Visual Art Shortlist
Photos by Kelly O
Since 2008, Sarah Bergmann has quietly been building what may be the largest art installation in Seattle history. The Pollinator Pathway spans a mile of Columbia Street, from Seattle University to Nora's Woods. It's a series of gardens—when finished, there will be 60—in parking strips that are providing pollinating insects with a new thruway, biologically reconnecting two areas of the city.
Pathway is a microcosmic urban solution to the global megaproblem of pollinator decline (particularly colony collapse in honeybees that help provide most of our nongrain foods). It's also a landscape painting made with the broadest brush Bergmann could devise.
Bergmann made plein air paintings after graduating from Cornish in 1999. She'd capture the light, the views, the birds—but, she says, "it was BS!" Missing from her paintings were the buildings, parking lots, plastic bags. How to capture the entire system? She stopped painting, moved to New York, and found herself at an environmental ad agency working with, of all companies, Walmart, causing her to read up on distribution systems and pollinator decline. Walking in Manhattan one day, a bird suddenly fell at her feet. Migration, pollination, it all came together: She needed to create a project in her green home city of Seattle, where her mother had once selected her preschool according to how many plant species grew along the walk.
Tiny yellow "road" signs (for insects and bees to read!) dot the Pathway gardens if you kneel down to look. Bergmann hustles for grants, works mostly for free, and collaborates with property owners, botanists, beekeepers, and urban planners. Back in the studio, she's painting a new naturalist book, after Audubon, that reintegrates humans in nature. "You know, a naturalist book with semitrucks." She's shy. But her art wants world change. JEN GRAVES
The unseen history of Amanda Manitach's ecstatic drawings and videos is her actual experience crawling, crying out, and rolling around on the floors of the neocharismatic churches of her Texas childhood while her father preached. Tongues were spoken. Humans barked, roared, and hissed. There was hysteria, and it was called good—as opposed to the symptoms of the 19th-century "women's condition" that Manitach later came to love and also to imbue into her art. Using just pencil on paper, she summons writhing visions of wadded-up fabric that appear to have been exorcised of some wild force. Or florid, syphilitic labia. Her videos might picture her mashing her foot into a stiletto that already contains a pool of bruise-blue paint and a piece of soaked bread. Or masturbating. (You see the ceiling she saw, then an electric shade of green that flashed on the screen when she dropped the iPhone to the ground.)
Manitach is an atheist. "Christianity is so silly and so erotic and so infantile," she says; some of her favorite images are from the sexy crucifixion scenes in Jesus of Nazareth, the campy 1977 TV miniseries. ("When the body of Christ was autopsied, there was found one wandering uterus that had moored itself in the chest cavity, near the heart," Manitach wrote, breathlessly, in a prose poem for an artist zine.) At the same time, "I'm trying to approach ritual or liturgy in art. I'm alluding to the interconnectivity of the erotic experience and a religious or spiritually ecstatic experience." She's thrown out the baby but kept the bathwater, as another artist once told her. In her monochrome drawings and rainbow-bright videos—"I suck at painting; I don't paint"—she is trying to cause heart attacks, of a sort. She wants to evoke "that feeling: a palpitation." JEN GRAVES
A hand throwing the sign of the horns—rock out, man—thrusts up, perfectly carved in wood, from a four-foot slab of rough and uncarved wood. Connecting the arm to the slab are carved chain links. Rock is one of Dan Webb's latest sculptures (going on view in August at Greg Kucera Gallery), and it embodies the reason he began carving back in 1990, during his final year at Cornish: "It just seemed badass."
At Seattle Art Museum, a local art historian was fooled into believing that Webb's carved Shroud was actually fabric. Another of Webb's pieces, Little Cuts, is a series of photographs he took as he carved a head, then whittled it away to sawdust. At the end of the row of photographs sits a Plexiglas box containing the dust. Webb made Little Cuts as his brother was dying of brain cancer; it serves as an unforgettable memorial.
He'd decided to become an artist at the age of 16, when he saw a picture of Robert Rauschenberg's late-1950s sculpture Monogram, a taxidermied goat wearing a rubber tire and standing atop a painted/collaged surface. He'd always made things, but, he says, "this was something you could enter on multiple levels." What was missing from the late-20th-century art he was studying "was making something that was astounding, that was just fucking awesome." Something intellectual, but pre-intellectual. As Webb likes to say, "Before art, there was carving." JEN GRAVES