“I think that Gibson’s work holds a lot of humor, and this piece specifically does, which I find to be such an accessible entry point to much more nuanced conversations around Indigenous issues.” – Christine Babic
Watch as visual and performance artist Christine Babic unpacks Jeffrey Gibson’s use of Indigenous materials in his abstract painting on rawhide, Someone Great Is Gone on view in Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer, on view at SAM through May 12. Gibson is of Cherokee heritage and a citizen of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. He grew up in urban settings in Germany, South Korea, the United States, and England, and his work draws on his experiences in different cultural environments. In his artwork, materials used in Indigenous powwow regalia, such as glass beads, drums, trade blankets, and metal jingles, are twined together with aspects of queer club culture as well as the legacies of abstract painting.
Christine Babic’s artwork explores geographical heritage, colonial discourse & her Chugach Alutiiq identity. She was SAM’s annual artist in residence at the Olympic Sculpture Park in winter of 2019. You can learn more about her and her artwork in an interview she did with SAM.
Read all about Trang Tran’s experience at SAM as our 2018 Emerging Arts Intern. The Emerging Arts Internship at SAM grew out of SAM’s equity goal and became a paid 10-week position at the museum designed to provide emerging arts leaders from diverse backgrounds with an in-depth understanding of SAM’s operations, programming and audiences. We’re searching for our next Emerging Arts Intern! Does this sound like you? Applications are due April 1!
When I was asked to write a wrap-up blog about my experiences as an Emerging Arts Leader intern at the Seattle Art Museum, I asked myself, “Jeez, where do I even begin?” There are so many experiences, memories, and relationships that I have built at this museum, a place I now consider a second home, that it’s hard to summarize my journey in a paragraph or two.
As I was walking toward the museum on my first day of the internship, the word “anxious” wouldn’t have entirely encapsulated my emotions. I was also thrilled, grateful, and honored to be working at one of the best art institutions on the West coast. My first week flew by as I met staff members who were inclusive, welcoming, supportive, and helpful as I tried to find my way around the maze of the administrative office. Over the next weeks, I began conducting informal interviews with staff members, working on projects with the curatorial, communication, and educational departments, and I ran around the museum trying to find meeting rooms but repeatedly ending up on the wrong floor (“M stands for Maloney”– David). I also toured the Olympic Sculpture Park (Thanks, Maggie!), made multiple trips to the galleries and library as I began research for my December My Favorite Things Tour, spiraled down the rabbit hole in art storage (Thanks, Carrie!), attempted to write a press release for an upcoming exhibition (Thanks, Rachel!), participated in many events hosted by the museum, and more!
One event I was especially honored to participate in was the Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodpur, India Community Opening Celebration. I had the opportunity to interact with the community by greeting them at the door and answering questions about the evening’s programs. Instead of running around the administrative office or staring at a computer screen, I was able to engage with the museum’s audience. It was amazing to witness the enthusiasm, anticipation, and joy radiating from everyone I met at the door. Even though I ended up losing my voice that night, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
I was also fortunate to spend the day with my little brother, Kevin, at the Diwali Family Festival. Diwali, or the “festival of lights,” is one of the most important celebrations in India where people celebrate the triumph of good over evil. The museum’s annual Diwali Family Festival included a vibrant fashion show, numerous art activities, dance performances, live music, and tours of the special exhibition, Peacock in the Desert, as well as tours of SAM’s permanent collections and installations. By attending this event, I hoped to show my brother that art is not just about color pigments on a white canvas on the wall or a sculpture encased in glass that you forget about as soon as you walk away. Art has the effect of bringing people together. People of different ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds come together to celebrate, learn about, and appreciate a culture. Art also has the power to encapsulate political struggles, social changes, cultural values, and art movements. These are the reasons why I love, and am passionate, about art. I hope that if I can help the youngest member of my family see how powerful art can be, maybe one day my parents, as well as the wider Asian-American community, will learn to accept and recognize the existence of the art world.
Throughout this 10-week interdisciplinary internship, I found myself learning about the numerous operations that keep the museum running on an everyday basis. Such operations range from researching artworks in the curatorial department to fundraising in the development department, from promotional strategies in the marketing department to writing press releases in the communication department, and from preserving artworks in the conservation department to engaging the public in the educational department. But if I were to selected one main lesson to take away after this internship, it would be that a museum is not just about the artworks in the gallery; it’s also about people coming together to successfully bring these artworks to the public. For an artwork to be displayed in the museum, for a sculpture to be standing in the gallery, or for an exhibition to be showcased for three months, it takes cooperation from every department in the museum. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who has welcomed, accepted, supported, challenged, and encouraged me throughout this internship. Thank you for all the hard work that you are doing, not only for the world of art, but also for the public community.
– Trang Tran, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern 2018
Every year brings the creative process of local artists to the Olympic Sculpture Park through our artist-in-residence program, Art Encounters. This year Christine Babic (Chugach Alutiiq) is working away on SKIN SEWERS at the PACCAR Pavilion. Babic—in collaboration with her mother, artist Mary Babic (Chugach Alutiiq), and Alex Britt (Nansemond, White)—is combining performance and installation to create a site-specific experience that explores the gap between contemporary and traditional Indigenous works. Art Encounters are a chance to learn about the practice of making art while participating in experiences that respond to the Olympic Sculpture Park and the Seattle region. This year you can get involved by dropping into one or both of the Art Encounters on January 25 and February 22, from 7–9 pm.
SAM: I love this description of this as an intestinal window into a shared history. I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit upon on the connection to land, skin, and history in Skin Sewers.
Christine Babic: Since this residency is at the Olympic Sculpture Park, we wanted to talk about land and what land means for Indigenous people. Through SKIN SEWERS, we’re trying to get a sense of generational gaps and what the spectrum of generations think of land and its meaning. For both my mom and I, who are from Alaska, we’ve talked about subsistence as being the first thing that comes to mind when we think of land—the resources and gifts of the land.
Mary Babic: I was raised in Seattle. I really did not know what Alutiiq meant. I knew I was Alutiiq and I knew I was German. When I moved to Alaska in 1980 I realized I was immersed in Chugach Alutiiq culture. So, I wanted to learn everything I could about my background. I started sewing woods, firs, leathers, and started beading. Friends in the area shared a lot about utilizing the resources we had and living off the land. Not only would you use a seal for its meat (which is very high in iron), but you would also use every part of it. You wouldn’t waste anything. You were always grateful. You would always thank the animal for giving itself to you. That was one thing I learned right away about subsistence. So, I started sewing with the fur. I also learned how to clean the intestine and to blow it out and make things out of it.
Christine: It’s an interesting material because it’s a waterproof material, and it’s semi-opaque. And it has this simultaneous fragility and strength to it. You get it wet to sew with it and then it dries. It can be used as rain jackets. Seal intestine was also used for death masks. It was a kind of protection—a spiritual protection. Not only from the rain and weather but this spiritual protection that comes with using these materials. So, there’s a lot of dualities when using these materials. For us, it’s not only an experiment in Indigenous materials but also this spiritual connection to our culture. Doing these things that your ancestors did—these are Indigenous materials and we are Indigenous people. Only Indigenous people can source seal. They’re protected under the marine mammal protection. The materials used in SKIN SEWERS are synthetics, but we’re going off of tradition and what our ancestors used. When people are displaced from their land, there’s no access to the materials that we’ve always used. Practicing culture and making artwork is part of cultural evolution and is important to us as Native people—SKIN SEWERS is not an answer, this a conversation.
What kind of materials will be involved in this performance?
Christine: For this, we’re using a synthetic intestine which is collagen, pig intestines, and fish skin. So, inner skins and outer skins. Seal intestines is much harder to get. Something I’m addressing is the evolution of Indigenous material and how we use these things in place of seal gut. In my grandmother’s generation, there was a lot of Americanizing going on so she never wanted to be a Native. She wanted to be as assimilated as possible because there was so much racism happening. When my mother moved back to Alaska she was able to relearn our culture and reclaim these things and identities as Native. My mom raised me as a Native person so those ideas are what I’m referencing. I can carry my Native-ness with pride but there is a gap culturally for us, generationally, because my grandmother did not have that option. Through these materials, there’s a lot of acknowledgment happening.
You’ve mentioned learning traditional sewing techniques from your mom. Have you two collaborated creatively before? What does your collaboration looks like?
Christine: Always. In every show, my mom helped. This is probably our first official collaboration. My mom is inspired by tradition, so she’s really obsessed with researching how our ancestors used to do things. I really like performance art and contemporary art. Bringing parts of what my mother taught me into a contemporary context and working together allows me to make performances out of things that you may not necessarily think are performances, like sewing. This lets us look at them in a different lens—that’s interesting for me.
Mary: You definitely take me out of my comfort zone. I do tend to be more traditional in my artwork and I have been working on a curriculum for Chugachmiut Heritage Preservation that teaches about traditional artwork and how to make clothing. I’m working on that project right now. Working a little more contemporary with the material has definitely opened my eyes. The fish skin that we have in the show, we made a non-traditional and traditional tan. We’ve used brains from the deer and some of that is in the window that we have on display. We also did a non-traditional tent which was using glycerin and rubbing alcohol and that I have a video on that I hope to show during the presentation as well.
Have you collaborated with Alex Britt before?
Christine: No, but I really am a fan of their work. They’re very image-based and a photographer. I always liked how they explained their relationship to the body and land. Bringing in different Indigenous perspectives is important to SKIN SEWERS. Obviously, there is such a wide spectrum. Alex’s photos will be a part of the installation. So, I think it will just kind of show the distances and the different ways we think about land and Native perspectives.
When people come to your Art Encounter, what should they expect to experience?
Christine: This is an active installation, where people can move freely about and get close to the materials and watch how we work with the materials. You’ll get a sense of how our ancestors used and talked about these. We’ll also have texts about the duality of materials and how we want to continue to use them and bring these materials and traditions wherever we go and think about them as they evolve. We’re going to have a demonstration to inflate the pig intestine. This is similar to the way that ancestors used seal intestines—blowing them up, drying, and cutting them. The labor that goes into using them, how much time and care goes into the work—the performance parts of SKIN SEWERS are an act of care and respect for the material, the land, and our tradition. The process is valuable and beautiful, using these materials involves being meticulous, careful, and loving. We come from people who are sewers, who sew skins. SKIN SEWERS, as a project, is really to highlight how important the action is and not just the finished object. I wanted to show other people the performance through the physical actions and what that looks like.
For the third year of our winter Olympic Sculpture Park artist residency, we changed things up a bit. Unlike the last two years, this year’s artist was not selected through an open call, but selected in collaboration with yəhaw̓, an exhibition celebrating the depth and diversity of Indigenous art made in the Pacific Northwest. Curated by Tracy Rector, Asia Tail, and Satpreet Kahlon, yəhaw̓ opens at King Street Station March 23, 2019. You can see more of Christine Babic’s work when it opens! We’ll see you there.
– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, SAM Content Strategist and Social Media Manager
Curbed Seattle highlights the Olympic Sculpture Park as one of “26 best places to visit in Seattle this fall,” calling a visit to the sculpture park “the easiest way to feel artsy in Seattle without needing to spend half a day inside a museum.”
“Considering that only last year Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel and Commissioner [of the Department of Cultural Affairs Mark] Kelly dedicated another mural I designed downtown for which I was asked to accept one dollar, you could say the City of Big Shoulders has wrung every bit of value they could from the fruits of my labor.”
“Is it a guttural battle cry? A shriek of surprise? A call across a crowded subway platform to an old friend glimpsed boarding a train? A eureka-like shout of stunned recognition that Armenia is the country whose art you long to appreciate the most of all?”
“I wish for the days when you go to an opera or musical or a symphony or fine arts gallery and go looking for the message. It’s not about watching the movement or seeing the color or hearing the music. But feeling the music, having a connection with the movement.”
“’When you have people in an institution who have a range of perspectives, you have a much richer program,’ said Eugenie Tsai, citing ‘openness to consider exhibition proposals, to consider programming, to consider hires, to consider things another group might want to dismiss as not what’s important.’”
It feels like we came to Seattle at a very exciting time. The Seattle Asian Art Museum is re-imagining an historic building, adding a world class conservation studio, and—very dear to our hearts—creating a beautiful space for education and meaningful hands-on experiences.
Education is very important in our family. Tim was a teacher in the Peace Corps and I have been working and teaching in the arts my entire life. The new education center will make this collection, and the museum in general, more accessible to all. Our family has lived in many different places and Seattle, even more that other cities, seems to be intrinsically connected to the arts. SAM has helped us meet other people that share our passion. But at a recent event we were asked, “Where are all of the other 40 year olds?” We’re not sure but we’d like to invite them all to come and join us. The Builder’s Club is the perfect way to make a mark on Seattle. Literally. Our names will be on the building and we look forward to bringing our family and friends for years to come.
Like so many families, the holidays are a special time for us. Our favorite family event is SAM Lights at the Olympic Sculpture Park. It’s a lot of fun for our three year old twins, our teenage boys, and even the grandparents. The crisp air and beautiful lights make the sculpture park a special experience for the holidays.
A brilliant conservator once noted that “art conservation is a fight against entropy.” This is especially visible for works sited outside which require conservators, artists, and stakeholders to carefully consider what is essential for an outdoor sculpture to continue to exist for future generations. When the carved cedar elements of Mark di Suvero’s sculpture Bunyon’s Chess were no longer structurally stable, di Suvero and his studio worked closely with the Seattle Art Museum to explore the artwork and discover solutions.
Bunyon’s Chess was created by Mark di Suvero in 1965 for Virginia and Bagley Wright’s residence in Seattle. The family’s documentation of the creative process provides wonderful insight into the artwork.
In 2006 the Wrights promised the work to the Seattle Art Museum and it was moved to the Olympic Sculpture Park. The cedar elements had begun to show degradation in their original site but this accelerated at the park partially due to the exposed location and partially due to the natural deterioration of cedar. As cedar ages in an outdoor setting a number of events occur: the natural biocide slowly migrates out with water, the wood absorbs water at an increasing rate as it deteriorates, fungal deterioration is common, as well as insect and wildlife damage. The logs of Bunyon’s Chess were treated annually with a fungicide to slow the fungal deterioration but without major visual interventions such as end caps or moving the sculpture to an interior location, deterioration continued at a fairly rapid pace.
In 2009 an in-depth condition assessment was performed which determined that the deterioration, particularly on the interior had progressed to a state where the logs were in danger of falling. In 2010, the logs were consolidated, the large losses filled and the exterior coated to prolong the life. During this period research and conversations with di Suvero regarding the replacement were begun as this treatment could not prolong the life of the cedar indefinitely. Di Suvero determined that new logs could be carved to replace the original cedar, as it is the visual integrity of the work that is important.
After much research, new cedar of the similar dimensions and tight ring growth was sourced for carving. Seattle artist Brian Beck peeled the logs in preparation for carving.
Kent Johnson and Daniel Roberts from di Suvero’s studio traveled to Seattle and carved the new logs using the original cedar elements as a guide.
Beck worked with Johnson and Roberts to create the same join between the two logs. Much of the original hardware such as the 36” bronze bolts and galvanized steel eyehooks were presevered and reused on the newly carved elements.
If you look carefully, at the top of the sculpture you will note a slight bend in the top tube. Di Suvero wanted this natural bend to remain but believed this opportunity should be used to reinforce the structure.
Fabrication Specialties Ltd. worked with the di Suvero studio to create an interior support which was welded in place.
The logs were strung with new stainless steel cabling and were carefully measured and marked to the lengths of the original cables to assist with the rigging. Larry Tate, Andrew Malcolm, Tracy Taft, Ignacio Lopez, and Travis Leonard of Fabrication Specialties placed the new logs within the original steel frame working closely with images and a model of the original. The di Suvero studio generously participated in video calls throughout the day.
Special thank you to: Mark di Suvero and Studio, Virginia Wright, Fabrication Specialties Ltd, Equinox Studios, Alta Forest Products, Brian Beck, Christian French, and Catharina Manchanda for helping preserve this public artwork free for everyone to enjoy at the Olympic Sculpture Park year round.
When Brooks Ragen moved to Seattle in 1961, our cultural community was in its formative years. The anchor organizations we know today only grew through the commitment of dedicated leaders and civic-minded citizens, people like Brooks Geer Ragen. From his business ventures to his board service at SAM and other major organizations throughout Seattle, Brooks approached these undertakings with the same philosophy: to make our community stronger. It is with a heavy heart that we share the news of Brooks’s passing on April 15.
Brooks was a SAM Trustee for over 25 years, a time of incredible growth and expansion for the museum. He joined the Board in 1992 and served as Vice President from 1996 to 1998. He served as President from 1998 to 2000, and as Chairman from 2000 to 2001. Brooks’s dedication to his causes was unparalleled, and his work ethic incomparable.
As Board President and as Board Chairman, he used his business acumen and endless energy to expertly guide SAM through the planning phases in advance of the SAM Transformation campaign, creating the Olympic Sculpture Park and expanding our downtown museum, both of which have continued to shape our city and museum. Most recently, Brooks served as a member of our Seattle Asian Art Museum Campaign Committee, once again providing his invaluable insights as we undertake this next major civic project.
His advice and expertise have been instrumental on so many of SAM’s committees, including among others Finance and Investment; Audit and Real Estate; Executive and Governance; Corporate Relations and Succession planning. Brooks and his wife, SAM Docent Laureate Susie Ragen, created the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Film and Education Endowment, which provides key support to the museum’s renowned film program, and countless educational programs for people of all ages.
Beyond SAM, Brooks embraced roles of civic service for over 50 years. He served as board president of many Seattle institutions, including ACT Theatre, The Bush School, The Seattle Foundation, UW Medicine, and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. He also served on the boards of the Washington chapter of the Nature Conservancy, the Bloedel Reserve and The High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. The philanthropy of Brooks and Susie has established endowments and scholarships at institutions all over the country.
Within all his successes and a long career—he never retired—Brooks Ragen was always kind and gracious, and never pretentious. Approachable, intelligent, and always determined, Brooks was the very definition of a civic leader. Seattle is a stronger community because of Brooks Ragen, and he will be greatly missed.