Countdown Conclusion with Bridget Beck

Hana Cohn


Our countdown to the 2013 Call for Entries Countdown wraps up with a spotlight on

current UCLA MFA candidate and Open – Table contributor: Bridget Beck.

One of two large-scale works by Beck at Minnesota’s Franconia Sculpture Park.

Artist Bridget Beck “grew up in South Dakota where she soaked in the plains and the sky until graduating from Augustana College in 2000.” Between then and now Beck has participated in a number of impressive internships, fellowships, lectures and exhibitions across the country.

I first heard word of Bridget Beck’s work from a classmate, who had her as a TA for a sculpture course. My classmate gushed about how wonderful she was, and her (then current) project the Will Be Sculpture [described by Beck below]. It was clear even after the quick gloss over the Will Be Sculpture, that Beck’s work was sculptural, but it was more than just that; it was about how individuals come together to form new and unexpected communities around and for the works. For that reason and so much more we invited Beck to lead a collaborative work(shop) with artist Carl Pomposelli at our upcoming symposium Open – Table on November 10 as a part of the larger Arts ReSTORE LA project.

Hana Cohn: Could you tell us a bit about the Will Be Sculpture project that you had going on this summer?

Bridget Beck: The Will Be Sculpture project was a collaboration between twenty at-risk youth in South Dakota (where I grew up), and twenty at-risk youth in Los Angeles and myself. I got a small grant and raised almost $9,000 on Kickstarter in order to fund workshops in both states, transported sculptural elements made at the workshops and brought seven of the teens from South Dakota to Los Angeles for the premiere of the sculpture on campus at UCLA.

The teens from South Dakota asked the teens from Los Angeles questions on the sculpture. Then teens from California answered those questions on the physical sculpture as well. During the workshops in each state, we talked a lot about stereotypes, the stressors of being a teenager and considered what living in the other state might be like.

One of the best parts on my end was having the teens from South Dakota come to California. Several of them had never been on a plane and never left the state. They were so excited to see the ocean for the first time! We did a lot while they were here. I wish I could have brought the entire group. The teens from Los Angeles also wished they could have visited South Dakota. I wish I could have done that too.

HC: Could speak to the import of transportability and interactivity in your work?

BB: My sculptures are always heavy and moving the sculptures from place to place is never easy. I build the sculptures modularly so that I can fit the parts in my truck or a trailer and then I bolt the pieces together on site. On this sculpture, I consider all the people who touched it to be a part of it even if it was only for a moment.

For example, the people who helped me assemble and disassemble the sculpture are a huge part of it as well as the two collaborative teen groups The Arteneos from Rapid City South Dakota and The Lost Art Angels from Los Angeles (they named themselves as an artist collective during our workshops). All the participants are also the sculpture. I thought of this sculpture as a kind of letter from the teens to one another that was supported by a larger community of sculpture participants – a letter without an envelope. The sculpture will ultimately be reinstalled in South Dakota (I am in search of a grant to pay for its transportation) – I am still working on that.

HC: Has the orientation towards groups or communities always been a part of your practice? If so, how do you see their roles in your works? Are they fellow creators? Receivers? Disseminators?

BB: Yes, I think my sculpture has always been rooted in specific communities and the community has always been a part of the stories I tell. It has been all of the above – fellow creator, receiver and disseminator along with teacher and student. I let people choose for themselves… but am happy to get to know them through my artwork in any way. I have always been happy to communicate with others via the drawings or sculpture. I am pretty flexible when it comes to how that can unfold.

HC: Your work as I mentioned, feels to be imbued with a sense of whimsy and improvisation, which feels sort of at odds with the rigid, heavy and unforgiving medium of metal. Did you find that your engagement in drawing (which I might call gestural or spontaneous-looking) influenced your approach to metalwork? Vice-versa? Or did they happen synchronously?

BB: I have always been able to give a lyrical quality to the metal. I like cutting shapes out by hand; I think this is a part of the improvisational feel. Plus, the sculptures unfold in a very tactile way. These things are planned in my mind before I begin… and I rarely ever measure there. I have been sculpting for much longer than I have been drawing. My drawings started out as a tool to conceive of sculpture, but then really took on a life of its own.

I usually begin and end my day with a drawing; it caps off my sculpture-making day. Lately, I have been trying to capture more ‘ink’ into the metal work. Both parts of my practice inform the other. It is very back and forth; right now the drawings have the upper hand in that relationship. Oh, and the whimsy part… I most certainly got that from my mother.

HC: What do you feel the role of art is in communities? I know that is a very open-ended and vague question, but I wonder if you see “the arts” as healers? Do your sculptures have power to change social landscapes? What do you think?

BB: I read an article the other day with this quote from William James – “I will act as if what I do makes a difference.” When working with individuals, you really can never know what sort of impact you really have. I am fine with that; I do try and fill gaps that I see with my artwork. I like being able to actually build in or around a those gaps instead of just talking or thinking about what might be needed or lacking. I often just go full force and hope for the best. I’d like to believe that I can change social landscapes. And, if I can’t, I’d rather not know because it might push me off track on the next art project. I do know that art has impacted my life in a major way… so it is possible. □