Musicians don’t always stick to music; often, musicians are “multipotentialites,” as in, people with multiple creative pursuits. To learn more about the different passion projects our favorite musicians find comfort in and promote their work, we created our ongoing series Labors of Love.
Today, we present our chat with Jess and Alexa Viscius, multidisciplinary artists based in Chicago. Outside of their music in Bnny, the twin sisters work on various art practices: with Jess primarily focusing on fine art, and Alexa on photography and graphic design. We spoke recently with the pair to dig into their visual arts and how they interact with their music project. In the process, we discussed their inspirations, their creative relationship, and their collaborative new vintage store, Ramona’s Market. Have a read and take a look over some of Jess and Alexa’s work below.
Slumber: What inspired you both to get into your respective creative realms: design, photography, music? And when did you start? What did you pursue first?
Alexa: Music was a big part of my adolescence. Like a lot of kids, it was an escape—a comfort. There are few photos of me age 12 onwards, where I’m not wearing headphones or holding a Discman. So while music shaped me, it wasn’t something I realized I could do until later. Visual arts and photography were more accessible then, so that came first. I remember developing my first roll of film in my high school’s darkroom, after that, I was hooked.
Jess: Alexa and I were lucky to have this closeness growing up where we could escape into our imaginations together. I think we really nurtured each other’s wildest ideas, everything was an adventure. We were playfully involved in a multitude of creative pursuits as kids, and it’s funny how that hasn’t changed, just evolved. Design came first, out of practicality, like, ok, this is a creative pursuit that I can easily turn into a career. After a certain point, I became a little jaded on the design scene, that’s when I turned to music.
Slumber: Do you ever collaborate with one another on your individual projects outside of Bnny? How is that process and relationship for you both?
Alexa: We are in constant collaboration with one another. We have this special relationship that is built on trust. We’re always bouncing ideas off of each other— “is this dumb?” “what do you think of this?” The best part of a relationship like ours is that we can be totally honest. It really is invaluable.
Jess: We’ve collaborated on just about all of our shared and individual creative endeavors, from music to visual art, videos, photo, design, the list goes on! To echo what Alexa said, we have each other’s unending support and enthusiasm. Our connection is built on trust and that allows each of us to explore our individual worlds more confidently.
“I sort of see myself as a jack of all trades, master of none-type artist. I don’t think I'm particularly awesome at anything, but I don’t think that matters.”
Slumber: Do you both have a favorite piece of each other’s works? What is it?
Alexa: I love my sister’s drawings. She’s been drawing since we were very little and I’ve always been a little envious of her natural talent for it. I really like the new stuff she’s been making… the drawing “Pleading”.
Jess: I really love the photos Alexa took of Adrianne Lenker for Pitchfork. They are so quietly beautiful. More recently I was obsessed with the photos she took of comedian Meg Stalter. They are fun and light-hearted, a reflection of Meg herself.
Slumber: Music and design and photography are all very creative and artistic outlets. Are there similarities and/or differences in how you relate to each of those arts? Places where they might intersect?
Alexa: There’s a ton of similarities there for me. Multiple moving pieces coming together to create one harmonious piece. We both studied design at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The curriculum is based on the Bauhaus School of Design principles. It’s a very multidisciplinary program. One of the most well-known principles from the Bauhaus is that “form follows function.”
As a graphic designer, that means that a poster, for instance, needs to first communicate the message clearly. The form is secondary in i.e. the size of the poster, the colors, the typeface. You can apply this concept to a song…” a message or a feeling is being communicated does an organ stir that for you, do you need brushes on the drums or an acoustic guitar here?” It’s not always so black and white, the longer I work, the more free-flowing these things are but I still have a desire to make things functional.
Jess: I like making music as an act of self-discovery, like surprising myself with a lyric, or uncovering an emotion I’m repressing. I think visual art unfolds in the same way. I just think of a feeling or a memory and go from there.
“I like making music as an act of self-discovery, like surprising myself with a lyric or uncovering an emotion I’m repressing. I think visual art unfolds in the same way.”
Slumber: To dig deeper, what’s something you love about fine art that music can’t provide?
Alexa: Silence. Both fine art and music can be solitary experiences. But silence and solitude when enjoying or making art is such a contemplative experience. I really only go to museums alone for this reason.
Jess: Recently, I’ve started drawing again. I like that there are no exceptions, no deadlines, just a pure creative practice of self-expression. Just taking time to be alone with me.
Slumber: Do you have any favorite albums or even a particular kind of music you like to listen to when working on your respective arts?
Alexa: When I design for other musicians I love listening to their music. I also really love listening to repetitive, ambient music when I work. Tim Hecker, William Basinki, Caretaker, Julianna Barwick. When I really have to meet a deadline I listen to Steve Reich’s Drumming.
Jess: Generally, I don’t listen to music when I’m working, especially if I’m writing or reading something because I find it too distracting. When I listen to music while working on non-music things, I’ll end up just wanting to stop whatever it is I’m doing and go play guitar. So I try to keep them separate.
Slumber: I learned that you both recently started a vintage resale shop called Ramona’s Market. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind that and how you imbue creativity into that project?
Alexa + Jess: It happened sort of accidentally. Selling our old stuff at a farmer’s market here in Chicago one weekend, turned into selling stuff at the farmer’s market every weekend. Then we started intentionally going out on sourcing trips. When summer and the farmer’s markets ended, we decided to try selling stuff online and it just took off from there. Our parents are super thrifty, coupon cutter-types. Growing up, everything was second-hand. We grew up going to estate sales and thrift stores with my mom, which is why we named the shop after her, Ramona.
On a broader scale, we are interested in sustainability. Shopping second-hand has less impact on the environment. We try to do things as sustainably as possible, using recycled materials to ship stuff out, etc. Overall, our appreciation for art history and design objects reflects in the pieces we source. We have a lot of fun with the photos and social media, combining our various photo and design skills.
Slumber: How have you been spending your free time during the pandemic? Have you started any other new hobbies, or more generally, any new part of life you’ve discovered that creatively inspires/excites you?
Alexa: During the pandemic, I let myself just be. My work came to a complete halt. Being in a constant state of anxiety was a lot to handle in and of itself. I rode my bike almost every day and spent as much time outdoors as possible.
Jess: I also spent a lot of time outdoors, camping as often as possible. Going on long walks with my dog. Gardening. I’m obsessed with observing the visiting bugs in the garden—the butterflies, ladybugs, the bumblebees, and now the wolf spiders of Fall. Lots of mushroom hunting. Basically doing anything outside away from my phone to escape quarantine reality.
Slumber: Lastly, do you have any words of advice for anyone that’s interested in pursuing a multidisciplinary creative practice?
Alexa: Just do it. Haha, but seriously. I think people can hold themselves back for various reasons, but if you’re interested try it all and see what feels right. Go to art shows, go to concerts, go explore! Start engaging with those worlds and things will happen.
Jess: I sort of see myself as a jack of all trades, master of none-type artist. I don’t think I’m particularly awesome at anything, but I don’t think that matters. I like cycling through different hobbies and exploring what feels right on a particular day, it’s always shifting. Just try and have fun and be honest with yourself. Do stuff because it excites you. Work really hard, remain curious and be open-minded.
Listen to Bnny’s new record, ‘Everything’, out now via Fire Talk: