Gallery on the Edges: Q and A with Sharon Arnold of Bridge Productions
The last time I spoke with Sharon Arnold in her first gallery in Georgetown, I found myself surprised at my own sadness. Her modest space LxWxH, hovering over a pizza restaurant, was closing. Arnold wasn’t going far—she was moving on to collaborate with another well-respected gallerist, in downtown Seattle. LxWxH was small in scale and remote by comparison, two miles south of the city center, in Seattle’s historic, industrial neighborhood of Georgetown. But its presence had bored deep into the landscape of the community’s visual art, through not only the gallery that balanced the homegrown with the sophisticated so well, but also through the accessible boxed sets of small works that she sold to foster collecting in the city. I knew I would miss this gallery’s ideas when it was gone. - Erin Langner, Seattle Contributor
Tectonic, Installation View. Image courtesy of Bridge Productions.
A little more than one year later, Arnold is back in Georgetown, with the curated box sets and a new space, both of which live under the umbrella of Bridge Productions. Now sharing the building with three other galleries, the formerly quiet atmosphere had been replaced by a constant bustle on the Saturday I stopped by, as small groups continuously cycled through the gallery. I caught up with Sharon to find out what brought her back to the south end of town, what had changed and what had stayed the same.—Erin Langner, Seattle contributor
Erin Langner: What made you decide to come back to Georgetown and bring back your gallery and the curated boxed sets?
Sharon Arnold: I felt like these projects embody the philosophy and aspects of my work that I enjoy doing most. I love connecting communities and people and places. A lot of the artists I like to work with are local and on an emerging level, so returning to the gallery and the boxed sets made sense for the direction I was looking to take.
When I started looking for spaces, I looked in [Seattle’s main gallery neighborhood] Pioneer Square, and none of those places seemed right. I also feel like I am a bit of a rough-around-the-edges person—I enjoy bucking the trend and defying the perceptions of what a space can be. But, I also just wanted to be back in Georgetown. This feels like a Seattle that I know. Not that I’m afraid of unfamiliarity, but when I look around, this landscape reflects the things I love most about this city. Its identity is solidly tied to industry. And, the physical landscape is inescapable. You look out and see Mt. Rainier when you drive down Airport Way. There’s just no getting away from where you are here, and I think that’s really important.
On a practical level, I also live down here. As the city expands, artists and other people are being relocated. Many more artists are here now, compared to even just a year ago, and more people are continuing to move southwards. Since early 2015, more galleries have also become active in this part of town. When I opened LxWxH in 2012, I was asking people who lived in the core of the city to come down here. But now that I’ve reopened, I’m discovering that people are happy to have a place to go where they already are.
EL: Do you see Bridge Productions as a continuation of LxWxH, or does it have new vision?
SA: It’s an evolution—a little bit of both. I say evolution because I feel LxWxH was a place where I wanted to showcase as many artists as possible, to demonstrate the wealth and the abundance of this area. I also wanted to create an incubator where people could experiment and realize their visions without my interference. Now, after spending some time away from the project, I have a more cohesive vision about the artists I am committed to representing. I want to get them outside the city and give them a space to show regularly, as well as collaborate with them closely on their careers. I’m still working with guest artists and curators, but I am trying to draw a line between people in a different way and curate more specifically. The first show, Tectonic, exhibited a particular connecting thread between all of these people, even those I’m not representing.
EL: What were you looking for in the six artists you represent—were there certain consistencies, or was it more about creating a diverse roster, where people are bringing different strengths?
SA: It was all of those things. But, the first question was, who are the artists in Seattle that really excite me? I started out with this big list, and then I thought about the people within that list had some connecting thread and overlap, or analogous processes and ideas. And so, the list got smaller. And then the question became, how could I still represent a diverse group of people—diverse meaning many things—without tokenizing anyone?
In the end, the group that emerged is one working with process and identity and narrative; with mapmaking and time, as well as time-based work, whether that takes the form of layers of repetitive materials, like Emily Gherard, or whether it was more performative, documentation-based work, like Kat Larson. And, they also play with elements of the earth, strata and landscape.
EL: That makes sense for a gallery whose first show was titled Tectonic.
SA: Yes! And elements of movement and shifts play out among this work, too. I’m very, very very deeply into metaphors. They’re irresistible to me.
EL: A lot of the artists on your roster have ties to painting, some working more directly with the medium than others. Are there certain elements of paint or the painting process that inhabit all of the artists you’ve chosen to represent?
SA: I think so. When I think about a painting, I’m thinking about the very determinant, an indelible mark. I see paintings as objects that span time. The medium connects humans from Lascaux to now, and it is constantly being reevaluated and recontextualized to reflect the lens of our time. We’re always going to be enamored with painting, in some way. Also, I’m interested in how the idea of painting changes. I’m excited about Tim Cross’s work because he really examines what painting is, as a medium and a process. He impresses a color field onto fabric, but instead of using a brush, he uses pigment transfer. Why does paint require a brush? Maybe it doesn’t.
Dave Kennedy is using photography, but there still something so painterly about his work—the abstract shapes, the way color transfers across the surface, and that everything he creates has a collage sensibility. Painting is time-based, it’s hyper-focused on a surface, it is mark making, is layers and strata. You could excavate a painting the same way you could excavate any other surface, and that is, in fact, part of the process for some people, like Emily, who creates paintings and drawings that sometimes build up and reveal, and sometimes build up and tear away.
EL: Switching to the limited edition box sets, where you invite two artists and a writer to create works that fit into a small, handmade box, is it a similar curatorial process?
SA: It’s pretty different because this is my opportunity to really play, as a curator. I get to think about people who are emerging and that I feel could meet the challenges of the spatial requirement in a fun, unorthodox way. For example, how can I get a sculptor to create something that fits into a box that’s 9 inches by 2.5 inches by 12 inches?
I think of each box set as a gallery space, with a viewer of one. But, there are no real restrictions or requirements. I trust that curatorial urge to form a theme within each set. If I’m interested in how these people align together, the elements that bind them always emerge.
In the April box, Guy Merrill is making these forms in collapsible sculpture—they’re triangle-based forms that are prismatic and molecular. The viewer can form them into any shape that they want within the limitations of that structure. And I’ve paired him with Jazz Brown, who is an emerging painter.
This was the first time that Jazz had ever worked in this small of scale. I think that sometimes painters’ identities are so tied in with the size of their work, and so I feel like Jazz really had the opportunity to engage with his practice on this intimate level that he hadn’t experienced before. He began to use his fingers instead of a brush or a palette knife, and that changed the work for him. His patterns became more complex or more fractured. It was interesting to watch the work evolve over the course of this project, and now he’s excited and he wants to continue to work small.
And then, Meghan Trainor is going to write about witchcraft and technology, so I feel that they’re all tapping into mysticism and science and structure, in a really beautiful way.
Bridge Productions is located in Georgetown, in Seattle, Washington, and is home to several projects featuring a broad range of contemporary art and literature. Their focus is to create a strong, accessible connection to the arts through publications, monthly art exhibitions, events, curatorial collaborations, and curated box sets. Bridge is founded by Sharon Arnold, who has a history of art writing and independent curating in Seattle since 2008.
Erin Langner is a writer and works at the University of Washington in Seattle.