Creative Quarantine: Artist JaNae Contag

Dacron Duvet by NÆ Album Cover | Digital Photograph by JaNae Contag and Sandra Zmuda, 2020 Listen on Spotify, Listen YouTube

1. How are you holding up?

I’m doing WAY better than when quarantine first started, and am very grateful to be healthy, sleeping 9.5 hours per night with vivid dreams, and focusing more time on art. My biggest challenge has been the battle with my anxiety throughout all of this. I am so thankful for my supportive creative partner, Ryan. There were several nights back in March when I was sad and stunned, and then we would write and record ambient synthesizer music together for several hours to help redirect my focus and immerse ourselves in the creative process. Throughout quarantine, we have experimented with making our own sushi, roti bread, beignets, hummus, miso soup, and expanded our salsa garden. 

I’ve recently learned that when I have severe anxiety, it is difficult to focus on creating. So each day, I am navigating my energy with a daily list of goals related to art, music, and making our home a better place. It’s become an exciting, motivating time to push forward creatively. And, I’m continually learning how to manage my stress from the pandemic.


Promo Photo, Saturnae: Tropical Glamping
JaNae Contag and Ryan Black in the garden of their home and studio
Photo by JaNae Contag and Ryan Black

2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?

Absolutely, yes. It has altered the format that I’m presenting my work AND the content of my new work. The most involved new project has been a live stream interactive concert/performance art series I’ve been working on with Ryan. It is called “Saturnae” and is a monthly, theatrical pop performance with original NÆ songs and improvisational compositions based on lyrics suggested by audience members in the live chat on YouTube and Twitch. We spent many hours over the course of several weeks converting the recording studio in our home into a stage, fully integrated with digital graphics and cameras we monitor and trigger while performing. It’s now complete with hanging DIY foam fixtures, palm trees, multiple cameras, and stage lights. It feels weird and delightfully kitschy!


Saturnae setup for monthly live stream interactive concert/performance art series
Photo by JaNae Contag and Ryan Black

Because I miss everyone so much, one of the most rewarding parts of the Saturnae experience has been seeing and interacting with my family, lifelong friends, fellow artists, and fans all together in one live space, while casting the show on their TVs and speakers safely at home. 


The last in-person live performance at Martyrs, March 2020
Photo by Jordan Schulman

I also wrote a new, dark pop song dealing directly with the experience of COVID, which is far more personal than most NÆ songs. I think those late nights making ambient synth music at the beginning of quarantine played into its creation, and am excited and nervous to release it as a single in a few weeks. The song is called “Flood My Body” and it is about the body’s battle against the virus.

The most valuable gift of quarantine has been TIME. Amidst the live stream project, Ryan and I are working on the recording and production for the first, vinyl-length NÆ album. I am releasing it at the end of this summer / early fall. 


Promo Photo, Saturnae: Live Premeire
JaNae Contag and Ryan Black at their home and studio
Photo by JaNae Contag and Ryan Black

3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?

The live stream format is incredibly exciting and new for me. I think there is still a lot for me to learn! It is dramatically different than performing in a traditional concert venue or an art gallery and I think it creates a much more intimate bond between artist and viewer. Ultimately, I want to create an experience that is memorable but also challenges viewers to think about the world differently. I also (obviously) want the audience to have loads of fun!

I hope to continue working with live, web-based broadcasts, as I’ve seen the positive reception from fans, friends, and family across the globe. 


Promo Photo, Saturnae: Two Woke Robots
JaNae Contag at her home and studio
Photo By JaNae Contag and Ryan Black

4. Of the artists you follow, who’s handling this particularly well?

I’ve loved getting to see artists and musicians experiment and commit to totally new styles/content/concepts during the quarantine. Matthew Paul Jinks just released his first EP with all modular synthesizers he’s been documenting (at least on his Instagram), performing, and building. Also, Michael Powell, another artist and designer friend of mine has been hard at work creating beautiful, sculptural Sine Trivets for large table set-ups. They are modular coaster systems designed to work as drink coasters, stand-alone trivets, or linked together as a unified and infinitely expandable table-wide system. When not in use, they stack up to create gorgeous sculptures – it is breathtaking work. I’ve also been following the releases and live streams by Chicago musician, Mel Senese who has adapted to quarantine by also building a home stage, creating micro promo videos, and releasing new singles.


The NÆ coffee cup, Martyrs, March 2020
Photo by JaNae Contag

JaNae Contag is a Kansas City native who lives and works in Chicago. She received her BA from Trinity University in San Antonio and her MFA in Visual Art from the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art at Washington University in St. Louis. Contag’s practice spans photography, video, music, performance, and interactive installation. Her work deals with aspirational middle-class America and idiosyncratic places in which tourism and elitism co-exist (such as shopping malls, airports, lifestyle centers, and megachurches).

As NÆ, her musician persona, she writes and performs original pop music alongside her partner Ryan Black (artist, composer, producer, and engineer). Her humorous lyrics and quirky synth-driven songs comment on the absurdities of American consumer culture.

She teaches photography and digital design at DePaul University and North Park University and works as a commercial photographer.

Her work has been exhibited in various cities including Austin and San Antonio, TX; St. Louis, MO; Brooklyn, NY; and Chicago, IL and her work has been featured in The Chicago Tribune, The COMP Art & Design Magazine, Vellum Magazine, Forgotten Chicago, and on DePaul Radio, the podcast, Advance Your Art: From Artist to Creative Entrepreneur, and the Artists of the Industry podcast.

JaNae is on Instagram as @naesynthpop

Her websites are www.janaecontag.com and

www.naemusic.com
You can check out NÆ’s next Saturnae performance on Saturday, July 25th at 8pm CST, which you can find at: naemusic.com/saturnae