EXPORTED: Kimberly Trowbridge – Light Through the Trees, Évora Monte, Portugal

As soon as we learned that the incredibly talented, always exuberant and instantly captivating Seattle-based painter Kimberly Trowbridge was in Portugal for a few months, we knew we had to see the world that she was seeing. So today, be transported to Évora Monte through Kimberly’s eyes.

Here I am again, in the landscape of my heart. After only six months, I made a U-turn in Seattle, answering a strong magnetic pull with my return. I am in the Alentejo region of Portugal, a rolling landscape of farmlands, marble quarries, and the majestic Stone Oak and Cork Oak Trees. Here I am, offering you these images to give you a sense of this place that speaks to me more clearly, more tenderly, than any voice I’ve known before. 

Evolving Voices : A Conversation with Saman Maydani & Sarah Kuck

Filmmakers of Even The Walls Saman Maydani & Sarah Kuck


Sarah: So, how should we start?


Saman: Maybe how we met?


Sarah: That’s a good idea. How’d we meet?


Saman: You and I met because multiple people from different spheres of our lives wanted us to. We kept crossing paths but never really spent time together – same school, same workplace, same friends. It was eerie!


Sarah: Then you basically cold called me.


Saman: Haha, yeah, I did! It felt like what I was supposed to do at that time. I just felt like, I’m going to call Sarah (who I barely know!) and ask her to do this. It was heart- and gut-led.


Sarah: I’m so glad you did. I brag – we brag – about our relationship a lot. Best work wife ever. I love our process!


Saman: We wrote, produced, directed, edited and are now working to distribute a film from separate places. You came out to Seattle pretty frequently, but we mostly made the film over Skype in our pajamas.


Sarah: Yeah! Let’s talk about the film! Even the Walls is a short documentary about the members of a public-housing neighborhood grappling with the forces of gentrification. The film explores the experience of Yesler Terrace as a place through the memories of its residents.

Saman: Yesler’s an interesting place because it’s a stand-in and a reflection for what’s happening all over the world. Money, development and density are taking precedent over human connection.


Sarah: And it’s not that money and development and density don’t have their place. But they can’t be the only players. They are not even what most people believe are the most important aspects of life. Yet we let them trump our decision-making processes as a society every time, completely ignoring our other important systems (social and environmental, for example).


Saman: If we don’t consider human connections during the building process, then they won’t be a part of the outcome. Being in a space that allows for neighborhood connections, like seeing your neighbors, interacting with the children, watching each others backs and properties – these things all increase feelings of safety and ownership in a space. And these are our natural human inclinations, if our environments supports us. This is what we saw in Yesler, and aimed to capture in our film, Even the Walls.


Sarah: Yes, so with the changes in architecture in Yesler Terrace, to be specific, these essential ties will be interrupted physically, which will translate eventually to the area’s social dynamics. A network of pathways and row houses will be replaced with midrises. We’re not saying that midrises are bad, but we are saying that it’s more complex than that. For young, mobile individuals, midrises might be excellent. But for families and the elderly, midrises mean more boundaries and limitations on connecting and getting help from neighbors.

Saman: That transitions well into how we worked diligently to let the film’s narrative be very open. There was a lot of ambiguity and complexity in the stories, and we wanted that to come across in the film. It couldn’t be black or white. It’s easier to have good and evil, but ultimately it doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation.


Sarah: We tried to let the stories and experiences speak for themselves. We know the power of personal story, and wanted to use that to express reality. We did this in hopes that the film wouldn’t alienate anyone who might want to be part of the solution.


Saman: Many people who’ve seen the film have told us how much they miss what the residents of Yesler are about to start missing. So many people don’t know their neighbors and wish that they did. In this way, I think the young people who might move into those new midrises will also be missing something.


Sarah: I think it’s really surprising that people don’t think of architecture as a tool that can help them connect with their neighbors. That we can’t zoom out and see how systems impact our lives.


Saman: And we quickly forget how architecture and housing policies have historically and purposefully kept people from knowing each other. These huge waves of architectural decisions have been made with only narrow groups of people in mind, and also have historically marginalized others, but in the end we’re all going to suffer if we can’t connect.


Sarah: Community membership and belonging are evolving concepts. A lot of new people are moving into Seattle. So what will our new communities look like? Who belongs? The new Yesler or Capitol Hill? How do we co-create our social reality and include all the voices? If we simply create an “us” and “them” dichotomy – that begets more separation.


Saman: Exactly. There are deep desires within all of us for support, connection and community. So where are the places and concepts we can build from? What are the commonalities and universal needs that resonate with everyone?

Sarah: Oops, Saman, this is getting really long.


Saman: Haha, we could talk about these ideas forever.


Sarah: Maybe we should talk about the artsy stuff, like our pretty images from our awesome DP Canh Nguyen and the gorgeous score from your love Carlos Esparza?


Saman: Yes, it helps to live with the composer! I’m sure he didn’t like our deadlines tho. Canh and Carlos helped reflect the beauty of the residents’ stories. And again, even this layer was complex. The images ARE beautiful, but sad. And Carlos’ music is melancholy but hopeful.


Sarah: I feel really proud of how we all worked together to make this piece. I’ve never worked with a better, more supportive team. I am so honored that we were able to make a piece about human connectivity and love, and have that be a big part of our team dynamics.


Saman: The process was really willing, right? I think willingness was the theme. Constantly checking in with one another, and with ourselves, so that our labor was genuine. And that’s a really lucky thing not just for a creative process but also for our work!


Sarah: Aww, I love us. Oh that’s dumb.


Saman: No, I like that! Ok, what are our hopes for the piece? What should it do?


Sarah: That’s difficult. Sometimes I wish the film could just exist, and that the people who are drawn to it will gravitate toward it and love it. On the other hand, we built the piece to be an empathy machine (as you like to say). We know that the media world is a giant ocean, and to get this piece in front of people will take work. What we want the film to do is to capture this moment and place, to tell stories that are relatable and impactful, and is to bring stunning visuals to our invisible, but essential human systems – to hopefully make a case for their value.


Photographs by Canh Nguyen

*The Saturday Preview for Even The Walls at SIFF is sold out, however no-show tickets will be available 10 minutes before the showing at the door.*

EXPORTED: Erin Elyse Burns at The Westfjords Artist Residency in Thingeyri, Iceland

Seattle-based artist Erin Elyse Burns is spending some time at The Westfjords Artist Residency and being a photo / video artist, we couldn’t wait to see what she would create in the gorgeous landscape of Iceland. Enjoy today’s EXPORTED, part 1 with Erin as she shares photos exploring the body within landscape as well as shares some behind-the-scenes shots of what happens at a residency, including photo shoots at 2 am.  Thanks for sharing, Erin! You are inspiring complete wanderlust over here.

The Westfjords Artist Residency is in its inaugural year – the pilot program. After this session, the founders will develop year round programming that involves one May/October session with a large group of artists like now, and then smaller longer residencies throughout the year (no residencies will be held during the high tourist season of June – August.) The residency founders are Samantha Albert, Janne Kristensen and Wouter Van Hoeymissen. Janne and Wouter are a couple from Denmark and Belgium, respectively, and have lived in the village of Thingeyri for 10 years. Samantha is from Lichtenstein and Seattle, and just moved to Iceland after 8 years of regular visits to the area.

The first cohort of residents are from around the world: Iceland, New York, Maine, Washington, Arizona, Japan, England, Germany and Canada. It is a cross disciplinary group of ten artists practicing design, architecture, sound art, photography, video, installation, painting, fiber arts, ethnobotanical illustration, volcanology and poetry. The artists names are: David Bruce, Erin Elyse Burns, Mary Fran Cardamone, Porsteinn Eyfjord, Adam Hilborn, Maki Kaoru, Julie Sasse, Yasuaki Tanago, Alex C. Todaro, and Fabian Wadsworth.

The images below are part of in- progress work in which I am investigating relationships to the landscape through physical interactions. I am struck by how often the land looks animal-like. Grass becomes the breathing fur of a large cat, mounds of kelp are reminiscent of Icelandic myths of sea monsters. And the blue of the near constant light! The darkest hour is currently about 2am but the sky is never black and the phases of light move so slowly and gradually that the changes are almost difficult to perceive until they happen. 4am light looks a bit like 11am in Seattle.

Also included are a few “behind the scenes” images in Thingeyri (the village has a population of about 250 people during the height of summer), the residency workspaces, living areas and the residents at work or attending residency events.

my bedroom, light at 2 am

my bedroom, light at 9 am

Historical photograph of local villagers in 1897

One of the residency’s houses / work studios

Residents at work in one of the studios

Living room of shared housing

N1, the only store in Thingeyri

Four residents and Founder, Samantha Albert, in Thingeyri’s tourist viking village at 2 am

T(here) : Kathryn Fleming / Future Species

By Elissa Favero

Seattle writer Elissa Favero talked with artist/designer Kathryn Fleming via Skype about evolution, beauty, and the stories we tell about animals for Vignettes’ (T)here series. Fleming has a bachelor’s degree from the Rhode Island School of Design and recently completed a master’s degree in Design Interactions from the Royal College of Art in London. She’s currently living in and around Washington, D.C. You can see more images of and details about her work on her website, Modern Naturalism.

Elissa Favero: Okay, here we are!

Kathryn Fleming: Well, I’m very honored, by the way, to be part of the Vignettes project.


EF: Well, I’m very excited. I think this will be a really nice way to introduce you to some folks who don’t know about your work yet

KF: Thanks!

EF: So just to start, how would you talk about your work to someone who doesn’t know anything about it or hasn’t seen it before?

KF: I guess I usually start by telling people that I’m interested in…well, like how some people are interested in dinosaurs, you know, things that existed in the past and nobody really knows exactly what they were like? I’m sort of interested in the same thing but thinking about it in the future. So, what new forms of life might evolve and what would they look like and how would they behave? I tell people that I make prototypes, bringing it back to design in that way. So they’re prototypes for future species.

EF: A lot of your work has an element of responsiveness, an attunement on the part of the thing that you’re making to the way that people will interact with it. Can you talk about that and the role that that kind of responsiveness plays in your thinking?

KF: Yeah, I feel like one of the things that I want to have people think about is not just how we influence nature but how nature influences us. And I think that because we perceive so much of our interaction with nature as very dominant, we don’t necessarily always realize how connected and linked and dependent we are on other species. I’m interested in the fact that nature has its own set of motivations and its own agency. And even though we influence nature, nature can also influence and change the way that we live. So great examples are when people have developed symbiotic relationships — like with plants, for example. I think Michael Pollan did a really great job addressing how plants have had some influence on us and have manipulated us and our desires in The Botany of Desire. Similarly, in my work I think that I try to highlight capacities that organisms have that people don’t necessarily realize.

EF: Yeah, I’m thinking of your project with the fungus that responds to the environment and the way your gut process certain chemicals.


Fleming’s project Gut Reactor: What Does the Fungus Know? explores the symbiotic and aesthetic capabilities of the fictional Fungus Domesticus. Digesting human waste, Fungus Domesticus produces airborne spores that repopulate human gut bacteria to help balance the emotional health of the people living alongside the mushrooms.



KF: Yeah, totally! I think it’s really interesting to think about how we design nature as a product, but I think it’s also really interesting to think about how nature could integrate itself into our lives. So in the case of the mushrooms, well, in nature mushrooms are ecosystem stabilizers. They serve to communicate between different organisms and they even funnel nutrients back and forth so that a plant that doesn’t have as much can get from a plant that has more. And it all benefits the whole ecosystem. So I was thinking about what capacities fungus has and how they could exercise them to influence us. A lot of fungus are detritivores, so they live off nutrients obtained by consuming detritus or…poop.

EF: Right!

KF: So, if they were to live off of human waste, what kind of information might that give them about us and then how could they respond to that in a way that would be influential, not just on our behavior but on our perception of fungus as a dynamic organism? I mean the funny thing about fungus, specifically — I mean, I could talk about fungus for a long time — I mean, it’s not a vegetable, it’s not an animal, it’s this other life form, and I think we often don’t want it in our homes. So I was also trying to think about a way that fungus could become something we would be interested in having in our homes and cultivating as a living partner.

EF: I like that! That’s nice.

KF: I’m interested in how that relationship could evolve to be mutually beneficial. By providing us with better emotional stability, the fungus is then able to have a source of food all the time and also access a new habitat. It can move into our homes, which is a place that we usually don’t want fungus to be.

EF: Ah, the tyranny of hygiene!

KF: Right. The orchid project is similar.

In Fleming’s Estrous Orchid: A Botanical Investigation, the petals of an imagined orchid native to the highlands of northern Peru change color in response to the menstrual cycles of nearby women.



EF: Yes, those were the two pieces I especially had in mind with that question about responsiveness. I really like how your projects complicate or make more nuanced our perceptions of our relationship with nature

KF: Yeah.

EF: But I think these two projects in particular speak to your background in both art and design. You’re making something that’s not just beautiful or even interesting but something that would have the potential to continue to respond and interact.

KF: Definitely! I feel like in design, a big problem is when people make things and then spit them out into the world without a lot of consideration to what happens to those things. That’s also one of the coolest things about technology: you can create a technology, you can put it in a certain platform, you can release it out, but then you really have no idea what reapplications or repurposing will ensue. And I think that biotechnology freaks people out a lot because there’s that open-endedness to it.

EF: Right.

KF: When we talk about evolution, everyone refers to Charles Darwin and “survival of the fittest.” It’s looking at nature as highly competitive, in a tooth-and-claw world. But actually, I think that cooperation as an evolutionary tactic is something that’s overlooked and is potentially an even greater mechanism for evolution and one that we need to be thinking about much more since we’ve taken over so much.

EF: Going in a different direction — or maybe not — can you talk about the element of storytelling or narrative in your work? I’m thinking especially of older stories — the tradition of bestiaries — but also science fiction or speculative fiction. How would you position your work among these other forms of storytelling?

KF: Yes! That’s a great question, Elissa. Well, if you don’t imagine it, it’s not a possibility. People have a lot of anxiety about the future and uncertainty. And one of the ways that we channel that is to construct narratives that guide us and also give us ways of looking at things that we didn’t necessarily have before. So my work isn’t necessarily functional, but I want to provoke people to imagine how things could be different. So I’m not saying when I propose something that I want that thing to actually exist, but I want to open up a way of thinking that isn’t part of our normal conversation and culture. The way that humans are designing and constructing their environment increasingly, we have to talk about a whole range of possibilities as opposed to being fixated on producing the real thing right away. In terms of the older stories, like the bestiaries, I think of imagination as kind of being like an evolutionary technology; imaginary or mythical animals often embody our fears, hopes, or anxieties in a technologically changing landscape. There are many mythical creatures in cultures around the world that serve to guide our human perception and interaction with nature. Think of the “sea serpent” — accounts and sightings of sea serpents became increasingly common during the period of technological advancement in sea travel and trade. With navigation and sailing opening up the world’s oceans to human transport, the sea serpent became a cultural creation to focus our uneasiness. There are so many great illustrations of sea serpent sightings from the Illustrated London News, but we rarely see such things in mainstream media anymore. Our relationship and security with global travel has changed a lot from those days and so we don’t need the sea serpent anymore. Another example is the centaur, a creature that is part horse and part man. The artwork and imagery of these hybrids begins to arise only after equine domestication. Perhaps the human imagination needed the centaur as a way to adapt and understand the altered relationship between man and horse. This is just speculation, but I think the stories we tell about animals, especially during periods of technological and cultural changes, help to express our fears and desires and influence or guide our cultural perception of human and animal interactions

EF: In thinking about how to characterize what you do, Mark Dion came to mind. He is so great about showing us the sometimes perverse ways that we’ve organized knowledge or enacted colonialism or facilitated the travel of other species. He looks back to tell stories that have happened, a kind of archaeological practice. You’re interested in very similar subjects, I think, but you look forward.

KF: Well, first of all I’m honored by that comparison. Yeah, I just get excited thinking about what the future might hold. I also get sort of sad – am I going on too long?

EF: No, this is great!

KF: Sad because I think my work is, well… So after the Jonathan Jones piece from the Guardian was published, and he talked about my work as being “wicked,” well my work in my mind is not like that at all. It actually is sort of sincere in terms of these proposals. It’s because I’m desperately trying to imagine a way that there could be that sense of discovery and pleasure in nature continuing into the future, because we live in this age of extinction, so we’re watching all these beautiful things disappear. And as a designer, I want to try to imagine how there could be new things. How can we design the future of wilderness?

EF: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about wilderness because I was looking at that piece from the Guardian. Jones seems to alternate between outrage and confusion as he considers your work. But when I was reading it, I was reminded of an article from the New York Times from last summer, “Rethinking the Wild.” It was all about a changing approach to wilderness. The Wilderness Act was 50 years old last year, and there’s some reevaluation about what its future should be. In light of climate change, the way that we’ve thought about our role as guardians instead of gardeners of wilderness — in line with the act’s original intent — well, that might not be appropriate anymore. That won’t be enough.

KF: It’s not a sustainable model.

EF: Right. And the author, Christopher Solomon, gave a lot of examples, like the trees at Joshua Tree Wilderness in southern California. If climate change continues as scientists predict, 90% of those trees could be dead in a hundred years. So is it appropriate to let that happen or are there ways to be more hands-on in our management? Like relocating the trees. The article does a great job opening up discussion about how to reimagine our role in a world that we’ve already influenced so much.

KF: Yeah, I think if it were me, I would try to hybridize the trees with plants that are drought-resistant.

EF: That was another idea!

KF: I was watching this trailer for a Kickstarter called “The Last of the Longnecks,” and it’s about the silent extinction of giraffes. We have a tendency that when we can’t see it, we think that it’s okay. I mean, most animals live in our imagination anyway and we don’t actually encounter wild animals that often. So as long as you’re seeing them on TV and they’re still in books and on tote bags, it seems like everything’s okay when in reality large mammals like the giraffe have no place in a human, modern world. I think that the sense of awe and wonder that you get when you see something like a giraffe, what happens when that disappears? What happens to the way we think about the world and perceive things and perceive possibilities? It reminds me of what happens in cities when you can’t see the stars. There’s something really important about experiencing something that seems impossible or beyond what you could imagine.

EF: Yeah, I see your work as not a way to diminish the mystery about those things but instead to figure out other ways to cultivate that mystery.

KF: Yeah! Totally, totally.

EF: Okay, good!

KF: Yeah, one of the things that I’m most excited about that I’ve been reading about is new research into microbiology, development, and genetics. One of my favorite researchers and authors on the subject is Sean B. Carroll. He has written about the new science of “Evolutionary Development” that brings together the fields of evolutionary biology, embryology, and genetics to explain the incredible variation of shape, form, and behavior that we see in nature. This is one of the oldest questions out there — it’s like “How did the leopard get its spots and the zebra get its stripes?” Well, the new field of Evolutionary Developmental biology can actually explain how. Before Evo-Devo, no one in biology thought that we shared the same developmental genes with other creature — but they were dead wrong. In fact, most of the genes that govern fruit fly development have exact counterparts in other animals, including humans. The development of an eye in a fly is caused by the same gene that causes the development of human eyes! These “body-building” genes are known as homeotic genes or “hox” genes — and they cause the development of functionally similar features in a huge variety of animals. This discovery/understanding highlights an incredible symmetry that exists all through nature. And it’s not just eyes, limbs, and hearts that work this way. In developmental biology, they talk about having a “body plan” and “body design” that is basically determined by hox genes switching on and off during different phases of an organism’s development. These things are elemental! So if hox genes are the fundamental tools and building blocks of emergent biological design, what else could they generate and for what purpose?

EF: Are you ever worried about people whose intentions aren’t as, well, good as yours? Like the possibilities…

KF: That’s already happening. Have you seen Belgian Blue cows?

EF: No.

KF: Would you just Google that?

EF: Sure.

KF: I mean, the weird thing about the whole agricultural-industrial complex is that there are all of these new species being created. They’re not represented in natural history museums. No one except for the people who work directly with them ever come face to face with them. No one wants to talk about that, but that’s nature

EF: Wow! These are crazy.

KF: These are crazy.

EF: They’re so beefy!

KF: Yeah

EF: Wow.

KF: And that’s just artificial selection.

EF: Wow, they look like sculptures.

KF: I know, it’s like their muscles have muscles. They’re like creepy body builders.

EF: Or Michelangelo’s nudes. Like where did he get those models? Like who was he drawing from? Or was he just so aware of anatomy that he could say this muscle is here and could eventually be giant, you know?

KF: I think it was a bit of both because he was an anatomist — he did all those dissections and drawings of the human body.

EF: Yeah.

KF: So this stuff, what you’re talking about and what you’re worried about already exists. And the ethics of this whole thing are part of what I want people to consider

EF: To grapple with, yeah.

KF: To grapple with, because I would love to have a museum where all of these modified animals that we’ve created exist. Or all of the dog species that we’ve evolved in the last 100 years. Most of them have been in the last 100 years! Whenever I look at a dog I think that is not nature, you know, that is humans. But we love dogs. We never think of them as being something that’s unnatural.

EF: You’re right. They’re engineered by us, but they still have mystery. They’re still their own entities.

KF: Autonomous beings.

EF: Autonomous beings. Can you talk about the role of beauty in your work?

KF: Yes. Shared aesthetic sense is something that exists not only among humans but also among species. Like we find birdsongs beautiful, and birds also find those songs beautiful. And so there’s this idea of an aesthetic or an art-world. In terms of evolution, there’s natural selection but then there’s also sexual selection, and that is really what determines the unique aesthetic of any species. The more competitive sexual selection is the more ostentatious and crazy the adaptations and displays become. And there’s not really any reason that they’re there. The peacock doesn’t need it. In fact it’s more of a hindrance. But the female responds to it. She finds it beautiful.

EF: Yes, speaking of responsive design!

KF: Yeah, and isn’t that kind of an artwork? Like when Bowerbirds build nests, these really crazy nests. You should google “Bowerbird nests.” And they like to collect things that are all blue, and they do this just for the female. But are these not artworks, are they not things that these animals are creating as an aesthetic expression for the pleasure of another animal? So I think that beauty is a great mover of attraction, of evolution. And I think it can also be a really powerful tool because it is something that as living things, we all intrinsically share a lot of aesthetic sense. And when you think about it that way, the extinction of a species isn’t just the loss of life but the disappearance of an entire art-world, an entire visual culture. But most obviously it’s the disappearance of beauty. I think that it’s a mistake to think that we are somehow that separated from other creatures. Where am I going with this? There was a book that was written by this guy David Rothenberg, and it’s called Survival of the Beautiful. And today, in our world, it is really the beautiful things that survive, or survival of the interesting.

EF: Like the charismatic megafauna.

KF: Yes!

EF: That people are compelled to save animals that they find cute or beautiful.

KF: The polar bear.

EF: Or the panda bear.

KF: Jon Mooallem wrote that in his book Wild Ones — a sort of cultural history of wild animals in America — that when looking into the future of evolution, survival is going to have less to do with Darwin and more to do with [P. T.] Barnum.

EF: Oh…

KF: I think we want to be entertained, we want to be pleased. That’s why we keep fish in tanks and birds in cages. But maybe there’s a possibility for a new paradigm. Instead of captivity or wilderness, maybe there’s something in between. Do you know that every zoo has a Species Survival Plan for their endangered animals? So there’s a committee that meets, and they have all of the genetic information about every captive animal in a specific species, and they figure out which pairs should mate together in captive populations in order to create the largest amount of diversity. So in a way, we’re trying to freeze these animals in time. We’re trying to work against evolution, in a way. And then on the other hand we’re making wolves into pocket poodles.

EF: So it’s going in both directions?

KF: It’s going in both directions, but in both ways we’re very motivated by beauty. You know, dog shows and visits to the zoo are not that dissimilar.

EF: Could you talk about your use of taxidermy as part of the presentation but also as a way to think through something like morphology?

KF: Oh, taxidermy! What an amazing education tool. Today there is a mystique surrounding taxidermy, but essentially for designers, scientists, engineers, artists, or anyone working in biology, taxidermy has the educational capacity that taking apart a car and putting it back together will give you. Except in this case there is no original designer — animals evolved. It’s quite hard to believe when you start looking at animals very closely that such perfection could just “emerge” through biology. This gets even more pronounced as you carefully examine the way that animals are assembled and put together. They are unique, each is a one-off, bespoke, and custom design. For me there is no human-made design object that can equal this level of perfection. These creatures have been undergoing an iterative and dynamic design process between their form, function, and environment for millions of years. The more types of animals and variety of species you practice taxidermy with, the more something like morphology begins to create a sort of sublime understanding of form. It is quickest and easiest to see when practicing with birds. A bird of prey has very specific features that enable it to move and behave in ways that a pigeon never could. Just like industrial design reveals our human behaviors and motivations, studying animal form can reveal a world of information about how that animal lives and functions. Each specimen is a window into understanding a comprehensive design solution. In terms of materiality, this is incredibly important. Materials are not extrinsic choices — they are critical elements to any design and should be fully integrated into an overall purpose. I wouldn’t use wood in a chair unless there was a reason for me that required its particular properties. In the Endless Form/Endless Species project, I felt that I needed to use natural, biological materials to convey the beauty and complexity of nature’s designs. This led me to taxidermy and scientific model-making as a medium. The incredible level of detail that exists in animals is present at every scale — from the macro all the way to micro scales. This was important for me because I wanted people to be able to get up close to these prototypes and be convinced. I wanted to be able to make representations of biology and science to seamlessly blur into fiction and speculation. Honestly, by using taxidermy, I had to do much less work — nature had done so much already.

Evolved through a combination of artificial selection and synthetic biology, the three breeds in Fleming’s Endless Form/Endless Species marry speculative morphogenesis with human imagination. The Superbivore’s adaptations include extravagant cranial appendages, a long prehensile tongue, and dexterous cloven hooves.


Fleming’s process combines taxidermy and scientific model-making.


The Retro Reflective Carnivore’s adaptations make it a cunning predator.



EF: Do you ever sell your work? Your preparatory sketches and notes? Do you think of drawing as an important part of your process?

KF: I have not had a great deal of interest from people wanting to buy my work. I think that it is hard to classify it as “Art” or as “Design” and so people may not be sure how to approach it as either. Still, I would love to think that someone would find what I did enjoyable enough to want to see it every day and experience it as an “Art” or “Design” object. Or better yet would be if someone wanted me to design and build a custom species for them. That would be a dream project. It would be so fun to work with clients through the design process. Also, I would be fascinated to know what animals live in other people’s imaginations.

But, going back to the process, I do create a lot of preparatory sketches, photoshop mockups, and small maquettes to work through my ideas and flush out the shapes and forms. I also need to do a lot of material experiments before I start work on the final piece. My skill as a taxidermist and model-maker is really to know the constraints of each material well enough that I can anticipate what will work and what won’t — how far I can push the design and have it remain convincing. In that way it is not so dissimilar from my previous work as a furniture and footwear designer; I’ve always felt that having a hands-on approach is necessary to do any type of physical design.

EF: Okay, last question. What’s next for you? Any chance we can get you to relocate to Seattle and start that museum of recently evolved species you mentioned before?

KF: Yes! I would love to head out west and work on a “Post-Natural History” Museum! That would be amazing! Currently I have some shows coming up — one is on the West Coast — so that is exciting. Otherwise, I have been doing some work at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C., in the Entomology Department. Insects are so incredible! I think more and more I can see the value in incorporating artistic and design processes within scientific disciplines. Both types of thinking — artistic and scientific — can really enhance and complement the other. I would love to teach workshops that help reconnect the arts and sciences, especially taxidermy workshops for designers, artists, and scientists. In the meantime, I have been looking at ways that my skills could apply to the commercial design world. I think there is a lot of possibility to alter our perception of nature and influence our relationships to other forms of life through the way we make and design products.

Overall, I hope I can continue to create experiences — in any number of forms — that inspire people to imagine new possibilities. We all get bogged down in certain ways of thinking, and I think we need to be reminded that technology is not deterministic, it is actually the exact opposite, and that’s really exciting!

EF: Thank you so much, Katie!

KF: My pleasure.

Lindsey Apodaca | A Room of One’s Own

Interview by Amanda James Parker | Photographs by Sierra Stinson

If you came of age when I did, visiting Lindsey Apodaca’s studio is like reconnecting with the ephemera of one’s formative years. The things I’ve forgotten are here: Talkboys, sax playing California Raisin, the metallic turtle pencil box where I kept letters from my childhood BFF… I put my face into the tin holding her sticker collection and inhale deeply. The smell transports me.

These carefully curated objects are essential to Apodaca’s artistic practice. They are muse, medium, and message. At first glance it feels like pop art but further examination reveals that in actuality her work is heavily autobiographical. Her lexicon of symbols is at once relatable to a broad audience and a way for her to process life experience that is too personal to share. At present she’s an artist who is coming into her own emotionally and creatively. We sat down in her studio and talked about it.

Amanda James Parker: What is your favorite part of your workspace?

Lindsey Apodaca: My favorite part is always changing but right now it’s that I’m allowing myself to have one. I used to work on my bed and in my room or just wherever, because I couldn’t afford a separate space and I really like being at home and in my safe space. We just happen to have an extra bedroom and I decided that it was worth it to me to take it over as my studio. So I was able to bring out all my of my stuff and put it up so that I can look at it all at once which helps me make those connections. So my favorite thing is that I’ve valued myself and my art enough to give myself a room of my own to have my thoughts.

AJP: That’s legit. It’s like you’re a real artist now.

LA: (laughs) Yeah! I believe in myself and trust in valuing myself enough.

AJP: It’s a nice gift to give yourself and a commitment to your art. Art is something you’ll do because you’ve made the space for it.

LA: I will call myself an artist now. I never wanted to do that because I felt like it was bragging or thinking a lot of yourself or it was just not a big deal. I don’t like labels in general and then I realized being a person who doesn’t like labels is a label. So I became ok with it.

AJP: I think it’s a hard place for a lot of artists to get to.

LA: Yeah

AJP: It was hard for me to get to the place where I could be like “I am an artist.”

LA: It’s like as soon as you own it, it takes the scariness away and you realize it’s not actually that big a deal, you were all wrong and then you’re able to be ok with it. Like you’re stronger with it.

A: What inspires you?

LA: Lately… vulnerability. I like to identify with my doom and gloom aspects—like my depression and heartbreak—stuff like that. And coming out of that, I didn’t exactly know how to make art about being a little more balanced. Vulnerability and talking about love, and loving yourself and loving other people has been inspiring. Looking at how other people do that successfully where it’s not just like cheesy, but relatable. That’s inspiring.

AJP: What themes reoccur in your work?

LA: Nostalgia.

AJP: Are you a nostalgic person?

LA: Yeah.

AJP: Your art has a great deal of nostalgia. That’s what I like about it. Being in your studio makes me feel nostalgic in a good way. It has all the good parts.

LA: When you can use nostalgia in a good way it can be a really positive thing. Because that’s how we learn- all we know is what we’ve experienced. I think that it’s easier for me to dwell on things that are maybe not so positive about nostalgia in order to work through them- like things you’ve lost, or people you’ve lost, or ideas that you’re trying to understand. I think that I’ll always be doing that. As I get older the things that I’m nostalgic about are changing and I’m attracted to the same type of things. I have these certain collections that I think that I’ll be collecting throughout my whole life. Nostalgia is a word that’s not negative or positive; it’s kind of neutral. Depending on where I’m at- it colors how that is. I feel good every time I come in here. Looking at this stuff from my childhood is uplifting.

AJP: These characters that appear in you work, like Garfield, Minnie Mouse, Bart Simpson,
what do they mean? Are they playing themselves or are they representative of other ideas? What are their personalities?

LA: It’s like trying to get to know who you really are or who you really want to be. You have this input into your life from an early age, all the time seeing this character and it becomes an archetype that you could choose to become. No person is as simple as that and yet people do identify with those things or think that they are that type of person. So it’s a way to represent an archetype and also a way to represent either myself or another person. Or like a reflection of yourself- a way to project yourself onto it because that’s easy when they’re these simple characters. And it’s also easy to not take it too seriously. It being of the esthetic of not being super refined or anything like that—it’s like I’m not taking myself too seriously. Like I don’t know all the answers, or everything I want to say, or I don’t think I have the best voice to say it. All those things that I’m trying to get across—these characters are really good at representing that. Like a juvenile attempt at trying to say “I have feelings.”

AJP: In your opinion, what’s the best thing you’ve ever made?

LA: (laughing) Vegan ranch dressing for my vegan friends.

AJP: That’s no small feat.

LA: Yeah, it was really good. But I suppose you’re talking about art.

AJP: A good vegan ranch dressing could be art.

LA: I really liked the melting ice cream that I had at my first Vignettes show. It was just a white pedestal with huge—I don’t even remember how many things of strawberry ice cream it was but it was like 10—and I just piled them into a mound and let it melt throughout the night into a puddle on the floor. It was titled “Public Meltdown”.

AJP: Wow! I had seen photos of the piece online and I assumed it was made of resin or paint. That’s great that it was actually made of strawberry ice cream. It must have had a smell.

LA: It smelled so good!

AJP: Strawberry’s a good flavor.

LA: It was cool. Because it was Vignettes, people were eating it. Because it was a house, people weren’t afraid to touch it. I’m really into people eating food art that I make. So I really liked how the crowd interaction went, not just my part, but how it was received. That was successful. That’s why it’s cool to have these new spaces.

AJP: It becomes far more permeable, that boundary between viewer and maker can be more fluid.

LA: When I went to Cornish, I made a piece in my freshman year. It was a white pedestal and I made a pyramid of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. On each side of the pyramid there was a letter that I wrote to everyone at Cornish and it said, “Dear Everyone, Take advantage of everything you can. Everything that’s free. Use it up. It’s here for you. Stop at every water fountain and drink. Salt and pepper. Free silverware. Use the restrooms. (laughs) Just take everything you can.” Nobody took sandwiches! There were people stopping and reading the letter but they just walked on past the sandwiches. They didn’t get the connection to “this for you to take”. So I was really glad to be able to do another piece in another place that had people taking their hands putting them in ice cream and eating it. That was really cool. I felt like I was able to finally make peace with that idea and there wasn’t even a letter there.

AJP: That’s really sage advice for college students. I hope that current Cornish students reading this interview take that to heart.


LA: Yeah. I don’t know.

AJP: What does the future hold for you Lindsey?

LA: My art is going to get bigger in scale and… more impact.

AJP: Nice. I approve.

LA: (laughing) Thank you!

AJP: Go big with it! You’ve got a studio now.

LA: Since I’m not limiting myself anymore it’s only going to allow it to grow. I think that it’s really important to think bigger, to allow myself to know that it’s ok to take up more space. Not just in terms of where I make my art but also my art itself can be bigger. I’ve been getting into drawing more instead of sculpture because I don’t have the money yet to have objects that big. I drew this Mustang because I don’t have the money to buy a car and alter it so I have to draw it. But if I had the money to do that it would be an amazing art piece! It would be an amazing show but maybe that’s not the best use of money these days. I have to make sure my vision is going to be beneficial, have a good impact and a good message.



A Personal Reflection; an Incomplete Account

In times of performance, during its gestation, its realization, and its aftermath, everything seems fated: every circumstance, every choice, every unanticipated generosity, and surely every setback. Performance creates an extended experience of coincidence; a prolonged sense of the present, achieved through fits of bravery and willingness to suffer– or, perhaps more specifically, a desire to reap suffering’s benefits.



Derrick Ryan Claude Mitchell (‘Ryan’), director of the theatre company, Saint Genet (which many of my dearest friends, lovers, and colleagues have been involved with over the years), invited me to fly out to Vienna to collaborate with him on the 72 hour performance, An Exemplary Case of Love without Respite. I would join him each day at dawn and at dusk for a ritual involving wine, honey, leaching, bleeding, tattooing, and gold-leafing. The time between these two rituals was filled with a 30km procession, completed by Ryan, with consuming devotion, each day.


My role in these 72 hours involved descending onto the ‘stage’ of a stark, candlelit factory in Traiskirchen, Austria and, in the evening, the small, white-walled, Charim Gallierie in downtown Vienna. The stage of each location was indicated by a rectangular layer of slowly deteriorating sod, filled with the sounds of peeping chicks and the heartbreaking compositions of Brian Lawlor, executed by a trio of strings and keyboard. I would remove my shirt and shoes and walk slowly to my mark, while Ryan finished a bottle of red wine; thinned blood streaming from his wrist around the body of a fat, throbbing leach. I would walk to a neatly folded nurse’s gown (starched, linen white, dating back to 1940s Austria, and sourced by Patrizia Ruthensteiner, who was responsible for the creation of a striking pussy willow mask, worn by Ryan during each procession). Upon approaching the gown, I would wait to be carefully dressed by Patrizia. Each day a new gown, each gown soiled by blood, dirt and honey. On my knees, I would assemble a tray of materials to tattoo Ryan, freehand and without machine. I would wait at my station, while he struggled to undress; drunk, sleep deprived, sore, and sticky with sweat and honey. He would make his way to lie at my knees, belly up, trembling (especially in the mornings, when the factory was chilled and damp). Over 6 sessions, I completed a tattoo on the right side of his ribcage, content unknown to everyone but me. During each tattoo, a stream of honey poured over Ryan’s face, into his mouth, ear, and nostrils, sometimes choking him, causing him to gag and writhe. His bleeding arm would clutch and stain my thigh during the process. At the end, I would decorate his face in gold leaf and pussy willow buds, then rise, undress, and leave the stage.


I am an untrained performer. I have a limited, novice education in performance art and tremendous stage fright. But I am compelled by a brief feeling of freedom I experience in the throes of performance. For me, this is a kind of freedom derived from the hungry and inescapable energy of a crowd. Historically, I have created performance works that involve a significant amount of physical discomfort, or some display of strength and stamina, to distract me from my apprehension. This is the first role in which those elements have been absent. Of course, my task involved emotional endurance and conscious effort to proceed while a person I care for suffered at my lap. This moral compromise, for me, was thoroughly premeditated and acceptable- no, necessary, for Ryan and I to get nearer to understanding the concepts we had been exploring; for us to begin to name our actions; to respect the collaborators, the audience, and the sanctity of each passing ritual. It became obvious, as each of the six sessions passed, how crucial it was that they were all completed.

Photo: Ethan Folk



On my way from the airport, my first day in Vienna, my driver told me the city is built like a snail, with districts spiraling from its center. The streets in our neighborhood were littered with smoky, dark cafes and Turkish markets. I’d be staying at Mo.ë, a contemporary art space converted from an old warehouse, with a small residency area in the upstairs unit.

Each morning at 3:30am, we’d get coffee at Liman, a big cafe and kebab near Mo.ë, and wait for a van to take us to the factory in Traiskirchen for the dawn performance. We would return to Liman around 8am, for Turkish breakfast: a pool of honey with a pat of butter floating on top, sliced cucumber and tomato, a pile of olives, cheeses and hummus. The table got sliced loaves of white bread to sop it all up. Coffee with milk and a pack of Parisienne Milds. One ritual to come down from another.

Photo: MKNZ


Vienna is profoundly Catholic; everything is closed on Sundays, even grocery stores. And perhaps it is the pervasiveness of Catholicism that inadvertently encourages Vienna’s debaucherous and gritty underbelly of legal prostitution and unrestrained indulgence of cigarettes and libation. The moral makeup of a society is not hierarchical but circular. Good and Evil are a pendulum, a mirror; they require each other to survive; to be named. They are, at best, units of measure, creating sprawls of grey area for the rest of us to operate within. Perhaps Vienna’s perceived familiarity with this duality makes her a natural host for the work of Saint Genet; certainly for our recent performance.

Photo: MKNZ


There is a moment during a performance when failure clings to the air around you. It is stiff, unsympathetic and evident to everyone in the room. In my experience, it is in these moments when fear is replaced by a total, immovable obligation. Not an obligation to succeed, per se; success is uninteresting and unimportant, but an obligation to rise to the occasion, to be as present as possible, to turn inside out. Failure or success, you do it with your whole heart.


My principal role in this performance (born out of a shared desire between Ryan and myself) was to come up with the content and location of this tattoo without any input or direction from Ryan. It was to remain an uncertainty until the end of the final day.


This wasn’t the first time I engaged in a performance involving an unknown tattoo.

In April of 2013, my forearm was tattooed by my then girlfriend and collaborator, Taylor Pinton, while I simultaneously shouldered the weight of a large wall that leaned precariously over her body. The imagery of the tattoo was determined by Taylor in advance, and was not seen by me until the performance concluded.


Somewhere in the midst of the 72 hours of An Exemplary Case of Love without Respite, I thought about Taylor. Specifically, the look on her face after we exited our performance space, and before I looked down at the new tattoo on my forearm. Tears were welling in her eyes and she trembled anxiously over my imminent reaction to the new mark on my body; the mark she’d determined for me. My new tattoo read, darling if you want me to, a Prince lyric and a prophetic notion that has been slowly unfurling its significance ever since.


I loved it immediately.


When I remembered that look on her face, I recognized my immediate future. I knew that at the end of these 72 hours, I would stand in a bathroom with Ryan, waiting for him look at the new mark on his ribs. It felt right, felt fated, to know that I would have to experience this place of immense vulnerability that I had asked Taylor to occupy two years ago.


That relationship died abruptly and sometimes I feel that its carcass still lingers; acrid, rotten, never picked apart or swallowed up by the earth. Its bones never dried out and bleached into some tidy keepsake of the past. So when I have little revelations about that relationship, they feel particularly affecting. They bring me a little closer to resolve.

Photos: Courtney Howell


Ryan’s new tattoo reads, “LOVE ME OR KILL ME, BROTHER”, a line from the 17th century play ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, by John Ford. The play is centered on the incestuous and passionate relationship between a brother and sister. There is a scene in the play, when Giovanni (the brother) confesses his love and desire to his sister, Annabella, with the expectation that she will reject the indecency of his admission. She, instead, kneels before him and says, “Love me or kill me, brother”, to which he replies with great potency, “Love me or kill me, sister”. With this vow, they seal their fate. They proceed to love one another shamelessly, and without regard to the contempt in which they are held by society. And this passion brings them to a hasty and gruesome death. Near the end of the play, Annabella is faced with her executioner, and instead of pleading for her life, she sings defiantly of a love worth dying for; of her passion for her brother. In his book, The Theatre and its Double, Antonin Artaud refers to this moment as “an exemplary case of love without respite”.

Photos: Ethan Folk, MKNZ






I am writing from Reykjavik, Iceland – my final stop before heading back home to Seattle.

I am here to visit my best friend, Morgan, who moved here a year ago to make a home with her husband (and newly dear friend of mine), Sindri. They have graciously taken me in and shown me kindness in my exhausted state.


The air here is cold and sulfuric. The wind beats my face red, but I am serene. This landscape begs me to surrender and I oblige. The color of the country is muted, with mountains jutting out of fields like raw onyx. There are vast plains of craggy, black, volcanic matter, made still by the cold, and preserved in a lacquer of snow. The architecture of Reykjavik is modest and built to endure; homes made of concrete and painted aluminum roofs. Window sills decorated with sun bathing cats and porcelain tchotchkes. I’ve been eating smoked salmon every morning and making big, starchy dinners: spaghetti and marinara, white bean and kale soup, potatoes and sauerkraut.

Trying to come back to myself.

Morgan reflects onto me everything tender and capable about my nature and I try to absorb what I can of these affirmations while I’m here.


After all this exploration of grief and sorrow, and harrowing persistence of love through trials of transgression, I am left with an intermittent feeling of unfamiliarity.

But I am humbled by this new territory of vulnerability that I charted with my collaborators in Vienna. I am heavy with gratitude for all of it.


EXPORTED: Ellen Ziegler | Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende | Entry #3

Artist Ellen Ziegler shares her last entry with us from her self-imposed residency in Mexico. Enjoy these imaginative moments captured in the light of Mexico. Thanks for letting us get a peek into your trip, Ellen. And welcome back home!

Cotidianidad | Quotidianity
Entry #3, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende – April 2015

My friend Ivan Puig calls these instances “cotidianidad”, and although the word “quotidianity” is only maybe a real word in English, it sums up those daily, ordinary, commonplace moments that illuminate us from inside.

Here are a few of mine from my time in Mexico. Thank you for joining me in my journey.

Shadow of a statue of priest Miguel Hidalgo, the father of Mexico’s revolution against Spanish rule, Dolores Hidalgo.

Dry fountain, San Miguel de Allende.

All electrical meters are covered by grates to prevent theft. No two alike, all hand-made. Here’s one…

A welcome in a small hotel.

Abandoned church, San Miguel de Allende.

Subway, Mexico City.

Sign, San Miguel.

Jell-O to go, Embajadores Market, Guanajuato.

Brass section, Sunday concert, Guanajuato.

Child’s dress worthy of a designer lamp shade.
San Juan de Dios Market, San Miguel de Allende.

Q&A : Elizabeth Stinson

Interview by Sierra Stinson | Photographs by Megumi Shauna Arai

Elizabeth Stinson is my mother. She is an artist, a therapist, a nurturer, an empath, and a force to reckon with. Throughout my life she has welcomed individuals from all communities and backgrounds into our home and lives. She was one of my first influences growing up taking me on trips to reservations in North America to work on human rights issues with Unrepresented Nations. She taught me that if you have anything to give; space, compassion, time, insight, to simply do it because you can. It is a service to exist in this world in a nurturing way. She has literally saved lives in the work she does and I couldn’t speak more highly of her accomplishments. Here is a Q&A with my mother, Elizabeth.





Sierra: Hi Mom, Will you tell our Vignettes audience a bit about yourself?

What is it that you do professionally and creatively? In life?

Elizabeth: Hi Honey,

I am a therapist, working mainly with deep trauma.  I am able to continue to do this work because I paint, play and pretend. I work in oil, latex and watercolor paints. I play with my wonderful granddaughter, who is a creative, and we pretend and become whatever she imagines.

SS: When did you begin creating? What enabled you to create?

ES: I began creating as a child, glue and crayons were my first tools and probably scissors.  My world was a collage that grew into a love to paint.  I think that I was lucky to be influenced by cousins that helped raise me and taught me to value painting as much as any interest or career and later on by art therapists and injured clients who taught me the restorative power of creating art.

SS: Are there any exhibitions or artists currently that are of interest to you?


ES: I am hungry for what is on the horizon.  I am nurtured as a therapist and an artist by the exposure to artists featured in Vignettes. I also go to every museum I can access, most often the Portland Art Museum and San Francisco MOMA, since I can’t go to TATE London that often. I often check to see if, say a Franz Kline retrospective is ANYWHERE?  I am very drawn to the ledger work of Michael Horse and more recently to work that is done in grids, abstract but many pieces combining to create a whole.  I think life is like that and my work reflects that, I hope, so I am currently stimulated by art that is intentionally multidimensional.

SS: What are you most excited about this year? In the world at large or in your community/family?

ES: Well, I think I am most excited about the members of our clan who are pursuing their dreams, despite the obstacles.  Holding them tightly and nurturing them to life.

SS: What was an exhibition that moved you in your life? A piece or body of work that shifted your way of thinking / feeling / experiencing life or art?

ES: Without a doubt the Rothko exhibit at the Tate in London.  Originally Seagrams had requested a mural for a restaurant.  There was some disagreement and Rothko took them back, part of  the series became property of the Tate Modern in London. The experience of standing in a dimly lit room, with only Rothko’s work in the room and staring for a long time at one particularly riveting piece was transcendent for me as an artist.  What was first seen as the surface became the depth, what was the exterior held me and the painting as one.

SS: What kind of work do you collect and who?


ES:  I collect work by artists who I feel push the edges, challenge their medium to do something new. I also collect art that is culturally representative and has survived colonization and represents the struggle, as do zuni fetishes, Navajo (Dine) rugs and Seri Ironwood carvings. i also collect art in nature, I have stones and stick and shells around me as well as images of clouds.

SS: When you reflect on your life what do you feel are the greatest moments or movements that you were a part of?

ES:  My strongest intention for my life has been to support the realization that violence is not a solution…to anything. I came of age in a time of war, deeply concerned that my older brother would be drafted and sent to Vietnam.  Many of my peers are permanently damaged by their exposure to violence, both inside the U.S and in foreign countries.  It is heart breaking to me that my children have also been exposed to violence as a failed solution by more wars. My repulsion to violence accompanied by need to create art as a restorative act helped me formulate a life long resistance to all violence as a solution. I went to jail many times for civil disobedience.  Many times I was in a position to help build jail solidarity and sometimes able to negotiate for a “catch and release” policy for those arrested. I worked hard to learn to dialogue with judges and courts and police to establish restorative justice programs in communities rather than jail as a solution.  This country is way out of balance, building more prisons and ignoring the outcomes of lives lost and undeveloped.  What an extreme waste of spirit and loss of potential and honor of diversity.  I hope to see more art and music and gardening and meditation options within community service settings as alternatives to imprisonment.  As you know, I have for years counseled many impacted by military sexual trauma and by rape both within the military and civilian community.  I could not productively work with such high acuity cases if I was not also painting, speaking to painters, listening to musicians and treasuring their societal impact.  Art, all forms help me find balance within a very disturbed and damaged culture. I have a long history of human rights work.

SS: Do you feel like there is a current movement that you are excited about?

ES: Our art continues to be a reflection of that wondrous gift of life all around us.  This is a very important transition time for artists. The D.I.Y movement has liberated art and its creators. It is very exciting to see art that is not inhibited by agents and museum standards, very exciting.  I am learning a lot from this next generation that refuses to objectify its work or let the system do so.  The presentation, experience of art and artists is more personal, reflective and engaged than ever. It can only serve to push open even wider space for  a much needed influence and experience.

SS: Thanks Mom, it was a pleasure chatting with you about art and your life. Thanks for being you.

ES: Thanks honey

The Gift of Perspective : A Conversation with Matthew Offenbacher & Jennifer Nemhauser

When we received an email announcing Deed of Gift, a collaborative art piece by Matthew Offenbacher and Jennifer Nemhauser, we immediately asked them to share with us the story and their perspective of this unique project. It was so moving to us, the way this work is simultaneously an act of subversion, humility, generosity, and kindness. This work moves us and makes us grateful. So thank you, thank you, thank you to Matt and Jennifer for the growth you are creating in this community. We’ll let you take it from here.

Matthew Offenbacher and Jennifer Nemhauser

Jennifer Nemhauser: Maybe we should start by describing our project.

Matthew Offenbacher: Right! It’s an art project called Deed of Gift. We took around $20,000 of a generous art award I won two years ago [the Neddy at Cornish], and used it to buy a collection of artwork to give to the Seattle Art Museum for their permanent collection. It’s the first time we’ve “officially” collaborated, even though we’ve been partners for 25 years, and we talk through work things with each other all the time.

J: The artists are Daft Kuntz (which is a collaboration between Dawn Cerny and Victoria Haven), Anne Focke, Klara Glosova, Wynne Greenwood, Ann Leda Shapiro and Joey Veltkamp.

M: We worked closely with SAM curators to finds points of common interest to shape this list. It was a long process of conversation that resulted in the work that we bought and SAM took. I’m very proud of the artists and work we came up with. The artists all live in the Seattle area—

J: Do you want to explain why that is significant?

M: I think there’s some aspect of this work that’s arguing for why a kind of “regionalism” makes sense right now—a focus on the specialness of art and the history of art from the perspective of this place. I don’t mean in a folksy kind of way, separate from what’s happening globally, but in the sense that a commitment to our region is a commitment to understanding the world. Like, you know, that Matthew Stadler essay I love so much? Let me find a quote: “The institution and the city are at the center of a connected, dynamic globe, always—never a remote or special space awaiting the arrival of art and insight from distant capitals, always the center of a global discourse that returns and returns, as blood through a heart.”

J: Nice.

M: The other thing I wanted to point out is that all the works have feminist and queer themes.

J: We are such children of the 70s!

M: That’s when Ann Leda made her two paintings! Kissing hermaphroditic mer-people and astronauts. So amazing. The astronaut one has little airplanes skywriting “one needs a cock to get by”.

Ann Leda Shapiro, Women Landing on Man in the Moon, 1971, watercolor on paper

Ann Leda Shapiro, Two Sides of Self, 1971, watercolor on paper
Image Courtesy of Seattle Art Museum

J: I love that Ann Leda’s paintings have a history with the Whitney [Two Sides of Self was censored from a show at the Whitney in 1973, and Women Landing on Man in the Moon was made in response], and the Daft Kuntz print has a connection with SAM. As I understand it, “So good it could have been made by a man” was something Vic overheard at the opening of her show at SAM, at the time of the Elles show two years ago. Just goes to show: the more things change….

Daft Kuntz (Dawn Cerny and Victoria Haven), So Good It Could Have Been, 2012, silkscreen on paper

M: I like how we ended-up with a group of artists who all do things in our community—as organizers, teachers, activists, community leaders. I’m interested in how this plays out in their work. For example, I think Joey has taken up a form of art that’s associated with family and community and turned it kind-of inside-out—so that the public spaces his quilts end up in are somehow transformed into communal spaces, spaces of shared experience.

Joey Veltkamp, A-side: G L A C I E R / B-side: Glacier National Park (Pendleton Park Series), 2013, fabric, batting, thread

J: That seems like the opposite mood from Klara’s paintings, where people are in a community, but still feel so isolated.

Klara Glosova, Life on the Sidelines, 2014, watercolor on paper

M: Yeah, that mood of alienation is strong. What about Wynne’s video? Young Women Warrior Prepared for Battle. Community or alienation?

Wynne Greenwood, YOUNG WOMAN WARRIOR PREPARED FOR BATTLE, 2007, single channel DVD

J: Way to put me on the spot! I think the video, like so much of Wynne’s work, is about finding a way through. Hopefully taking advantage of having a community, but also knowing that, ultimately, we are kind of on our own. It’s inspiring and somehow reassuring that it is kind of a mess for everybody, because that video is so messy.


M: For me, it’s also something about power, the power to quite literally paint your own world—but also how fucked-up that can be. That’s kind of the theme of Anne F.’s book too.

Anne Focke, a pragmatic response to real circumstances, 2006, softcover book

J: A pragmatic response to real circumstances—the title kind of says of it all.

M: We should also talk about how many other collections we could have put together in place of this one.

J: Yes. I can say with no hesitation that we could have made a collection of equal quality twenty times over. It would be ridiculously easy to assemble a similarly awesome collection of work by completely different people—not even counting other pieces by these same people. And think of all of the themes we didn’t even touch with this work. Like all that great stuff about loving the monsters we are, scorned for timber, gnarly decomposition as reclaiming that you wrote about in “Green Gothic”.

M: If anyone wants to give us another $20,000 we’re happy to assemble a different awesome collection.

J: Or maybe lots of other people will decide to make their own collections. A big theme of Deed of Gift is that there could be many more people collecting “museum quality” art right here in River City [Jennifer starts singing songs from The Music Man]. We’ve talked a lot about how some people don’t hesitate to spend $1000 on a sofa, but would feel completely decadent spending $1000 on a piece of art.

M: Yeah, why is that?

J: I think it’s something about people not trusting themselves to make good decisions about art. Maybe also because they are objects and people feel like it’s a big commitment. It seems easier to spend money on transient experiences—like dinner out or vacation, or even a concert. I think it would be awesome if more people could feel like it was okay to buy a piece of art, live with it for a few years, and then let it circulate again if they’ve moved on. Or start giving art as gifts—how fun is it to tell someone that you will buy them a piece of art that you pick out together?

M: That would be awesome. You could totally spend a few hundred bucks on something, enjoy having it, it’s not such a big deal. Not thinking “is this a good investment?” or “will I want this in 10 years?” —but more like, “this thing is speaking to me right now and I want to invite it home.”

J: Like in the Sea-Cat video?

M: Yeah! Let’s put a link to it, it’s classic. Collective art collecting!

J: I love the idea that when you buy art from a local artist you are investing in our overall quality of life. It’s kind of like a public radio fundraiser—you can listen for free, but you feel so much better when you make a donation. The tote-bag or whatever is just a bonus.

M: In making Deed of Gift we had a lot of questions about how artists are supported, and how a big part of that support is people who buy art.

J: We’ve talked about it in terms of the metaphor of an ecosystem. Especially in a city that’s changing as fast as Seattle is, you really see the potential for a whole segment of the population to go extinct.

M: I think there’s this misconception of what artists are contributing. Many people seem to have the impression that artists are small-scale business people, producers of things whose value should be judged by the market-share they attract.

J: Totally. When we got a chance to live in Rotterdam for three months last year for your residency, it was a completely different vibe. Artists still saw the importance of circulating work through a market, but there was a strong sense in society of having artists integrated in every community. It was part of a good quality of life, like really great bike paths. It also seemed something baked-in to the education system. It made everyone feel like everyone had something to say about art. It didn’t feel like it was such a precious, elitist activity.

M: One result is that the artists we lived with there seemed so much less stressed out!

J: Yeah. So definitely, getting money directly to more artists, taking award money and distributing to more artists in the community felt great. Getting work into SAM—underlining the idea that museums also have a critical role in the local art ecosystem—also super important. I think like a lot of people, I have a love/hate relationship with Seattle. This project was definitely a way to focus on the love part.