The same collaboration that brought you Broken Crow’s “Bigger Picture Project,” Irrigate unites local, resident and collaborative artists with businesses to change the landscape of the corridor through creativity, vibrant murals, pop-up art galleries, music events and empty storefront takeovers.
This week, the dynamic sound/art experimenting duo opens up about Open Experimental, their evolution as creative couple, and their undying love for Ax-Man Surplus.
l’étoile: The last thing we heard, you guys were in San Diego. When did you return to the cities and why did you ever leave us?
Beatrix*JAR: It’s a long story! When we received the Bush Fellowship we searched around the Twin Cities for new space to call home – but nothing quite clicked with us.
We headed out to the West Coast because we have done a lot of work there at places like the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego and the Hammer Art Museum in LA. We left Minnesota with the agenda of getting involved in the LA Music scene, but found when we landed in LA the last thing we wanted to do was pull out our instruments and play another show. It’s like we could feel the potential in the city – but we didn’t have the energy to be involved. That’s when we started to realize that maybe we were burnt out from years of creating music together.
We headed to San Diego from Los Angeles in search of a slower pace and really got seduced by all the nature there. Mountains, trails, deserts, oceans, gardening and cities…even snow in some parts! We also like to say we used the time to discover silence after creating so much noise in the world.
We came back to the Twin Cities as lost souls this spring. We thought we’d just be here for a short period of time, but found ourselves magnetized to the tight knit community of artists and musicians in town.
l’étoile: We’re happy to have you back! Earlier in the summer you were part of a pop-up exhibit/interactive gallery at 2401 University Ave in St. Paul dubbed “Open Experimental.” Can you tell us a little about the experience and how you teamed up with the Irrigate initiative?
Beatrix*JAR: Oh Man! The Pop-Up Gallery on University was an amazing experience for us! We rented the space at 2401 University from a group called the Starling Project. The Starling Project has been working along the Central Corridor to get artists into empty storefronts. They told us about the Irrigate Initiative. Running the Open Experimental Studio actually inspired us to want to run a space on a permanent basis. For us, it was about taking a journey with the space. We started with a blank canvas: a couple of tables and chairs, a sewing machine and our music gear. Over a four-week period so many things happened! We hosted hands-on sewing, a plug & play sound collage party, circuit bending workshops and demos, installations, and we hosted other artists and educators from the community like GetLoFi, Nico Demonte, Mach Fox and Amy Salloway. We also ended up doing a fundraising event for TCMOCA.
l’étoile: In 2010, after a six year tour educating the country on DIY electronics and experimentation and performing, Beatrix*JAR sustained some major changes including a sabbatical from sound and music and a venture in toy design. What brought you back to teaching audio and circuit bending workshop?
Beatrix*JAR: California really opened our minds and gave us a brand new perspective about ourselves. Taking that trip and returning to the Twin Cities inspired us to start up our work as sound artists again. There is such an inspiring scene here. It feels so good to be apart of this community of talented music makers and artists. It’s one of those things that feels hard to understand as it’s happening – but in retrospect we took a two year break in San Diego, started creating birds and cats, then came back home to Minneapolis to continue our work as Beatrix*JAR. But things feel so new and different now.
l’étoile: From creating plush toys to deconstructing electronic ones, what sparked your interest in toys and how are you redefining the concept of “play” and “art” for a new generation?
Beatrix*JAR: We both had complicated childhoods – so being able to deconstruct and recreate toys is kind of a dream come true for us. As Circuit Benders we are also inspired by the amounts of mass produced toys that are released year after year – there is an amazing opportunity there to create one of a kind sounds the manufacturer never intended. As toy creators we’re inspired to recreate the magic of a toy and give two dimensional fabric a spirit and personality. We don’t feel like play is exclusively for children. The idea and concept of play is in all of us but has to sometimes be ignited and sparked.
l’étoile: One could say Ax-Man has been Beatrix*JAR’s one-stop-shop for circuit boards, wires and random electronic spare parts the average person probably couldn’t identify. You may have single-handedly kept Ax-Man in business. Are you excited to co-host an art event with them? What can folks expect from Sunday’s activities?
Beatrix*JAR: Oh Ax-Man is just so awesome! They’ve been a leader in all things cool for the past 50 years. The day is going to be a total experiment! A day of play, community and creativity! Ax-Man madness! All the senses are guaranteed to be stimulated! Get Lo-Fi Electronics Demo! Sidewalk Doodling! Impromptu Music! Jimmy John’s Subs! VitaminWater!
l’étoile: Any hints on what’s next?
Beatrix*JAR: Well, it feels like after taking a break from music and sound collage, we are ready to release a new album of material inspired by our creative journeys. We’re looking for a space to hunker down in for the winter and our birds and cats will be at the Walker Gift Shop this fall. We’re playing a show at Café Maude on September 14th too!
The Open Experimental Sidewalk Irrigate Project kicks off Sunday, August 26th from noon-6 pm at Ax-Man Surplus 1639 University Avenues, St. Paul. Click here for the Facebook invite.