In a dark, smoky room packed with expectant locals and eager friends-from-elsewhere, a projector is propped on a ladder, a merch table is loaded with self-published comics, and a pile of costumes, puppets, and masks are heaped in the corner. What audience members are about to see is not a theatre piece; it is Brain Frame, a bimonthly series of performative readings held at Happy Dog Gallery in Chicago, started, run, and hosted by comix artist and filmmaker Lyra Hill in July of last year. The evening will be straightforward and unprocessed, unfolding an alternative entryway into comics, zines and related practices. It will provide an occasion for the artists to present their work in a way impossible to recreate on paper alone. Most often, the performances include projections from comics, scripted dialogue, soundtracks, props, and more; some will encompass lectures and critical theory talks.
So far, there have been a total of eight Brain Frame events and more than forty readings. Each Brain Frame is a radically different experience. Consistently, despite technical hiccups and gleeful interruptions from the audience, notable moments emerge. During Brain Frame 6 (May 18, 2012) cartoonist Carter Lodwick read from his ominous odyssey “My Darling” about the pursuit of dry land by a father and his adult son in a post-apocalyptic water world. Lodwick supplemented the originally text-less comic with a soliloquy. Somber accompaniment by cellist/composer Marissa Deitz and projected images served to animate and embody the mood present in his otherwise still comic.
Lyra Hill’s “Recent Days”, an honest and raw account of a disastrous summer the artist weathered in 2011, was as compelling as Lodwick’s “My Darling.” Performed at Brain Frame 7 (July 28, 2012), her reading was an earful of juicy gossip from the primary source: The real-life protagonists played themselves. Hill divulged the kind of embarrassing details that most viewers would balk at sharing. In one scene, Hill—uncontrollable and on something of a destructive path—is blackout drunk at a party, stands on a stool, and yells out “Who’s going to fuck me tonight?!” Her delightfully wicked delivery prompted uproarious laughter came from the audience, a room full of twenty-something year olds who found it relatable.
A broad variety of artists have participated in Brain Frame—though most work in the comics/zine world, other artists are welcomed and encouraged to participate in its uniquely performative format. At Brain Frame 7, net-based artist, curator, and writer Nicholas O’Brien spoke about his personal history with the trading card game “Magic: The Gathering”. Along with simple illustrations drawn from memory, he expressed the influence MTG had on him as an artist and academic.
The most recent iteration of Brain Frame, this past September 15, showcased non-comic/zine artists alongside those steeped in the medium. Printmaker Brad Rohloff chronicled spirits representative of the human psyche and paired these with drawings projected from his illustration series “The Othernet.” The same evening, Julia Miller and Lizi Briet of Manual Cinema—a collaboration that uses simple materials and overhead projectors to create moving images—staged a choreographed dance. Mining a bygone vision of outer space, the two used music, movement, and projection to mimic a television show title sequence.
Brain Frame, rooted in the comics scene, actively engages artists to partake in public risk taking and communal experiments. Balancing inclusivity without sacrificing criticality, this brazen walk into less stable territory makes it instrumental to not only Chicago’s comics scene but the larger arts community.
The next Brain Frame event is November 16. Find out more at http://brainframe.tumblr.com/.
All photos courtesy Gillian Fry.