For the last couple years I have been the “staff artist” in the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), working on arts planning and as liaison for the 1% for art program and integrating design enhancements on SDOT projects.
I connect with a wide range of projects, from multi-modal trails and sidewalks to large bridges, and seek opportunities to incorporate art into the right-of-way.
I am embedded in the DOT offices, with a desk alongside the project managers in the Capital Projects and Roadway Structures Division.
In my art practice outside of the SDOT art role, I create immersive environments and installations, often involving living plants, which touch on our often paradoxical relationship to land and environment. How people relate to the urban spaces they inhabit and move through is always of interest to me.
In one project, I created a portable version of Mt. Rainier on a leash, available for walks in the city and accompanied by its own mountain soundtrack.
In the Cultivation Utility Vehicle (CUV) project I roam the streets with a cart full of “land for adoption” (small pieces of earth with a local plant growing in it).
My work in ephemeral performance based practices sometimes seems at the opposite pole from my work at the DOT, where I am often working with large permanent infrastructure. On a recent bridge project, I created a concrete surface treatment for a wall next to a bike path.
Where is the common ground?
For me, it resides in a fascination with how people experience places. Adding a subtle finish to a concrete wall or an imprint to a sidewalk, on a project which would otherwise be concerned almost entirely with “moving goods and people” through the city, I am hoping that we can create a moment for a higher degree of attention and connection to the place.
What artistic touches in your community help create those moments for you?
For more information on Bell’s work at the Seattle SDOT Art Plan, visit their website. For more info on her studio practice, visit www.vaughnbell.net. Vaughn will be presenting at the Americans for the Arts Public Art Preconference in San Diego, during the Re|Generation: Environmental Art & Design, Now and How panel discussion.