Violet Strays is an innovative company changing the way we experience art by reimagining a traditional gallery exhibition for a web-centric culture. Almost everything we experience in person can also be revisited online, but a live show was often left out of that model. Co-owners Serrah Russell and Alyssa Volpigno set out to expose a wider audience to the wonderful discovery that happens in person at an exhibition. True to its physical form, their online gallery exhibitions run for a limited time before they are replaced with the next show. The art is then removed from the site entirely, welcoming the next artist onto its virtual walls. The method is a unique way to introduce a wider audience to emerging artists while still upholding the framework of a traditional gallery. Serrah, a talented artist as well, sat down to share her story about creating Violet Strays, her collaboration process, and where she goes for inspiration.
Describe Violet Strays and how you and your partner began.
Violet Strays is a site-specific art exhibition space that is located online. It began out of necessity. I had recently graduated from art school (I studied photography at the University of Washington) and was trying to get involved and connect with artists in the community. A friend and fellow artist from school, Alyssa Volpigno, and I wanted to promote artists while connecting with the local community. We proposed an exhibition to the city under the name Violet Strays, but it was not accepted. Fortunately, this rejection led us to create Violet Strays as it is now. We realized that if we placed shows on the internet, there would be minimal overhead, we could connect with a larger audience, we could work with artists from all over the world, and could exhibit their work without having to deal with the limiting logistics of the real world. The internet really has allowed us to get started, to gain experience, to work with amazing artists, and to exhibit innovative exhibitions that are unique to our gallery.
I love that you treat the online exhibits like in person exhibits, meaning there is no archive of past shows. What inspired you to design the website like this?
It was necessary to differentiate ourselves from being blog. We realized that we wanted to create an experience that felt exclusive, created a sense of urgency, and compelled viewers to see it and spend time with the art now, rather than putting it off until later, which usually means never. Each exhibition is up for two weeks and then it disappears. There is not much on the internet that disappears completely, so the temporality was something that we were excited about, and that we could see coming in as an interesting conceptual theme within the works. Also, the temporality and lack of archive allows for the artists to make work that is a bit more risky and inventive, as it doesn’t come with the assumption of permanence. They can be more experimental and try things, knowing that the work isn’t fixed forever.
So much of the internet becomes this black hole, where you assume something will always be there, so there is less urgency to see it, but then it ends up getting buried beneath the next new thing so it’s actually harder to access and the longer time goes past, you’re less likely to continue to access. We wanted to do something different.
What is the process of working with a new artist?
Working with a new artist is always so much fun for us as curators. We usually spend a bit of time with their work or at their studio, to get a feel for their process, for their style, where their work is going. Once an artist is selected, we typically schedule either a studio visit or cocktails / coffee to chat, ask questions, get to know each other. This personal connection is huge because so much of our process in working with artists involves trust. We give a lot of freedom to our artists. We want them to be able to push their work, try new things, etc, but we also need to develop a trust relationship so that we can guide and direct the work a bit, to fit the site, our audience. We believe the best work comes from good relationships that involve honest and supportive communication.
Tell us about your personal work and how has it changed since starting Violet Strays?
First and foremost I am an artist and I think that as I work in collaboration with and in support of other artists, I am able to learn from how to walk both sides of the line. As arts programmer/curator and an artist myself, it has been so helpful and inspiring to work with artists, to learn from their way of working, their way of thinking, I can’t help but be inspired.
I first came into the arts through photography. I studied photo at the University of Washington and I began making photo-based collage during that program when studying in Rome on my Senior Year. I continue to make works that are not exclusively photography but that see things through the lens of a camera, utilizing all the latent potential in found photographs, magazine advertisements, etc.
Do you see a brick and mortar location for Violet Strays one day?
We absolutely do. But it would still have an online component and we would still focus on creating unique, temporal, seasonal, time-specific experiences and products. Our goal has always been to work with thoughtful, creative people and so that will only begin to expand as we find the right brick and mortar location. It will definitely be a bit different, with multiple uses, kept loose and shifting, yet focused on thoughtfulness, creativity, and site-specific, temporal moments and exhibitions.
Describe your studio and work process.
My studio is in my home. I have a lovely drafting table, a gift from my husband on our first Christmas together, and I work there, facing a wall of windows, looking out towards the city and out to the sea. I watch the ferries go back and forth from the city to the islands and I couldn’t ask for better inspiration. I also do a lot of my work on a computer, but really prefer and crave the making, the touching, the creating. Which I believe is why I love collage works so much, because it can be very intuitive. I sit at the drafting table, as podcasts or folk music plays in the background, and I work on sourcing material from magazines and books and newspapers. Then begin to edit those images down to smaller fragments, then start playing. Pushing images around. Looking. Watching for connections.
Where do you go to work if it isn’t in your home/studio? Any places for inspiration?
If I’m working away from my home/studio, I’ll usually go for a happy hour cocktail at Clever Bottle, this darling bar near my house, get a Reckoner (fig cocktail, if you’re ever in town, you need to try one!) and write, sit quietly, brainstorm, make lists. I also will go to the Olympic Sculpture Park nearby, lay in the grass, look out at the water, watch for seals and read and write.
Thank you to Serrah for sharing your company and personal work. Learn more about Serrah and upcoming online exhibits on their website, Violet Strays.
(Artists featured from top to bottom: Virginia Wilcox, Jennifer Zwick, Susanna Bluhm, DK Pan, Rafael Soldi, Serrah Russell)