Artist Barbara Robertson is the current artist in residence at Oxbow gallery, which offers a stipend to artists and is one of the latest and most flexible spaces for developing new works of art in Seattle.
Grasping a projector, artist Barbara Robertson walks around the Oxbow gallery in Georgetown, trying out different locations to project her latest video. As she tilts the machine, her mesmerizing, architectural animations illuminate a smooth white wall, slide across a window and corner and activate the floor. Robertson’s frequent collaborator, the sound designer Johanna Melamed, offers feedback, along with Oxbow’s program manager and co-owner, Ruth Lockwood.
It’s all part of the process of showing art at the Oxbow, one of the latest and most flexible spaces for developing new works of art, particularly site-specific installations, in Seattle.
Rather than following the commercial model of traditional galleries, where galleries get a commission for any artwork sold and artists get paid only if their artwork sells, the Oxbow offers multimonth residencies with no-strings-attached financial and logistical support.
If you go
‘Architectonic’ by Barbara Robertson
4-7 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Jan. 6, Oxbow, 6118 12th Ave. S., Seattle (check website for holiday hours: oxbowseattle.com).
That kind of support is unusual, though not unheard of, in Seattle, with MadArt and Gallery 4Culture as other examples of noncommercial galleries that foster the creation and display of new work. Ample space to explore ideas is also valuable for artists who often find it difficult to afford studios in a city with sky-high real estate and rental costs.
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Lockwood says, “The way our city is changing, artists are at the forefront of that, both helping us understand it and being impacted by it. We feel like this could be a good place for those kinds of conversations to happen.”
The Oxbow came about when Ruth Lockwood, her husband, Tony Lockwood, and Marcus Crider — who together operate design/build company Lockwood & Sons — partnered with Gabe Kean of exhibit-design firm Belle & Wissell, Co., to purchase and remodel a large property in Georgetown in 2012. The three brickfaced historical buildings once housed a home-heating fuel company, a Ford car dealership and service shop, and, most recently, the Alaskan fishing company SnoPac.
The new owners renamed the property as a nod to the history of Georgetown’s center, which was once a small township called Oxbow, tucked into a bend of the surrounding Duwamish River, and spent most of the next four years building out the space.
A fabrication room occupies the back and other creative and administrative spaces are tucked in here and there. A gravel courtyard in front connects the Oxbow with eat/drink establishments on either side: Ciudad and Bar Ciudad.
The owners turned the heart of the building into a lofty, industrial-chic space with enormous potential. The loose plan was to rent it out for events, which would generate funding for art shows.
When artist Mary Ann Peters approached them in 2016 about creating a site-specific work over the span of two months, everything clicked: They would host creative residencies, allowing artists to develop and exhibit new work.
Lockwood says, “Talking to Mary Ann and other artists, we realized there aren’t many spaces where you can stretch out and try new things, experiment on a new scale or in a different medium, or just try something you haven’t tried before.”
Artists are given a stipend, about $1,500, derived from the event-rental income, and there’s no pressure to sell work (although artists can choose to do so). The Oxbow is open to the public throughout the residencies.
After Mary Ann Peters’ initial project, residencies were granted to Saul Becker, Michelle de la Vega, Dan Webb and Chris McMullen.
Now it’s Barbara Robertson’s turn. As she looks around at the high ceilings and unique angles, she says, “I just love this space. It’s sculptural in and of itself. And it’s interesting to be in, to think about what images could do here.”
Robertson, who was already exploring structure in her large drawings and prints, began by creating a model of the gallery and building her digital animations. The resulting videos feature playfully patterned building-block-like shapes floating around, falling into place, then falling away again, as they continuously construct and deconstruct abstract structures.
All of this is projected across the actual structure of the room, asking us to look back and forth between building and image and to think about our relationships with our environment and how we both receive and create experiences.
Along the way, Robertson found connections to today’s construction boom and to the Russian Constructivist movement of one century ago.
In her artist statement, she writes, “Many of us believe, as the Constructivists assumed, that impressive technological advances will eventually create a better world but are challenged by pervasive consumerism and a focus on personal gain, often at the expense of our communities.”
Yet Robertson’s videos, now projected on three walls at the Oxbow, are not despondent. The moving images, along with the intricate sound score created by Melamed, are welcoming and dynamic. They suggest creativity and generativity. (An “Architectonic” video is also scheduled to be screened on the media screen at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation starting in late December.)
And she’s not done yet. In keeping with the process-oriented goals of the Oxbow, Robertson will add two more videos to her installation before her residency is over in January.
So, now, she moves around the space with a projector, testing how her freshly made animations might look in a corner, across the stairs, or on the high ceiling.
“This is the gift of this space,” Melamed said. “It allows us to play and experiment.”