Sharon Arnold has a lot of ideas. When we met up a few weeks ago over at Caffe Vita to discuss the new online direction of their gallery/publication/art space Bridge Productions, we immediately bonded over the importance of responding to the needs of your community, doing things to better your own work, and showing up for other people.
Bridge Productions started out in 2010 as an online gallery, producing 4 to 6 curated boxsets a year and occasionally hosting pop-up events at Vermillion. In 2012, Bridge moved into a brick and mortar space in Georgetown where they were situated until last year. Arnold, a curator, scholar, and founder of Bridge, put that space to good use, hosting traditional gallery events such as monthly exhibitions and artist talks, but also poetry readings, publications, performances, music, and the like.
In January, Bridge announced a pivot away from physical space in what Arnold says is a return to the roots of Bridge Productions. "It was clearly time to relinquish the commercial model. In a lot of ways it was prohibitive to the things that interest me most as someone that does a lot of different things," they said. "With a concrete space, with a certain number of exhibitions a year, and a certain number of artists to work with, it really became very narrow, it felt very narrow."
Arnold said that the idea of having an exhibition online or a residency that does not take place in a physical space, makes things seem more possible—and exciting. They referenced Violet Strays, a now defunct Seattle-based online gallery, that relinquished its webpage to the artist. It was ephemeral—like a gallery show—but also accessible to anyone that had access to the internet and a phone or computer.
With everyone now curating their own online experiences and interests, finding community with people who aren't necessarily in their immediate community, this shift online makes sense. That's where a lot of discussion is happening, where a lot of things are being created. I think about the possibilities of encountering a gallery on my phone while I'm on the toilet—what connections can be made? How can context and content come together to make something new and different? Maybe what the art world needs is an exhibition of gouache paintings encountering my bathroom tiles!
So where would Bridge fit within the Seattle art scene? If not housed somewhere physically within the city itself?
"[Bridge] becomes a more fluid presence in that ecosystem. Ideally more present and persistent because it's not subject to rising rent or shifting neighborhoods. Seattle is a boom and bust city; things rise and fall. I feel like it's sort of embedded in our mythos, this idea of beginnings and endings or lifespans or shapeshifting."
When I asked Arnold what they meant by shape-shifting, they laughed: "I like uprooting things!" And continued, "The minute something gets really comfortable it becomes an institution, and I might have some discomfort around that. I sort of like tearing it down and rebuilding it. Or maybe being flexible and responsive to what the community needs, or what makes sense for an ecosystem. Maybe this rooted, solid thing doesn't make sense because nobody can get to anything anymore."
So far, Bridge consists of Arnold, who also teaches at Cornish College of the Arts, and curatorial assistant Alexis L. Silva, who finished up a curator residency at Mount Analogue in January. He was the one responsible for starting and administering Bridge's Instagram residency program last year. Today marked the first day in Seattle artist Monyee Chau's week-long residency.
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你好👋🏽🌿 我的名字是 Monyee Chau, I'm excited to be sharing who I am, what I do, and my work towards my solo show at @thevestibule . I am a Taiwanese/Cantonese multidisciplinary artist living in Seattle/on Coast Salish/Duwamish land. A common misconception with my work is that people believe that I just create “Asian art”. I’ve had people receive my work in a way that dwindles it back to a message that is more “I am a Chinese person” rather than the complexities and intersections of the life I live as a queer, second generation, Taiwanese/Cantonese artist and I am doing this work to heal me and the struggles I face in the society I live in. I am not here to share my story for people just to reduce me to a simple identity, but rather for them to be able to hear me, and reflect on themselves and the aspects of themselves that built them as well. . . photo by @alexbrittphoto of me wearing my ama's worn down cheongsam, on the ground of the family restaurant I was once raised in. . . #monyeechau #monyeeart #bridgeproductions #buildingbridges #buildingspace #bridgetakeover #chinesecontemporaryart
"I chose Monyee Chau because I believe she is a force to be reckoned with. Her work has not only impacted those in her immediate community but has left a lasting effect on those outside of it," Silva wrote me in an email. "The Seattle arts community needs more voices like hers, so unapologetic and so willing to let others in even if they may not immediately understand. Her story is her own, but is shared among so many others."
They won't completely eschew physical spaces, bringing Brooklyn painter Paolo Arao to Seattle sometime later this year. Arnold also told me they wanted Bridge to facilitate more art writing in general, with Seattle artist and July & August curator-in-residence Sequoia Day O'Connell who is publishing a two part essay on their website earlier this week. Bridge's future is one that's meant to be as generative as possible.
"It's always about storytelling," Arnold tells me. "It's always about people and it's about connecting people to each other."