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From Physics to Balloons to a New Theory of Creating Art: Willy Chyr

We’ve got a fresh new article exchange for you this week as part of our partnership with I Am Logan Square. This week features artist Willy Chyr and his latest work at High Concept Laboratories.The goal of this partnership is to build bridges within our writing community, help promote one another to new audiences across the board and give more exposure to the art that keeps our Chicago experience compelling. I Am Logan Square is a local, non-profit organization that promotes and increases awareness of the arts while enhancing cultural development in Chicago’s vibrant Logan Square neighborhood. I Am Logan Square is located at 2644 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, 60647. Gallery hours are by appointment.

This article was originally posted at I Am Logan Square on June 11, 2012. Words and photographs by Brooke Herbert Hayes.


Last week I had the chance to catch up with Willy Chyr at High Concept Laboratories, where he had his first solo exhibition, systems/process on June 9. High Concept Laboratories is across the street from The Hideout in a large brick building–the perfect spot for focusing and creating art. Willy Chyr is a Logan Square resident, physicist, and former circus performer turned artist. Willy has also recently installed a piece in the Ogilvie Transportation Center as a part of a new artist promotion from Beck’s. Willy is one of six artists chosen by Beck’s to create an art label for limited edition beer bottles. I sat down with Willy to talk a little about physics, Beck’s, and balloons.

Willy Chyr with one of his pieces at High Concept Labs, 2012. (Image courtesy of I AM Logan Square.)

I Am Logan Square: So can you tell me a little about your background?

Willy Chyr: It’s kind of a long story– I was born in New Jersey, in Newark. But from 5-10 I was in Taiwan,  and then from 10-18 I lived in Toronto. Then, [I studied] physics and economics at University of Chicago.

IALS: In addition to your interest in physics, have you always been an artist?

WC: I was good at art class in elementary, but after 8th grade, I just lost interest and stopped. Then, after my first year of college, I joined the circus. That was just a fun thing to do. We built tall bikes, and I also built a tandem bicycle.  And that was just a fun creative outlet within the context of the circus, and that’s where I learned to twist balloons. One time they asked for a balloon guy, and I was like “yea, I’ll do it.” So I started twisting as a part-time job for the last few years of college.  Then in my senior year [of college], I was trying to figure out what to do next.  We were playing around with electronics…and we wanted to get a school grant. So we came up with the idea of making these balloon sculptures modeled after bioluminescent creatures, with the electronics controlling the lights and then we would fit those lights into the sculptures.  I already knew how to twist the balloons from my time in the circus.  I wasn’t intending to do more than what I did on campus, but I did those sculptures the last two months of school and then I graduated. Then the school wrote an article about those and put it on their home page, and the Museum of Science and Industry saw the article.  They were doing Science Chicago at the time and the finale was in Millennium Park, and two days after I graduated from UC, they called me and asked me to do something for Millennium Park and that got a lot of press.

IALS: So, you kept working with balloons after this?

WC:  Yea, so that summer after I graduated, I was doing birthday parties and street performances, like at farmer’s markets.  I didn’t have a job and I just did farmer’s markets on the side and had a street performers license, but I could only do this about 4 months per year. And what happened was that I met with some artists and kind of asked them, “so how does this whole [artist] thing work?” They told me to look at Chicago Artist’s Resource and that I could apply for grants. I saw the Midwestern Voices & Visions grant to fund an artist in the midwest for a residency. I sent in the application and got it– and got to go to Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha.  That was my art school. There were actually people around me making art and I started to have conversations about the art.

IALS: You seem to be doing well, you’ve had interviews with WBEZ, Scientific American. etc.  Do you have any advice for artists who are struggling? 

WC: I feel it’s not like I was drawn out of a hat, but I do feel grateful. I do work really hard, but that’s only half the equation. It’s people willing to take a chance. I feel blessed and grateful. This isn’t totally lucrative. I do apply for grants all the time. But in phases– it’s such an intensive process.  And you lose most, but then you win some. I think you gotta keep applying, but you have to keep doing your own work. It’s important to keep working, even when there are no calls. After I left Leo, I kept trying to get jobs. I was trying to fit the advertising style just to get a job. My Dad said to me, “stop trying to make your portfolio about trying to get a job, make it about your work, about what you’re interested in.”

So the Beck’s bottles launched in May, and between January and April, I began The Collabowriters. I launched it in March. At the end of April, I sent an email to Galleycat and they posted about Collabowriters.  There were days when I would do a Beck’s interview in the morning, and then the Collabowriters at night.

Willy's digital fractal art, © Willy Chyr

IALS:  Tell us a little about The Collabowriters.

WC: I started with the sculptures. When I was at Bemis, I thought about my creative process. Why am I using balloons? Balloons are colorful, but I wanted to focus on shape. And now what I’m doing is having the idea of emergence. I have initial parameters and procedures that I follow. I follow these rules. The Collabowriters is the same application of that idea, but applied to writing, It’s a crowdsource novel. Anyone can submit, then we vote on the submissions and the winner becomes a sentence in the novel. It’s the same idea as with my fractals [in my digital work].

I wrote The Collabowriters to have another manifestation of the idea. 3D in sculptures, 2D on the screen, and then with writing. This is the way trees, mountains, etc. happen,  and the result just stores the process.  The thing with balloons is that they are so physical. The other stuff involves more thinking–it’s two different mindsets. The sculptures are a little disruptive – I need a period to think through some ideas and not be doing.  There is also a video game I want to write.  I’m not 100% sure how to apply the theory to the video game, but there will be an additional aspect of interaction. The Collabowriters is a “make your own adventure”.  The last page is just the latest sentence.

IALS: How do you know when you’re done with a piece?

WC: I don’t think too much about the end result, things have an ending because they have to. I finish a balloon sculpture because I just can’t keep working on it. Sometimes it’s intuitive. I have no idea where The Collabowriters is going. But these are all iterations of the same idea. I don’t worry so much about whether it’s finished. Every piece is part of the process. They are byproducts of the process. I am having the process and the works are just nice byproducts.

IALS: So, finally, for our readers, what do you like about living in Logan Square?

WC: That so many people I know are there. It’s really residential and you just feel like you’re going home.  I really think the best part about Logan Square is the community. After college, you want to be able to get together with people.  In Logan Square, it’s easy to get together and make things happen.

To see more of Willy’s work, visit his website at

Willy will be exhibiting a public art installation at Ogilvie Transportation Center, 500 W. Madison, from June 4th through June 17th. The opening for systems/process was Sat, June 9.

To find out more about what Beck’s is doing to help local artists, check it out here.

–Interview and photos by Brooke Herbert Hayes

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