Jere Van Syoc
@ 2008 by Shelbi Parker Jere Van Syoc
is a Chicago based artist whose art has evolved from painting and drawing to sculpture, performance and documentation.
Van Syoc received both a BFA and MFA from the School of Art Institute in Chicago and also holds an MA in Psychology from Antioch University in Los Angeles.
ongoing "Death Toy" series is both installation and performance art.
work has consistently engaged the relationship between nature, culture and the violence of both the everyday and the extraordinary.
Toying with Death: An Afternoon with Jere Van Syoc
Artwork by Jere Van Syoc
When I located the right house, I was a little bit early, so I walked around the corner to catch a small glimpse of the area in which Jere
Behind the house, I found the van Jere uses to transport her
artwork around: the Death Toy Art Bus.
came in, she
sat down in a chair across from me, very comfortable in her
paint shirt and sweat pants.
I could already tell that this would be very informal.
As we start talking, her
voice has a calming affect.
It sounds so familiar, having watched her
It takes me back to that setting, that story-telling atmosphere.
has quite a story to tell.
"Born with a talent for foolin' around with stuff," Jere
has always been involved with art, having a fondness for contraptions and toys.
As a child during the war, she
would make guns out of wood.
Even then, death as subject matter was developing.
That has been a popular theme for her
, and so has sex; a lot of her
work is based around those ideas.
When asked why, she
replied, "They keep most people's attention!"
Truthfully, though, she
is motivated by events in her
own life: her
mother's remarriage, dealing with a new family, and her
grandmother died, Jere
took the ashes and created a sort of altarpiece for it.
That recycling of a loved ones remains seems morbid, but for Jere
it is about renewal.
Art pieces like her
Death Toys series are sculptures of things that had once been alive but are now dead, whether that refers to animals or mechanical parts that used to run.
Artwork by Jere Van Syoc
These Death Toys are very much not toys.
They resemble twisted mockeries of children's toys.
All are mobile- whether on a skateboard, a wagon, a stroller or other mechanism of Jere's creation.
They can take the forms of dogs, a rocking horse, or a pilot.
Using found objects and mixed media, Jere
creates these things that some might call monsters to talk about the primitive and destructive behavior of human beings such as animal cruelty, domestic abuse, and gang warfare.
then takes them out to public venues for people to see.
Death also plays a major factor in the project she
is currently developing.
Not to give away too much before it's finished, but it would basically be a device to play music at her
seems very comfortable with the fact of her
I admired that in our conversation.
is very at ease with herself: answering my questions honestly and with sincerity.
demeanor parallels her
Perhaps that comfort comes from her
longstanding relationship with Death in her
art, as well as her
history with the Feminist movement.
was just starting college during the Women's Liberation, and that had a large affect on her
added an aspect of protection to her
work then, with undertones of anger towards the abuses of women.
Women's Rights are not the only issues that Jere
was advocating for in her
In the 1970s, she
was part of a group that created a windmill, as a sort of recreation of Stonehenge, that had environmental capabilities as an alternative resource generator.
wanted something big- in size, impact, and concept; something almost mythical and legendary.
Unfortunately, it didn't stay up.
said that everyone hated it, but for her
it was a great success.
Hearing a woman like Jere
, who I have come to admire, say that about her
own success makes me wonder how I'll ever judge my own work in comparison.
What is success, anyway?
But if I continue to work, day by day, I'll improve.
And one day, if I reach a level of art as deep and personal as Jere's
, that will be my measure of success.