Forest Juziuk is a one-man arts community in Ann Arbor
Forest Juziuk is a bit of a Renaissance man. Managing Wazoo Records (336Â½ South State) by day and upping Ann Arbor’s cultural clout on the side, Juziuk hosts popular experimental film and music events; performs as a DJ, comedian and performance artist; designs posters for the Ann Arbor Soul Club; runs record label Hall of Owls; and has published stories by artist/musician Brent Van Daley.
Juziuk says, “I don’t know exactly what the impetus was” for initially getting involved in the film, performance and music scene. However, he shares a clear vision of what he thinks is lacking from Ann Arbor’s creative scene and how he thinks his events and performances fill a cultural void.
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"Ann Arbor is a strange place. It seems like it wants to be a big city, but it really isn’t. We don’t have all of the amenities that they do in a big city,” which include a lot more venues to choose from and more avant garde, experimental happenings. “Part of it is to make Ann Arbor livable for ourselves, by featuring the kinds of acts I want to see and the films I want to see,” he says.
Since 2007, Juziuk and his girlfriend Erin Nicole Bratkovich have hosted Hott Lava, a series of experimental film and avant grade music happenings at different venues around town. Although experimental film was widely popular during the 60’s and 70’s, Juziuk regrets that the genre has become “culturally ghettoized over time,” in part because “blockbusters like Jaws, for example, changed what people wanted to see and what they were exposed to,” he reports. He hopes that events like Hott Lava will up experimental films “cultural currency.”
One way he says the events accomplish this is by drawing a comparison between experimental film and music. “Although experimental film has lost cultural currency, music hasn’t. Music’s cultural currency has only increased over time. By pairing up experimental film with music, it shows that experimental film is not really that strange. Pairing it with music puts it into a context that draws a line connecting the two in people’s minds. We are trying to reacquaint experimental film with everyday culture,” according to Juziuk.
He thinks that Hott Lava also enriches Ann Arbor’s culture by exposing people to avant garde musicians from all over the country. “Ann Arbor has such an intense local movement — think locally, buy locally. There isn’t much in the way of bringing people from outside of town to do these events or looking at the greater cultural picture,” he says.
Juziuk also works and volunteers for the Ann Arbor Film Festival, taking place March 23-28. He coordinates the festival’s Film Jam each year, a showcase of experimental film created by local filmmakers. This year he is joining the festival’s experimental film committee, DJing opening night, and hosting a film festival party with Bratkovich, who is serving on this year’s documentary film committee.
Beyond his interest in film and event promoting, Juziuk is also focused on DJing and performing. In 2008, he started DJing Dark Matter events with fellow DJ Aaron Lindell. Juziuk describes Dark Matter as “an international psychedelic dance party.” "Most of the music is pretty obscure, and most people don’t know it’s totally danceable” before they check out the party; however, Juziuk is pleased to report good attendance and high energy at the events.
Although Juziuk has been playing music in bands since age 14, “I didn't find a way for what I was doing to make sense.” He had never tried DJing until a few years ago. When event planners Lauren Hill and Ghostly International’s Jeff Owens asked him to DJ a night at Vinology, Juziuk admits, “I didn’t really know what I was doing. I had to learn really fast. But people were way more into it than they were with my music. That was revelatory. DJing came naturally, which the music thing did not,” he relates.
It also took some time for Juziuk to find comfortable style of performance art and comedy. Juziuk and longtime friend Brian Hunter, who works as program manager for the Michigan Theater, perform in a comedy duo called Blood Club. After looking at video of one of their early performances, Juziuk concluded, “this isn’t funny at all,” he laughs. “But then we started improvising more and that’s when we started to find our voice. We also started to embrace the performance art side of things, not just jokes. That’s when it started to get really good,” he says.
Juziuk has also written and created performance art happenings on his own. For example, his performance piece Skate Laws “was basically me doing karaoke to hardcore music that I had prerecorded.” He has also developed and performed spoken word pieces that are “a spectacle and an active thing,” which is “what I’m really excited about right now. The show has sound and music to it. It’s kind of a comedy show, but not really. It’s more of a weird performance art type of thing,” he explains.
He says that a lot of his performance art came out of “The Life and Times of John North Wright,” a theatrical performance that he put on with Hunter and his younger brother, Jacob. John North Wright was a man from Port Huron who suffered from psychological problems. Juziuk’s performance piece relates a story Wright told of meeting a woman and having a psychic connection with her.
The next installment for Hott Lava is on Friday at the Yellow Barn. The event will feature about 90 minutes of experimental film, plus 2 sets by musical guests Chicago Underground Duo. Doors open at 8 p.m. and films start at 8:45 p.m.
Juziuk is scheduled to DJ an all-ages dance party with Brett Lyman at the Yellow Barn on Sunday, February 7, beginning at 7 p.m, featuring bands Explode Into Colors and Tyvek.
The next Dark Matter dance party is March 12 at 10 p.m. at the Elks Lodge (220 Sunset Road).
Jennifer Eberbach is a free-lance writer who covers art for AnnArbor.com.
For a more complete list of Forest Juziuk’s performances and events, visit his MySpace page.