Currently based in Chicago, 23-year old Cara Givens, known as GIIIVENS, is a queer non-binary designer who has been actively and exponentially reshaping the landscape of modern art design through creating interactive experiences by way of immersive light design, creative coding, visual art direction, and furniture design. Not limited to just those mediums, music composition, videography and photography have also served as other means of expression in an orthodox ecosystem such as South Bend, Indiana. Their work has seen a range of capacities in multiple cities around the United States, most recently for RedBull at SXSW, The Line Hotel, and The Museum of Human Achievement in Austin, Texas. Public Works Gallery in Chicago, Bishops Arts Gallery in Brooklyn, NY and The South Bend Museum of Art have also served as homes to GIIIVENS’ work collectively.
Outside of their solo projects, they also serve as a prominent member of the artist residency board for an Austin, TX-based non-profit Brown State of Mind. GIIIVENS’ overall mission is to use minimalist design, consciousness, and green technology to reinvigorate the bodies, minds, and souls of those who encounter their work on a span that not only exists in gallery settings but, on an architectural level that influences the restoration of city infrastructure and integrating green energy to power functional, public artworks that can be used and freely explored by all.
“Light is the source of all life in this world and worlds beyond. It is energy that is simplified but not defined. I consider all of my pieces to be simple configurations that are complex beings, the form of the formless; not bound by perception or perceived notion. The work I create uses light, form, and sound as a means to create portals to new dimensions, connecting this world to the worlds unseen by the eye.”
What was it like growing up in Northern Indiana?
I came from a very conservative background being that my parents are both pastors. I think growing up in Northern Indiana only amplified my interest in fine arts. Indiana, itself, is a very conservative state so it doesn’t really foster too much creativity unless you really, really want to pursue it. Tunnel vision is a must. Growing up in that kind of environment just made me want to be in touch with the arts more.
How would you say you were influenced by your surroundings growing up?
I think art became a thing of escapism for me. I needed an outlet that I wasn’t really being offered to express myself freely. Especially being someone who is queer, that comes from parents who are very traditional and not very LGBT-friendly, it’s like you naturally just find these outlets to kind of let those feelings and emotions flow. Art became that for me, even though I really wasn’t aware of it until recently.
At what age did you realize that your current medium(s) would be something you would pursue long term?
Honestly, not until college. I never planned to pursue art. I was sort of always pushed into these creative fields from a very young age. I grew up as a musician in the church. I was always doing something creative but I never really expanded on the idea of it going somewhere else until college. I came to this realization of “Yo, I don’t want to be a doctor. F*** this. I just want to create pretty things.”
How would you describe your life during getting your Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts?
I went to an all women’s Catholic college. It was definitely a weird time. Imagine going to a giant sorority as practically the only person of color, who also doesn’t identify as a “woman” or share a lot of the common experiences with people who are coming from very affluent backgrounds. It made me feel like “What the f*** am I even doing here?” I very much got in and got out. My focus quickly shifted from being locked in with school to being 100% invested in my art. I ended up transferring into the art program there during my sophomore year. I played both Lacrosse and Soccer as a goalie at the time so I was also just really tired of getting smacked up every day. That, plus general college depression paired with a bunch of concussions, I was like “Yep, time to move on.”
What were some highs and lows that you experienced during that time of obtaining your degree?
Some highs for me definitely are my very first shows out of state while I was still attending college. I did one in Brooklyn, New York, and one in Austin, Texas during SXSW. One of my professors got me into a show at the South Bend Museum of Art so that was a local museum in the area. Considering my grades were trash at the time, those were some of my greatest accomplishments. Some of the lows were your typical college depression. It sucked so much and I wanted to die. I was so depressed those years. I was in therapy and there would be days when I couldn’t even roll out of bed because I felt so tired and not motivated. Another low that really impacted me was a time when this girl tried to push herself onto me for “slavery reparations” and that really stuck with me. This took place between my sophomore and junior year at college. We were at this party and she began to flirt with me. I could tell she had some drinks in her system so the conversation appeared to be normal at first. All of a sudden, she gets super emotional and starts apologizing saying “I’m so sorry for what my people did to you.” I sat there in disbelief, not really knowing what to say. She continued to go further and further in her apology, whilst beginning to touch me all over my neck. It really put me in this weird space.
Just wanted to say that I loved your artist statement and how you described the concept of “light” and what it defines to you. Which installation or art piece would you say you are most proud of that you created and why?
At this time, I am most proud of the project I did for The Green Room at Brown State of Mind. It’s honestly pretty hard for me to be proud of my pieces because my ADD causes me to get bored quickly. It’s always onto the next for me. That piece, we created in such a short time frame. I had 24 hours to create this piece. I didn’t have all of the materials I needed. I couldn’t even draw it out on paper so I had to tape pins to water bottles to conceptualize and map it out. Once I visually put it together, it just came together naturally.
How long have you been working with light design?
Since 2018. Before light design, I was dabbling in everything. In school, I was focused on printmaking. Being at the kind of school I went to, they only had liberal arts so they didn’t really offer that large of an art track. Music also has been a huge part of my creative being since I was a kid.
I want to talk about Pier Park. What sparked the original idea of transforming that space and how do you plan to bring that into fruition?
I was approached by Eli Kahn and Krista Hoefle who got in on this project offered by the city. They didn’t really have an idea yet. We ended up meeting with one of the city’s officials and he granted us the opportunity to do whatever we wanted with the space. It usually takes me a plethora of creative concepts to land back at one solid idea. The “infinity mirror” is what stuck so that’s what I will be creating and installing there at the park. It’s beautiful that I’m being given the opportunity to revive and breathe life back into such a space. There’s a lot of history there dating back to the early 1900s so the feeling is really like no other.
What is your most memorable installation experience and why?
My most memorable experience will always be one of the very first installations that I did which were at the South Bend Museum of Art. This was only my second or third time doing an installation at the time so I was really green. I didn’t know if it was going to work out due to my school schedule. I got the opportunity to get it all set up during one of my classes. What also made it very memorable for me is how I ended up getting matching tattoos at the show with a bunch of people.
How would you say COVID has impacted you with your particular trade?
COVID has reshaped my life. Back in March when everything shut down, I had just moved to Austin, Texas, and was doing shows back to back. My biggest show was with RedBull during SXSW right before all of this. Out of nowhere, I lost my side job as a teacher and my housing situation was tense, to say the least. Everything just changed overnight. When you make art that is focused on people gathering and all of a sudden that goes out of the window, you take a major, major blow. It was hard to have the motivation to even want to create anything, especially feeling like it wouldn’t really get seen by anyone. There’s nothing you can really do about that either when it’s happening on a global scale. I think that this recent project has given me a second chance in the sense of not having to take 10 steps back entirely. This entire time has been a heavy re-evaluation period surrounding what you want in life, who you want to be surrounded by, etc. I think in that realm, it really helped me mature and grow as an artist and also as an individual.
What are you looking the most forward to?
I’m really looking forward to moving forward with my career. I have a lot of major goals set for myself. I never thought I’d be where I am presently at the age that I am so I’m just trying to go full speed ahead. I really want to get involved with a lot of environmental projects, creating on the same scale that I’m creating on currently with these large-scale projects. Bigger budgets and working with bigger companies are where I’m at mentally because I feel like there is a lot of room for collaboration.
You can follow GIIIVENS’ design journey across all platforms at @giiivens and via https://giiivens.com/work.