DETROIT — Sound artist Jon Brumit takes very little at face value. He seeks not only to reimagine the spaces where he works, lives, and performs, but also to ideally leave them in a better state than he found them. While increasingly recognized as a standout artist by some of Detroit’s most venerated art institutions — receiving a 2013 Kresge Fellowship in Visual Arts, as well as a Knight Arts grant for his 143FM project — Brumit still marches entirely to the beat of his own drum set, making art that challenges the borders of media to the point of creating a kind of synesthesia. During an interview over 10pm coffee, we talked about his daring escape from the cultural wasteland of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and some of his greatest hit projects — including the annual “Bring Your Own Big Wheel” street race in San Francisco and the “Sound House” space he helped develop in Detroit’s Benglatown neighborhood. What emerged was a diffuse but detectable thread through Brumit’s work, which offers a challenge to institutional thinking, and tries to create dynamic spaces that encourage people to communicate, and most of all, listen.
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Sarah Rose Sharp: Can you walk me through some of your art history? Whatever you think is cool and relevant.
Jon Brumit: I studied painting, but even in undergrad I was doing performance and video, and they didn’t know what to do with me, exactly, because I was at University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, with no video editing facilities. But they would let me screen things in the auditorium, on projectors, and they had multiple VCRs in the booth, and so I figured out how to edit stuff from the camera to one or both VCRS — totally analog. And I think my first performance was doing a snare drum concert in the elevator of that building; it just went from the first floor to the second floor of that building — there was no other destination. It was called “Going Up/Going Down,” and I would stand there with the earplugs, trying to give people earplugs — you know, it’s quite small. And that was funny, because I had never experienced that.
On a personal note, I want to say that Jon Brumit has a truly amazing and confounding mind. He can be hard to follow, at times, but definitely worth the journey.