This might look normal, but that sculpture is ice cream.
  • This might look normal, but that "sculpture" is ice cream.
Vignettes has quietly been a highlight of Seattle art in recent months. It's a magical, one-night-only, twice-a-month art exhibition that happens in Sierra Stinson's studio apartment at El Capitan. She hauls into a large closet the four pieces of furniture she owns, and some of Seattle's most interesting artists fill the space with their creations.

That's where I first saw Jenny Heishman's winking mountain and belted paintings. It's where Stranger Genius winner Susan Robb recently hung an iPhone on the wall showing a desperately sad video of the ceiling of a drugstore, with a heart-shaped balloon, a ceiling fan, and the promise of drugs, set to a prayer-like soundtrack. (This was the second iPhone video wall display at Vignettes.)

And tomorrow night features Derek Erdman, Kyle Johnson, C.M. Ruiz, and Shannon Perry in a group show they're calling Obscure Characters of Television.

I talked to Stinson about being el capitan of El Capitan art.

Graham Downings hallway of light took three days to install, so Stinson had to sleep elsewhere for a bit.
  • Graham Downing's hallway of light took three days to install, so Stinson had to sleep elsewhere for a bit.
What is Vignettes?

Vignettes is my apartment-based, one-night-only exhibition space. (laughs) It’s only one night every—it’s become two weeks, and I’ve done 10 thus far. I started at the end of December.

Why are you doing this? You have to move all of your stuff out—

Yeah, it’s a studio. There are only four pieces of furniture in my apartment.

And you have to move all of them.

They’re all small. The hardest thing to move is the record collection. It’s a good way of rearranging and keeping the apartment clean on a biweekly basis.

But presuming that is not the only reason you’re doing it…

The concept came to me probably years ago, when I attended Glasgow School of Art for a year abroad. It was common all over Europe that people would open up their apartments as these exhibition spaces. There was a four-bedroom apartment right down the street from me where…each room would become an installation space. It was brilliant, and I loved it. Those were the shows to go to. People’s homes or the old abandoned saw mill.

But when I moved here, I moved in with a good friend, and I was basically living with all his belongings, and when he moved out, I was left with four pieces of furniture and not much else. It seemed so reasonable to be like oh, this is basically an empty space, so it should live as a gallery once every now and then. And the reason it’s only one night is mostly the concept of it being very fleeting. And there needs to be somewhere to sleep, so that makes sense.

Sometimes we have to empty the space for a little longer.

Where do you sleep when that happens?

During Jenny Heishman's show, I just pulled out the bed and pushed one of the sculptures aside.

How do you pick who’s right for that space, and how do artists respond?

Everyone is really excited about it being one night. Mostly, I think it’s because especially if you have a professional art practice and you have your studio, you get to bring it all out and exhibit it, but then you can bring it all home and continue to work on it. So it’s part of your process.

Rather than a finish point.

Yeah, the fact that it doesn’t stay and you don't have to be disconnected from it for a month while it’s being shown.

Does that mean the works aren’t finished when they’re shown? Do you have a feeling about whether they should or shouldn’t be finished at Vignettes?

To me the whole idea of finished work is pretty funny, because I think every piece is part of a process. So to me, Vignettes is just a step in that process. It’s a safe place for the work to exist and breathe a little, and have some feedback.

Is there feedback? Or do people just come over and stand around?

I’ve received a lot of feedback…Each show has completely been different from the other. The crowd changes with the artist drastically, from like Robert Yoder and Susan Robb, to yeah, my friend Allison Spurlock’s show was the first exhibition and that was her first exhibition, so that was a far younger crowd. She was the first person I thought of, because I knew she had never shown and I thought it would be a great experience for her to show her work because I had seen so much of it.

Lindsey [Apodaca] and Mckenzie [Porritt], this last month, was probably the most talked-about show. People were trying to understand the medium of ice cream melting on the plinth. Half the people didn’t realize it was ice cream. They thought it was a sculpture, and then they saw it moving. So yeah, each person has had feedback. And works sell. I don’t take any commission.

What’s your background? You graduated from Cornish in which year?

2008. I graduated with a BFA in photography and video.

Have you shown your work at Vignettes?

No, not vignettes, I’d never do that. No, I think the whole curator/artist separation is good, I wouldn’t take advantage.

What kind of work are you not looking for at Vignettes?

I guess something that’s not thoughtful. I mean, almost everyone I’ve known, but with this next show, I don’t know three of the artists. I only know Kyle Johnson. He lives in the building, and that’s how I know him—he came to one of the exhibitions. I’ve heard of Derek Erdman. Then there’s C.M. Ruiz and Shannon Perry.

What do you think Vignettes means to the artists who show there?

For the artists I've shown so far, I think it meant something to them because of all the spaces closing. What is it to be represented by anyone anyway? I’m reevaluating it...

I just think that I’m looking for an idealistic way out of this dilemma. Work at the moment is priced so high, but there’s no collectors. And everyone has to price high to get a reasonable payoff to actually live off of their art. I’m just kind of starting to understand it. I feel very fresh into this world. It’s because I’m evaluating it and trying to figure it out that I don’t take a commission. It’s just a one-night event and it’s no skin off my back. We have a donation bowl for drinks and things and it always balances out, and it’s not a huge deal. Lindsey [Apodaca] and McKenzie [Porritt]’s works were selling, and I was really glad about it, because I know they have their other jobs and work really hard at them.

Do you want to go into dealing?

I mean, I like curating. I think the whole exchange with the artist and the space and picking the works, my favorite is the studio visits. And the fact that it’s a one-night exhibition is great because it isn’t a month of sitting in a gallery and people possibly walking in. It’s very now or never. I was interested in curating when I was in art school, but they didn’t offer any programs like that.

You’ve considered leaving Seattle, even recently, for New York. Are you going to stay for a little while?

Yeah. I’m staying. I really wanted to move to New York for quite a while, and every time I’ve come close to going, something has caused me to stay. And I think I’m finally embracing Seattle, and what I can actually do here. This is definitely the main reason I’m staying at this point.