All posts in “Behind the Scenes”

After 10 Years, the Grass Keeps Getting Greener

We’re celebrating the Olympic Sculpture Park turning 10 with a laser show! Installed for this year’s SAM Lights on December 15, Greener by Iole Alessandrini and Ed Mannery is an art installation made from light that was originally on view at the grand opening of the park in 2007. Missed SAM Lights? Not to worry! Greener will light up the terrace through January 16.

In the 10 years since the laser grid of Greener cast SAM visitor’s in its net, artist Alessandrini has had some time to reflect on the light sculpture, her practice, and what it means for an artwork and a sculpture park to interact and create visual connections for visitors. A Seattle transplant from Italy, Alessandrini began her Laser Project Series with Optical Engineer Ed Mannery in 2001 during a residency at Bellevue Art Museum. As Iole Alessandrini has had said of her work, “It is the intersection between these two creative expressions—art and architecture—” through which her work moves. At the Olympic Sculpture Park, Greener covers over 2,500 square feet of grass in the Gates Amphitheater between Richard Serra’s Wake and the PACCAR Pavilion.

See this work in the twilight hour between sunset and park closure for optimal viewing!

SAM: How does nature factor into your focus on architecture and design?

Iole Alessandrini: Since early studies on light-art at the University of Washington (1996), I have been captured by the symbiotic and antithetic relationship between natural and artificial light. Symbiotic—in that natural and artificial light make things visible; antithetic—as the sun dominates over artificial light. Within enclosed spaces the laser of our installations is free from sun’s interference and it appears radiant. In outdoor environments, the light from both the sun and the laser interplay with each other in a symbiotic and antithetic way. This unique interplay manifests when the sun sets and the sky darkens. During this transition, the light from the art prevails to become visible in itself, while revealing the natural landscape surrounding people.

 What about the interplay between the tangible and intangible interests you and drives your work?

I think of light as a medium that I can model, shape and bend. Perhaps as one who shapes clay; I shape light. The singular wave-behavior of laser, which directs the rays to move parallel to each other, gives the laser-light the distinctive shape of a beam. In the presence of dust or smoke the light-beam becomes visible yet intangible.

With the installation Greener, Optical Engineer Ed Mannery and I used cone optics to direct the beam to form a plane. It is the nature of light to be evident when objects reflect it. In the park, the light-planes intersecting the grass-blades reveal this natural phenomenon and look as if they are lit from within. Both grass and light are evident yet the light remains intangible.

At SAM Olympic Sculpture Park installing Greener for the 10th anniversary of the park’s opening.

A photo posted by @iolealeassandrini on

Is movement crucial to all your light-based works? I’m thinking of something like “Three of Us” which captures movement through laser projections as compared to Greener which inspires movement through laser projections.

Many of our projects involve a direct connection with viewer and light. The Three of Us is a photo of a unique phenomenon of light captured with the camera as people move through the laser-planes. The project Untitled at Jack Straw Production (2004) provided us the first opportunity to document this phenomenon. I photographed a woman’s hands as she moved them back and forth rapidly through the plane. This picture created the series which I titled Shroud as it shows a flat subject taking on a ghostly aspect through the interface with the light plane. The photos are unique as they resemble holograms and they are of great interest to me. I am an avid researcher of motion in photography as seen in the work by Eadweard Muybridge, Jules Etienne Marey and Harold Edgerton.

How is Greener activated by the interaction of park visitors?

Contemplating the work from a distance vs. interacting with it—as in immersing oneself in the light—are distinctive ways in which Greener can be experienced.  Yesterday at the park during its opening, we observed that dynamic at play. In both cases it was satisfying to witness the sense of wonder and engagement coming from people staring at and interacting with 2,500 square feet of light under their feet. Greener visually connects different aspects of the Olympic Sculpture Park, from Serra’s Wake to the PACCAR Pavilion causing visitors to walk and step over the grass and the light of our installation.

Do you see Greener differently after the last 10 years? What does the passage of time lend to the work and it’s relationship to the park?

We were pleased to see that even after 10 years the technology continues to work. It works in function, and it works in keeping visitors engaged and mesmerized. Their appreciation of the art, the landscape, and the architecture speaks volumes, making Greener an aesthetic expression and synthesis of them all.

–Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter/Content Strategist

Photos: Courtesy of Iole Aleassandrini

2016 Betty Bowen Award Winner Wendy Red Star

We talked with Wendy Red Star, the 2016 Betty Bowen Award winner, to discuss her art and ideas of cultural archiving, inclusion, expectations, and engaging communities through a creative process. Raised on the Apsáalooke (Crow) reservation in Montana, Wendy Red Star works cross-generationally, looking in particular at matrilineal relationships within Crow culture and ceremony. She has critically examined historical portraits of Crow leaders by white photographers and taken apart stereotypical representations of Native American women in a variety of popular culture contexts. Her work centers on photography but sculpture, video, fiber arts, and performance are also important to her practice.

Learn more about this artist’s compelling work which will be featured in an installation at the Seattle Art Museum beginning November 10. And don’t miss an opportunity to celebrate the winner of the Betty Bowen Award during the ceremony on the 10th, beginning at 5:30 pm, honoring Wendy Red Star as well as  Dawn Cerny and Mark Mitchell who both received special recognition this year. The ceremony and reception following the artists’ remarks are free and open to the public.

Seattle Art Museum: You’ve described yourself as a cultural archivist in the past, can you describe how your work fills this role?

Wendy Red Star: My practice is collaborative and research-based. I am in pursuit of an on-going excavation of historical Native American imagery and material culture. I like to bring these “artifacts” to life in a contemporary visual arts context. Through an art practice that is driven largely by process, I want to unpack the fraught relationship and history of Native images, portraits, self-representation, and do so with wit, humor, and subtle satire in order to have levity in my art without sacrificing integrity.

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SAM: You’ve literally annotated a series of images of Crow chiefs. Do you consider your larger body of work to be an annotation? How are your cultural annotations in conversation with the erasure or removal aspects your other work?

WRS: Native voices have historically been silenced, unable to explain or even place our own narrative within the larger society. As a Native person I have witnessed the lack of inclusion for Native artists in particular in the contemporary art world, many of whom struggle for inclusion in important exhibitions. Also troubling is a prevailing but antiquated expectation of what Native art should be, whether from the 19th century or the 21st. This leaves many Native artists feeling segregated into categories of “traditional” work and without a place in the contemporary art world. I consider my practice and the act of annotating, revealing, and erasure a reclamation of my own history and identity. The act is so much more than a rejection of the colonial gaze, it is a deliberate act to take authority and rewrite histories in humanist way.

SAM: How do you see your work in conversation with SAM’s collection, if at all?

WRS: My recent work has had at its center an intensive engagement with my own Crow community and I am seeking to expand that focus into the broader contemporary art world to explore how other artists are grappling with narrative and performative aspects of their work, and how to continue exploring ways of creating greater accessibility and a sense of openness. I am inspired by the work of conceptual artist Fred Wilson who SAM has worked with and the ways in which I could further reappropriate and reimagine the photographic possibilities inherent in portraiture, staging and candid images, institutional critique, and curating museum objects in broader historical and contemporary contexts. SAM is an institution that is open to this process and I find that very exciting and necessary.

SAM: Tell us a bit about your process—how does the fabrication aspect of your creative process add dimension to the final product?

WRS: The actual making of my work happens fairly quick. The majority of my time is spent engaging in research and processing ideas while out walking with my dog in the woods. Once I have settled on an idea the execution happens in many different forms but is almost always image driven witha  focus on richness of color and cultural content.

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SAM: How does clothing design fit into your practice? Are you intrigued by your work being up at the same time as Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style?

WRS: My grandmother, Amy Bright Wings, made sure I participated in Crow cultural traditions. She provided me with a traditional elk tooth dress, a shawl, beaded belt, and moccasins—all objects that I have since integrated into my artwork. I soaked up as much of my grandmother’s knowledge as I could by watching her continually making. Although she never actually showed me directly how to make traditional Crow regalia, I learned through the process of immersion. Traditional Native regalia has signifiers that state the honors and virtues of the owner and maker of each individual garment. Every piece of traditional clothing is made with intention and striking beauty virtues that I use to help guide me in all aspects of my art making. I am a self taught seamstress learning the basics about nine years ago when my daughter was born. I have a deep admiration for the construction of garments, fine tailoring, and the sculptural aspect of making clothing. I am looking forward to viewing Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style and seeing the elegant construction and display of clothing. I suspect it will provide me with many ideas.

 

ABOUT THE BETTY BOWEN AWARD

Betty Bowen (1918–1977) was a Washington native and enthusiastic supporter of Northwest artists. Her friends established the annual Betty Bowen Award as a celebration of her life and to honor and continue her efforts to provide financial support to the artists of the region. Since 1977, SAM has hosted the yearly grant application process by which the selection committee chooses one artist from the Northwest to receive an unrestricted cash award, eligible to visual artists living and working in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The award comes with an unrestricted cash award of $15,000.

 

Images: Apsáalooke Feminist 1, 2016, Wendy Red Star, digital print on silver rag, 34 x 40 in., Courtesy of the artist, ©Wendy Red Star.
Peelatchiwaaxpáash/Medicine Crow (Raven), 2014, Wendy Red Star, inkjet print with red ink, 16 x 11 in., Courtesy of the artist, ©Wendy Red Star.
Apsáalooke Feminist 3, 2016, Wendy Red Star, digital print on silver rag, 34 x 40 in., Courtesy of the artist, ©Wendy Red Star.

10 Things Unseen in Mood Indigo

Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World is more than meets the eye. Pam McClusky, curator of the exhibition now on view at the Asian Art Museum, shares ten bits of insider information that reveal the multi-layered meaning of indigo across cultures, the process of mounting a large-scale exhibition, and some surprising contemporary inspiration. You’ve got less than a week to put this knowledge to work with a visit to see Mood Indigo in person—it closes October 9!

1. The AV master’s work

Norbert Herber's audio configuration for "Mobile Section"

Hidden from view, this monitor was installed by Norbert Herber who created a unique sonic landscape for the entry gallery. He recorded sounds of indigo processing which algorithms organized to create what he calls a “gauzy” effect that compliments the large enclosure of cloth that shares the space.

2. The deluxe “spa” treatment the tapestries received in Belgium

The tapestries got a bath and repairs were made

Large looms held the tapestries during repairs

The magnificent colors of three tapestries were enhanced by their trip to the Royal Manufacturers de Wit, the world’s leading restorer of European tapestries which was founded in 1889. Each tapestry was cleaned with aerosol suction, a patented process, and then all stray threads were carefully repaired.

3. The inspiration that comes from living artists

"Broken Star" by Anissa Mack, 2008.

The force is with us . . . as the opening of Star Wars are a point of departure for the denim quilt by Anissa Mack. She attests that “I wanted very much to stress the Americanness of quilts . . . and to marry the concept of a backward/future narrative with the idealism of American frontier denim.”

4. Impeccable installation coordination

Exhibition map and a familiar face still wrapped from storage

The SAM team hanging tapestries

When exhibition plans are posted by the designer, it sets off an intricate chain of steps taken by installers. They manage to get art into place while never forgetting how delicate and fragile it can be.

5. The back sides of textiles

The back of a tapestry can be just as fun to look at at the front!

Front views of textiles can be deceiving. Precise compositions are seen, while the underside may be an explosion of threads that showcase the job of the weaver. Putting on this shawl from the Kashmir region of India would envelope the wearer in lovely, soft goat hair.

6. Details hidden in plain view

Space Age Inspiration

Nature Inspiration

Focusing can encourage imaginary connections. In the bold geometry of a Laotian ancestor or Japanese trees, there is an affinity with space age imagery. In the swerving curls of cloth from Uzbekistan and China, you can see tendrils of vines and leaves that burst out of the deep dark blue.

7. The original owners of the textiles

Japanese Firemen

Batak of Sumatra

Photographs of indigo wearers can be revealing. Edo firemen of Japan wore garments soaked in water to protect themselves as they attacked flames. A shawl among the Batak of Sumatra can carry a blessing that is read by a priest who suggests ways to enhance the wearer’s future.

8. Conversations with researchers about the ups and downs of indigo

Indigo vats in India

During an exhibition, one hopes that great conversations emerge. For this, numerous scholars and artists have come to offer perspectives on the labor history of indigo in India and America, and often point out the fact that the rebellion in India led by Mahatma Gandhi was a major factor in changing the course of that country in the 20th century.

9. Stories about rabbits in the moon

Rabbits pound mochi on this vest

Japanese rabbits abound over several textiles on view. On this vest for an actor, a whole group are gathering what is needed to celebrate the full moon, including a mound of freshly-made rice cakes (mochi). Why rabbits do this is best explained by a view of the moon, whose silhouette is thought to resemble a rabbit pounding the rice for this very purpose.

10. A theory about indigo fascination

Indigo vat

Indigo dye vats offer a magical transformation of cloth in many parts of the world. Also around the world, the color of indigo emerges each morning and night, and is often found in water and in moods. From space, the earth is said to resemble a blue marble as water covers 70% of the planet’s surface. One could say that blue is the earth’s signature color.

– Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Images: Photo: Stephanie Fink. Photo: Pam McClusky. Photo: Courtesy of Royal Manufacturers de Wit. Photo: Courtesy of Royal Manufacturers de Wit. Photo: Courtesy of Royal Manufacturers de Wit. Broken Star, 2008, Anissa Mack, American, born 1970, quilted denim, 84 x 144 in., Patricia Denny Art Acquisition Fund, 2009.11. Photo: Pam McClusky. Photo: Pam McClusky. Photo: Pam McClusky. Photo: Pam McClusky. Pam McClusky. Pam McClusky. Ceremonial shawl (Pa Biang) (detail), ca. 1920, Laos, cotton weft, silk brocade, metal toggles, 14 1/2 × 96 1/2 in., Dr. David and Marita Paly, T2015.54.5. Bedding cover (futonji) (detail), 1900-1912, Japanese, cotton, hand-woven plain weave, resist dyed (kasuri) with indigo dye, 76 5/8 x 59 3/4 in., Gift of the Christensen Fund, 2001.442. Furnishing fabric (detail), ca. 1860, Central Asia, Uzbekistan, silk warp, cotton weft, resist dyed warp (ikat), natural dyes including indigo, 40 1/2 × 74 1/2 in., Loan from Dr. David and Marita Paly T2015.54.7. Hanging (detail), ca. 1750-1800, Chinese, silk with embroidery (satin stitch), natural and synthetic dyes, 30 in., L.: 41 1/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 37.32.1. Fireman’s coat (hikeshi banten), mid -19th century, Japanese, quilted (sashiko) cotton cloth with freehand paste-resist decoration (tsutsugaki), indigo dye, 34 3/8 x 46 7/8 in., Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, 89.81.1, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Photo: Courtesy of Pam McClusky. Sacred Shawl (Ulos Ragidup) (detail), ca. 1900, Indonesian; Batak, cotton, warp resist (ikat), supplementary weft, natural dyes including indigo, 44 × 96 in., Dr. David and Marita Paly, T2015.54.4, Photo: Pam McClusky. Photo: Courtesy of Pam McClusky. Photo: Oscar Mallitte. Kyogen Theater Vest (kataginu) (detail), 19th century, Japanese, hemp fiber, paper with paint (applique), indigo dye, 30 3/4 x 27 3/8 in. with ties, 59 x 28 in., Gift of the Christensen Fund, 2001.403, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Photo: Rowland Ricketts.

Rowland Ricketts on “Mobile Section”

Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World is a chance to absorb a unique spectrum of global history from Flanders to Africa, tapestries to kimonos—the exhibition balances ancient fragments with the inclusion of an immersive contemporary installation by Rowland Ricketts, an artist working in traditional indigo dying techniques. “Mobile Section” is made up of a large, indigo-dyed textile, 11½ ft. tall by 30 ft. circumference, dried indigo plants, and a video illustrating the indigo cultivation and dying process. Watch this video with the artist for more information on his process and how, beyond the blue, indigo is about the deep connection of the physical labor that connects Ricketts to other people who have also worked with indigo.

Field recordings of Rickett’s indigo process—growing, processing, vatting, and dyeing—were synthesized in collaboration with sound artist Norbert Herber and the audio reacts to the movements of visitors in the gallery as they move around the large hanging textile. The work plays upon the notions of materiality and immateriality, and is a true multisensory experience.

You’ve got one more month to see Mood Indigo at the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park before it closes October 9. So go on, give yourself the blues.

 

Be A Part of Something Big: Volunteer for Middle Fork

Artist John Grade is looking for volunteers to help sculpt the 60-foot addition to his sculpture, Middle Fork, which will be installed in SAM’s Brotman Forum in January. SAM employees have been helping out in Grade’s studio over the last few months and we all agree, you should consider volunteering as well.

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John Grade’s studio is large and located at the fringes of Seattle. It’s easy to understand why he would require a space as large as an airplane hangar if you’ve experienced his artwork. Grade creates organic shapes from the natural world at life size and impresses viewers with the grand scale of everyday objects such as, in the case of Middle Fork, trees.

Expect a warm welcome from Grade’s crew of studio assistants, though you may have to venture pretty far into the space before you’re noticed over the sound of the electric sanders. In an open room with several workstations scattered towards the back, you’ll notice sections of the original 40-foot long Middle Fork sculpture bubble wrapped and arranged unceremoniously around the room.

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More than a view behind-the-scenes, this is an experience you can inhale—quite literally if you’re not wearing your dust mask. Particles of the artistic process will coat your clothes, so dress for sawdust and be prepared to focus in on the details for a few hours. “It’s fun to be part of something big by doing something small,” said Natali Wiseman, senior designer at SAM. And small is right—the four-hour minimum volunteer shift flies by and you’ll be impressed by the section of the sculpture that you’ve created—how much, or how little you’ve gotten done, depending on your outlook.

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“Volunteering for Middle Fork is a great opportunity to get an insider’s look into John’s creative process,” says David Rue, public programs coordinator. “It’s refreshing to see how many helping hands are responsible for such a beautifully large-scale project, and it feels great to integrate community building with hands-on art making.” When John Grade began Middle Fork in 2014 it was being constructed at Mad Art in South Lake Union. The store-front gallery space was open to the public and passerbys were welcome to lend a hand in laying a couple, or a couple hundred, blocks of the sculpture.

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Far from the inaccessible side of the art world, Middle Fork has been touched and built by toddlers, teenagers, and Amazon employees alike. Megan Peterson, assistant registrar for exhibitions describes the process as “an honor. I appreciate how open John is to allowing each person the freedom to put their unique stamp on the work they do.” Don’t worry about being too precise or technically skilled. The sculpture is sturdy and, like nature, difficult to mess up. Each inches-long cedar piece you place is only one part of what will eventually be a 100-foot long whole, hanging at SAM.

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“It’ll be a particularly special feeling once Middle Fork is installed knowing that my hands helped contribute to its existence,” Rue added. If you’re interested in volunteering, contact Lauren at John Grade’s studio: volunteer@johngrade.com.

—Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter & Content Strategist

Photos: Natali Wiseman.

The Inimitable Dottie Malone

Dorothy C. Malone—“Dottie” to everyone here at SAM—is fondly remembered as one of the most important figures in the museum’s history. No one has worked here longer and very few have left such great legacies.

Dottie Malone in her natural habitat: the Asian Art Museum

The likeness of Dottie Malone in her natural habitat: the Asian Art Museum.

Born in Everett, Dottie attended high school in Seattle and took one year of university classes at the University of Washington. She met and married Coe Malone at UW. The depression made life difficult for them, and Dottie was looking for a job. A friend of theirs, Evelyn Foster, was working at the Art Institute of Seattle (a predecessor to SAM), where they were in need of someone to answer phones. Evelyn connected Dottie with Dr. Fuller, who hired her before the museum’s opening in June of 1933. She was one of the first three employees of the museum, along with her friend Evelyn and the artist Kenneth Callahan.

A young Dottie tidying up the galleries.

A young Dottie tidying up the galleries.

Dottie’s administrative role and her importance to the museum grew over the next half-century. Dr. Fuller trusted Dottie enough that he would leave her in charge of the museum’s operations during weeklong geology expeditions. She’s remembered as very tidy and organized. She also had an exceptional memory and served as the institutional historian. Dottie knew almost everything there was to know about the museum, and she also made a point to know everyone who worked there. Though she finally retired in 1988, she still kept a desk at the Volunteer Park building and continued to volunteer as long as she was able to do it. She really loved SAM. Dottie passed away in January of 1997.

We love you, Dottie!

We love you, Dottie!

Today, the administrative offices at the Asian Art Museum bear her name, and every spring, at SAM’s Volunteer Soiree, the museum presents the Dorothy C. Malone Volunteer Award to “an outstanding volunteer who reflects the highest standards of museum dedication and commitment as exemplified by Dottie Malone.”

Images: Photo: SAM Archive. Photo: Natali Wiseman. Photo: SAM Archive. Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Life Beyond the Badge

The last time you visited SAM, did you have any idea that many of the Visitor Services Officers (VSOs) who protect the art in the museum are also visual artists themselves, as well as writers, musicians, and thespians? It’s true!

One former SAM VSO, Aaron Bourget, worked at SAM in 1996 and moved on to start his own photography and videography business that focuses on documenting artists. Last year, Aaron made a documentary on the guards and working artists who protect SAM’s art collection called Art of the Guardin’ Variety.

According to the film’s Vimeo page, it is “an informal portrait of the working artist and a glimpse of the talent behind the badge.” It watches like a love letter to Aaron’s time working behind the scenes of the museum, and to those who continue protecting it today. In it, he interviewed many current VSOs about what the experience is like working in a museum while artists themselves.

Artist Vaughn Meekins

Vaughn Meekins, a textile artist and six-year veteran of SAM, affirms that no one spends as much time with the art as those hired to guard it.

“You come to this job because you have a passion for art, and you want community in some regard,” Meekins said in his interview for the film. “I’m an artist, whether I’m doing security, or cooking food in the kitchen, to me it’s all art.”

Artist Rebecca Bush

Rebecca Bush, a VSO at the Asian Art Museum since 2009 who creates multimedia paintings, shares the same sentiment.

“Lots of people expect that we’re here to say ‘don’t touch!’ But when you’re approachable, it can be a great experience for the visitors,” Bush said. “I like working here as an artist because I like being in the presence of art, and seeing people enjoying art. As an artist, it’s fulfilling to see people do so.”

To get even more insight into the lives of the artists who guard the art, watch Art of the Guardin’ Variety at: https://vimeo.com/101584343.

Dawn Quinn, SAM Copywriter

Photos: Natali Wiseman

The lens behind the New Republic Community Portrait Project

Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic is on view at long last. As a part of the exhibition, SAM has launched New Republic Events, where SAM and Seattle-area community partners are highlighting events and performances focusing on themes found in Kehinde Wiley’s work, and also, New Republic Community Portrait Project. The Community Portrait Project invites volunteers to have their portraits taken by local photographers, and answer three questions: how do others see you, how do you see yourself and how do you want to be seen? The finished portraits and answers will be featured on the project’s website, as well as in SAM’s Community Corridor.

Local artists/photographers Carina A. del Rosario and Zorn B. Taylor are heading up the project, and we spoke with Carina about her background and the experience of working on the project.

SAM: Hi Carina! Thanks for speaking with us.

del Rosario: No problem!

SAM: Since you asked Community Portrait Project participants three questions, we’ll ask you three too. First up: Tell us a bit about your background and how long you’ve been a photographer.

del Rosario: I was born in the Philippines and immigrated with my family to Los Angeles when I was six. I love the energy and vibrant colors of urban life I grew up around, which in part led to my interest in street photography. When I moved here as a kid, I was curious about all the life going on around me but I was super shy. It may have been because I wasn’t confident with my English at the time. Over time, I really developed my English language skills in writing and speaking – though at the expense of my first language – but that helped bolster my confidence. I eventually got interested in journalism since it gave me an excuse to talk to strangers, to ask questions and tell stories. But I always loved how images and stories went together, whether in newspapers or in films. At Santa Clara University, where I graduated with a BA in Communication, I worked on the student newspaper and my friends there taught me photography and printing in the darkroom.

After a number of years writing, I decided to take up photography again and other visual arts classes because I wanted to make my writing more visual, more sensory. Eventually, I became more and more interested in the ability of photography and other visual art forms to tell a story that can be much more open to interpretation—that can hold more complexity and ambiguity. I’ve been working as a photographer and visual artist for about 12 years.

Community Portraits

SAM: Very cool. We’re glad you’re bringing your unique experience to the Community Portrait Project. Okay, next question: What’s your favorite thing about being a photographer?

del Rosario: Similar to being a journalist, being a photographer gives you an excuse or a tool for following your curiosity. It can certainly open doors to connecting with strangers. It can also shut doors if one doesn’t approach others with respect and openness. One of my early photography instructors (Raul Touzon on National Geographic) told me, “Give as much as you get. Be in the moment with people and the images will come.” I definitely get a charge when I can connect with people on a human level and that emerges in the photos.

SAM: What excellent advice. Okay, last question: How did you get involved with the Community Portrait Project, and what has the experience been like so far?

del Rosario:
Regan Pro (SAM’s Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Programs) contacted me about the Community Portrait Project and I jumped on it. I’m a teaching artist for SAM, so Regan and I have worked together for a few years. She also knows my work as an artist, particularly my Passport Series, which is a photo-based, interactive project that addresses identity, documentation, and discrimination. Through this project, I’ve worked with people from all walks of life to bust out of the boxes we all get squeezed into and present ourselves more holistically. Regan knew this would be akin to Kehinde Wiley’s approach for empowering “sitters” to determine how they want to be seen.

The experience working on the Community Portrait Project has been really uplifting and grounding at the same time. First, I love any excuse to work with Zorn. We have taught together and supported each other’s work for a few years, and I really appreciate the love and openness he brings into the work.

We photographed people from various ages and life experiences—a total of 40 people over three sessions. It’s hard to narrow down which ones were the most memorable stories because so many of them opened up in really interesting ways. One woman talked about how normally she’s really shy and closed in and that this was her challenge to herself. By participating in this project, she’s opening up to the world. I could totally relate to this since I remember making a similar decision when I was younger. There was another woman who seemed so deeply sad. She’s in a struggle to reclaim her sense of self, her own power, her happiness. I asked her to try to go back to a time when she felt whole and happy. To witness those emotions move through her, from sorrow to joy in a seconds, was an incredible honor.

Community Portraits

SAM: Wow. It sounds like you had many incredibly experiences working on the Community Portrait Project, and essentially got to peek into the inner lives and thoughts of strangers. Thanks for sharing with us, for being a part of the Project!

del Rosario: Thank you!

You can participate in the Community Portrait Project, too. Upcoming drop-in photo sessions will be held at SAM on Wednesday, March 3 and on Thursday, April 7. In the meantime, be sure to check out Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, on view now.

Navigating the Paradoxes

Upon arrival, we are greeted by cardboard boxes, carts piled high with paint, painter’s tape, dozens and dozens of lights, and AV equipment. It’s the week before the Asian Art Museum’s newest exhibition Paradox of Place: Contemporary Korean Art opens, and we’re going behind the scenes to check out how the installation is going.

SAM’s Exhibition Designer, Paul Martinez, was on hand to walk us through the exhibition install team’s progress thus far.

“The crew has their work cut out for them!” he tells us with a smile.

“Right now we’re looking at the tech specs for all of the artists—the things that the A/V people will need. Tantamount is clear communication, as we’re working with an international museum and artists,” Martinez says.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

As we walk into the first wing of the Tateuchi Galleries, we see deep, crimson walls that are still bare for the most part, save for two gilded frames holding mirrors. The room will house works by artist Lee Yongbaek. The pieces incorporate video, sound, mirrors, and soldier uniforms decked out in floral print as a part of his work, Angel-Soldier. After viewing images of the uniforms, the myriad colors pop out and are so much more vivid in person. They are the perfect juxtaposition: camouflage that does not hide you at all.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

“You can see them laid out here,” Martinez says as we walk into the adjoining room. “They’re stunning decorative elements, you want to wear one of the jackets, they’re pretty cool.” We agree completely.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

We move on to the next, where we see a few of Jung Yeondoo’s pairs of photos from his Bewitched series have been hung. They portray young people of Korea in their day jobs and contrast their realities with what they would actually like to do in life, if money, education, and responsibilities were of no object. The photos are huge, taking up the majority of the wall space. We didn’t imagine they’d tower so high, but seeing them blown up to almost life-size helps us take in the details—to imagine what life would be like in our imagined realities, too.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

The next space houses Lim Minouk’s large-scale multimedia installation, The Possibility of the Half. The work is not fully prepared or installed yet, and Lim’s assistant, Ms. Park Moonkynung is in town to help assemble the pieces. The detritus of what makes up a real newsroom is scattered around the room: an ON AIR sign, professional video cameras and tripods, and more lights, all borrowed from our local KING5 news station. The room is painted black, which will perfectly set the scene for what viewers will experience when the total sum of the work is up: a re-imagined Korean television studio, with screens showing visceral, emotional, and dramatic scenes of people grieving over the deaths of Kim Jong Il of North Korea and former president Park Jung-Hee of South Korea.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

Standing tall in front of us is an interesting structure: a camera device composed mostly of a tall tree branch. Curious as to how it got here, we pressed Martinez.

“This request came to us in a single photo. ‘Can you build us one of these?’ he said. “It’s just what it looks like: a quirky representation of a camera boom. Our crew worked hard to produce an operable and dynamic boom to represent exactly what we needed,” Martinez said, as he moved the boom up and down, and left to right to show of its capabilities. “We went out and selected a tree from the Northwest, cut it to size, dried it for a long period of time, then fumigated. We started this back in the springtime. Then it needed the whole base, which we built in house, and our mount makers fabricated everything.”

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

“So this is one of a kind, and made for this exhibition?” I ask. “Yes, she’s (Lim) done it for other museums, too,” Martinez confirms. “The bottom rounds, not sure where they were purchased from, and not sure if they’re from the Pacific Northwest,” he laughs.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

Lim herself is at the museum this week to help install her work. We can’t wait to see what the composite room looks once it’s up and finished for the opening this weekend.

I noticed that when everything is laid out in the room, including pieces that expand up entire corners of the floor, it seems that the work takes a great deal of space. “How are people going to interact with the installation and how close are they going to get to everything?” I ask.

“Much like The Mr. exhibition, (referring to the past exhibition, Live On: Mr.’s Japanese Neo-Pop), it’s a bit of an immersive experience,” Martinez said. “This exhibition will be the same way. They’ll wander through, but there will be obvious barriers. It’s meant to be something you enter, have an experience with while you’re in it, and then you leave.”

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

In the next room over, we’re greeted by some of Yang Haegue’s Female Natives sculptures. Outfitted with everyday materials—lights, artificial flowers, yarn, cord, bells, etc. piled on clothing racks—the structures provoke narratives about gender, politics, and human emotions. Her Gymnastics of the Foldables series of photos yields the same effect by way of engaging a clothes drying rack in calisthenics.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

The last wing of the galleries is dedicated to the installation that has been worked on the least since the pieces arrived in Seattle. Tons of wooden boxes were piled on top of each other to our left and right, with Korean postage and stickers prominently affixed.

“I heard the handlers were taking apart and counting them, making sure they were all here today,” I said, referring to Yeesookyung’s work Thousand, composed of porcelain shards, epoxy, and 24k gold leaf.

“This one is particularly challenging,” Martinez said. “It’s a thousand pieces to look at,” he said. “How they come out of the crate remains specific as to how they’re laid out for the artist to access, it’s a very deliberate, meticulous unpacking and repacking and reassembly of the crates,” he confirmed. “And then of course the registrars are looking at each piece in detail, writing down the characteristics of each piece, and photographing them so they have a record of what they are and if they have any issues.”

The effort will pay off, though, as the total effect of one thousand pieces of porcelain on a platform is bound to dazzle—not only for the craftsmanship of the ceramics, but also out of respect for the artist who has skillfully arranged them all in their respective spots in the gallery.

“The artist will place them all herself, correct?”

“Exactly,” Martinez said. “We have the pedestal placed as she’ll need. She’ll place them all in the ways she likes on the platform. She’ll have all the pieces arranged by numbers. She’s installed it before so she’ll come with her method of reinstalling it here.”

I’ve read that Yeesookyung has said that working on this piece has helped her appreciate the process of putting together her finished works more than the actual creating of the work. Some interesting perspective on a work that no doubt took at least a thousand hours to complete.

Explore these works and more in Paradox of Place: Contemporary Korean Art, now on view at the Asian Art Museum.

Words: Dawn Quinn, Copywriter
Photos: Natali Wiseman