Hear from Aaron Fowler, the recipient of the Seattle Art Museum’s Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize. Part of the award includes a solo show at the museum. Fowler created a site-specific installation called Into Existence that fills one of SAM’s galleries with larger-than-life works that are at once paintings, sculptures, and installations. They are made from everyday discarded items and materials sourced from the artist’s local surroundings in Los Angeles and St. Louis, among other places. The works in Into Existence are illustrations of dreams and ideas that Fowler is working to bring into being. The title of the exhibition is a nod to words of encouragement—almost a mantra—that the artist’s grandmother has uttered his entire life: “You need to speak it into existence.”
Each work illustrates a poignant subject, event, or action Aaron Fowler wishes to manifest—from portraits of incarcerated loved ones being freed to fantastical scenarios incorporating historical figures alongside friends, role models, contemporary public icons, and often his own likeness. Funding for the prize and exhibition is provided by the Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence and Jacob Lawrence Endowment and generous support from the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation. See it when SAM can reopen, Aaron Fowler: Into Existence will be on view through January 2021 .
The next time you are able to visit the Asian Art Museum you will be greeted by a new light installation. Gather by Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn was commissioned to celebrate the legacy of Asian artists working over generations and all over the world. Hear from Kenzan in this artist talk and look forward to gathering under this site-specific installation.
The renovation and expansion of the Asian Art Museum allowed SAM curators to rethink how the artwork would be presented. Previously organized by regions with Japan in one wing, China in the other, and South Asia in the Garden Court, we were limited in the selection of works on view. Now, with more space and the thematic reinstallation, we are able to represent more of our renowned collection from all over Asia. This also created space in the Garden Court to present this new installation.
Learn more about SAM’s history and the Tsutakawa family! Check out this article in the South Seattle Emerald about Gather written by Kenzan’s mother, Mayumi Tsutakawa. You can find out more about Kenzan’s grandfather, George Tsutakawa in this SAM Blog article contributed by the Tsutakawa family and see his work on view at our downtown location when we are able to reopen in Exceptionally Ordinary: Mingei 1920–2020.
We are humbled by the generosity of our donors during this unique time. Your financial support powers SAM Blog and also sustains us until we can come together as a community and enjoy art in the galleries again. Thanks to a generous group of SAM trustees, all membership and gifts to SAM Fund will be matched up to $500,000 through June 30!
“I like to think of the sculpture as a sort of skin that’s been shed by the tree, and that it’s thickness is roughly commensurate with how long it would take the tree to grow the same thickness as the sculpture. So in a way, what we’re talking about is something that’s an ode to those two years in the life of the tree.”
– John Grade
John Grade’s large-scale sculpture, Middle Fork, echoes the contours of a 140-year-old western hemlock tree located in the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle. Suspended above the Brotman Forum at our downtown location, this massive commissioned artwork involved the help of many hands. Volunteers, including SAM Staff, contributed time and thought to the placement of each small piece of cedar that was used to create this stunning sculpture. Watch this video for an in-depth look at the process of creating this work: from working with arborists to cast the living tree, to working with art handler to install hanging sections at SAM—Grade’s installation is an impressive reminder of art’s power to bring people together under its many branches.
Art Making Activity
Eventually John Grade’s sculpture will go back to the forest and decompose back into the soil. This makes us think about the circle of life for trees and wonder how humans are connected to nature and how is nature connected to humans? What materials do we use all the time that come from trees?
Create your own sculpture of a tree using a paper bag!
Find a paper bag of any size, open it and place it on a table. If you want, you can put a small square of cardboard inside the bottom of your bag to make it more stable.
Make cuts from the top of your bag down to the middle of your bag. I chose to do eight cuts, but you can do more or less! This will make flaps at the top of your bag.
Squeeze the bottom of your bag together and twist it as tight as you can. This will be the trunk of your tree. Just like you squeezed the trunk, squeeze together two top flaps at a time. These will be your branches.
Move your branches around and look at your tree from every angle. Move your tree to different locations and build more trees to make a forest. Each one will look different.
Think about the life cycle of your tree: it was a living tree, then paper, then a paper bag, and now you turned it into a sculpture of a tree. What will happen to it next? What is it like to have a tree indoors? What does it make you think about or remind you of?
We want to see your artwork! Share a photo of your tree with us via email or on social media using #StayHomewithSAM!
Story Time Suggestions
Because of an Acorn, by Lola M. Schaefer & Adam Schaefer. See the book read out loud here. This book illustrates the interconnectedness of the natural world, showing how a tiny acorn connects to the plant and animal life of an entire forest. The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. See the book read out loud here or here. This controversial yet classic tale can be read as a parable between humanity and nature. The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. See the book read out loud here. This classic environmentalist tale reminds readers, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
The words “we are all in this together” announce themselves in bold,
sans-serif force, asserting the urgency and agency of the message. Created by
artist Mark Mumford in 2002, the work—whose title is the same as the text—was
created in the context of and in response to the protests that took place
before the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.
As with many artists who work with language, Mumford is interested in
the slippages of syntax and the ways in which words carry a multitude of
meanings. In the case of We Are All in
This Together, the message can be read as either empowering and uplifting,
or apathetic and resigned. For the artist, “meaning hovers on the threshold of
realization, and where the knotty relationships between seeing and reading,
reading and believing, believing and seeing are given a full and lively
Currently on view in the Brotman Forum, the work transforms the entrance of the Seattle Art Museum into a shared textual experience that is visible from the outside of the museum as well. Though made over 15 years ago, the work carries more political significance than ever. The words especially ring true today—a day designated for climate strikes around the world—when millions of people will march for urgent climate action. As is the case with any issue, we can choose either action or resignation; whichever you choose, there’s no denying that we are all in this together.
– Elisabeth Smith, Collection & Provenance Associate
If you’ve strolled through the Olympic Sculpture Park since May you’re probably wondering about the tire tracks covering the PACCAR Pavilion. As if monster trucks went rogue or a motorcycle gang veered off Western Avenue to burn some surreal rubber, the building is wrapped in a pattern of skid marks. Look closely and you’ll spot five toy motorcycles on the interior mural wall, the origin of this mind-bending temporary intervention—by one of Latin America’s most influential contemporary artists—that alters our perceptions of our physical environment.
Commissioned by SAM, Regina Silveira: Octopus Wrap is the latest architectural installation the artist has realized around the world. Hailing from Brazil and examining the ways superimposed images change the meaning of an existing space, Silveira took inspiration from the Olympic Sculpture Park’s location at the intersection of several busy thoroughfares. Next time you visit the park, tune in to the sounds of traffic, trains under the greenway, and the churning sea, as you take in Octopus Wrap, on view through March 8, 2020
Silveira’s interventions on the exteriors and interiors of buildings, on city streets and in public parks, have included dense clusters of footprints, swarms of insects, nocturnal light projections of animal tracks that wander across building façades, and exaggerated shadows. Some of her installations have the appearance of occupations, infestations, or supernatural visitations; others seem to be fantastical apparitions that suspend the laws of nature and perception.
For Regina Silveira, a political element of these ruptures resides in their assault on our perception or, in her words, “in the level of transformation that can be brought about by grafting something into a given space in a way that magically changes its relationship to the real.” Her aim is estrangement from the familiar, and her preferred tactic is surprise. Beyond a heightened sensory experience within a newly defined space, Silveira’s mode of intervention can also be understood in social and political terms.
With Octopus Wrap, the pavilion’s calm, white walls are noisily invaded by five motorcyclists who use the windows, walls, and floor as their racetrack. When seen from a distance, the undulating tracks create another, larger image, one that ensnares the architecture as if within the arms of an octopus. The installation will be temporary, but the new images and sensations it creates will enter our memory and form a lasting imprint of a different kind.
We extend a special thank you to our generous SAM Fund donors who helped make this installation possible.
Want is the desire to possess or do, or the feeling of lack or being short of something desirable. As long as you’re wanting, you’re usually in a space of trying to gain something for yourself and yourself only. This is a result of individualized thinking, which is one of the pillars of the Western-American ideology. So what does freedom from want look and feel like? And what does it require of us to consider living free from want?
This possibility is explored by Saya Woolfalk, a New York-based artist who uses science fiction and fantasy to reimagine the world in multiple dimensions. With her multi-year projects No Place: A Ritual of the Empathics and ChimaTEK: Virtual Chimeric Space—the latter of which is on view in Lessons from the Institute of Empathy—Woolfalk creates a world of Empathics, a fictional race of women who are able to alter their genetic make-up and fuse with plants. With each body of work Woolfalk says, “I want a person to experience something that simultaneously makes them slightly uncomfortable about the potential of the world that I have created, but also gives them an excitement about a harmonious, multi-cultural society.”
While seemingly very different from human beings, the Empathics actually reflect our multicultural society in myriad ways. Through these beings, who have developed the ability to think collectively, we learn just how powerful the effects of empathy are when honed and used to empower a society in the direction of cultural evolution.
Freedom from want has the potential to take us to a place where this kind of evolution can be realized. In this free state, we are enabled to shift our focus from individual want to helping others gain what they require in order to experience the satisfaction of their needs. With the pressures of scarcity and fear eliminated, a new form of thinking emerges from a place of equity and equality.
Moving closer to freedom from want as a reality—as opposed to an out-of-reach ideal—challenges us to consider others instead of only the self. It challenges us to remove the ego—to listen and understand. It challenges what we consider necessary in order to live happy and successful lives. It challenges us to move beyond individualized, self-centered thinking and towards an elevated level of collective thinking, which is necessary for harmonious living and ultimately stimulates our capacity for acceptance, benefiting every global citizen.
– Adera Gandy, Visitor Services Officer
Image: Installation view of Lessons from the Institute of Empathy at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, Seattle Art Museum, photo: Nathaniel Willson
With her current installation at SAM, the 2017 Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize winner, Sondra Perry asks, “What happens if we go to a place that we want to create as a habitable place for full life on earth but we don’t know what life looks like there?” Combining 3D rendering, terraforming, family, and the desire to bring people together inside the gallery, Perry’s work gives a machine its voice while creating a cosmic commingling of minds. See Eclogue for [in]HABITABILITY at SAM before it closes July 8!
At the center of Project 42: Jono Vaughan stands an elaborate dress with a 25-foot-long train hanging down from the ceiling. Created for the 2017 Betty Bowen Award winner installation at SAM, it is one of artist Jono Vaughan’s most ambitious pieces in the series that will eventually include 42 garments memorializing murdered trans individuals.
Seattle-based artist Jono Vaughan made this particular garment in collaboration with Lesley Dill in memory of Lorena Escalera Xtravaganza. Created using a vintage victorian form for a bustle, the train is covered in a reorganized poem by Emily Dickinson. Lesley Dill selected “The Soul Has Bandaged Moments” and stenciled it by hand as she rearranged the text and broke stanzas.
“Lesley was an inspiration to me and to Project 42,” says Jono Vaughan. “As a docent at the the Orlando Museum of Art I toured a dress of Lesley’s and it left a big impact on me. As a printer, it’s my job to replicate the hand of the artist who intentionally hand-stenciled the text, rather than digitally reproducing it.” Look closely and you’ll see the pen strokes of Lesley Dill’s process. What you won’t see when you visit, is the embroidery on the interior of the garment that Jono has created just for Lorena that is meant to convey her inner life and extravagance.
Lesley Dill says that she works with Emily Dickinson’s text often because “Dickinson’s writing is the door I walked through to become an artist.” After reciting a stanza of this specific poem over the phone she continues to explain: “It’s a gothic poem and speaks of a poetic persona whose identity is haunted and exhilarated. A large part of the entire Project 42 is about the vivacity of life and bandages of the soul. I feel that Lorena and the project are deserving of intensity and multiple layers of meaning.”
Formatted on the train of the garment in the gallery the poem is difficult to read so we’re sharing it here for you.
The Soul Has Bandaged Moments
The Soul has Bandaged moments –
When too appalled to stir –
She feels some ghastly Fright come up
And stop to look at her –
Salute her, with long fingers –
Caress her freezing hair –
Sip, Goblin, from the very lips
The Lover – hovered – o’er –
Unworthy, that a thought so mean
Accost a Theme – so – fair –
The soul has moments of escape –
When bursting all the doors –
She dances like a Bomb, abroad,
And swings opon the Hours,
As do the Bee – delirious borne –
Long Dungeoned from his Rose –
Touch Liberty – then know no more –
But Noon, and Paradise
The Soul’s retaken moments –
When, Felon led along,
With shackles on the plumed feet,
And staples, in the song,
The Horror welcomes her, again,
These, are not brayed of Tongue –
– Emily Dickinson 
A large part of Jono’s collaborative process involves asking her collaborators to research the individual being memorialized. The process left Lesley Dill reflecting that “Lorena Xtravaganza was trying to find and name her true self in a world that had no room for this search. Her murder is a catastrophe of culture. Jono is giving us a chance to memorialize individuals who wanted to simply exist inside of their nature. When our culture murders trans people, I feel our belief in human goodness is wounded. With Jono’s work we are given new faith, we are reinvesting in faith.”
Find your faith renewed in humanity with a visit to Project 42. If you are looking for another reason to come, the garment created for Lorena Escalera Xtravaganza includes an interactive element where visitors are invited to tie fabric flowers to the train. Visit often if you hope to catch one of the unannounced performances that will take place in the galleries.
– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager
Artist Sondra Perry is the first video artist to win the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize! Using a wide range of digital platforms and tools including 3-D avatars, blue screens, Chroma keys, and computer graphics software, Perry’s installations and performances draw from an eclectic mix of inspiration. She is focused on how a lens can turn a subject into an object. See Perry’s immersive and unique (bring your hard hat!) installation, Eclogue for [in]HABITABILITY from December 8, 2017 through July 1, 2018 at SAM.
Below, Perry discusses how the internet, technology, and her personal history factor into her investigations into representations of black identity. This is taken from a talk she gave to SAM staff this February. She opened the talk with a tutorial video from YouTube on how to play an Isley Brothers song on guitar, so we will too!
The interesting thing about this clip is that he’s talking about that soaring note at the beginning of the song. That’s an E Flat played backwards. In the sidebar, all of these people who have also done tutorials for this song reference this video for showing them how to play that note. This is a piece of internet archaeology that touches on my interest in the parallel; two things happening at the same time in this YouTube space. The original and the improvised other. And also, like he’s amazing. He reminds me of my uncle who played guitar for lots of different people.
I spend a lot of my time on YouTube. Tons, probably too much. Not too long ago, when there were many black people dying, being murdered at the hands of police. I found this YouTube channel that was not connected to any news agency that does 3-D renderings of space travel, biology, and crimes. One of their 3-D renderings was the slaying of Michael Brown in Ferguson. I am interested in the rendering of the body, of this man in a 3-D render space. I’m interested in circulation and how these images are represented outside of the video of someone being killed. That’s not what I’m interested in at all. I’m interested in how those things are able to happen.
When I was younger I read the Superman books. In the Superman Universe, the Phantom Zone is a parallel dimension that acts as a prison, an ethical one. Superman’s father, Kal-El, was the Security Minister on Krypton before it blew up, of course. He created this parallel dimension that was the Phantom Zone where you could send people to be rehabilitated. In the Phantom Zone you could see what was happening in your dimension, but you couldn’t interact with it. I’ve taken this Phantom Zone, spinning, 1980’s special effect to visualize some notions of double consciousness. I’m also playing with how a video can act as a space where there are multiple perspectives. So, you’re not just looking directly at an image—there are other things happening. I’m trying to encompass all these things into one really vibey piece of art.
I’m interested in video and its production spaces. In 2016 at The Kitchen in New York I created an installation, Resident Evil. The back is a Flesh Wall—an animation of my skin with the contrast boosted. I do this through programs used to make 3-D renderings of things. The ocean modifier I used for this is supposed to help you make a realistic 3-D rendered ocean.
This installation is where I transitioned from using the Chroma key green to the blue screen. The Chroma key is a video, film, and photo production technique that allows you to separate the foreground of an image and a background. So usually these images have a person in the foreground and in post-production you’re able to take that out and replace whatever kind of background you want in there.
The blue screen became interesting to me because it’s the technique you would use when you’re trying to replace a background with something that’s dark because of its relationship to the end of the spectrum. I like this idea of this blue space that is simultaneously a black space that is my grandmother’s house, a park at night, or the Avengers destroying Manhattan. I like the collapse of all of those things and that’s why I decided to start covering as much of the physical spaces I was putting these videos into in this color, that is also a space.
It’s also a proposition to myself and the viewership because it is a space of production. In thinking of these colors as spaces, they are not complete. I’m trying to propose that maybe we’re the ones who figure out what’s happening there. It’s a space of contemplation.
Have you seen Coming to America? This movie is really funny, but there’s also a lot happening in it. You have two American men making a film about a fictional African country and there’s the contrast of Black folks from the states and Black folks from the continent. I was thinking about this family of upwardly mobile Black people who make a fortune on selling other Black folks things that change their visage in order to assimilate. There’s something complex about what it takes to be an upper-class, upwardly mobile Black person. Maybe you have to shapeshift. In that shapeshifting, there is this kind of grotesque thing that happens. They left a mark of themselves, like on this couch. I’d wanted to make this couch for a really long time and I finally did.
The bike is a workstation that comes with a desk. They’re sold to people that work at home and want to maintain their physical health while they’re working. I’ve been thinking a lot about these efficiency machines that do that capitalism thing. They fix a problem that is kind of inherent in these issues of overwork. People shouldn’t work as much as they do, but rather than change, we make objects like this is bike machine. I made an avatar of myself that kind of serves as the Operating System and it talks about being efficient, efficiency, what that does for you. I don’t primarily work in video, but when I do I like working on a multi-monitor workstation because it’s a lot easier; you have your preview monitor and you have a monitor where you can edit. This set up is just a way to produce video that I wanted to mimic in the installation.
Across all of this my interest is in the possibilities of blackness related to my body and also blackness as an idea of expansion, of radicalism. These things open themselves up to me through the technologies I use and through the media I gravitate towards. The issue I find with representation is that we assume that all we have to do is figure out the right way to look and we will know what something is or know what someone is. I think that’s an impossibility.
– Sondra Perry
Awarded bi-annually since 2009, the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence prize grants an early career black artist who has been producing work for less than 10 years with a $10,000 award, along with a solo show at SAM.
Images: Young Women Sitting and Standing and Talking and Stuff (No, No, No), April 21, 2015, Sondra Perry, performance at the Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery in NYC with performers Joiri Minaya, Victoria Udondian, and Ilana Harris-Babou. Installation view of Resident Evil (Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation in foreground) at The Kitchen, 2016, Sondra Perry, Photo: Jason Mandella.