The Fragility of Time: Ashleigh Rose Robb

If You Want to Feel Human Again, Draw a Few Straight Lines, 2016, gel pen on vellum, interfacing 10 x 10 inches

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The experience of Ashleigh Rose Robb‘s works is lost in the digital realm. The details are dissolved in a photograph. Similarly, they’re washed out and blown out if seen from across a room. But get close to them and a mass of micro-marks comes into focus, revealing a staggering amount of work embedded in the material.

Robb’s process is about time; she uses etching, drawing and stitching (including sewing with invisible thread on muslin) to leave the faintest traces of its passage. Her predecessors are artists like Agnes Martin, who used similar techniques to measure time with a tedious, meditative kind of markmaking, drawing grids of delicate dashes and lines that result in what look—at least superficially—like ethereal, minimalist pieces, but up close reveal heavily-worked surfaces. 

The artist’s first solo exhibition in Seattle opens this Saturday at Bridge Productions in Georgetown. It’s a compelling debut for the Los Angeles native who recently earned her degree at Cornish College of the Arts. In the midst of a flurry of installation, Robb took a few moments to answer questions about the work being shown. 

How long does it take to make one of your pieces?
It depends on the piece and the materials used. Some of my paper pieces get completed in about a week if I don’t have any other obligations. The larger wood-panel pieces take anywhere from a month to three months and the fabric pieces tend to take about a month to finish. My current body of work has been in the process of being made for about the last year or so.

How did you arrive at making art like this?
I’ve always been fascinated with subtlety and art that’s made up of smaller, similar pieces that come together to create a larger thing. The concept of time found its way into my work because of its consistency. It’s one the most consistent, relatable things I can think of, yet it’s not a tangible thing, but we can see its effect on things. I’ve been thinking about memory a lot lately and how, over time, it seems to disappear.

That’s funny to hear you talk in terms of time passing and loss of memory. You’re still very young.
Ha! I know, I’m about to turn 28. It’s not so much my memory that I’m thinking of though. I really started to think about it after my grandma was diagnosed with severe dementia. It started out as hearing her be really frustrated when she couldn’t recall why I had moved from Los Angeles to Seattle, and now she doesn’t remember who I am.

I’m sorry to hear that. Are the marks timekeepers or trackers for you? 
In a way yes, but I don’t really assign a specific amount of time to each mark. 

I think it’s especially interesting when females take up the kind of artmaking that combines physical repetition with mental concentration. It connotes so many things: traditional female crafts; a kind of wasteful, indulgent frittering away of time; and also the drudgery of everyday household work traditionally performed by women. What is your relationship to the physicality of your process?
It’s super demanding physically. At the end of the day, my hand hurts and my body aches from being in the same position for long periods of time, but I just keep on trucking through it. Mentally, I kind of check out and listen to my favorite music and don’t overthink what I’m doing. If I overthink it, it gets too convoluted and doesn’t leave room for the viewer to bring their own interpretation to the piece. 

What kind of music do you usually listen to while making work?
I tend to gravitate towards artists who also have minimalistic roots. Right now, it’s a lot of Peaches and Philip Glass.

What’s your relationship to the word “obsessive”?
I think there are different types of obsession, like addiction. In terms of my work, it’s the urge to try all the materials I can get my hands on and experiment until I’ve exhausted all my options and found the right visual to covey my idea. I guess I’m kind of obsessed with experimenting.