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5 Minutes with Jojin Van Winkle

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Department: Art
Title: Assistant Professor
Best Office Artifact: Japanese good luck cat

She’s a filmmaker, cinematographer, producer, and artist whose documentaries and other works have been shown around the world. Jojin Van Winkle is an assistant professor of art at Carthage who seeks to connect people to the arts. 

She was recently selected for a summer residency program at the Arteles Creative Center in Finland. Only 4 percent of applicants are accepted for this prestigious residency. Professor Van Winkle will join 10-12 other artists in Hämeenkyrö, Finland, for the program this summer.

We talked with Professor Van Winkle about her extensive art career and how she connects creating with teaching. 

How did you get into art?

When I was 4 or 5 years old I went to preschool. There were easels, and I painted a butterfly for a Mother’s Day card. I grew up making things with my hands. We were a family of doers. I learned a lot of hands-on activities from my parents such as cooking or working with wood.

I fell in love with art when I had the opportunity to see the Georgia O’Keeffe show in the Art Institute of Chicago when I was 14. I thought it was George O’Keeffe (laughs). I was really impressed with her paintings. That same summer, I went to New York City and saw artwork at the Museum of Modern Art. I saw work by Jackson Pollock and Franz Marc, and these were names I had never heard of. There was a watercolorist in the town where I grew up, so I knew a bit about painting, but there was not a lot of visual arts around. At that time I got a camera and lived for 14 months in Germany. That became my medium of expression. It was more of me finding art or it finding me.

How did you go from creating art to teaching art?

It was sort of a discovery process. I went to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and I had been focused on sculpture, drawing, and a little bit of fiber work. I was doing photography on my own, but not at school. After school, I was working as an artist’s assistant for a couple of different artists. I was also waiting tables since I was doing everything I could to make money. I worked for BJ Krivanek and a photographer who had a wedding and commercial photography business. I also had a studio in a space with 13 other artists called Third Floor Studios in Chicago. One of my studio mates taught at the Evanston Art Center and she said, “Hey, I think you’d be really good with kids.

That was my first time getting involved with teaching the making of art. At the same time, I was working for BJ Krivanek, who was also a professor for the Art Institute and had his own public design business and nonprofit Community Architects. I worked for him for five years, and while I worked with him I developed educational and outreach programs where we would work with marginalized and disenfranchised communities. My education background and working as an educator comes from an interest in curiosity and connecting with people. From there I said yes to opportunities, and things seemed to happen. Education seemed parallel to working in the arts in the sense that my personal interest is being part of the process of discovery with other people.

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Education seemed parallel to working in the arts in the sense that my personal interest is being part of the process of discovery with other people.

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What are some of the unexpected paths along your career?

When I first moved to Chicago, I was doing an urban studies program in Hyde Park. The program required that I do an internship, so I interned with ARC Gallery, a women’s cooperative art gallery. In the ’70s several of these galleries across the country merged because women artists were not getting exhibited as much as men. I wanted to work and intern with ARC.

One of the ARC artists, Laurie Wohl, happened to live in Hyde Park. I started working with her when I was 19. After I graduated, I was working at a Sculptural Objects and Functional Arts show, and she invited me to work with her to build a dance set for the Jan Erkert Dance Company. That experience really propelled me into wanting to create large-scale artwork of my own.

For me, some of the unusual paths have been caused by coming into contact with practicing artists who worked on large-scale projects with other people or in other fields. By working with other artists, I got to understand what happens behind-the-scenes when you’re running an art business — not that schools can’t teach that, but it is not always the focus of an arts program.

Most recently I had the opportunity to work with Alison Mikulyuk, an aquatic ecologist, on a project. We created sounds and short documentary videos on the Namekagon region, a wild and scenic riverway part of the National Park System. As part of our collaborative project, we went to multiple conferences in Uruguay and Australia to present. The most fascinating part of that was seeing the arts and sciences as more similar than different. We may approach questions differently, but we are rooted in the idea of questioning, discovery, and failure, which leads to new knowledge.

These experiences have helped me see and experience how important it is to take the time to listen and see what other people are doing. To progress and to discover. It is about the idea, and not about the individual it’s coming from. Working with these other artists has been really important and almost counter to the way people perceive artists. Many people perceive artists as only working individually and being these geniuses. We live in such a connected era that it may no longer be the myth that manifests.   

How have your experiences influenced your teaching?

I try to incorporate the idea of going out beyond wherever the setting is. I think of these as discoveries or adventure explorations. All of my classes have a field trip, something unique for us to experience. For example, my sound class will visit the Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago and experience a sight-specific soundscape in the Lincoln Conservatory. In my 3D class, we will be doing glass blowing in Racine. One of the reasons I think this is so important is that by experiencing things beyond our normal environments, we can find inspiration and connection. Maybe it will foster something that will materialize for the individual years later. For me, living abroad in high school was very eye-opening for me. This idea of what else is going on in the world is embedded in me. 

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By experiencing things beyond our normal environments, we can find inspiration and connection.

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What is your favorite class to teach?

I really like teaching the classes where I get to engage with gear and software. I’m trying to incorporate that into my studio fundamental classes I’m teaching, but since I am starting out here, my hope is to develop some more classes. I think within those classes, there are projects that are really fun to do. We did a green screen project in the video class, and it was fun and kind of silly.

What is a hobby or talent that students wouldn’t picture you doing?

I’ve been learning to scuba dive. It’s been incredible to experience a fraction of the ocean. I have scuba dived in Greece, with its amazing caves and caverns. I’m learning to photograph and I’d eventually like to do video. I’ve been at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and a little bit in Florida.

Right now I’m working a project called “The Destruction Project”. I’m interested in ways in which destruction is part of the creative process and how it merges with entertainment. I’ve started photographing demolition derbies, so I’m pretty obsessed with demolition derby right now. The project will focus on women in demolition derbies. The photographs I’ve been making are very theatrical. The cars themselves are pieced together Frankenstein-like. It’s a really strange kind of entertainment that’s loud, crazy and kind of unpredictable.

What advice do you have for students going into the arts?

Explore as many mediums as you can. If you have only done painting, try some other things. Even if you think you can’t build anything or see yourself as a certain kind of maker, try it because you may not have discovered what mediums are the best vehicles for your ideas. Certain mediums are really good for certain ideas, and others are great for other kinds. Try different digital media, as there are a lot of opportunities in the arts for hybrid projects that are both handmade and digital. By having some skill sets in digital media, it can enhance your hands-on stuff. Even if you go with hand-making, having that knowledge base can help you highlight your skills online. Don’t limit yourself at the start; you can always narrow down later.

— Interview by William Dowell ’22; Photography by Jenna Link ’22