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Norie Sato’s new permanent artwork installed on the waterfront  

Unfurling a Gesture (The Nature of Persistence), artwork by Seattle artist Norie Sato has been installed at the Union Street Pedestrian Bridge. Two elements designed by Sato – a screen wall, and a monumental sculpture – grace the new pathway, elevator and stairs that provide access to Alaskan Way and the waterfront from Western Avenue at Union Street. The pedestrian bridge and artwork will open in November and are being installed as part of the Seattle Waterfront Program managed by the Office of the Waterfront and Civic Projects at the City of Seattle and funded by the Office of Arts & Culture’s 1% for Art program. 

The screenwall has an image of a fern overlaid with the wing span of a seagull and is rendered in perforated aluminum and cut stainless steel. Photo credit: Norie Sato

We are excited to include Norie Sato’s artwork at the Union Street Pedestrian Bridge. This commission is the newest addition to a program of permanent artworks that will be integrated into the Seattle waterfront. Collectively, these artworks reveal the environment and reinforce the culture of this unique place.

Angela Brady, Director of the Waterfront Program of Seattle’s Office of the Waterfront and Civic Project.

Norie Sato collaborated with the project design team, which included Schemata Architects, James Corner Field Operations and engineer V + M Structural, to create original artwork on the new Union Street Pedestrian Bridge between Western Avenue and Alaskan Way. Her artwork takes its inspiration from the natural environment that manages to make its presence felt on the working waterfront. While researching her project, the artist came across a fern plant growing out of a vertical crack in one of the buildings adjacent to the project site. The fern’s intrepid nature amid the built environment inspired the artwork. She combined this fern image with that of a seagull, which is ubiquitous on the waterfront and whose feathers and shape of the wings has a visual connection to that of the initial fern frond inspiration. 

The steel sculpture – originally inspired by a fern – is approximately 37-feet-tall. Photo credit: City of Seattle

The anodized aluminum and stainless steel screen that follows the length of the pedestrian bridge and turns the corners of the structure depicts both these elements of flora and fauna. Modulated perforations on the screen wall reveal images of fern fronds on the screen. Overlaid in the central section is an abstraction of the wingspan of a seagull, laser cut out of stainless steel. Subtle lighting and raking sunlight make the wall glow.  

View of both the screenwall and sculpture looking west from Western Avenue. Photo credit: City of Seattle

An approximately 40-ft-tall stainless steel sculpture arches over the new Union Street stairway. Rising out of a garden bed planted with ferns, the sculpture’s abstract form, taken initially from the fern, also has other associations depending on the viewer.  The elements emanating from a central spine could be the fern’s pinnules (leaves), but also refer to other natural elements along our waterfront.  They have been articulated with cutouts and perforations – some abstract and some representational – that simultaneously provide a sense of visual activity and ethereality.  

This project has a personal connection for the artist: in 1991, Sato created a temporary artwork on the waterfront that marked the location of her arrival to this country by ship. 

One of my hopes for the Waterfront is that it creates moments of magic and wonder for people who live here, and may feel very familiar with Seattle, and yet when they come down to the Waterfront, there will be moments where they feel, ‘Wow, this is a fantastic place.”

Norie Sato, artist

There are nine other permanent art commissions included in the Seattle Waterfront art program that explore both the natural environment as well as the Indigenous roots of Seattle’s shoreline. There are seven artists from local tribes involved in art projects along the promenade and at the Overlook Walk. Also among the artworks that will be installed in the next few years is that of Seattle artist Buster Simpson near the habitat beach, south of Colman Dock. 

This artwork was commissioned with Seattle Department of Transportation Central Waterfront 1% for Art funds and administered by the Office of Arts & Culture and the Office of the Waterfront and Civic projects.