Haein Kang is a science and technology artist, and Ben Zamora is known for his large scale light-based installations and sculpture. Their forward thinking work is right at home in this tech town, yet the pandemic caused everyone, and every industry, to rethink, test fresh ideas and evolve. Amazon’s Artist in Residence program and the Expressions Studios in Bellevue and Seattle provided safe space for Kang and Zamora to do just that.
Launched in 2018, the Artist in Residence program (AIR) selects a group of local artists each year to spend ten weeks using the Seattle, or recently completed Bellevue studio as their own. The residency comes with a $15,000 grant supplying necessary resources to take advantage of the time and space the program provides. The appreciation of “time and space” is a common thread in the feedback Christine Phelan, Senior Program Manager of the Expressions program hears from the artists. Amazon developed the program to achieve dual goals; support local artists and to create an employee amenity meant to encourage creativity, community and innovation. When resident artists interact with employees through labs and workshops and opportunities to work with their hands, the experience can feel meditative, restorative and fuel leadership. The presence of artists and exhibits of art on campus drives curiosity and leads employees to deeper community engagement.
Ben Zamora started out doing work to support other people; including opera and theater design but was determined to find his solo path when he had a child on the way. Now his big and bold work is internationally recognized and widely exhibited. When he responded to the call for AIR applications through Artist’s Trust, his pitch had more questions than answers. Including the existential, “What are we even doing, anyways?” As a Seattle resident, living on Capitol Hill, Zamora has felt the impact of Amazon and noticed “a level of displacement.” It was part of the conversation he wanted to have for the creative community, “How do you see that relationship moving forward?” Along with questions, the pandemic had Zamora rethinking his art and wondering how to create more intimate one-on-one experiences. He needed to find a way to translate his large scale, often outdoor installations. By the time he came to the Expressions Studio he had a clear idea of what he wanted to do, but he says “I hadn’t learned the lessons of working at that (smaller) scale. It was good.” He worked in studio four or five days a week from 9am-4pm and in the end craved more time.
Memorable art makes you think. Haien Kang makes award-winning art out of thinking. After completing her Ph.D. at the University of Washington, she settled in the Pacific Northwest because she finds inspiration and energy in the combination of nature and high tech. Kang was attracted to the AIR program as a means of breaking the isolation of Covid. She longed for interaction and the opportunity to “educate employees and allow studio tours to explain my projects,” was an attractive impetus to apply for the residency which she completed at the brand new Bellevue Expressions Studios. Working on a smaller scale meant she had to expand her scientific explorations of the connection between emotions and brainwaves from stage work, to devising individual immersive environments that still allow people to face their fear, anxiety, hope and other feelings through artistic value. Kang creates algorithm for brainwaves that control the images in the aesthetic experiences she prepares, morphing between abstract and realistic depending on the viewers state of concentration. “I am grateful for this chance in this strange time when many things were postponed.” Kang says in reflection on visitors to her studio, “I wish they learned a lot, I learned a lot from them.”
In 2022 the Artists in Residence program will expand from five to seven artists, four of whom will use the Bellevue space. The Expressions program continues to look for ways to support the local arts community in alignment with Amazon values and commitment to supporting diversity, equity and inclusion, “Including by partnering with Amazon Affinity Groups to internally review and select artists for each incoming residence. We actively recruit artists from diverse backgrounds to build a supportive and inclusive program.” says Phelan. They are still exploring how to display the art each resident contributes to the Amazon collection.