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Virtual Art Talks: Discovering the Dragon Tamer Luohan with Foong Ping & Geneva Griswold

When the Asian Art Museum closed for renovation and expansion our curators and conservators had the opportunity to conduct new research on an ancient sculpture in our Asian art collection. Hear from Foong Ping, SAM’s Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art, and Geneva Griswold, SAM Associate Conservator, in this detailed discussion about the new findings that led to renaming one of our sculptures. Previously known as “Monk at The Moment of Enlightenment,” learn why this enigmatic sculpture is now titled, “Dragon Tamer Louhan.”

This talk was originally presented in 2019 as part of SAM’s popular member-only Conversations with Curators lecture series and was adapted into a virtual art talk for everyone during Seattle’s “stay home, stay safe” directive so that you can stay connected to art while you stay home with SAM. The current season of Conversations with Curators is taking place virtually and is free for SAM members. It’s a great time to join or renew your membership.

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!

SAM Creates: Dance Like Lynette Yiadom-Boakye Is Watching

Does this painting make you want to dance?! Artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye paints her artworks, like this one, in a single day based on her memory or imagination. Its sense of movement may make you want to join in and move! Try to pose or stand like this figure. Make sure you have enough space. Is it hard to pose like this? How long can you hold this pose for? Below is a perspective on this artwork from choreographer Donal Byrd. Give it a listen as you think about the painting and also about dance as an art form. Then do some dancing yourself and see if you can sculpt a pose! Find a one-page lesson plan based on this artwork designed for grades K–2 and translated into English, Spanish, and Chinese in SAM’s Education Resource Center catalogue. There’s more where that came from—check out more Look and Make Lessons on our website!

Movement Activity: Freeze Dance

  • Pick one of your favorite songs and have a family member or friend begin playing it. Dance around to the music! Move all parts of your body from your fingers to your toes.
  • Have your family member or friend press pause randomly to surprise you!
  • When the music stops, freeze! You’ve just struck a pose! Hold it until the music starts playing again. 
  • Press play on the music and pause again when you’re ready to strike another pose. This time try something different.
  • Repeat!

Art Actvity: Create a sculpture of a person out of aluminum foil!

Materials

  • Aluminum foil
  • Scissors
  1. Cut slits in the foil: One on the bottom for the legs and two at the top for the head and arms.
  2. Squeeze the middle of the foil to make the waist.
  3. Squeeze each leg and arm to make more of a cylinder shape.
  4. Crunch in the foil on top to make a head.

When you’re done, shape it into the pose of your favorite dance move! Remember how it feels to move like this every time you look at it!

Keep Learning with A Story

Watch I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison or Hip Hop Lollipop, by Susan McElroy Montanari read aloud. These picture books are about a young girls who are moved by rhythm and dance.

– Lindsay Huse Kestin, SAM Assistant Manager for Kids and Family Programs, Yaoyao Liu, SAM Museum Educator & Lauren Kent, SAM’s Museum Educator for School Programs & Partnerships

Trapsprung, 2013, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, oil on canvas, 78 3/4 x 70 7/8 in. (200×180 cm). General Acquisition Fund, 2014.11 © Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and Corvi-Mora, London. photo: Elizabeth Mann.

Object of the Week: GrandMa’sPussy

GrandMa’sPussy (2013), by American sculptor Tony Feher (1956–2016), is one of SAM’s most recent acquisitions––it entered the collection just months ago––and hasn’t even been seen fully installed by museum staff. It currently lives in one of the museum’s storage areas, its glass chalices––with fluted, elaborate bowls, long and short stems, and frilled lips of the cups, each a singular jewel-tone color––carefully compartmentalized on two carts, divided by pieces of Ethafoam. In its fully realized form, 69 of these goblets, chalices, grails, cups, candy bowls (or any other name for special occasion glassware), are suspended at equal intervals, lengths of fine steel chain attached to their stems by metal wire, so as to dangle like a great, chunky bead curtain from the ceiling. None of the cups touch the ground, or each other, and the work’s dimensions are variable.

Feher is known primarily for his installations that employ everyday items such as these glass cups, as well as plastic bottles, water tinted with food coloring, rocks, plywood, marbles, cardboard, pennies, generic plush rugs, and disposable packaging. In Feher’s spare, deliberate compositions, these quotidian objects become more like artifacts, placed with restraint and attention to their colors and forms. Feher, who was HIV positive, died of cancer-related causes in 2016 at age 60; throughout his career, observers drew meaning from the transience of the objects he chose and the fragility of life. His ephemeral materials, often sourced from inside his own home––a theater of objects––are ubiquitous and ready-made. Installed, they recall their origins enough to be familiar to us in a domestic setting, but are reconstituted and choreographed in a way that our attention is drawn to their aesthetic qualities and poeticism. GrandMa’sPussy isn’t made of the most ephemeral objects, but the life of the glasses becomes just as conditional in their suspended form, particularly in our earthquake-anxious region, as Senior Objects Conservator, Liz Brown, pointed out to me in a phone call in April.

Throughout his oeuvre of assembled and sculptural works, Feher would often choose titles based on their form, such as Perpetually Disintegrating Sculpture(1993), a cardboard box painted silver and filled tightly, but neatly, with rectangular sponges; or, more descriptively, like Untitled (Ruby Begonia)(2000), composed of a circle of pennies and dimes with carefully interspersed marbles.

With the first part of this work’s title, I think of a sweet grandmother who aligns with the archetypal and perhaps nostalgic image of a gracious and generous giver we might be lucky enough to have or have had in our lives. There is comfort in the ritual of visiting grandma, who implores you to eat more and not leave so soon; her home becomes a site of care, with multiple bowls and plates and jars of things from which she encourages you to help yourself. The glass cup and candy bowl––icons of domesticity and hospitality––are somehow always stocked and ready for you. Her cabinet of glasses is almost kitsch, though it doesn’t mean to be (and in being unintentional, rather really becomes kitsch).

As for the full title of GrandMa’sPussy: it could refer to how the glasses are chalice-like, symbols of containing and giving, emphasized by the possessive “GrandMa.” The choice in capitalization and spacing (or lack thereof) gives the full title of GrandMa’sPussy a sense of specificity and personal relation. While the work was made in 2013, and the word “pussy” has taken on different meaning since 2016, the title has a descriptive function above anything meant to disrespect. Its tongue-in-cheek nature is at once transgressive and playful, drawing attention even more to the elaborate glassware, and simultaneously pushes against our tendency to regard such objects in quite the saccharine way I admittedly did above.

In our current moment, imagining grandma and a visit to her home is especially distant and nostalgic for a time not long ago. Now we wave to our elderly loved ones, friends, and neighbors from outside the window, or from our homes, and have to save our embraces for the future. For me, there is comfort in knowing that these glass bowls lived with Feher for quite a while before they took on another kind of poetry outside of his home. The glass chalices in GrandMa’sPussy will eventually live their public lives again, frozen mid-tumble and visible from every candied angle, when installed at SAM in the future. For now, Feher’s work is patiently waiting to emerge from its inner life at the museum––quietly in storage, cushioned by foam––and will take on entirely new meanings, recalling rituals we’re unsure we might easily return to, once it can be realized in its intended form and seen by museum visitors.

Hannah Hirano, SAM Coordinator for Museum Services and Conservation

Think about Tony Feher’s work while you take a moment to look at the objects you surround yourself with in a new light. What small or numerous items are in your household that are uniquely shaped by your habits or whose meaning transcends the mundane because of your relationship to it? SAM’s Jon & Mary Shirley Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, Catharina Manchanda is sharing what she calls accidental artworks made by her husband’s busy hands while on phone calls!

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!

Images: GrandMa’sPussy, 2013, Tony Feher, glass, galvanized steel wire, and chrome-plated steel chain, dimensions variable, Gift of the Estate of Tony Feher, 2020.8 © Artist or Artist’s Estate. Photos courtesy of Anthony Meier Fine Arts

SAM Creates: Collage Covered with Teresita Fernández

“I want you to feel like you are moving through a landscape painting or movie rather than within the landscape itself, blurring the lines between your presence as participant and observer.”

 – Teresita Fernández

Teresita Fernández’s atmospheric work Seattle Cloud Cover uses ideas of place, pattern, and color to create an experience for the viewer that is their own. The work is site-specific, commissioned by SAM to act as a bridge connecting the city with the waterfront. With those three elements—place, pattern, and color—we’ll create an artwork inspired by Fernández’s Seattle Cloud Cover, layered with symbolism and meaning. Watch this video for a better look at the artwork before getting started.

What you’ll need

  • Paper
  • Landscape images
  • Pencil or pen
  • Watercolors or semi-transparent markers, or colored pencil

You can also create this work entirely on the computer through Kleki, a free, image-editing and creation website. 

Place: Choose an image from your collage materials that has some meaning to you or is appealing to your senses. In Seattle Cloud Cover, Fernández uses images of Miami sunsets where she was born. You can tear or cut up your image and place the pieces around the page or use the whole image. Before you glue down your collage pieces think about how you might want to incorporate the elements of pattern and color into your composition. 

Pattern: In Seattle Cloud Cover, Fernández uses Ben-Day dots to create a polka-dot grid, which she calls “porthole.” Through these cut out dots you can catch glimpses of the Seattle landscape. Ben-Day dots are typically used in comic books to create tone. On sunny days, the Ben-Day dots act as spotlights for the sun to shine through, transforming the space and the people in it. How might a pattern change your collaged place? Where could you add this pattern? Is there something in the image that could be the beginning of a pattern? 

Color: The deep oranges, reds, violets and blues in Fernández’s Seattle Cloud Cover create their own sensation within the work. What colors will add another layer of meaning or symbolism to your work? Color can be added to the pattern, layered into the landscape, or used as a way to enhance and connect the work.

– Kelsey DonahueSAM Assistant Manager for Gallery Learning & Lynda Harwood-Swenson, SAM Assistant Manager for Studio Programs  

We’d love to see your work! Share your completed piece using the hashtag #StayHomeWithSAM

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!

Images: Seattle Cloud Cover, design approved 2004; fabrication completed 2006, Teresita Fernández, laminated glass with photographic design interlayer, approx. 9 ft. 6 in. x 200 ft. x 6 ft. 3 in., Olympic Sculpture Park Art Acquisition Fund, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2006.140, © Teresita Fernández.

Object of the Week: Caterpillar Suit I

I wrote Walter Oltmann this morning to let him know I missed seeing his suit. Whenever I walk through the galleries, it always lures me in with its gleaming corona of gold bristles. Who dares to wear a suit that merges their identity with a caterpillar? We know Spider-Man and Batman embody the superhuman strength of hybrid gene pools, but the fuzzy caterpillar is not in that realm. The courage of the artist to envision this unheard of combination inspires new thinking––about how we relate to bugs, to defensive barriers, and to “other” identities. Of course, today, the word corona sticks out. 

Walter writes back from Johannesburg, a city filled with lots of wire barriers. He, on the other hand, is a very calm and careful man who doesn’t bristle at all. He let me know that South Africans are now on total house confinement, no walks allowed. Everyone is concerned about the potential spread to communities that are ill equipped to handle this pandemic. At the moment, he’s busy working and has a new exhibition coming up. So many artists savor isolation, the chance to let their minds move freely, and focus on what to create. One upside of this time is the reminder that being quiet and alone is not to be feared. 

But back to why this caterpillar stands out. It has a most unusual point of inspiration, conveyed in the opening line of a book, “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect-like creature.” Franz Kafka wrote this to begin The Metamorphosis, published in 1915, a novella that tells the story of Gregor, a travelling salesman who is trapped by the tensions of not fitting into any social world. He works tirelessly for an oppressive firm, his family exploits his income, and he’s filled with tormented anxieties. So he wakes up and can’t move, and has been turned into an outcast insect. Right now, we are also waking up and unable to move in our usual routine.  The new normal is lock down.  We don’t have an insect body to contend with, but we do have the constant surrounding of the unknown keeping us on edge. 

Illustration of Gregor Samsa, 2013

Meanwhile, Walter continues to weave wire, a medium he chose deliberately. He recalled seeing it used to create barriers for Johannesburg gold mine dumps and road embankments, and thought about how it was inexpensive, but underestimated, as he first wove carpets out of it. He also cites the way women of the KwaZulu-Natal region have woven with wire, and particularly colorful telephone wire that continues to be made into baskets. For this caterpillar, Walter chose gold anodized wire to elevate the insect to new heights. Gold has luminous and enduring allure, both as monetary wealth, and as a choice for the making of holy relics with images of saints and gods. Can a caterpillar be a new version of a very different kind of saint?

Close-up image of salt marsh moth caterpillar. Photo: Alexey Sergeev. http://www.asergeev.com/pictures/archives/compress/2012/1064/01.htm

The 2015 PBS documentary Of Ants and Men highlights the life and work of famed American biologist E.O. Wilson, and highlights the often-overlooked value of insects in our ecosystem.

As Walter once said, “Spending an inordinate amount of time on making something that is usually considered insignificant, like an insect, does make us look differently at them. Observing misunderstood insects closely and interpreting them on a magnified scale throws up their particular adaptations and plays with our perspective that is fixed on their mechanical features and alien behavior and the threat they pose to us.” So here is a caterpillar that is inviting us to wear its suit, as we’re in the midst of an unprecedented metamorphosis, and ideas that encourage new awareness of the species on the planet, beyond human control, who are bound to be part of our transformation. 

Pam McClusky, SAM Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Image: Caterpillar Suit I, 2007, Walter Oltmann, anodized aluminum and brass wire, 46 7/16 x 23 1/4 x 16 9/16 in., Gift of Josef Vascovitz and Lisa Goodman in honor of Kimerly Rorschach, 2019.25.1, © Walter Oltmann.

New Views of Some/One

Now that the Asian Art Museum has expanded, we can fit this monumental sculpture by Do Ho Suh inside the galleries! Some/One is part of Be/longing: Contemporary Asian Art and while the Asian Art Museum is temporarily closed we are taking you behind the scenes of installing this impressive and important artwork.

Some/One, 2001, represents artist Do Ho Suh’s interest in individual and collective identity. A minimalist sculpture, Do Ho Suh explores how art transforms public and private spaces through a painstaking amount of intricate detail that is not always apparent at first sight but is an integral part of the artwork. Some/One, as the title of the work indicates, juxtaposes the collective—represented by a larger-than-life armor sculpture—and the individual, consisting of life-size shiny-metal dog tags, each unique and representing a single soldier. This allegory is carried forward by contrasting the hard, insensitive character of armor with the delicate aspect of the dog tags, which are made up of thin sheets of metal and embody the poetic symbolism of fallen warriors.

While the Asian Art Museum was closed for renovation and expansion we reimagined the presentation of art to include community perspectives on art works. Below is a reflection on Some/One from artist HollyAnna CougarTracks DeCoteau Littlebull. You might remember her large-scale artwork on view at Arts at King Street Station as part of yəhaw̓. Check out some photos of Bigfoot, the artwork referenced in her statement.

The one thing that people of all races have in common is we have our protectors. My Crow family recognizes me as a warrior, because I used to be a police officer and got shot in the line of duty, and survived. We use either elk hide or buffalo to dress our warriors, which takes on a similar shape, and sometimes paint the rawhide side with the story of that veteran. It’s a way of them owning their story and being able to wear it with pride, but it also has the sad side to it too: the death, the destruction, the pain. With my contemporary artwork, Bigfoot, there are plastic toy natives next to the head, there’s one with the war bonnet on, and he’s representing the warriors in my family. It’s about dealing with the past, with assimilation, with boarding schools, with genocide. Bigfoot talks about the foundation and accepting your past even if it’s ugly. That’s what this artwork does here too. War is not pretty. 

– HollyAnna CougarTracks DeCoteau Littlebull, artist

We also include community voices on the free smartphone tour featuring artworks from SAM’s Asian art collection. Listen to musician Deems Tsutakawa discuss this artwork and how he relates to it in his own life.

We worked to represent a variety of voices in presenting Do Ho Suh’s Some/One because the sculpture is about both the individual and collective identities. One of these voices belongs to the artist. In an interview with Art21, artist Do Ho Suh talks about the dream that inspired Some/One.

“I saw this light in the stadium, and so I thought there’s some kind of activity going on. And as I approached the stadium… I walked slowly and went into the stadium on the ground level, and then I see this reflecting surface in the dream. And I realized I was stepping on these metal pieces that were the military dog tags. And it was slightly vibrating; the dog tags were touching each other, and the sound was from that. And from afar, I saw the central figure in the center of the stadium. I slowly proceeded to the center, and then I realized it was all one piece that gradually rose up and formed this one figure…. So, that was the dream and the image that I got. After that, I made a small drawing. The small drawing was about this vast field of military dog tags on the ground and then a small figure in the center…. That was the impact that I wanted to somehow convey through that piece.”

– Do Ho Suh, artist

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!

Photo: Jueqian Fang
Stay Home with SAM is supported in part by

Everything You Wanted to Know About Middle Fork

“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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.”

If you value the ways SAM connects art to your life, consider making a donation or becoming a member today!

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager

Image: Middle Fork, 2014–2017, John Grade, American, B. 1970, cedar, 105 ft. long x 30 ft. diameter, Seattle Art Museum commission, Photo: Ben Benschneider.

Object of the Week: Weltempfänger

In honor of Women’s History Month, Object of the Week will highlight works by celebrated women artists in SAM’s permanent collection throughout the month of March.

“My antennas were also meant to be ‘feelers,’ things you stretch out to feel something, like the sound of the world and its many tones.”[1]

– Isa Genzken

Metal antennae extend full-length from a series of seven objects resembling vintage shortwave radios. Heads tilt and ears pique while viewing Isa Genzken’s Weltempfänger—translated literally as “world receivers”—expecting the cast concrete to make audible the signals they’ve received from unknown sources. Although silent, the antennae appear deliberately and mysteriously tuned at slight angles; they must be picking up something. Can’t we hear it, or are we not listening––or looking––hard enough?

Isa Genzken (German, b. 1948) is regarded as one of the most influential contemporary artists of the last 40 years, working in sculpture and a variety of multidisciplinary media. In the late 1970s to early 80s, Genzken gained prominence for her series of floor-based sculptures in the complex and elegant shapes of Ellipsoids and Hyperbolos. Handcrafted in lacquered wood from computer designs created in collaboration with physicist Ralph Krotz, the elongated, colorful sculptures drew from the geometric forms of Minimalism, but offered more nuanced connections to industrial design, digital technology, and commercial production. During this same period in 1982, Genzken exhibited her only stand-alone readymade sculpture, a functional radio receiver entitled Weltempfänger (World Receiver), which solidified her continued interests in consumer culture, value, and material.

By the late 1980s, Genzken departed abruptly from the refined forms of her ellipsoids to rough-hewn sculptures made of concrete and plaster. She began an ongoing series, casting concrete weltempfängersof various sizes and groupings, where the receivers take on symbolic roles of relics or ruins rather than functional devices, such as the 1982 readymade. The simple forms are layered with meaning. Together, the radio, a medium of power or opposition, and concrete, a material of ruin or reconstruction, evoke connections to a postwar Germany that Genzken experienced firsthand. More broadly, the receivers ask us to consider how communication is transmitted and received, and how we decide what is made permanent or temporary.

In this present moment, the receivers offer a resonance more immediate. Facing a public health crisis that compels us to connect more and more through technology, and to seek out news and facts in order to keep our communities safe, these world receivers provide a moment to “stretch out to feel something,” and to contemplate how we look, listen, and decide what we value and make permanent for the future.

Philip Nadasdy, SAM Associate Director of Public Engagement

P.S. Weltempfänger also makes an excellent group costume! Here’s SAM’s curatorial team on Halloween, 2019.

Images: Weltempfänger, 2018, Isa Genzken, concrete, brick, and metal antennae in seven parts, overall: 62 x 54 x 20 in., Purchased with funds provided by Virginia Wright and the Contemporary Collectors Forum. Additional support provided by Jon and Kim Shirley, Ann and Bruce Blume, Lynn and Mikal Thomsen, and Carol Kipling and David Tseklenis., 2018.13 © Artist or Artist’s Estate. Isa Genzken, Ellipsoids and Hyperbolos, Kunsthalle Wien, 2014. Weltempfänger (World Receiver), 1982, Isa Genzken, Multiband radio receiver. Photo: Natali Wiseman.
[1] Diedrich Diederichsen, “Diedrich Diederichsen in Conversation with Isa Genzken,” in Alex Farquharson et al., Isa Genzken (London: Phaidon, 2006), 25; reprinted in Lisa Lee, ed., Isa Genzken (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015), 120.

SAM Connects with Artist-in-Residence Kimberly Deriana

Your next chance to experience the Olympic Sculpture Park through the Indigenous lens of SAM’s winter resident is tonight, February 27 from 7 to 9 pm! Architectural designer and artist Kimberly Deriana (Mandan/Hidatsa) has spent the last two months working in the park researching, offering workshops, and constructing a temporary installation. Deriana has used her residency as a space for sharing Indigenous knowledge surrounding the many uses of cattail materials. The temporary cattail and cedar structure she has created is a space where everyone is invited to gather and experience cultural celebration. The event will include performances by Aiyanna Jade Stitt and Hailey Tayathy, and storytelling and song by Kayla Guyett and Paige Pettibon.

Kimberly Deriana specializes in sustainable, environmental Indigenous architecture, housing, and planning. Deriana’s methodologies focus on incorporating Indigenous lifestyle practices in relation to past, present, and future, designing for the 7 generations. We sat down with her to learn a little more about her experience as SAM’s artist in residence and to learn more about her creative process.

SAM: What goals do you have for your residency at the Olympic Sculpture Park? 

KIMBERLY DERIANA: I want to activate the park through an Indigenous lens. As an architect designer and somebody who loves urban design, I’ve been drawn to this park since I first moved here. Part of creating visibility is bringing other people along in the process and giving them opportunities, too. I really try to include people and families who have been doing this work for years while giving new urban Native people outlets in every project on which I work.

This residency is a learning opportunity for me; the way I enjoy learning is to involve others. It’s about the way we learn as a community, the way we make as a community, and the way we approach being in the world and sustainability. When you’re gathering cattails, there’s an appropriate time to gather and there are appropriate places to gather. Learning all of that protocol has been really eye-opening. Because I grew up as an urban Native and wasn’t always shown those protocols, I try to make a conscious effort to create space and time for the protocol knowledge as an adult.

Tell us about the workshops and youth that you worked with to include Indigenous communities.

I’ve always done art and design but being in the art scene is a new space for me; I wanted to explore the co-creation process. Sharing resources is an important component of the process, I believe. This space has a very educational, institutional vibe and it lends itself to the scope needed for community workshops. The scale of the work required to enliven the space needs many hands. The piece itself is practice and healing work.

The collaborators and I were here most weekends in January and February. Since we are on Suquamish and Duwamish traditional lands, one weekend we had Indigenous teachers from Suquamish. These amazing women who are educators for and from their community—Tina, Jackson, and Kippy Joe— and the amount of information and knowledge that they share  in four hours is just indescribable. You can’t get that on YouTube or from a professor. You have to experience their oral teachings to begin to understand the richness and depth of the knowledge.

We had three Indigenous youth that day, and then we had a couple visitors just stop by who were interested in what we were doing. We had time to teach them and they got to learn. Every weekend I’ve had at least one Indigenous teen come in and help work with us through a partnership with yəhaw̓.

What are some of the historical uses of cattail mats?

In this region, mats were traditionally used as sheathing for summer structures. Mats are used all over the world, globally and indigenously for different surfaces. In the Plateau, Plains, Woodlands, and Southeast regions, mats are used for protection and warmth on their architectural structures.

Cattails have a multitude of uses. They protect us. When they’re just in the ground they clean the water and remove toxins. They can be food; they can be shelter; they can be water. When gathering cattails in the right spots, their uses extend beyond those listed so that one can understand the sustainability that the plant provides. Plant knowledge leads to understanding sustainability; sustainability leads to healing; healing leads to understanding their sacredness. I want everyone to know this.

I’m trying to make paper with cattails because I think that’s a more respectful use of them since they were gathered in the late fall season. I am super excited to do more scientific research on the sustainability of cattails, learning more traditional knowledge about them, and weaving. I realize you can approach a project and commit to working with a material, but then all these other sacred teachings come up, such as  how to work with other materials and plants. It’s not homogenous when we’re learning about our plant relatives.

Why have some of the cattails been cut and others left long and uneven?

As I started the process of creating this temporary installation with cattails some teachers said it was okay to gather now. When we made some mats, I knew they were not ideal materials and then, in the middle of the month, I learned that you should gather cattails at the end of summer for making mats. For this reason, some of the mats are trimmed and others are raggedy, in order to reveal the imperfection of the process. I like to break things apart until they become abstract, so that even though I’m using really traditional materials, the way I use them means you can’t necessarily tell what it is. For example, maybe your eye reads it as hair or as a bone or antlers. The raggedy mats—having them be more than one thing–helped convey that abstract concept. I think that process was kind of successful.

My architectural background makes me interested in exploring this building and wall system and I started to research and dissect like I normally do for a project. In architecture, you’re always researching and then drawing your theory. In art, you’re fabricating your theory. That’s when all this new information appeared to me. When you start to source your material and put it together, like, “This is why you have to harvest at a certain time and why you have to know where to gather and to get the reeds that are a certain height.” There are just all these little steps that make the process more efficient and that our ancestors knew and had good engineering minds for. I’m still doing it by trial and error and trying to find mentors.

The description of the temporary installation mentions that the structure is a portal for healing. How is this present in the work that is in the PACCAR Pavilion?

The sculpture forms a circular arbor and basket-like space. It incorporates some of the knowledge of the medicine wheel into the directions of the space and the layout. The teachings of the medicine wheel helps to orient our bodies with the land, plants and animals, nature and natural forces. In Plains tribes, you enter from the East like the sunrise. Here, in the West, a lot of structures face the water. All of the weavings that we made with Tina and Kippy are on that side and create filtered views to the water as much as possible since the water is so special. The North can reference the future, moving on, and death in some ways, too. The northern, open view gives people the opportunity to see that beautiful view of the park. The cattail threshold symbolizes a doorway into the future. A sustainable future holds the promise of healing.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, SAM’s Content Strategist & Social Media Manager

Photos: Jen Au