Local Talent

A Fiendish Conversation with Susan Robb

For her latest interactive installation, the Seattle artist turns to Skype to sculpt.

By Seth Sommerfeld October 26, 2012

Susan Robb preps for 'The Long Walk.' Image courtesy 4Culture.

Susan Robb has been part of the local art conversation for years. "The Seattle artist's interactive installations get people to walk miles (The Long Walk), squat in high-end buildings (Sleeper Cell Training Camp), and lock their bikes to a Parking Squid," says arts editor Laura Dannen. Now she's making conversation the art with the Skype Skulpt Studio at Cornish. Robb will take instruction from artists via Skype on how to build a sculpture with materials she has on hand—or found objects people bring in—and then return the favor. Each session is broadcast live in the Cornish gallery and results in two artworks (one constructed by Robb and one that the video-chat collaborator will mail to Cornish).

For our latest Fiendish Conversation we pseudo-ambushed the forward-thinking artist for a chat about making conversations visible, critics, and former bands.

What led to the Skype element of Skype Skulpt Studio?

My work has lately been socially engaged work. I’m interested in working with other people to create a piece; it typically has been about that interaction or the time that we spend together. It seems like creating sculptures with other people would do two things: It would continue that inquiry into socially engaged work, but it would also... sort of make visible the structure of conversation. I have this idea that when you speak to your friends, or you speak to anybody, you’re creating this invisible structure that’s made out of words, and gestures, and the feeling of the conversation. My hope is that in this piece—through this piece—that some of that idea comes across.

We’ll place the call and I’ll show the artist the material I have—basically my vocabulary—and they’ll do the same. And then improvisationally, of course—the way a conversation works—I’ll direct them in the making of something, and vice versa.

One of the exhibit’s parameters is that people can bring in materials and found objects for you to use when sculpting. What are you hoping to get out of that?

That extends the conversation to more than just me and the artist I’m having the call with. Basically those objects become interjections into the conversation. I present a number of materials to the artist, and they do the same, and then I direct them in the making of a sculpture using the things they’ve shown me and vice versa. So the things that people bring in are the things that the other artist ends up using in their piece, so to speak.

Which up-and-coming local artists should people take note of?

I’m not sure how up-and-coming or emerging they are, but Mike Simi, Susanna Bluhm, Julie Alpert… There’s probably more. I mean, there really are so many great artists in Seattle, it’s hard to name them all.

How has Seattle shaped your artistic voice?

That’s such a complex question 'cause I do think geography ends up being everything for me. Because geography is so important, I started creating work that was site specific—that dealt with this place, like in terms of The Long Walk. ... ONN/OFF, the light festival, obviously was created because of the depressing, rainy, totally gloomy winters. I needed to make something that would take me out of that, and I had a feeling that a lot of other people were feeling the same thing that I was feeling.

If you weren’t an artist what line of work might you have considered?

Musician. I used to be in a band and I got a lot of satisfaction out of that, too. I played bass and sang in a band called Incredible Force of Junior.

What's your opinion of critics?

I like art critics. I wish there were more art critics in Seattle. I think that the Seattle art scene would be made stronger by more critical conversation, more give-and-take, more ways to connect the work that’s being made her to larger themes. So I’m all for critique.

Susan Robb: Skype Skulpt Studio
Skulpting sessions on Nov 3 & 10, Dec 1 & 15; Cornish Gallery, Cornish College of the Arts

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