n 2005, just back from New York, I was meandering through the TK Building in Pioneer Square - a building in Seattle’s historic gallery district which houses a few dozen galleries and artist studios on the ground floor, and artist live/work spaces above. I remember the excitement I felt as I discovered strong contemporary work in galleries like Punch, 4Culture, G. Gibson, and SOIL. Next to SOIL was a particularly eye-catching gallery called Platform Gallery (all of these galleries still occupy their spaces today), which was curated by four artists: Stephon Lyons, Carol Bolt, Blake Haygood, and Dirk Park. Today, the gallery is run solely by Stephon Lyons, whose elegant and thoughtful aesthetic prevails.
It was this same year that Jennifer McNeely’s solo exhibition at Platform
stopped me in my tracks. The gallery was completely overgrown with bulbous, fruit-like sexual forms made of cloth, nylons, coupled bra cups, and fur lewdly poking out of various folds. Chains of seaweed-like clustered nodules hung from the the wall to trail across the floor. It was all I could do to not touch them, rub my cheek against the rabbit fur, or burst into tears because some odd-shaped emotion that had to do with my odd-shaped parts had finally come to light. If Louise Bourgeois and Eva Hesse are the embodiment of all that is wordless given form, then McNeely is surely their successor in this wordless language. McNeely's legacy
of Sisyphean ritualistic preverbal art-making seems to include a compulsion to repair. This renovation is arbitrary – the materials don’t seem to originate as ripped, torn, or otherwise ruined objects; it is the superfluous mending of these objects which requires no fortification other than one the artist desires. The artist is both weakening and strengthening a material that previous to the process was whole and undamaged. The process itself creates something new out of the formerly undamaged/damaged/mended object.
Is it pointless to restore materials which for all intents and purposes are perfectly fine to begin with? How does this process relate to the endless toil of “women’s work”; the specific acts of homemaking, needlecraft, maintenance, and caretaking (a man will work from dusk to dawn, but a woman's work is never done
)? McNeely admits that her work is precisely, continually, about refurbishment and the old made new again. She also happens to work with traditionally feminine materials: cloth, upholstery, medical dressings, personal beauty-related objects, thread, and yarn. Historically, women’s roles are behind the scenes; hidden away in hearth and home, schools, hospitals, or farms; submerging themselves in the mechanical workings of the task at hand. Women were generally expected to toil without credit or reward, while men gauged their identity by such recognition, and were applauded for it.
Yet McNeely’s work embodies all of these tropes and contradictions, whether masculine or feminine-identified, or through opposing materials. She toils relentlessly to drive her vision so that you will recognize the fruit of her labor and know her; and so she may heal.
It occurs to me that as I’ve struggled to write this essay, the wall I’ve hit has to do with my own history of arbitrary repair. Just prior to my return to art school, I lived through an event that inexplicably changed my inner and outer landscape. It was the catalyst that has shaped every choice I make now. In school, my work was made of delicate plaster shells sewn together in the shape of human bones and soaked in salt, piles of clumpy salt-crusted twine coiled on the floor beneath. This is where the repair began, though I wasn’t aware of it at the time. I sewed more bones together and connected them, soaking them in a heavy slurry of salt until the entire thing was crusted over, encased in the hardened brine. My mind and body does what it can with trauma but it’s a flawed device and a warped lens. Submerged in memory, I am in a constant state of repair. Into the Deep
implies another kind of submersion, though mimetically different than memory. Far below the surface of the earth’s oceans, at nearly unmarked depths, creatures exist in complete darkness. The pressure is so intense that you must have evolved to endure it. There is no light, taste, smell, and barely any sound. There is only feeling. Creatures are all cilium, flagellum, proboscis, and mouth. They live to survive; against the current, against all odds.
McNeely willingly exposes herself to this harsh climate to feel her way in the dark. In lieu of her body, she has created preverbal representatives to go forth and explore the depths in her stead. She outfits her flora and fauna with the parts they need to survive the viscous stew. They are curled, tubed, nippled, tentacled, fringed, and bulbous. Some are meant to float atop the surface – their mammillary protrusions are either subconscious manifestations of Artemis, or they are the bodies, bladders, blades, and clusters of abundantly fruited seaweed. These proxies travel where she cannot go. They feel what she can’t. They give her release.For us, these creatures and forms provide a mirror to examine the shape of our own inner oceanic dwellers. If there is a crack through which we can feel wonder, delight, joy, sadness, love, labor, or yes even beauty; McNeely has broken it wide open. We are rewarded with not just feeling, but vision - out of the deep, and in the light of day.
Jennifer McNeely, MTHFR 2013 Mixed Media Varying, 3-4” L, 1-2” H
The Obsessive Unknown Origin of Grotesque Irregularity
is inspired by the aesthetics of Rococo, Surrealism, and the Baroque. Each of the presenting artists in have roots in obsessive processes,storytelling, and adornment. The presentation of these works together creates an environment that is not only immediately magical, but which also carries an undercurrent of fascinating narrative in obsession, dreams, the subconscious, folklore and literature. Lush and abundant, their work pushes the boundaries of clutter, beauty, and complicated aesthetics in contemporary work.
I was very excited to welcome two New York artists, Ken Weaver (courtesy of Schroeder Romero & Shredder
) and Nancy Baker, to show in this exhibition. I wanted to draw a thread of continuity between the work in Seattle to the work in other cities, demonstrating that we aren't so far removed from trends and movements in the art world at large. Nancy Baker’s tediously accumulated layers create a kaleidoscope of imagery, piling up to the point of overwhelming us entirely. Ken Weaver’s characters are in the midst of some intricate Gothic drama, its mysterious story unfolding in the deepest part of our imagination.
Etymology of the word "baroque" comes from the French word used to describe a style of architecture, and to refer to something irregular and grotesque; as from Middle French in reference to the surface of a pearl; from the Portuguese "barroco" - a pearl of irregular shape, of unknown origin. These descriptive terms remind me of Marilyn Minter, the epitome of contemporary Baroque and Rococo - her works are erotic, frightening, sometimes crusted in filth, sexual in their hyperreality of sweat, saliva, and body parts. They defile the sacredness of beauty even as it is being elevated. Imagery of decay, the body, escapism, and Gothic hyperfantasy prevail.
This hyperfantasy offers us a great privilege: to see what lies in front of our tired vision with refreshed sight. It is a luxury we are rarely afforded, caught in the mundanity of our lives. Hyperfantasy creates a contemporary mythology and pantheon of characters in which we may view our ourselves more closely. In Minter’s case, lips, feet, mud, and jewels all take on an otherworldly cast. We imagine what those things must feel like, what the grit from the mud or the caviar does to our senses. It’s ordinary drudgery, but in fantasy it becomes the most spectacular event.
And each of these artists in has created a spectacular event. Whether it is Casey Curran’s clutching, grasping hand amidst sharp gilded leaves and soft feathers; Mandy Greer’s dazzling patterned display across the entire wall, or Katy Stone’s magical realist weeping cherry tree; these works are environmental. They speak to a place and time that isn’t now or here, telling stories that reflect our lives but imagine those lives in magnificent ways.
Ken Weaver, Bette Burgoyne, Tyna Ontko, Nancy Baker, Tony Sonnenberg, Mandy Greer
This is an essay I wrote for the catalogue that accompanies our current show at LxWxH - The City and The City.
This exhibition ties together two cities that have historically felt quite separate, in order to build a bridge between communities. These are my thoughts about its meaning to me, and to the future of our continued discourse.
While I was thinking about Portland in order to write this, I became aware of how difficult it is to see our sister to the south. I suppose it begins geographically - both the northern and southern regions of the Pacific Northwest are made of glacially formed hills and valleys, broad mountain ranges, and split by a giant river. The immediate differences are obvious: Portland is surrounded by rolling hills, and Mount Hood is the only peak in sight. A calm, wide river rests at your feet. Bridges, everywhere. Meanwhile Seattle lives at the lip of a giant fjord, resting between two craggy ranges and a dotted line of dormant volcanoes. Both cities are torn up by rainstorms, and sometimes shaken by earthquakes. The violence and drama of the subduction zone is apparent in the wrinkling of our geography, and our recent memory of Mount St. Helens. Giant waves crash against cliffs along the Washington and Oregon coasts. We live at the edge of the world..
But, ideologically, I have this idea Portland is a city that makes Seattleites reminiscent of days past. It makes us feel romantic, wistful, and nostalgic about a town filled with the faces of old brick buildings, 19th century charm, worn off painted ads and fire escapes on buildings, progressive politics, and small independent businesses. We take leisurely walks through the quiet streets of that small city remembering when we thought Seattle was once like this. Perhaps we have become too big. Perhaps we forgot what it meant to be here. Perhaps we can only survive so much boom and bust.
My boom and bust vision is clouded of course, with our collective history of fires, occupation, protest, logging, fishing, a gold rush, aerospace, and dot coms. The roots of my city are so closely linked to the roots of Portland, and yet from those roots have sprung two different trees.Portland’s Wikipedia page
reveals a section on its cultural life, that out of the ashes of a burnt up dot com industry has risen a city teeming with creativity. That life has brought forth innumerable galleries and independent projects, young emerging artists, and creative enterprises. Donuts are made with bacon, you’re allowed to eat and drink at strip clubs, bicycles are the number one transport, and being an artist or musician is as much an inherent part of what it is to be Portland as ... something that I can’t even think of, because I’m a Seattleite, but likely something to do with brewing beer and independent film making.
But what about the art world, and what does this selection of artists at LxWxH Gallery
mean to me, an artist and curator living in Seattle? Who do I imagine living in Portland, and what do I expect to bring to this conversation?
Portland’s art world is revealed to me over time in small pieces - artwork by Patrick Kelly
in an obsessive drawing show at Vermillion
, writing by Amy Bernstein and Jeff Jahn in PORT Blog
, a press release in my email from Disjecta
, or a road trip with Jim Demetre to meet Jenene Nagy
. I envision the artwork of Portland to be somewhat riskier, as though artists have nothing to lose. Portland feels like there are more independent spaces and less institutional ones. Artists have free reign to speak there for the same reason I feel more freedom here - after living in NYC the West Coast is the last bastion of freedom and entrepreneurship. People move away from the East Coast to get out from under the burden of history, to be freed of the restraints of whatever it is that makes the [art world] machinery turn. As young projects of passion and enthusiasm take shape in an artistically young city the projects could be seen as less refined (they aren't); but they are also more honest.
In order to try and stay abreast of these projects, I tend to collect a mental patchwork of notes from every trip to Portland, never quite grasping a tangible map in my head, nor a real sense of who I've seen or what; or where. It’s like trying to hold a ghost. I just can’t ever hold onto it. Ceramics here, large scale installation in a window there, ah yes - PDX Contemporary
! But in the last year or so I have begun to focus, and build that map and memory of names and artwork so that I can have something to hold that’s real. So that while I stand in this city, I can still see that one.
Amidst that patchwork, I came across artist Daniel Glendening’s website
and discovered a kindred spirit in abstraction, salt, and literature. I made a mental note to try and reach him, to see if he would be interested in working together. Not without some bizarre serendipity, Glendening contacted me in February 2013 to tell me he liked the project and that perhaps we could work together some time to connect our two cities. Without hesitation, I asked what he was doing in May and now we are here.
Our collection of artists in The City and The City
isn’t meant to represent a specific aesthetic that is Portland. Nor is this meant to present a full survey of Portland. Rather, this selection represents a small cross-section of what may be found in Portland right now, by artists who are working across varying media - performance, video, installation, drawing, photography, and painting. These are artists Glendening is tracking, among many others, and artists whom we have selected together. The result of any curation is inevitably a thread which can’t help but emerge by virtue of the curators’ line of sight. It is a thread in which we see overlap between artists in their vision, processes, aesthetics, and thought. In this exhibition there is a continuity of perspective - artists who share a city and who are therefore subject to its cultural and geographical influence.
It’s a wonderful thing as I sit in the gallery, quietly preparing for the upcoming show, that I get a quick meeting with Seattle’s Todd Jannausch
, an artist and curator known for his unconventional street exhibitions such as Gallery 40 and Gallery 206. Jannausch is getting ready to take his latest project, Small Voids
, down to Portland and Oakland at the end of the first week in May. We’ve just agreed to present the grand finale for Small Voids
on the street outside of LxWxH on the very same night of the opening that you've just attended. It’s a brilliant end to an epic project.
But what excites me is the serendipitous timing of Todd’s project to ours; that he is bringing a venue for Seattle artists into other cities. He’s creating opportunities where before, none existed. It will overlap and dovetail with The City and The City
in the most perfect way imaginable - once, these were two separate conversations about a similar thing that couldn't meet. Now they have become a conversation about the same thing and are quite literally meeting. The artists in Portland who will be showing in Seattle will have a chance to see Seattle artists on the street of their own town. Seattle will be able to see what I hope is the beginning of a venue for more Portland artists in Seattle. These two things will meet again in Seattle on the same block at the same time on the very night that you pick up this publication.
As citizens of Besźel and Ul Qoma, standing in one city to see the other, perhaps Daniel Glendening and I are building Orciny - the third city in which we seek to reveal and bring the previously suspected but wholly unknown into the known world. We shift our perspective to allow the other to come forward. In this way, the two cities move closer together to coexist in a way that doesn’t leave us closed off, but with solid bridges which allow us to return again and again. Perhaps this began the moment Todd Jannausch chose to set Small Voids
in Portland. Perhaps that small shift in perspective began a large shift in action; a kind of ripple or domino effect. It is fitting that these ways of joining should coincide. It is fitting that in a region beset with and formed from dynamic, tectonic activity that this shift shakes us from a comfortable sleep to wonder what’s happening.This is what The City and The City means to me right now, in the moment I am typing.It means it is not necessarily “the” beginning, but “a” beginning alongside many others. This is a conversation that will not end, here. There is more to come.
Let us leave a space for us to stand and see it, and each other, again.
Let us build a history together, not just imagined, but real.
Casey Bryan Doherty, Olympia Baby
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to write about the Seattle Erotic Art Festival, and I’ve been coming up short since I went last weekend. The problem is this is a doubly subjective issue - sex and art. My brain wants to separate the art part from the sex part on all these really formal levels of art criticism, and really that’s not possible or true. And I want to acknowledge there is no perfect recipe for either and you can’t really tell anyone what to do but you know the bad stuff when you see it. Here’s the thing: nobody’s going to agree with you. Everyone’s going to agree with you. Some people may or may not agree with you. I’m as potentially wrong as I am right about any of this, whether it be sex or art.
Before I start, I’m going to tell you that I was pleased with the number of works that weren't photography. There seemed to be an effort and quality in craft that I've seen missing before. Too much of the work was obviously obvious, but when it wasn't it was really good. I didn't even mind the suspended walls and lighting. And I’m not going to get into performance because that’s not what I went for. So if you want to get turned on, see sexy stuff in a public place and not really think about art or be intellectually challenged; if you really like performance and a great party, an excuse to dress up in something really scandalous, and you want to get all hot and bothered; then the Seattle Erotic Art Festival is just the thing for you. Have a great time - you’re going to love it. I promise. And there’s really nothing wrong with that. SEAF serves a great purpose which I’ll get into later, and that’s a good thing.
But this is what I am left thinking about, post coital exposure (and now I am about to ensure that I will never again receive a press pass to the festival): :
My attendance was a calculated act, which oddly is the same reason I guest curated in 2009. I wanted to see if art could be art before it was erotic, and thus have more substance. After all, the sexiest art was always the work which was incidentally sensual. I wanted to prove all the people wrong who thought that erotic art meant only one thing, or a limited number of things. I wanted to be wrong in my assumption that the people running the festival felt that way in the first place. But as expected there was just a lot of nakedness and cheap one-liners. That didn't thrill me. It bored me. I can't possibly be alone.
You might wonder what the problem is and you're totally right if the only thing sex means to you is naked people and straight up porn. However, if you want actual multi-tiered stimulation that excites you beyond whatever gives you an erection then you're probably going to be disappointed [again].
Perhaps we can agree on these things (can we agree on these things?):
Sex is more than a naked person with a hot body. It's more than a naked person with a hot body arranged in an aesthetically pleasing manner with good lighting and/or honey or other questionable wet substance smeared all over it. Sex is more than a vagina presented to the camera with a fist in it. It's more than high-def genitalia, by itself, disembodied as though the person attached to it is nonexistent. Sex is more than just fucking, really, even if you are just submitting to a one night stand. Yes we've all fucked somebody just to fuck them. But what was it about them that got you in the first place, besides a tight ass, big tits, or huge cock? There are a ton of sexy people you've met to whom you've said no. Why is that? Think about it for a minute before you read further.
So without completely slamming the Festival, which I want to fully believe does the best it can with what it gets, I have some questions to present followed by a few suggestions: Why would anyone put the bizarre and limiting pressure on themselves to be an “erotic” artist?
The work that should be there is work that is art first, sex later. I'm explicitly saying that erotic art is best when it's not set out to be erotic art. Everything else feels like a cheap attempt to elevate pornography. It’s no better than those really bad drawings you and your friend made in the back of your notebook in 6th grade. Artists have one driving force behind all bodies of work: philosophical intent. There’s always a narrative underneath the imagery. It’s almost as if in art, subject matter is circumstantial - no matter how much an artist claims the subject comes first, it’s really a projection of some underlying problem the artist is trying to solve, much in the manner of a scientific query. If there isn't some kind of philosophical intent behind the work, then the work itself becomes an empty shell. This isn't some kind of art theory, it’s just a fact. Has the internet ruined it for everyone?
Porn is everywhere - in our magazines, movies, music videos, advertisements, in our fashion, and with our coffee
, and I’d argue that most of us are just unimpressed with the abundance of sex we can get for free. Why would we pay? Amateur porn reins supreme. Even the porn industry itself is dying out. Why would anyone pay to see something on the wall that they can view on their screen? And what about Tumblr?
Porn Tumblrs are everywhere. I have a Google Reader dedicated entirely to porn Tumblrs. On Tumblr you will find no end to an artful array of beautiful pictures having to do with sex: faux vintage shots with sun flares and hipster glasses, women draped artfully across a blanket on the grass with some kind of nostalgic item from 10/20/30 years ago, white skin on black skin on white skin in an gothy pile of glowing flesh, streams of endless looping gasp and lip-bites in the shape of a GIF. Beautiful erect cocks and bountiful breasts against which none of us can possibly compare in perfection, smoothness, brightness, and Photoshop. Maybe the festival could use Tumblr as the bar to beat. So given the bounty of sex in the world, why is there a festival about it?
To raise awareness? To provoke the Right Wing? To make a statement about acceptance? To get people to talk about it? We’re all having it, and we all enjoy sexy images of sexy people.. What makes us want to pay the full admission price to see it on the wall - is it for the sake of seeing it on the wall? Maybe it’s the titillation itself of viewing it in public, and not being able to do anything about it until we get back behind closed doors. Maybe we’re all walking around hoping that suddenly everything’s going to turn into that party in Eyes Wide Shut. It won't, I can assure you. Never mind that, here’s what I really think about why there’s a festival and how it could be better:
Americans still live in a repressed culture that shies away from any kind of open social and political advancement or conversation about the diversity and multiplicity of our very individual sexual lives. Because we can’t talk about it, sex is still ridiculously and adolescently humorous, as though we’re getting away with something that our parents won’t like and that makes us want it even more. We still have an alarming rate of ignorance about sexual health and function, and we still don’t seem to know how to keep the relationships we have because we’re so afraid of talking about it. Unfortunately, while I believe that the CSPC wants to increase the education and acceptance of our varied and wilder sexual identities, year after year this festival reminds me we're more and more disconnected from sexuality and more specifically, sensuality in our culture than before, and it isn’t promising to get better.
Again I'm just not really clear on the focus of the festival. It isn't entirely their fault - one part of them is heavily entrenched in the world of the Center for Sex Positive Culture
while another part of them obviously wants to keep growing beyond it. Another problem is the effort to honour all the past artists who have put them where they are on the map, for fear of alienating their roots. Sadly the Masters of Erotic Art was the most boring wall in the place. SEAF needs to cut the cord. And yet another complication is the effort it takes to navigate through the legion of artwork that is the result of a broad call to art.. That's not even getting into the complicated politics of a multi-staffed jury that is negotiating the work the public gets to see. Maybe this sort of show would be better served as a purely curated exhibition?
One or two people could work together to collect a group of artists they think fit their vision. Perhaps there could be a call for curators, with a proposal for a show. It would be a democratic and diverse process, with a different curator (or curator team) at the helm with either a theme or binding conceptual/aesthetic thread between the artists and the art they choose. There should be a strong curatorial vision and statement, published everywhere, along with a guide that educates viewers about the many different facets of sexuality, explaining some of the imagery in the show (especially the more violent themes found in S&M and bondage), and maybe even a few essays from guest writers or artists. The show could and should be smaller with an emphasis on quality over abundance, and perhaps the performance isn't gone but in an entirely different venue altogether so that people would willingly choose what they’re there for. After all, many festivals are in multiple venues. And it's really hard to look at art when the music is so loud you can't think. It's even harder if the lights are turned down to focus on the performance.
I conducted an informal poll on Facebook, asking people what they wanted out of an erotic art festival. People generally agreed that they wanted something “more” than what they found. My post reflects the opinions of people I asked, both kink-community involved, mainstream, and Seattle art world; and it does seem to be a general consensus that while people have been having a great time they’re yearning for something more stimulating - an interesting thought given the event is expressly based on stimulation. Almost everyone agreed that while they enjoyed the party, they wanted to enjoy the art more.
If I have any parting words for SEAF, it would be to think hard about the identity and message of the festival. Figure out what it means to talk about sex in a world that’s drenched in it. Allow yourself to open up to ideas that aren’t immediately obvious. And most importantly: make the assumption that your audience is smarter, more intellectual, more experienced, and harder to please than what you have previously thought. You might just be surprised.
The 10th anniversary Seattle Erotic Art Festival celebrates “10 Years of Love and Lust”,
June 16-24, 2012. More than 10,000 attendees are anticipated for this showcase of visual art, interactive installations, performances, short film, literary art, after-parties, workshops and more, at Fremont Studios
Last July, Shaun Kardinal
created an interactive piece for Seattle's web-based gallery project Violet Strays
. It blew my mind. At first glance, it's an image. Then it occurs to you to hover your mouse over it, or perhaps this happens accidentally or intuitively. Things start to spin around, and layer up as you move the arrow. Once you click the image, it reloads to start something new and your dance begins again. The joy of the piece is in your discovery of an invitation to play.This user-dependent browser-based piece
is built from a photo feed which accumulated over the course of his one week "installation". The overlays are geometric and graphic but if you know Kardinal's work, you know these marks are essentially a virtual embroidery stitch on a virtual card. The piece is titled "Heptaparaparshinokh
" which upon some research was revealed to be "The Law of Seven (or Octave)"
- fascinatingly having to do with seven points of swerving from a previous direction of a force's movement. Heptaparaparshinokh
is an elegant marriage of concept and aesthetic.
Kardinal's sewing came at a time when there wasn't much sewing going on in Seattle, but it was beginning to creep into view. Unlike large scale projects such as my own where the stitch is large
and spans a 13 foot wall; this vein of work brings art down to an intimate level where the work is cherished and hand-held. Artists love postcards. They trade them, they add to them, they become elaborate exquisite corpse projects
. But Shaun keeps it quiet, simple, and contained. They are created from his own world but he is offering them to you without pretense or expectation. They are what you want them to be.
I appreciate that Kardinal's stitching has become more integrated with the collaged image, that there is a visual storyline of colour, shape, and form that springs from the composition underneath. The fault of many artists who embroider is that the stitch has little or nothing to do with its source, serving more as an arbitrary treatement of line and colour for the sake of design
. That isn't necessarily bad, but it's the particular virtue of Connotations
that the hand of the artist aligns itself with the material so well. This integration is what makes it so strong and in my opinion, though it manifests in Connotations
it truly culminates in his web project Heptaparaparshinokh
. This is an experiment that I look forward to seeing continue both in tactile paper pieces and hopefully, some day on a screen once again. GO SEE CONNOTATIONS AT JOE BAR
Capitol Hill Art Walk, 12 April 2012810 East Roy Street @ Harvard12 April - 8 May
screenshot from Kardinal's Heptaparaparshinokh, 2011
screenshot from Kardinal's Heptaparaparshinokh, 2011
Shaun Kardinal Connotation No. 4, 2012
So it comes up now and again, or all the time, or once in a while, or constantly; that there is no art writing in Seattle. Sometimes, on a bad day, I agree and yell a lot about it. Then I feel guilty or jealous or anxious because I used to be and/or still want to be one of them. I lament the loss of we artist writers who used to write and cross post and hyperlink more. Those were the days
, I say. And then I secretly plot to write about a show or an artist or something every day. It will be a good day
, I say.
Last week someone linked a post that gallerist Paul Pauper wrote
and it felt like someone slapped me out of a fog. Wait a minute. Artists are still writing in Seattle. What the hell? Why aren't we acknowledging this? Is there some kind of unspoken need to have writers be uh, "vetted
"? How could a writer be any more vetted than either a] writing, b] being an artist/curator/gallerist themselves, and/or c] all of the above?
Let's snap this bitch into focus. I'm going to say it clearly so you can catch the whole thing: THERE IS ART WRITING IN SEATTLE AND IT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW.
And I am going to show you where it is. Whether or not you find the writing to be frequent or critical enough
is an entirely different conversation but we'll get into that another time. Let's just start with what's out there and you can tell me what you think when we're done:Jen Graves, The Stranger
- our most prolific art writer, covering as much of the city as she can with the time she has as our singular paid, bona-fide art critic
in Seattle. Her writing covers everything from small features suggesting shows and events to full length articles and reviews. Notice I emphasize art critic
- something we actually must admit we don't have in Seattle, particularly since Regina Hackett
has stopped writing. How/if/when we get more writers on the more critical end of analysis/criticism/questions is an old, old old old Seattle question. We're still waiting for people to step up to the plate on this one. For now, Jen is it. Joey Veltkamp, Best Of
- our second most prolific art writer on top of being an artist himself, Joey gets out there more than anyone I know. Joey does a great job of interviewing artists, spotlighting what's going on around town, and presenting a positive voice about what he enjoys most in Seattle. Translinguistic Other, Emily Pothast
- like many of us artists who write, Emily was writing infrequently in 2011 but has since cranked it up to present her much adored literary voice to the community. The virtue of Pothast's writing is its thoughtful intellectualism which is not only beautifully worded but well resourced, putting art into context for the reader via thorough cross reference to other material and artwork. City Arts (multiple writers)
- City Arts is the local magazine dedicated to the full spectrum of Seattle arts, from dance and theater to music and visual art. I have seen Rachel Shimp, Bond Huberman
, and Amanda Manitach
writing most recently for them. Dan Paulus
brings in great art and illustration as their Art Director. They also have a great blog which covers the arts
between issues.Seattle Magazine
- Brangien Davis
primarily covers art for Seattle Mag but they also have a great online arts section
with some great features about museums, artists, collectors, and events. Hankblog
- I confess I hadn't read Hankblog in a long time and had a total "oh duh" moment when it came up in my Facebook feed. It's a great resource for art events around town. The Monarch Review
- Monarch Review is the best cross section of literary writing in Seattle right now. Not only do they connect the visual art community with the literary community; the writing on visual arts is thorough and well presented. It isn't often enough that we see visual arts essays but the quality far outweighs my need for quantity here. New American Paintings, Erin Lagner
- Lagner has had a presence in Seattle for some time, and you might know her better from her blog Peripheral Vision
. While I am always hoping she will write more, I am equally if not more ecstatic to see her writing in a more national venue with the New American Paintings Blog. Seattle art getting a national audience? That's kind of a big deal. Hi Fructose Magazine, Kirsten Anderson
- Speaking of a national audience; Kirsten Anderson, gallery owner of Roq La Rue
in Belltown has been writing for Hi Fructose Magazine in print and online for some time and is in fact editor at large for the magazine. Lest you think it's only Pop Surrealism, I'd like to point out that non-Pop Surrealist artists such as Joe Park
, Chris Crites
, Kimberly Trowbrige
, Mandy Greer
, and Michael Alm
have graced the walls of Roq La Rue - and that's not even counting the show I curated this month
. Molo's Sketchbook, Ryan Molenkamp
- Molenkamp, like Emily and Joey, has been writing about art for years on this blog. He presents a thoughtful artist's view and aesthetic in his writing, and also discusses his own work in progress. He has become affectionately known as "Molorazzi"
around town because of his uncanny ability to capture the artists in his flash at various events. You definitely suffer no loss of fun shots and photo bombs on Molenkamp's blog! Drifts & Scatters, Gala Bent
- Gala's writing is as mesmerising and poetic as her work. I never tire of her prose. Not only is her blog a tender, thoughtful documentation of her work but it is a recorder of the things which inspire her which in turn, inspire us too. Art History Blogger, Carol Hendricks
- Hendricks runs the adult programs at Gage Academy of Art
on Capitol Hill; but in addition to that she's also an art historian. She's spent a lengthy amount of time in Europe, mostly Italy, and her studies predominantly focus on Italian Renaissance and Baroque. While this blog is not about the contemporary art scene in Seattle, it is an excellent resource of art historical information which not a lot of people are focusing on. Getting to Know You Better, Susanna Bluhm
- Susanna's voice isn't as frequent as it used to be, but what I've always appreciated about her writing is not only her eloquence but her introspection as a painter. Once one of many artist bloggers from the 2007-2010 era who were writing more frequently, she is writing less; but no less beautifully.ARTDish
- one of Seattle's longest running art resources, sometimes you still see features contributed by Jim Demetre, Robert Ayers, Adriana Grant, Amanda Manitach, Gary Faigan, Marcie Sillman
, and of course Andrew Bartels
who also is on staff at Monarch Review.Degenerate Art Stream, Degenerate Art Ensemble with guests
- this blog is curated by a broad group of artists
, writers, and performers (many of them DEA performers, more specifically) and constantly delivers amazing content via its guest features. Currently, C. Davida Ingraham
is guest writer for the blog, her first post covering Gala Porras-Kim's show in Los Angeles, Whistling and Language Transfiguration
Thanks to friends on Facebook and C-Monster
(your source for a multitude of cool things), and also thanks to the final week of my own project; I have a list of ten things you should check out on your coffee/lunch/sanity break at work today:
(speaking of which)
(this leads of course to)
(last but not least)
- n + 1 - Paper Monuments sister publication with lots of delicious back issues. You can download the PDF if it's sold out.
- Damien Hirst and the Great Art Market Heist - this will either validate everything you've ever not worried about, or utterly depress you.
- Xerox your own Xerox book - here is an excerpt from Art Fag City: " Seth Siegelaub, the do-it-all curator, writer, and art dealer, just released half a dozen of his essays and art projects from the late 60’s and 70’s for free download. It’s all part of Primary Information’s new Seth Siegelaub Online Archive and it will be expanding in the months to come. Siegelaub’s interest in conceptual artists and how they can make a living from ephemeral and reproducible materials remains incredibly fresh, particularly in light of the Occupy Movement."
the last, lonely list left out of over 200 after the opening for RED CURRENT (sweet fruit)
As I entered the vast open space of Western Bridge
, my companion who was already inside grinned at me mischievously. I asked what was so funny. She said, “this piece is everything I both love and hate about contemporary art” … I asked the dreaded question (dreaded because we were presumeably standing in front of it in the middle of a very large room but I didn’t want to admit which “piece” it was) : “what piece?”
My friend smiled and pointed at the floor. I looked down at the puddle of water near our feet, crestfallen. Yes. Yes of course this is the one. This is the piece that will cause all the anguish because unlike Dan Webb’s meticulously documented process of carving a block of wood from perfection into dust (which you’ll find carefully collected in a Plexiglas box at the end of the aforementioned documentation); this piece is going to challenge the very idea of what an artistic process is, and whether or not it needs to be tangible. Is process in the mind of the artist, or is it forced upon us as we toil to wrap our own minds around that thing that we both want and don’t want to understand? Is our own attempt to wrap ourselves around the work to justify its existence as art in its own way a kind of art?
These questions only lead to more questions: Why is there a puddle of water on the floor? Why am I so obsessed with its presence and [in] authenticity? Why can’t I just make a joke and move on, rather than stand here and try to figure it out so that I can explain it to my friends? Why does this work want me to want it to be art?
So what do you think I did, standing there with my friend; I reached down and touched the puddle with my fingertip, and brought my fingertip to my lips to see whether or not it was actually sea water. It was. I moved on.
The rest of the work in the gallery is what I’d expect to see - minimal, clean, large, and contemporary. I love this kind of work. It’s what I want to see more of in Seattle, whether or not I connect with it. These are artists whose work resides in lofty galleries in Chelsea, NYC. These are artists who’ve been in the Whitney Biennial. But if I’m honest, sometimes I don’t want to see it. I don’t know if living in New York wore me out or if it’s just that it feels out of place here. Or maybe it’s just so achingly polished and contemporary. It doesn’t matter. Seattlites need to see it. Don’t let my internal conflict get to you - I make very minimal work in my own studio and probably need to be refreshed with something more baroque. I need things to be … dirtier … messier
So it says something to me that the most interesting things in Western Bridge are actually the architectural elements of the building. I’m in love with the space. I’m fascinated by the height recordings on a wooden pillar towards the back; not only because it’s a marker of physical facts, but because it’s a marker of who’s been there - many of them rather well known art folks in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a quiet understated slice of history: “these people were here at this time
”. Also there is a large hook on a chain in the front, as well as a complex array of knobs and handles brightly painted red. It’s not supposed to be as interesting as the art but it has such a strong presence in the room that it can’t not have a strong presence in the room. Also when you’re south of SODO, everything is an industrial element. Knobs, tracks, wheels, cranks, gears, scaffolding, cranes, and other earmarks of industry are as important a part of the [interior and exterior] landscape as the mountains, sea, and sky.
The most fitting and fulfilling installation I’ve ever seen in the space is by my former Pratt professor Mary Temple
. When she was here, she created a fictional reflection of light that lulled you into that lazy late afternoon moment where sunlight cascades across your wall from a window across the street. It’s so beautifully Northwest in a way - we Seattlites are not without a keen sense of our environmental surroundings. Our light is specific to our open sky, the way it bounces off the mountains, Elliott Bay/Puget Sound, and buildings. Or off of plate glass windows on that warehouse across the railroad tracks.
Which brings me back to water - something we’re inescapably surrounded by. I couldn’t make a joke about Emilie Halpern’s puddle because nothing about any of the work in this exhibit is a joke. It’s all very serious. The puddle of water is four litres, the amount of liquid which can be contained by the human lungs. You have to read the handout to know that. You have to read another art review
to know that the puddle evaporates
over the course of the day to leave a salt stain on the floor. That’s the problem. But once you know that you can’t help but form your own story of why that puddle is there in the first place.
Therein lies the beauty. It’s a story that you make. Not the artist, who doesn’t explain its presence. You
And so it’s art that I can’t joke about because it's valid the moment I realise I’m the author. It’s the same with any kind of conceptual work - you are doing the work. I make you do this with my own work. Having an artifact at the end of the day doesn’t mean the art is somehow more valid
And it isn’t fair for me to say all the work in the show is totally minimalist, although there are still echoes.
Dan Webb’s endless row of documented woodwork is a tangible reality that I can almost feel with my hands, as though I were carving his skull myself. I love that the climax is a container of the dust at the end of the row of photographs. While I enjoy the evidence, what I’m not so sure about is the need for it to exist as proof. Perhaps I’d prefer to put that together myself?
Mungo Thomson hangs two mirrors facing one another with the Time’s trademark frame and title text painted on them, making you the person of the year. Since there are two, the reflections are infinitely recursive.
Matt Sheridan Smith’s beautifully drawn portraits which have been covered in the weird silver stuff that covers lottery tickets, which has been partially scratched to reveal the drawings underneath. (did he use a quarter to remove it?) At first I thought they looked like portraits from various currency. As it so happens, they’re friends of the artist. The style of work combined with the scratch ticket and all of it pointing to money is awesome.
Probably my favourite piece, Alex Schweder La’a small subtle installation literally lives and grows above the stairwell; which if you don’t pay attention you’ll disregard as mold - something else we sort of take for granted in our damp region. Its presence slowly eats away at the structure of the building, changing it over time, pieces of the paint and drywall slowly disappearing under the blooming fuzz. The world itself revolves around a pattern of growth and consumption, only to grow and consume again. Out of everything I’ve seen in this exhibition, this is the one that resonates most with the title, and with Western Bridge’s pending demise.
These pieces have an earthiness I relate to. I feel the presence and the hand of the artist when I look at them. What more could I ask? I want to know the maker of these things is with me, as buried in the work as I am, making a beautiful mess of things inside and out.
Sadly, most of this show doesn’t give me what I’m looking for, outside of everything I both love and hate about contemporary art. Nonetheless, I will miss Western Bridge when it is gone. Tremendously. Devouring Time
Western Bridge, Through April 7
3412 4th Ave S, @ Hinds
(I apologise in advance for my blurry cellphone shots below.)
Installation view of Dan Webb, Emilie Halpern, and Matt Sheridan Smith
Alex Schweder La
the pole of infamy
Matt Sheridan Smith
Mungo Thompson and me.
Dan Webb - this is the evidence.
this shot is to explain why I'm in a puffy suit. also motorcycling is as important a part of life to me as art. they go hand in hand.
At Gage Academy of Art, the Steele Gallery
sits at the end of the hallway where the air is thick with the smell of paper, ink, charcoal dust, oil paint, and varnish. It's a comforting smell if you have fond memories of taking art in school, or if you've even gone to art school. You might remember the sweat and rigour of those first few classes or that crippling first year; how crushing your work load was and how quickly you grew weary of these things:boxes, cones, cubes, spheres, line-weight variation, contours, cross-contours, drawing “without contours” (wut?!), vases, cups, bowls, flowers, plants, trees, paper bags, black plastic bags, odds and ends, old shoes, coats, blankets, drapery, bare light bulbs, legs, toes, heels, hips, breasts, necks, noses, ears, fingers, hair, eyes, darks, lights, sfumato (wtf), chiaroscuro, darkest-darks, lightest-lights, foreground, background, environment, perspective, two-point perspective, architecture, composition, value scales, “formal components”, cranky art models, erect art models, saggy art models, art models who can’t shut up, art models who kick the platform around until it suits them, art models who fall asleep and then fall over; tibias, clavicles, femurs, radius, ulna, and phalanges.
It's exhausting to draw. You never know how hard you have to work until you're working. Professors go on at length about how drawing is a philosophical battle with yourself; that what you see is not really what you’re making (you’ll never win that war but you’ll have some epic battles). But it is a real thing, this negotiation between perceived reality; what you see, what you think you see, what you don’t see, and how you must represent it either faithfully or fictionally.
That faith or fiction in representation is the crux of this show, where the work pays tribute to its roots.
Brick and Mortar is Lauren Klenow
’s final curatorial exhibit at Gage on Capitol Hill, showcasing a broad range of artistic narrative from conceptual video to traditional painting. The premise is simple: all work begins with the foundational aspect of draughtsmanship; that underneath even the most conceptual piece is the necessity to see and the compulsion to interpret through line, shape, shadow, and colour.
This exhibition demonstrates more than just the intimacy of line from observation.There is a distinct theme of flow, layering, subtlety, and material throughout the work. There is nothing loud about this exhibition - it’s quiet work that says volumes in its brevity. Katy Stone
’s installation is a layered fall of cornflower blue chenille pipe cleaners. The colour is almost electric, curves bowing out from the wall like so many tails. Living here in the Pacific Northwest it would be easy to recall a dripping rain forest of moss - fortunately this piece is not green, and there is no danger of confusing one for the other. This is more like a cloud. Stone’s a tried and true painter even in her installation work. Her meticulously mapped marks describe her more as a painter in space
, rather than canvas. You’re living in the same dimension as the work, not just looking at it.
Adjacent to the blue cascade are two drawings by Amanda Manitach
- one of them a return to hysteria and oddly arranged figures; one of which somehow remind me of the hanged man tarot. Drooping in a bizarrely relaxed manner her women are strung up and pinned by the feet, patiently waiting for something. Next to the figures is a drawing of a cup and folds upon folds against an obsessively blocked-in section of graphite. Both drawings are compositionally divided by bright crimson drips. Rather than feeling sinister, these drawings feel seductive. A video
next to the drawings displays an absurd list of questions and food being smashed into shoes which follows Manitach's course of logic if you follow the thread of her narratives
Complimentary to Manitach’s solid graphite blocks and folds are Robert Maki
’s tender geometric drawings. They feel intimate. I like the one that puckers. Drawing is meant to be a careful, thoughtful act. In an open rebellion against archival nurture and caretaking, this drawing presses against the glass; crinkled, beautifully executed, and sentimentally framed as though despite and perhaps because of its imperfection, it is critically important that we see it.
Brick and Mortar is an elegant arrangement meant to contemplate the binding thread between artists - the base element of art being the crafted line, the desire to interpret and represent what we see, and how we uniquely translate that vision. Some works have more in common to bind them together than others, but overall the success is that you will leave thinking about the relationship of drawing to contemporary art and form your own conclusions. Steele Gallery: Brick and Mortar
February 17 - March 203rd Floor, Gage Academy of Art
Kelda Martensen, Katy Stone, Robert Maki
I'm quite please to present a printed feature for LxWxH
in the November issue of Seattle Magazine
, online and available at newsstands now. Arts and Cultureal Editor Brangien Davis
has done a wonderful job of describing the project, making sure it sounds as approachable as the project is meant to be. Stay tuned for details of the November launch party for LxWxH (xHS) - HomeStead
Also at the end of September I was invited to write for The Project Room
's online magazine Off Paper, edited by Jenifer Ward. Inspired by the words and work of Mandy Greer
, Amanda Manitach
, and Joey Bates
I chose to address the processes of process, and what artists who work obsessively must endure to get there. You can read the essay on the site: Gross Accumulation, Percussive Maps, and Finding One's Way
As always, I encourage you to keep checking in on these projects - I am particularly excited about the Project Room's calendar and featured artists!