Interstitial Theatre Rejects the Screen-Saver Stuff

By Jen Graves 
Wed. October 16, 2013

It started in a closet. The closet was at the bottom of a flight of stairs leading down from a lobby in Belltown. In this lobby is a tiny but energetic art gallery called Form/Space Atelier. In 2010, Kira Burge had just moved to Seattle after finishing a degree in fibers and textiles at the University of Oregon, and she was gallery-sitting at Form/Space when she complained to owner Paul Pauper, "There's no place for video art in Seattle."

"Well, you could show in my closet," Pauper said.

The first closet video show happened just for a few hours, between the end of one show and the start of another up in the lobby. Called Interstitial Theatre for obvious reasons, the closet gallery lasted six months, coproduced with Julia Bruk, a Russian-born artist who grew up mostly in Seattle and got her degree in digital media from the University of Washington in 2010. To expand, Interstitial Theatre moved to Bruk's studio across from Showbox Sodo. When artists were kicked out of that space, Interstitial Theatre went on the road: The Mobile Screen Tour, to eight different neighborhoods, was literally a box of a gallery on wheels. These women do not give up.

 Finally, they have a humongous place, almost 17,000 square feet that once housed Egbert's furniture in Belltown, two blocks from the closet, thanks to Storefronts Seattle. Burge, Bruk, and Julia Greenway, a painter from Michigan who joined them, will have the space for three months.

Greenway, who moved to Seattle in 2011, teaches yoga accompanied by video art on the dark, romantic second floor every Tuesday. The top floor is two large halls with high walls, perfect for projections and monitors. The basement is an arcade of white columns and clean concrete floor. Their first exhibition, on the theme of repetition and the pursuit of happiness, features mostly Seattle artists—Dakota Gearhart, Erin Elyse Burns, Ellen Dicola, more—plus a Massachusetts artist named Sarah Bliss, whose intense and physical videos embody a sensibility Burge, Bruk, and Greenway want to encourage in Seattle.

"I haven't been seeing a lot of work that's reaching into a real emotional depth—like, visceral," Burge said. "No: guttural. There's a lot of surface. A lot of snapshots of the everyday. "And at least 50 percent of the submissions we get are psychedelic. Screen savers."

Interstitial Theatre is part of a lineage that began with and/or gallery on Capitol Hill in the 1970s. "We watched Western Bridge and Lawrimore Project and all these places we loved close," Bruk said. "It was like, we have to open something."

 The Stranger

As well as being a multifarious artist, Kira Burge is co-curator of the Interstitial Theatre in Seattle, an ambitious and curious project which has, in the past, showcased works described as “a spatial and social reinterpretation of a car wreck” (Red Storm Rising by Jesse Sugarmann) and “a generative HD video work constructed, edited and subtitled by custom software written in Python” (A Shifting City by Nathan Wade). Hoping to learn more about the theatre, for the benefit of myself and other IAF readers, I posed her the following questions.

For the benefit of those reading who do not know much (or anything) about it, tell us what Interstitial Theatre is.
Interstitial Theatre is a monthly video art screening in Seattle, Washington. Interstitial Theatre’s goal or mission is to provide space and time in Seattle to artists making culturally relevant video work.
We screen all sorts of video art, from happens and documentation of performance works to videos that could easily be considered episodic or cinematic shorts. I think the criteria for screening work comes down to one question that my co-curator, Julia Bruk and I ask ourselves: “Is this worth screening?”
What’s showing next?
March (2011) we will be showing Starburst by Kjell Hansen, a Seattle based artist, and Wooden Horse by Portland, OR based artist and writer Alex Rauch. There will be an interview with Alex Rauch posted on our website, and a still from Starburst. You can check out our website to see both future and past artists who we screen.
How did it all begin?
Let’s see… I think it all started after I attended my first First Thursday Artwalk in Seattle, where there seemed to be an astonishing lack of video work. I voiced my concern to Paul Pauper, the owner of Form/Space Atelier (a local art gallery in Seattle), and he proposed that I curate a video series in his space called Interstitial Theatre. Of course, I said yes. My background is as a contemporary sculptor and video artist, and I spent three or four years establishing and running an open studio tour in Eugene, OR, so I think I was itching to start a new pet-project.
Has it been challenging to establish and maintain a theatre that showcases such boundary-defying work?
Well, first off, although we are called Interstitial Theatre, we don’t adopt the term theatre in the traditional sense; we’re more of a screening event. And generally all our screenings run on a loop. Meaning one can pop in whenever they want during the screening to hang out for a bit and view the work.
As far as challenges go, patience is key. When establishing anything new you always have to remember that it takes time to build patronage. Interstitial Theatre has only been around for six months, and I have only lived in Seattle for eight. That being said, we’re doing pretty good. I was lucky: Julia Bruk, the other curator at Interstitial Theatre is more established in Seattle, and I am regionally connected. I received my degree from the University of Oregon about a five hour drive south of Seattle, and I grew up in Portland, OR, which has a vibrant art scene.
It’s funny really. Sometimes the majority of our patrons hear about our screenings from some friend of mine in Portland, and not from the Seattle based press we’ve generated. Other challenges include time, which is a big one. Julia and I both work and have our own art practices, so making time to network, find new artists and material, send out press, and continue to develop a shared artistic vision is logistically challenging. Let’s just say middle of the night text messaging and Dropbox file sharing has saved our asses more than once.
I’m going to hazard a guess that you don’t ‘define’ interstitial theatre, as such; rather, that you see what concepts are brought to you. Which artist has blown your mind the most with their interstitial approach? Tell us about them.
We don’t actually seek artists that work with an “interstitial approach”; instead we seek work that is innovative and relevant to the Seattle community. It’s important to screen work that’s made locally, but we also screen work from artists all over the nation. Where the interstitial-ness plays in, is that we originated in an interstitial location within a gallery. Now, I think interstitial speaks to the reality of our existence within the Seattle arts community. We are one of few in Seattle screening video work. We fill a gap that exists between the established galleries and the artist studios that are open to the public. We are not a commercial gallery and we are not a studio, we are something else; we are interstitial.
If you could work with any artist at all, is there anyone (or any group) you would instantly want to showcase?
Wow, that’s a tough question. The wonderful thing about Interstitial Theatre is that we screen works by so many different types of artists. Because we don’t limit what we screen to a specific genre or style, I get to interact with so many different personalities and that’s pretty special. As far as Interstitial Theatre goes, I think continuing to screen work made by Seattle based artists is key. And I am starting to seek out less polished local artists to work with them curatorial, which should yield some exciting results in the coming months. Oh, I’d love to host an Interstitial Theatre Concert with Martin Creed; his band marries video with music. I saw him perform in Miami Beach, FL in December as part of Art Basel and it was awesome!
What advice would you give to interstitial creators? And to anyone who might want to set up something like the Interstitial Theatre?
Just do it. Things happen when people do them. And also, it’s more fun to do things with friends.
How do you envisage Interstitial Theatre developing in the future? Where do you dream of it developing?
We’re moving out of Belltown (north of downtown Seattle) next month to a new space in South Seattle, which (my prediction) is where the next arts neighborhood will be, and that’s exciting. I guess my hope is that Interstitial Theatre continues to exist, and continues to gain patronage and recognition in Seattle. Oh, and that the postcards I just ordered show up in time for our next screening.

Interstitial Arts Foundation