Trans Loose Cyphers: Welcome to My Worlds, 2018. Detail of installation for Facebook Seattle. Photo credit: Candace Fields
KATE SWEENEY's installations, paintings and prints are static works inspired by the motion of the physical universe. Her colorful, layered works visualize wave forms at microscopic, human and cosmic scales. Fittingly, she avoids the restrictive edge of the rectangle whenever possible in favor of irregular, organic edges that meet the surrounding space with openness. Kate earned a BFA in Fine Arts & Medical Sciences and a MFA in Medical and Biological Illustration, both from the University of Michigan. She has completed numerous public art commissions, including installations at Facebook Seattle (2018), Redmond Technology Center Transit Station (2017), Overlake Hospital Cancer Care Center (2017) and Harborview Medical Center (2015).Recently, her work was included in Digital Maneuvers (2018) at the Seattle Art Museum and Playlist! (2019) at Museo Gallery in Langley, Washington. Kate lives and works in Seattle, Washington.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us how your background in medical illustration informs the work you make now.
Kate Seeney: My artwork has always been fueled by my love of the natural world, and by extension, science. Both my interest in medical scientific illustration work and my painting practice spring from that love.
For the past several years I have been designing illustrations for complex environmental disaster remediation projects as a part of my scientific illustration career, and I’ve grown increasingly sad about what we have done to the planet. In my fine art practice my focus has now shifted to the macro natural world, as I have been thinking about the possible death of Nature.
Meadow, 2019. cut paper. 42" by 76"
OPP: Tell us about The Meadow.
KS: The Meadow is an elegy. It reimagines the delicate beauty of the deep structure of Nature. The large collages in this project reflect my awe of Nature and my fond but fading hopes that She will recover after humans have either disappeared or revolutionized our relationship to energy consumption.
I’ve designed the shapes used in The Meadow to fit together in a rough approximation of Penrose tiles, which are mathematically derived patterns using a limited vocabulary of interlocking shapes to cover a plane in a self-similar but non-repeating way. I created a set of loose-edged tiling shapes and then rearranged them into unique forms. This process happens in the real world, where a starting fractal equation/engine unwinds amid specific and singular conditions on the ground, which influences the expression of the underlying structural order. I consider this an excellent analogy to the natural world and the forms of life, both familiar and yet unique.
Drops, 2019. cut paper. 24" x 30"
OPP: You’ve said “I don’t think in rectangles, but shapes.” Can you talk about the excitement of the edge?
KS: I just have never been content jamming my ideas inside a rectangle. I think form and flow are more naturally explored using a free edge. More sculptural I guess. But coming at my work from a 2D approach has challenged me to find a way to create outside that box, and while still addressing the practical aspects of presentation and display.
I also think a lot about the scale of my work, and that too is a sculptural consideration in a way. How a piece relates to the size of the human body is very important. Ideally, I want my work to be a thing itself, not a depiction of something.
Clear Sailing, 2015. mixed on panel. 5' x 3'
OPP: Many of your works look abstract, but are inspired by “scientific theories of energy, waves, strings, and quanta,” etc. Do you think of your work in terms of abstraction or representation?
KS: I think my work is highly representational! I realize the viewer will see the patterns and colors as abstract, but I hope the structure speaks to a deep, unconscious, human appreciation of order, and reflects the mathematically derived forms that I believe underlie the creation of everything we can see. It’s all ratios and waves out there people!!!
I have, in the past, used the foundational concepts of quantum physics and theoretical physics as a jumping-off point for my seemingly abstract images. Spooky Action at Distance, particle wave duality, The Big Bang, multiverses and gravity waves are theories I have used to create color pattern fields that express my thoughts about what the world looks like at the smallest and largest scales.
Most recently, I’ve been using wave forms in a series of panels to explore water motion as a reflection of the fundamental oscillating forms of reality, a longstanding theme for me.
Gravity Waves: the unseen dark matter mass of systems can pull them apart and impact the entire universe. 2016. Acrylic on paper collage, with digital print, monoprint, braille print and transfer print. 44" x 80"
OPP: You’ve done numerous installations for offices and medical centers. First off, the practical. . . how do you go about getting commissions?
KS: My website and social media have been powerful avenues to commissions. I also pay attention to the calls for art proposals put out by various funding agencies, most notably in Seattle where we have numerous ‘1% for art’ programs.
Current/ Potential, 2012. Installation for Seattle City Light's North Service Center. 35' x 8.' Photo credit: Spike Mafford
OPP: Tell us about making art for a specific site? Do you think more about audience or space?
KS: When commissioned to do an installation in a space, one thinks about both the audience and the space itself. I typically start with thinking about the audience and the compelling core narrative I want to offer them. Then I look at the location and see how I can use it to deliver on my idea. The space becomes a powerful shaper of the narrative at that point.
For my Harborview Medical Center commission, I thought about the journey that the patient and the families would be making though their hospital stay, a very challenging time in their lives. I imagined the hallway where my piece would reside as a journey for them, a place of refuge, and also a transitional zone between treatment and recovery. I created an abstract forest transforming through the seasons, a narrative path that could bring serenity, like a walk through the woods.
Willows over Water, 2017. Installation for reception area room, Cancer Care Center, Overlake Hospital. Paint and paper collage on wood elements. 3' x 9'
OPP: It looks like you are in the middle of creating a new installation from aluminum pipe for the Redmond Technology Center Transit Station in Washington. Tell us about your design and how the process is going.
KS: Yes, I am in the midst of a project for the transit center concourse ceiling out in Redmond, the technology capitol of the world--- well almost…
My premise for the piece is ‘Journey’, which speaks to the immigrant experience of many of the commuters who will be transiting through this station, and also to the self-similar but non-identical nature of commutes. ‘Same train, different day’ equals a brand new experience. To reflect this, I am using a simple form of a fractal, the Apollonian Gasket generator, which is one that utilizes perfect circles to create a nesting pattern that is unique each time, based on the starting input numbers and the constraints of the system that powers it.
I worked up the design on the computer using 2D and 3D software, with the help of my 3D designer Ben Henry, who also was able to bring the design into a full scale architectural model of the station. This allowed me to see it in a VR walk-through, which is just so powerful for making design decisions and getting a great feel for what a massive structure looks like, full scale.
Right now we have entered the fabrication stage, which is being executed by the talented people at Fabrication Specialties here in Seattle. The structure will be made of painted aluminum rings and discs, and suspended over the busway for about 300 linear feet, the length of the transit area. I am excited to see this huge project come to life, and I look forward to having it installed by the end of this year.
To see more of Kate's work, please visit katesweeneyfineart.com.