We recently announced that Allerton’s inaugural In Residence Program would begin this winter, thanks to generous donations from donors, Joan and Peter Hood and Dana Brehm and Larry Baumann. (Read the full announcement here.)
This March, John E. Bannon, Chicago-based multimedia artist/educator and University of Illinois alumnus, will begin his journey as the inaugural resident, living on-site to fully engage with and seek inspiration from the art, history, and nature of Allerton Park. Bannon has work in public and private collections worldwide, and plans to create something for Allerton that incorporates the already unique and unexpected experiences of the Park. Visitors can look forward to seeing some of his previous sculptures (pictured below) showcased at this year’s Kirby Winter Wellness Walk (through January 31).
Check out an interview with John below highlighting his three pieces featured at the Walk (Eye Candy, Live & Breathe, and Universe) and his experience with Allerton!
Can you tell us a little about the process of making your work?
Yes. It’s always different. Sometimes it comes as a thought, a meaning, or feeling I have, and the need to address it, and then I look for the best way to present it. Other times it is the opposite, visualizing something and adding elements to give it a deeper meaning or more than one. Sometimes it begins with simply drawing on a blank piece of paper or stacking and arranging shapes. In any case I work on being sensitive to aesthetic opportunities in every situation I am in. No matter what time of day or night, whatever the circumstance, I am always on the lookout for a visual phenomenon that may strike me as unique and interesting. It can be a fleeting moment, where I get a distinct feeling of wonder and connection. It could happen naturally, before my eyes, or depend on how I choose to see it, literally and figuratively. When I have an experience like this, I will take notes and figure out a way to distill and prolong it. I don’t always immediately act on it, and often it happens when I’m not looking for it. It has to figure in with a concept I want to express at the time, but by beginning with the initial observation as a point of curiosity, I can earn the viewers attention. This alone will not result in art, because I do not wish to reproduce something I’ve witnessed. I want to create a new experience for myself and the viewer. So I continue by composing a work based on this initial impression and combine it with formal aspects of art making, such as the use of light and shadow, positive/negative space, symbolism, craftsmanship, and serendipity, to name a few. I want the viewer to stop and look and move their eye around the work with a goal to inspire new ways of thinking that lead in a positive direction.
What inspired each piece featured during the Light Walk?
The inspiration for Eye Candy came from the film that covers the work. There was no deep meaning or vision behind wanting to make a giant piece of candy. It was purely visual. When I was in grad school, a friend of mine introduced me to this stuff called Radiant Light Film made by 3M. It was a material made to improve the efficiency of an LCD screen, or something along those lines, but failed. So they would sell it cheap to artists and other creatives. It was so visually stunning that it looked cool on anything. My friend experimented with wrapping it around neon, but for me, there still wasn’t a good form for presenting it. It was still just eye candy. That’s when it hit me.
Universe evolved from my affinity for the mirror/disco ball affect. I was teaching a lab class in holography at the time, so the physical qualities of light were heavy on my mind. I think I was at a Smashing Pumpkins concert when the reflections of a mirror ball were flying around the room. I looked at the ball wondered why it is always that shape and never anything more interesting. I also wondered why, even though the ball was made up of square mirrors, the reflections showed as blurry round dots with a dim spot in the middle. I realized that the blurry round dots were reflections of the light bulb illuminating it and the dim spots were the shadows of the filament. That’s when I knew that I could make this effect more interesting by controlling the shape of the light at the source. The inspiration and solution for getting the figure high off the ground came in the form of a radio tower and its relationship to broadcasting. Further inspiration came from my immersion into holography and learning more about the nature of light. Holograms and the behavior of light have comparisons with eastern philosophy and its explanation of the universe, the concept of interconnectedness and the idea of smallest parts containing the whole. “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” – Rumi
Universe is a self portrait and my own philosophical myth of the universe and these holographic concepts.
I had the idea for Live & Breathe in 2003 when I was working on a piece called Point of You which had a similar perspective based concept. I believe these pieces were also a result of working in holography, where multiple objects can be recorded on a single hologram and reproduced by changing the point of view or the angle of the light that illuminates it. Live & Breathe demonstrates an aspect of quantum entanglement, where each neon tube or line acts as two different elements of two separate images, but are really part of the same piece.
How has your work evolved into what visitors can see at the Wellness Walk?
I am very happy to show these three pieces together. This is definitely the most interesting venue I’ve shown them at. Eye Candy and Universe were made years ago and I’ve made improvements in the engineering so they can withstand the elements as well as small adjustments to how they look, but once I got them to that point, I stopped and now just keep them maintained. Technology has changed where I could make them easier to assemble and possibly more efficient, but that would require making a whole new version and it would no longer be the same piece if I were to do that. Live & Breathe was realized in 2019, so there were some design improvements for this exhibition.
Is there anything you would like viewers to know about each piece?
The reflections of Universe are images of the figure itself, in different floating positions.
The models for Live & Breathe are my younger sister and her daughter.
Eye Candy is edible, but could cause death if ingested.
What do you hope to achieve with each piece?
What I hope to achieve is to open a new path in the mind of the viewer so he or she will think in a different and positive way and be able to apply this way of thinking in their own life experience; or at least enhance the experience of visitors to Allerton Park and to advance my career and increase my opportunities to create more work.
Can you tell us a little about your experience working with Allerton?
The people who run Allerton make all the difference between what it used to be and what it is today. Not that it was ever bad before, but when I was an undergrad the Mansion was off limits and it seemed like one had to have special permission just to look inside. Now everybody I meet here is very friendly and genuinely want to accommodate anyone who shows interest in the place.
How has the Allerton story/landscape already inspired your art during your time at the Park?
The history is interesting because it represents a time period and a social class that I find interesting to think and wonder about. The architecture makes it easy to imagine what it was like. I also really appreciate the fact that Allerton knew what to do to make this place better and that was to give it to everyone.
For me as an artist, the landscape is reassuring because it shows the intangible value of art and the experience of being a part of it. Creativity is not just making something, but also appreciating it. The gardens, forest and sculpture all celebrate nature and it was done for aesthetic purposes only.
What does this Artist-In-Residence mean to you?
The chance to be free to focus just on creating something really cool.