by Sarra Scherb
Published in WEAVE Magazine – Volume 2, May 2014.
Siolo Thompson and I are supposed to be talking about her transmedia company, Wolfram Productions. I have a list of questions about past projects, a voice recorder on the table, a blank page for scribbling notes. But, try as we might to stay on topic, we can’t help but veer into other territory: science fiction, video games, comics. We quickly agree on the superiority of Marvel over DC superheroes, assert a mutual love of the novels of weird fantasist China Mieville, and prefer single-player video games like Dark Souls and Elder Scrolls.
“I always play a rogue character in video games—I like being stealthy, and quick, and having a lot of skills, like picking locks,” says Thompson as we sip wine on a long summer night in Pioneer Square. She speaks rapidly, using her hands and eyebrows to punctuate her sentences. “I try to make my characters look and act as close to my real self as possible. I want them to do the things I can do.”
Judging by the dizzying array of abilities and interests this 37-year-old curator, artist, writer, actress, chef, marketer, entrepreneur, model, coder, former Angiography Tech, and full-time mother can boast, a quick and improvisational rogue archetype is just about right. (I’m not sure about her ability to pick a lock, but nothing would surprise me.)
No one would ever call what Siolo Thompson does ‘stealthy.’
Thompson is Executive Producer for Visual Arts at Wolfram Productions, a two-woman company that prides itself on taking on publishing, curatorial, or marketing projects and pushing them to all corners of media.
Thompson founded the company in 2012 with Charlotte Austin—the head of their literary projects side—when the two began making serious plans to publish a book. Needing a moniker under which to publish, they came up with Wolfram Productions, a gender neutral name that combined the most active and powerful parts of the women’s personalities, as well as nodding to the nerdcore legacy of Wolfram Alpha, a computational knowledge engine.
“Charlotte is a mountain climber, so she’s the “ram” in our equation,” Siolo explains.
“I used to be a professional fighter, so I’m the ‘wolf.’”
Put them together and you’ve got Wolfram.
Wolfram only takes on assignments that speak to them on a personal or artistic level, and their project list clearly reflects their feminist bent. They recently published an illustrated non-fiction novella about Congolese survivors of abuse, titled The Survival Girls, which received praise from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Two marketing events/exhibits have also highlighted video game companies with women in high positions: Meteor Entertainment and Bungie. And unafraid to tackle thorny subjects, they curated an art exhibition on guns — 2013’s 2nd Amendment at Bherd Studios Gallery.
The two producers and their cadre of consultants carefully select their clients, and then turn up the volume on their project til the windows rattle.
But before any of the receptions and red carpets could happen, Austin and Thompson first needed to tackle the reason for Wolfram’s founding: their publishing project. Austin and Thompson had long felt frustration with the lack of positive, multidimensional female role models in media, and–along with designer Amanda Paredes–had sat down over drinks to blue sky their vision for a book that would tackle that frustration head-on: The Better Bombshell.
Bombshell paired a wide range of artists and writers into teams to answer the question: who is the better bombshell? Poetry, essays, and short stories from writers of different backgrounds, genders and sexualities played off artwork from visual artists around the globe, as they considered ways of responding to the query.
“We had shared long discussions about the value of collaboration between the artistic and the literary communities,’ wrote Austin in Lost & Found Mega*zine in 2013.
“The act of collaboration provides a unique opportunity for writers and artists to engage in the time-tested tradition of letting words and images work together to push both further into the void than either could reach alone.”
“It spiraled out of control pretty quickly,” says Thompson with a rueful laugh.
“We thought it was going to be the kind of thing we stapled together in the kitchen, but instead…”
Instead, the book took off in a big way, receiving mentions on The Huffington Post, the Stranger, CityArts, and Polish publication Lost & Found.
They brought Bombshell—a glossy, behemoth of a book—on a tour to the AWP conference in Boston, and on the way found ways to engage their audience with thoughtful blog posts, a book-specific website, and small launches across the country. Proceeds from the sales were—and continue to be—donated to the Washington Education Access Fund.
“When we came up with the idea we had no idea how difficult it is to publish. It’s not an easy thing. We’re proud of the work we did with it, and it was our launch-pad.”
Things seem to get launched around Thompson, often at the speed of thought. She warns me early on that it’s not safe to mention any of my ambitions around her.
“If you tell me you’re interested starting some project, I’ll have marketing ideas for you the next day. I’ll build your website, file your business license, and draw up your four point plan within the week.”
“I’m such a pusher.”
She’s not entirely sure where her energy comes from to juggle new Wolfram projects, paint contributions for shows around town, curate exhibits, attend art openings, perform culinary experiments, create illustrations for an upcoming graphic novel, pick up her son from wrestling practice, and improve on her distance running.
“I live in a state of pretty high stress,’ she admits.
“You put a seed out into the world, and it grows—it’s a Cthulhu, a dark lord that runs your life for the next 6 months. And then, as soon as it’s done, I start wondering how I can top it.”
Seattle is Thompson’s adopted home, and she considers it a remarkably easy place to get such things done. Something about the city and its arts community enables her to fire all her engines and complete things at whiplash speed. I wonder if it’s because notoriously laid-back Seattleites are floored by her sheer dynamism and energy. She politely disagrees.
“Everything I do is collaborative. I end up sucking people into the vortex, and we all generate momentum together. People want to help, they want to show up and be a part of things. Enthusiasm is infectious.”
I compare Thompson and Austin to spiders in the center of a web: connecting disparate parts of their networks, feeling the pulses from across their web and pinging back, and busily bringing new people into their purview.
She laughs, “I love it—spiders are my spirit animal!”
On a mild evening earlier in the year, Thompson showed just how far—and how high—her web of connections could take her. Wolfram presented “Floating City”, an intimate dinner and art exhibition in the 1900s penthouse apartment at the tippy top of Smith Tower in downtown Seattle.
After watching a flurry of Seattle gallery closures in 2013-14, Thompson wondered: How do we develop a culture of arts patronage? Where and how do people spend money, buy art, and invest objects with meaning?
Floating City was first in a series of events that seek to provide answers. The event brought together a small gathering of unusual suspects—artists, collectors, writers, scientists, designers, musicians, techies, and more—to celebrate the artwork created by visiting Austrian artists Christian Bazant-Hegemark and Simone Fuchs during their Wolfram Artist Residency program.
The Residency invited the two Viennese painters to Seattle for a month to engage with the art scene and produce a body of work. It culminated with the Floating City reception, an event far beyond what an art gallery could produce.
“It wasn’t a staid gallery art experience, or a night out at a restaurant,” explains Thompson.
“Floating City was a dinner party that brought together the worlds of art, food, and conversation in a new paradigm.”
Thompson dreamt up a sophisticated tasting menu with young chef Mike Stamey based on the textures and colors of the artists’ work. Mezzo-soprano Roxanna Walitzki performed an Austrian aria that brought many to tears. And arts patron and penthouse owner Petra Franklin granted guests a new perspective on the city: they shed shoes and jackets, shimmied up a cramped chimney, and beheld the vertiginous view from inside the tiny glass dome atop of Smith Tower.
In the days following the event, the guests took to social media to record their experiences, posting photos of skyscraper fairy lights from the dome, or soft-focus food-porn shots from the tasting menu.
A guest who bought a painting that night wrote: “It is not only a beautiful painting, but a talisman: imbued with the magic and memory of last Thursday evening’s Floating City.”
Another posted: “Loving living in a city where people have a cultural vision. This felt like Paris.”
Thompson sips the dregs of her wine and levels a serious look at me over the rim of her chunky black glasses.
“My best piece of advice to anyone with a goal is this: formalize the process. Put whatever it is you want to do down in formal language; make it a proposal, a contract. It will make you accountable to yourself.”
Wolfram Productions itself is a function of this ethos, created out of thin air to serve as a publishing vehicle for The Better Bombshell. The Wolfram Artist Residency program, too, originated this way: Bazant-Hegemark made an idle comment that he wanted to visit Seattle and paint a bit. He must not have gotten the warning Thompson gave me about sharing ambitions within a mile radius: she gave it a title, and mission statement, and now the Residency is in full swing, with Seattleites Garek Druss and Chris Sheridan leaving for Vienna in coming months.
The sun is setting across the brick square, and our wine glass hold only traces of our lipstick. As we wrap up our conversation, she speaks candidly about the rhythm of her life as a human catalyst.
“I run one project to pay for the next. It’s like you are the trapeze, and the net. The trick is to make it seem seamless.”
After all our digressions to sci-fi and fantasy realms, I can’t help but reflect that although Thompson is very like the jack-of-all-trades rogue characters she prefers to play in video games, she might also have analogues in the world of comics. Maybe she’s Spider-Woman, spinning her webs all over town. But I’d like to think that she could just as easily be the next iteration of Daredevil.
Just call her Siolo: The Woman Without Fear.
Editor’s Note: While the partners at Wolfram Productions have gone their separate ways since this issue was published, you can find more artwork and new projects by Siolo Thompson at her website.
Artwork courtesy and copyright of by Siolo Thompson.