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Soft Power, Activated

Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 7:00pm

Jacob Lawrence Gallery, University of Washington Campus

You are cordially invited to:

As part of Soft Power, Activated my presentation – part multimedia talk, part participatory studio – will cover such topics as the phonebook, place, the art of letter writing, social media, chance, penmanship, and desire.

Bring your favorite pen.

In conjunction with the Seattle Art Museum’s exhibition, Elles: Women Artists of the Centre Pompidou, Paris, curators Susie J. Lee (MFA 2006) and Kolya Rice (Lecturer, Art History) have orchestrated an intensive exhibition. Soft Power expands the definition of the gallery beyond a repository of objects, and connects students with some of Seattle’s most dynamic cultural stewards. Nearly every day of the exhibition, Soft Power will present a new project, intimate gathering, performance, or interview. All events are open to the public.

An amazing program. Check it out!




October 24 – December 15, 2012
Opening Reception: Wednesday, October 24, 5 – 8 pm

SKYPE SKULPT STUDIO is an investigation of communication, decentralization, and the thing-ness of speech.. Over the course of the exhibition, Susan Robb will collaboratively create sculptures with local, national, and international artists, using SKYPE video calls. The participants will guide Robb in the construction of a sculpture using the materials she has chosen, and she will guide the participants in the creation of a sculpture using materials they have selected. These video calls will be broadcast live in the Cornish Gallery and the resulting works will be added to the exhibition as they are created. Performances will occur on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the Main Gallery.Please stay tuned for a complete schedule of collaborators. The Cornish exhibitions website will be updated as details become available.

You can participate in SKYPE SKULPT STUDIO! Help stock the “store” of materials available for Susan to choose from. Gallery visitors can bring materials and found objects to the exhibition, where they will be collected and cataloged for use.

Cornish Main Gallery, Cornish College of  the Arts
Floor 1, 1000 Lenora Street, Seattle, WA
Hours: Monday – Friday, noon – 5 pm; Saturday, noon – 4 pm

“Songlines” to Navigate The Art Landscape

Join me July 12th from 6:30 – 7:00 PM at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Inspired by Seattle Art Museum’s current exhibition Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection and the idea of ‘songlines” referenced in some of the work, we’ll compose haiku that help us navigate the art landscape.


Amanda Manitach asked me for a “piece of art you’ve made that has never been shown and probably never will. Something sitting in a corner of your studio that you love (or hate) but doesn’t quite sit with anything else. Something experimental, something that launched a thousand ships. Something that failed. The magical unicorn of a piece that can never be repeated or replicated.”

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City Arts magazine back page

Breathing Life into the Bubble

May 25, 2012 | by SUSAN ROBB

I was six, it was the 1970s, and I lived in southeastern Connecticut. My world consisted of riding bikes, climbing things, swimming in the summer, skating in the winter and dancing to AM radio. I was bored.

I began creating unusual situations to amuse myself and my friends. The first arose from necessity. We needed chewing gum, and we needed it bad. I hatched a scheme for us to take turns knocking on strangers’ doors: “Hi, we’re on a scavenger hunt and the only thing left on our list is a stick of gum.”

Back then I was struggling to determine whether I was a tiger or an Indian brave. After some negotiation, I convinced my mom to sew me a tiger costume, which I was somehow allowed to wear to school—occasionally in combination with a feathered headdress and a bow and arrows I fashioned from sticks. My identity issues coincided with the bicentennial fervor that gripped Connecticut, one of the “13 original colonies.” Colonial Americana had taken over the curriculum of my grammar school and my class was instructed to sew either a bonnet (for the girls) or a tri-cornered hat (for the boys). Way too embarrassed to be seen in Pilgrim gear, there I was, the transgendered Native American tiger girl among 13 kids dressed in mid-1700s period costume.

A few years later, on one lazy, hazy day of the interminable New England summer, I raided my parents’ storage closet and my dad’s workbench, this time constructing cobwebs from electrical wire and making costumes of long wool winter coats, un-mated shoes, stuffed animals, enormous ’70s sunglasses and dust masks. Thus attired, my friend Rebecca and I went knocking on neighbors’ doors introducing ourselves as Which One and Which Two, and celebrating a new holiday, July-o-ween. This boredom-borne fun positively engaged my neighbors. The unscripted moment took people by surprise, activating the humid afternoon with genuine pleasure. People gave us popsicles, vegetables from their gardens, slices of pizza. They invited us inside—except for Mrs. Rosa, a 90-year-old woman who lived alone. She called the police.

My search for authentic moments went on. Prank calls (an easy way to reach out to strangers in the days before caller ID). Bands where the only instruments were kitchen gadgets. A radio show. Driving around after an ice storm. Driving around during a hurricane. A shaving cream pool party. (There’s a particular beauty produced from jumping off a diving board while squirting shaving cream in the air—and from your dad’s anger after you totally eff’d up the pool.)

These attempts to breathe life into the bubble of a suburban environment were my version of sketchbook drawings, the genesis of the art I make today. They were early forays into “relational aesthetics” or “socially engaged art”—a practice intent on creating a social environment for a shared activity, usually on a real scale, in real time.

These days I envision these shared environments as opportunities to create itinerant utopias in the fissures of the contemporary landscape. In late January’s ONN/OF “a light festival,” for example, the alienating glom of Seattle’s winter became an occasion to celebrate light, warmth and art in an unused sweater factory turned community space. In The Long Walk—a project where I lead 50 people on a four-day, 45-mile walk through the cities, suburbs, farmlands and forests of Western Washington—I repurpose the King County Trails System as studio and performance space. I facilitate a transformation of participants into a roving think tank as they discuss the meaning of home and the pace of contemporary life.

Unlike a traditional studio based practice, socially engaged art doesn’t depict something. It is what it is, “the country itself as its own map.” Unlike orthodox studio art, socially engaged work is made in public, involving others and exposing the artist in the process. Social practice is sometimes tied to Marxism and social praxis. For me, it’s more like a meditation or yoga practice; each work opens an opportunity for me to explore the contours of people, places and our search for a more perfect world.

But utopia can be a difficult, and risky, concept for a young artist to comprehend. The summer before junior year of high school, the monotony of cruising the half-mile boardwalk, aimlessly driving around, and watching punk rock shows at the VFW hall had deepened my teenage ennui. One night after some skeeball at the beach, I came up with a plan: My friend Katie and I would conduct an ocean-side séance. We called out to passers-by and soon attracted 13 willing participants to engage in the goth arts for $5 apiece.

We brought the group to the water’s edge. With the sound of lapping waves and screams of delight from a nearby amusement park, I instructed the coven to sit in a circle facing each other and close their eyes. I remained outside the circle and gave a series of improvised instructions and asked the group to remain still, with their eyes shut. I could sense their excitement and trust and I had no idea what to do next. I can’t recall whether I just hadn’t thought this part through, or what my intention was, but I only saw one way out: Exit. Now. I motioned to Katie, and while our circle was communing with the dead, we took off toward the car and drove, hell-bent and 65 bucks richer, to Pizzarama. And then, “Shit, what have I done?”

Then and there, I recoiled from art as outright theft. But the artist as trickster, born of that New England summer ennui, continued to use the magical, transformative powers of social practice as the key to an elusive utopia—only without the scam.

Susan Robb is an artist based in Seattle. She will lead The Long Walk July 26–29. Registration begins June 20.


Parking Squid christening


CALLING ALL BIKE LOVERS, CEPHALOPOD LOVERS, BIKERS WHO LOVE CEPHALOPODS, CEPHLAPODS WHO LOVE BIKES and those that just aren’t sure! Your presence is requested at the SQUID PARKING “OPENING”. Enjoy squid-shaped cookies, “christening juice”, and lovely other things from me, Sierra Nelson, and special guest appreciators of all things squidtastic!

Thursday May 31st 4:30 – 5:30

Harrison Street entrance of Seattle Center, on the north side of the Experience Music Project.

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Reviews of The Softer Side of Death

Jen Graves –

Amanda Manitach –

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Look what washed up …

You can find her at Seattle Center on the north side of EMP.

Special thanks to Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs and Michael Ryndinski  at Decorative Metal Arts.

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Coming Soon – Parking Squid!

Parking Squid will soon take to the streets!

She will be installed in Seattle Center the morning of May 4th as part of Seattle Center’s Next 50 a “dialogue about the social and intellectual capital that feeds our region’s –and the world’s – creative energy.

Parking Squid, may well be a friend to those giant squid lurking in the depths of Puget Sound. Her raised, bike-wheel clutching tentacle beckons cyclists creating a locus for meeting and interaction while her architectural uniqueness within the city positions Parking Squid as an easily identifiable landmark; a potential “Seattle icon.”

Ride on down and say hello to her!

For more info about giant squid

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Start breaking in your walking shoes …

Tolt Pipeline Trail, The Long Walk, 2011

Stock up on moleskin and start breaking in your walking shoes, The Long Walk is ON – July 26th-29th!

Once again I will lead 50 trail trampers on a 4-day, 45-mile pedestrian adventure through the cities, suburbs, farmlands, and forests of King County using the Regional Trails System. In this work of land art that combines elements of performance and social engagement, the group and I will slow down, delve deep into the meaning of landscape, and create a temporary, interstitial culture.

Creative projects for this iteration of The Walk will include Beers Made by Walking by Colorado Springs-based Eric Steen, Seattle artist Web Crowell’s bicycle-driven seltzer delivery system, Art House Brooklyn’s Sketchbook Project, and much more.

If you don’t feel up to four days of trekking, you can always join in The Long Walk’s exploration of place at McCormick Park in Duvall for the open-to-everyone Mid-Point Mash-Up on Friday, July 27th. This year’s Mash-Up will include workshops, installations, and a bizarro variety of musical theater performed by The Snoqualmie Floodplain Cabaret (including Jed Dunkerley, Sari Breznau, and players from across the country) that calls for tight harmonies, odd props, spontaneous fits of landscaping, and pianos found in unexpected places (look up?!).

Registration for The Walk opens in mid-June. Details will be published in 4Culture’s next e-news and online at Participation is free, but limited to 50 people on a first-come, first-served basis.