While most people were enjoying the beach, Jorge Rojas spent four summers fishing the frigid waters of the Bering Sea. Most people would never take such a risk, but from 1992-1996, Rojas dove into America’s deadliest job. Why?
“It seemed like an adventure,” he says.
Rojas is a daring man.
He also founded Low Lives, an international performance art festival broadcast over the Internet.
“There have been times when I thought it might not work out,” Rojas says of the early days of Low Lives. But this year’s festival was the biggest yet, featuring 60 live performances from over a dozen countries.
“Low Lives has become more relevant each year,” he says.
Low Lives 3 - Claude van Lingen - 1000 Years From Now
Rojas was born in Mexico and moved to Utah when he was six years old. For the past two decades, he’s been in between the United States and Mexico.
His first solo art show was at the El Nigromante Cultural Center in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico, when he was 25. He moved to New York City shortly after that.
“New York City is the place where I’ve lived the longest and the place where I feel most at home,” he says. He lived in the city for 11 cumulative years, but continued to travel frequently.
“My mom taught me early on the importance of travelling as a way of learning about other cultures and experiencing different ways of living,” he says.
Low Lives 3 - Caroline Boileau- Space Travel Takes Time
Rojas brings the same attitude to Low Lives.
“I saw and still see a real need for people to connect across cultural and geographical borders,” he says. “I figured that curating an exhibition about artists using (or willing to use) live streaming video would be a good way to find out what other artists were doing with it.”
But that’s not the only reason Low Lives uses streaming.
“In this age when everything is high definition and super polished, I think it’s beautiful to experience something raw, unpolished, and imperfect,” Rojas says. “I think of live streaming as its own aesthetic, like film or video.”
Low Lives 1 - Denise Prince - Gossip
Running Low Lives isn’t easy, and Rojas faces challenges every day.
“Financing the project through presenter’s fees has worked until now,” he says. But that won’t work anymore at the rate Low Lives is growing.
He says the biggest challenge is dealing with the day-to-day operations, instead of focusing on “things that directors are supposed to do, like grant writing and networking.”
Still, Rojas still finds the time to launch big projects. He recently presented Low Lives: Occupy!, which connected artists and Occupy movement protestors from around the world.
Low Lives: Occupy! - The Civilians - Occupy Your Mind 1
“It was really an honor to be able to use our platform for such a practical and timely purpose,” he says. “Social media art projects have the ability to amplify ideas. If done right, they can resonate much faster and wider than ever before.”
Those ideas resonate from Rojas’ home in Salt Lake City, Utah. He moved there a year and a half ago with his wife, Jenna, and his son, Felix. And despite the challenges, he loves his life.
“I give thanks every day to be alive,” he says. “I’m very fortunate. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Read below for an abridged interview with Rojas:
AiOP: What drives your work as an artist?
Jorge Rojas: A desire to think, to learn, to experiment, and experience. The notion that I can contribute something of substance and beauty. My work as an artist is driven by my commitment to my own personal growth and development.
AiOP: How do you think Mexican culture influences your art, if at all?
Jorge Rojas: I’ve been very influenced by Mexican culture, history, art, indigenous cultures, cosmology, colors, and music. But I’ve been just as influenced by the experience of being a Mexican living in the United States. It has made me observant and critical at the same time. I’m able to observe both cultures from both outsider and insider perspectives. Mexican culture is in my blood and soul, I’m very proud of it. I strive to make work that is universal in scope. I hope that my Mexican roots show up in my work in ways that are subtle, not obvious.
AiOP: Where did the name “Low Lives” come from?
Jorge Rojas: “Low” as in lo-fi and low-tech. “Low” as in lowest common denominator. Glitch. “Lives” as in living art. Live performance. Live broadcast. As live streaming technology advances (you can stream in HD now), we’ve extended our focus beyond the low aesthetic. We work with artists working across all media that are interested in experimenting with live streaming networks. More than half of the artists we work with are not performance artists, but are interested in the medium.
AiOP: Could you walk us through a typical day for you?
Jorge Rojas: Wake up, coffee, work, greet my son Felix, feed him, hang out and play with him, put him down for a nap, work, hang out with Felix, have dinner with Jenna and Felix, have a drink, work, sleep. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds!
AiOP: What do you have planned next for Low Lives?
Jorge Rojas: I just received an invitation to curate/present a selection of Low Lives performance videos from the last 4 years at the ISEA2012 conference this summer in Albuquerque. I’d like to see Low Lives: Occupy! become an annual event, or even a rolling platform. And, of course, there’s our annual festival. My only real plan is to raise the money necessary for our organization to sustain itself.
AiOP: Do you have any other personal plans or projects coming up that you’d like us to know about?
Jorge Rojas: I’m curating an exhibition called superHuman that will take place this summer at the Central Utah Art Center (CUAC) and will then travel to Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art in Newark, New Jersey.
I’m curating the show with my friend and collaborator, David Hawkins. I’m super excited about this show because I get to bring together the work of some of the artists I admire and am inspired by, including Kerry James Marshall, William Pope.L, Edgar Arcenaux, Chitra Ganesh, Xaviera Simmons, Shaun El C. Leonardo, and Robert Pruitt.
AiOP: In your wildest dreams, what would you like to see Low Lives become?
Jorge Rojas: I’m pretty happy with what Low Lives has become- a platform that connects performance-based artists with audiences around the world through live streaming video.
My wildest dream for Low Lives is to be able to pay artists for their time and contributions. I envision Low Lives becoming a 24-7 online Live Performance Network, a streaming network dedicated to international live performance-based art.
AiOP: Is there anything else you’d like us to know? Either about yourself or about Low Lives?
Jorge Rojas: I want to thank the hundreds of artists and thirty-some presenting partners that have contributed to Low Lives in the last 4 years.
I also want to thank Christina deRoos, Juan Obando, Thomas Bell, Jenna Pike, Chez Bushwick, and Spread Art, for all of their hard work, support and dedication to building the Low Lives platform. We built this thing together.
Oh, and check out our new site- www.lowlives.net