Justin Chance

You are American, you studied at the School of Art Institute of Chicago but from what I can see your art travels around the world. How do you think your background and origins have influenced the way you make art and perceive beauty?

This is almost an impossible question, but I’ll try…

I grew up in a town on Long Island that directly borders these two towns in Queens, that in hindsight was very obsessed with itself in ways that maybe all places in New York are. In its own way the town (Valley Stream) was very preoccupied with what it used to be and because the demographics started changing people started calling it “Valley Queens”, pejoratively.  The way I understand it, it used to be very white and blue color/working-class and then in the nineties and oughts, vertically mobile immigrants with day jobs left the city and bought houses (like my parents), and the neighborhood and schools started changing. When I was growing up everyone’s parents were mostly from somewhere else but it didn’t really feel unnatural or tense, it just felt normal, and then there were kids (white) whose parents had been there for generations. I think the “Valley Queens” things and sentiments like that were kind of in the background but couldn’t really be taken that seriously, at least before Trump.  No one was that rich and no one (thinking naively) was that poor. Everything just felt normal and very American. I went to a public school (which is one of the reasons my family moved from Brooklyn) and the school would have assemblies and like performances where puppeteers and theater tropes would show up…..my parents took us to museums and like ice shows, and zoos etc. We went to the library a lot.  My parents bought me a ton of art and DIY kits for christmases and birthdays, ….we didn’t vacation a lot so after my brothers and I boycotted going to summer camp (the kids were mean and I was sensitive), we watched a lot of TV, especially cartoons, day in day out.

Maybe it’s an osmosis thing? Maybe it’s an audacity thing? I didn’t grow up feeling (emphasis on feeling) less than middle class and I didn’t grow up thinking I was dumb or incapable (this came later with Math)…I didn’t grow up being the only Black person in advanced classes, and I didn’t grow up the only one with parents with accents.  I didn’t grow up thinking about New York as a place that will solve all my problems and I didn’t grow up thinking that there was limitless time, resources and opportunities for me to be whimsical. So I feel pretty comfortable decentering myself and zooming out.  I was very bad in math and most science lab work stuff but also very good in the humanities so sometimes I felt genius and other times very, very humbled… it all balanced out.  I am one of six and was raised with my older and younger brother so I think there is also something about developing an awareness that attention is not really a currency and it’s not really personal, people are busy.  Anytime I feel like there is an art work or text obsessed with itself, or something that assumes its own importance, I am out.

My parents aren’t art people and they also aren’t book people, my parents were just parent people and I think that really informs how I think about art and writing and cultural studies. I think that is the core actually.  I’m rambling at this point but for better or worse I grew up in a scholarship/application economy and I think the trickle down of that ethos was: no one is going to give you the chance to do anything if you are not exceptional or convincing. If you keep faking it eventually, you’ll make it or make something. And in its own way I think that all of this has influenced the way I make art and perceive beauty. I like ideas that are dense and also very simple, things that provide a lot of different ways to engage. It’s a contradictory thing: on the one hand, I love ideas and colors and playing around with forms, etc. etc., but on the other hand: poetry (and theory) makes me very impatient, chop, chop.


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