(Cat Grange, Intern, BFA student at UNO)
From ancient Greece to today, the rabbit has been a prolific and complex symbol in art history. It represents abundance, fertility, and Immaculate Conception – but also the insidious nature of unbridled lust. Thousands of artworks featuring Benson’s favorite furry thing have been produced since antiquity. So to celebrate the rabbit’s dynamic contributions to our visual language, I will be highlighting one of these artworks in a series of short articles, starting with GFP Bunny (AKA “Alba”).
In 2000, French scientists injected green fluorescent protein (GFP) from a jellyfish into the fertilized egg of a rabbit. It was part of Chicago artist Eduardo Kac’s project, which he described as transgenic art. The rabbit, named Alba, was born in April that year. Under normal conditions, she looked like any other albino rabbit with white fur and pink eyes. But under the correct lighting, she glowed fluorescent green.
Producing a glowing bunny was only one part of the transgenic project. As Kac said in his statement, “The second phase is the ongoing debate, which started with the first public announcement of Alba's birth.” Alba sparked discussion across disciplines, including art, biology, social sciences, law, and philosophy. What are the ethical implications of genetic modification and gene therapy? How does this affect our understanding of diversity and the way we treat individuals we perceive as “other”? What does this mean for the future of interactive art?
The third phase – if the project had been completed – would have steeped the conversation further in a social context. Eduardo Kac intended to integrate Alba into his home, giving her a life of normalcy that any other un-spliced pet rabbit could enjoy. But unfortunately, Alba died two years later for reasons unexplained, never having left the lab she was born in. It’s been speculated that the scientists involved wanted to distance themselves from the controversy started by Kac, but the truth is still unclear.
Despite its untimely end, the GFP Bunny project made significant strides in art in relation to science and technology. For that, Alba is worth celebrating.
Una Novotny, BFF Intern, written after an interview with Dana Jeck and Kaissa Inzunza
Art has historically been known to push the boundaries of societal norms, and has represented the changes that we make as a society to better ourselves and our understanding of others. However, in order for those changes to occur, we must continuously be critical of how things are working, and create spaces that allow voices to be heard that may otherwise go unnoticed.
This May, Omaha artists Kaissa Inzunza and Dana Jeck traveled for the second year in a row to the weekend long skate competition “Wheels of Fortune” in Washington. The event started 9 years ago, and as their website states, “is the longest running and largest skateboard showcase featuring female-identified (cisgender or trans), trans, and gender non-conforming athletes from around the world.”
As both artists are also skaters who identify as queer females, they were inspired by the immense amount of love and support that came from everyone in attendance, and the fact that a space exists to allow for the combination of their multiple passions, as well as providing a large platform for all of them to be shown, which may not be as available in other places.
Their experience last year led to six portraits, which portrayed 2017’s finalists and incorporate the distinct styles of both artists. They were drafted and finished over the course of two months while traveling throughout the West Coast on their way to Wheels of Fortune, and were displayed over the weekend, where they were seen not only by many of those finalists that returned in 2018, but by so many others that had been inspired by them as well. This portrait series will be shown along with Kaissa's independent work at Hugo's Gallery on July 27th.
Until recently, most professional skateboarders were male, and most representations of skating in mass media and pop culture stereotyped skateboarders as such. This event has grown in popularity, and many of the finalists they had seen only a year ago in 2017 are now sponsored by major brands, helping to break the stigma that all serious skaters are straight males.
This increased visibility has inspired many non-male identifying people to feel comfortable enough to enter
the skate community. Kaissa and Dana have brought this back to Omaha, and share the positivity and inclusivity
with our community. They have personally inspired me
as well as many others to be a part of Girl’s Skate Night,
which provides an area for people of all ages who may
feel excluded in other areas to develop their skills in an accepting and non judgemental environment.
As an intern with Benson First Friday, I have come to understand more deeply how important it is for communities to support their creatives, especially those whose work may not be accepted into other areas, whether it be because of the content, bias against the artist, or simply because they cannot afford to have it displayed elsewhere.
With this accessibility as well as inspiration from Dana, Kaissa, and so many others in the community that are working to create inclusive spaces, I am curating a show highlighting the work as well as the experiences of trans, queer, or non-gender conforming people, in which Kaissa’s independent paintings will be featured. The topic the show will mainly explore is how sex, sensuality, and self image is seen by those whose bodies or sexualities are not represented in the media or in society as a whole. Through learning from and understanding others we continue to grow the community into a place where everyone is encouraged to express every aspect of themselves.
If you are a visual, written, or performance artist and are interested in being a part of this upcoming September show, submit work to www.bensonfirstfriday.com/showcase.html
(Johnny Redd, Studio Art undergraduate at UNO)
I’m an autistic person, and I am also an artist.
I have trouble interpreting social cues. I have intense and narrow interests. I am bothered by aspects of the sensory environment that others can easily filter out.
These things make me autistic.
I also paint, draw comics, take photographs, and create digital art.
These things make me an artist.
In many ways, I often feel that the world expects me to choose between, or separate, these aspects of my identity. Whenever we are exposed to successful, well-adjusted autistic adults in media (which isn’t often, but that’s a whole other ordeal), we see socially-awkward male engineers, physicists, or computer programmers. These stereotypes are further cemented by representations of autistic, or autistic-coded, people in fiction, like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory.
A lot of autistic people are scientists and engineers, and that’s great.
But a lot of us aren’t.
While many aspects of autism are actually game-changers in STEM fields, those same qualities can also be part of what makes an amazing artist.
Our society likes to define everyone as either “left-brain dominant” or “right-brain dominant.” This popular myth, which suggests that creative tasks are controlled by the right brain while logical reasoning tasks are controlled by the left brain, has contributed to a false binarization of the way our brains work; it has also been debunked countless times, and research has found that all functions of our brain benefit the most when both hemispheres work together in conjunction.
This false binary, arts versus STEM, can be seen everywhere in our world, and the separation comes from both sides. It’s not uncommon on any university campus to hear art students lament about how bad they are at math, and for math students to gripe about how they were forced to take art in high school for an elective.
This separation harms everyone, but it especially harms autistic people in the arts.
As a population, we are stereotypically grouped as “left-brained.” This is because misinformed junk-science states that the left hemisphere of the brain exclusively handles logic, reason, critical thinking, and numbers, all things that autistics are traditionally associated with.
The stereotype that autistic people have to be mathematicians, scientists, or engineers, and that these fields are the “opposite” of the arts, contributes to the marginalization of us in communities that are already hard enough for us to navigate socially.
I am an autistic person, and I am an artist.
But I am also a scientist.
All of the things that make me an artist, like my attention to detail, my ability to look at things from a fresh perspective, my drive to explore new ideas, my ability to hyperfocus on a project for hours, are all things that also made me a scientist.
For the first half of my college experience, I was a neuroscience student, and I loved it. It didn’t end up working out for me (darn chemistry), so I switched to art. While there was definitely a culture shock going from STEM to art, I found that there is a lot more overlap between the two fields than people think. The skills that I had gained from my science education, like careful planning, persistence, and observation, gave me an edge when I began my education in art.
Autistic people are often exceptional planners and observers of the world. We are this way because of how our brains are programmed; I plan every minute of my day because I cannot handle the anxiety of not knowing what is going to happen next; I need structure, and that comes from my autism. We must observe the world very closely compared to everyone else in order to function socially with other people. These skills actually translate to real-world benefits in both art and STEM fields.
Autistic people exist in the world as scientists and engineers, but we also exist in the world of art, music, and design, just like everyone else. Some of us, myself included, exist in both. The false binary of arts versus STEM is harmful to not only autistics, but also to us as a society because it stunts our collective growth.
We need engineers who are artists, and designers who are programmers, and mathematicians who play music. The only way we can push forward is if we stop pigeonholing everyone, autistic or not, and combine our collective strengths into one.
(Written by Savannah Pickard)
If you call Benson your home, then you've probably seen him living the words, "sushi is life," behind the rail at Yoshitomo, maybe playing a show in his band, Carson City Heat, or perhaps even enjoying a drink at one of the many rad bars in the Benson neighborhood.
Sources have confirmed that Dave "Yoshi" Utterback is much more than just a sushi man, but I needed to find out for myself; so I sat down with the enigma himself earlier this week to talk a little bit about his journey and life as a restaurant owner and chef.
Can you fill me in on the time you've spent as a chef working your way to where you are now?
"I started out in my early 20s working a bunch of random management and retail jobs trying to, you know, find my way (in Omaha). I had always been interested in sushi and a buddy of mine had just gotten a job at Blue and he said he could get me a job there, too, so I put in an application. When I showed up and handed in my application, I was very poor, but I wanted some sushi. So I ate there but I tipped very badly and the waitress threw away my application. The chef that was working saw it and said, 'Who was that guy who just filled out an application!?' and the waitress was like, 'Oh, you don't want to hire him! He tips badly, that guy can't work here!' And after scolding her for throwing away my application, he got it out of the trash and hired me. So I like to say that my career literally started in the garbage."
"I ended up working for Blue for quite a number of years, worked my way from the very bottom to chef, then lead chef, all the way to their corporate chef. I was head of sushi for about 7 years, and then you just hit a certain point and you decide on if you are going to continue building someone else's dream or if you are gonna go and put work into your own. After 12+ years it was time to start working on my own dream."
What about the initial conception and rough timeline of creating Yoshitomo? How long had this dream been in the works?
"I'd started thinking about owning my own restaurant early into my career as chef. You know, every chef, every cook talks about the restaurant they're going to have. So starting at day one, you think, 'My restaurant's gonna do this, this, and this,' but you say you're gonna do things and how you're going to do them without actively working on it. It's just talk. The real nuts and bolts of working on this restaurant started last year in January when I left Blue. I'd left the company and my choice was, again, either go work for somebody else for another 10+ years, or go beg, borrow, and steal (not literally) money to open my own restaurant. A lot of things like the way we approach food and a lot of the design elements of the restaurant I've been thinking about for a decade, but that goes back to chefs talking about their dreams. The real work for this restaurant started about a year and a half ago."
Are there any dining experiences or even other restaurants that inspired you in any way?
"Yeah, yeah, I've had a couple of those meals. I had the opportunity to eat with the now celebrity chef, Jiro, about 9-10 years ago, and I was just a crappy line cook at the time and I didn't know that sushi could be that way. I didn't know that there was a high-end version beyond just charging too much for food, I didn't know there was, you know, a craftsmanship side to sushi."
"Shortly after that, I ate at a really great restaurant in Austin, called Uchi, which does a lot of what we're trying to do here. The meal that I had was a balancing act between approachable food and dishes while also pushing everything forward; pushing diners towards eating better fish, taking a lot of options away from them and focusing on the experience of dining. A lot of what we do here is inspired by what they've done over there."
As far as location goes, was opening up shop here in Benson an intentional choice?
"Yeah, I've been in the community since back when we all used to hang out in Dundee, and then everyone started moving out to Benson 7-8 years ago. Pretty much everyone in this neighborhood I know, we've been drinking and having good times together for about 15 years. You aren't going to open up a restaurant like this in Suburbia, your choices are downtown or midtown, and this is my home. My house is a couple blocks from here, all my friends are here, if we need something, we can go across the street and borrow it. Sushiyas (Japanese name for sushi restaurants) in Japan are really part of the community, everyone who frequents them is from that neighborhood. There isn't another neighborhood in the city where the growth and community is organic. At any given time I know around 50% of guests in the restaurant, and between everyone who works here, I'd say we know 75% of the people who walk through the door, and that's super cool."
I'm assuming there are a lot of struggles you've had to face while opening Yoshitomo, could you share some of them?
"Getting and keeping the restaurant open comes with a lot of hoops to jump through, you never know what the city is gonna throw at you. The plumbing inspector wants something, the food inspector wants something completely different, and no one can give you a set answer on how much everything going to cost. Basically, you just have a small bucket of money and by the time you get the restaurant's doors open, you hope you didn't have to sell the bucket, too."
"Also, coming from a corporate background, everyone has their own specific job. Mine was worrying about food and running the sushi bar efficiently. Now, I'm the only guy who can do 'owner stuff'. There isn't another owner to help with everything else that isn't food, it's pretty much just me. When we were opening I was the one mowing the overgrown grass and shoveling sidewalks, I don't get to worry about just running the rail. People walking in the door don't think about who has to keep the lights on, who has to make sure all the equipment is working, who has to keep this place from just falling apart and letting nature take over. In the corporate world there are a team of people working on all that stuff, but here, it's just me. It's almost like having your fingers in a leaky dam, you only have two hands and can plug up these holes today and the rest are just going to have to wait one more day and hopefully the whole thing doesn't fall apart by the time you can deal with all the issues. One day I hope I won't be the one who has to shovel the walk and I can just pay someone else $10 to do it, but right now we just really need that $10."
Where do you see Yoshitomo in 5 years from now? Are there any longterm goals you have in mind?
"The goal was always to create a small little group of restaurants, we're not talking a large corporate group of restaurants, but the idea was to use Yoshitomo as a diving board for more restaurants like it. I'm not interested in sticking bunch of Yoshitomos all over the place, that's just kind of boring. It becomes no different than a McDonald's at that point. I see us moving into some different concepts keeping the same ideas, service, and vibes the same, but mixing it up and doing smaller, more chef-driven restaurants. The idea is to kind of take this model, tweak it, get it working right, figure out the systems for other restaurants, and do it more."
"This all comes stems from the lacking of chef-driven restaurants. If you step back and look at the city, the cost of opening up a restaurant by yourself without any sort of big money help or angel investor is so high that chef's can't do it. That's why so many restaurants are just chains. Even the newer restaurants opening up pretend to be local, but they're not. They're funded by out of state money and just have the front of being local. The idea that we can stay in town an take chefs with passions and turn those into dining experiences for people in town rather than everyone waiting for the next California Pizza Kitchen to open up or some other giant corporate garbage. Someone's gotta be that guy who helps."
And that pretty much concludes my wonderful interview with Dave Utterback. I hope you feel enriched and learned a lot about the man who finally brought sushi to Benson, and maybe you even learned a little bit about yourself on this journey. Remember: don't be sad that it's over, be happy it happened.
Our Newsroom editors are current interns of BFF - most are students at UNO.