A Filipinx American genderqueer queer based in Chicago, Jan Christian Bernabe (“he, him, Jan”) is the Chief Creative & Operations Director and Founder of FLXST Contemporary, a contemporary art space and incubator in the South Loop focused chiefly on emerging diasporic im/migrant artists, artists of color, and LGBTQ artists. He is also an educator, scholar, curator, and art & culture critic/writer. Jan has over fifteen years of work experiences teaching, researching, and publishing about art history and visual culture in higher education and working in arts management in the nonprofit sector. He continues to work closely with emergent artists, writers, and scholars on curatorial projects within the digital arts and humanities and site-specific art projects. Jan’s taught courses focused on art historical surveys, histories of race and representation, and gender and queer studies in art history and visual culture (among other topics) at the University of Michigan, Cornish College of the Arts, and Whitman College. With a Ph.D. in the Program in American Culture from the University of Michigan, he has written for postions: asia critique, Wasafiri Magazine, Verge: Studies in Global Asias, Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas, the Filipino American Artist Directory and other academic and non-academic outlets. With the artist-scholar Laura Kina, he co-edited Queering Contemporary Asian American Art published by the University of Washington Press (2017) and is at work on the second volume of the project. Jan specializes in art history and visual culture studies in the United States and the historical and cultural work of visual technologies (like print, photography, film, digital media and the Internet) among communities of color. He is invested in surfacing underrepresented visual makers, whether artists, photographer, or filmmakers, in his research, writing, and curating. As a life-long learner and knowledge maker, he is particularly interested in the intersections of Filipinx diasporic art, queer cultural practices, and civic engagement & social justice. When not running FLXST Contemporary or researching and writing about art and photography, Jan has served as a member of the Community Advisory Group for Equality Illinois (2017-2019), a Core Leader for AFIRE Chicago (2018-2019), and a Critique Group Instructor for Latitude Chicago (2019). He also supports other local community social justice and arts nonprofit organizations in Chicago. He is a fierce advocate for LGBTQ+ immigrant rights, racial and economic social justice, and transgender affirming policies for Illinois and across the US. Jan believes in the power of art to inspire civic engagement.
Downloadabe PDFs of several publications below can be found onAcademia.com
“Sea, Land, and Air, and the Center for Art and Thought,” co-authored with Clare Counihan and Sarita See in Verge: Studies in Global Asias (2017): 26-34.
“Queer Reconfigurations: Bontoc Eulogy and Marlon Fuentes’s Archive Imperative” in positions: asia critique, Volume 24 (2016): 727-759
“Stephanie Syjuco ‘Blows Up’ the Black Market Series,” Wasafiri: International Contemporary Writing, Volume 28, Issue 3 (August 2013): 24-33
“Filipino Diaspora Queer Killjoy: Recuperating Failure in Jeffrey Augustine Songco’s Guilty Party and BOMH Series in Queering Contemporary Asian American Art, eds. Laura Kina and Jan Christian Bernabe, University of Washington Press (2017)
“Queer Camouflage as Survival, Presence, and Expressive Capital in the Postcolonial Artwork of Kiam Marcelo Junio” in The Postcolonial World, eds. Joytsna Singh and David Kim, Routledge Press (2016): 134-149.
Book Review: “Diasporic Intimacies: Queer Filipinos and Canadian Imaginaries,” eds. Robert Diaz, Marissa Largo, And Fritz Pino.” Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas
Book Review: “Photography, Film, and the African American Experience: Making a Promised Land: Harlem in 20th-Century Photography and Film by Paula J. Massood; Bearing Witness from Another Place: James Baldwin in Turkey, with the foreword by Charles Johnson; One Shot: A Selection of Photographs by Reuben V. Burrell edited by Vanessa Thaxton-Ward (2013).” International Review of African American Art Plus.
Book Review: “In the Eyes of the Muses: Selections from the Clark Atlanta University Art Collections (2012).” International Review of African American Art Plus
“Kelvin Burzon Queers the Midwest, Catholicism, and Jose Rizal” in Filipino American Artist Directory (St. Louis, 2017): np.
“Nothing to See Here There Never Was —an Essay in Four Parts” in exhibition catalogue for Gina Osterloh (2015): np
Eds. Jan Christian Bernabe, et al., Migrant Musicians: Filipino Entertainers and the Work of Making Music (Durham, NC: Horse & Buggy Press/CA+T, 2013)
“Techniques: Contemporary Asian American Time-Based Art - Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik, Kat Larson, and Gina Osterloh,” in Techniques exhibition publication (Walla Walla: Whitman College—Sheehan Gallery, 2011)
“Archival Heaves: Im/mobilizing Icons and Bodies in the Paintings of John Yoyogi Fortes,” in Out of the Archives: Process and Progress. Eds., Angel Shaw and Sarita See. (New York: Asian American Arts Centre, 2009): 24-37
“Interview with Laura Kina and Jan Christian Bernabe, ‘Queering Contemporary Asian American Art’,” Laura Kina, Christopher B Patterson, and Jan Christian Bernabe, New Books in Asian American Studies.
After what seemed like almost a year of transitioning out of my last job and making lists of every possible thing that I wanted to do afterwards, I made the decision at the start of the year to move forward on opening an art gallery. With over a decade of experience in academia researching and writing about contemporary Asian diasporic arts in the Americas and working directly with artists in my role of curatorial director for a nonprofit arts virtual platform, the time felt right for me to venture on my own. I shifted gears mid-year last year and started planning my arrival to the Chicago art world.
It’s funny what months of percolating thoughts can manifest. I couldn’t have gotten far without the support of countless people in my social and political circles. Connections, I discovered, were essential for my many ideas to come into fruition.
By February 2018, I set out to navigate the byzantine municipal and state bureaucratic world to start a business. What a learning experience! A month later, with a newly organized business entity in hand as well as business license and requisite tax documents, I felt ready to find a space. I had the good fortune to work with a leasing agent (who also happened to be the husband of my best friend in Chicago) to help me find a commercial space for the gallery. On a stroll around my neighborhood, I happened upon a historic building with flyers of available units posted outside. With nothing to lose, I gave my leasing agent a heads up about the space. A few weeks later, I found myself filling out paperwork to lease the commercial space, a unit that I would later find out was the former studio of the well-known Chicago artist Nick Cave. While my ambitions early on centered on finding, what in my mind I called a “starter space,” the space that I ultimately leased looked and felt far more substantial and also had more fixing-up than I had imagined. The thought that “Maybe I’d gotten in over my head?” crossed my mind many times.
The leasing of the space came with mounds of otherwordly headaches, too many to name here. So with snafus piling up with the build-out and interior renovations, the opening date for the gallery - I named FLXST Contemporary - continued to be pushed further back, from May to June. Had it not been for support coming from unexpected places, pressing forward would’ve been impossible. By the end of May, the space, freshly rehabbed, allowed me to see in the offing the official start of the gallery. My sights were set for a mid-June opening.
I could get into the granular details of everything I learned, good and bad, but I won’t. Thinking about the amount of sweat equity (and real equity) that I put into the space to get it to its current state still exhausts me to this day. But lo-and-behold, FLXST Contemporary finally opened on June 12, 2019, with a show aptly titled “New Editions: Into the FLXST.”
With “New Editions,” I worked with 9 fresh emerging artists to create limited edition prints of new works. They can be found on www.flxst.co. The final pieces from the artists are full of humor, timeliness, angst, pathos, and life, as each artist tapped into the cultural and political zeitgeist of the moment. I couldn’t be happier.
Now that FLXST Contemporary exists in its physical form, I look forward to curating and fostering a community of artists and art lovers alike. Programming for the rest of the year and 2020 has begun in earnest without any of the apprehension or nervousness (or very much it, I should say) that I had when I first began strategizing the founding of FLXST.
Why the name FLXST? There’s definitely a reference to my favorite 20th-century art movement, the FLUXUS movement, especially with its notable “happenings” and thier ability to engage communities of artists and participants (plus FLUXUS will always be a “queer” movement in my conceptualization of it). For me, too, FLXST is a state of being as it signifies the movements of bodies, culture, ideas, and art across time and space. It’s the flux in FLXST (imagine the sound) that keeps the name kinetic, and in it, the artists and their artwork. We are all in some way or another in a state of flux. Always being acted upon or taking action.
I left the vowels out of FLXST deliberately. Reading the name becomes an exercise for the reader/viewer to imagine and insert the missing letters. Just with the name, FLXST engages the viewer; it causes double-takes; and it makes the viewer work to understand meaning. The artwork that FLXST showcases does all of that and more. FLXST is about the cultural work of the art and artists as well as the work of the viewer to find their footing in all that they are looking at, hearing, experiencing.
FLXST Contemporary is now open. Visit the gallery on M-Th from 10-12pm and 1-3pm; or make an appointment to see the current show by emailing info[at]flxst.co on Fridays and the weekends. Visit www.flxst.co to purchase any of the limited edition prints in the current show “New Editions: Into the FLXST.”
Many, many thanks to the long list of people (you know who you are) who helped make this new chapter in my life possible. #artmatters @flxstco