Thursday 7th September, Seattle, WA.
Jet lag is not the best. Whilst this may not be breaking news to the perennially airborne, it is a new challenge for me. Three days after my arrival in the Pacific North West, I was starting to get the hang of the time difference, but still feeling slightly sedated. To combat this, I decided to head to the Centre on Contemporary Art (CoCA) in Pioneer Square, Seattle.
Upon arrival, I realised I had not stumbled upon the opening of one exhibition, but of at least five. Arranged along the pavement were a cluster of sandwich boards all advertising the opening of some kind of show. Working my way along I discovered that accompanying each of the sandwich boards was a room bustling with people and brimming with art. Unwittingly, I had found myself following the trail of Seattle’s long running, monthly first Thursday Pioneer Square art walk. I later discovered that the Pioneer Square art walk has been a cornerstones of the arts scene in Seattle since the early nineteen eighties with sixty four galleries and studios taking part. It is also the oldest organised art walk in the USA.
Spontaneous Combustion at CoCA to start. A insight into the cynical mind of two groups, Desearch Repartment, and the artistic pairing of Peter Christenson and Phillip Mudd. The result is a bizarre sensory overload which deftly appropriates the visual language of corporate capitalism to immerse the viewer in the symbolism of digital culture. Using a combination of performance, installation, digital imagery, and costume, Desearch Repartment present the viewer with subtly manipulated corporate imagery, into which they place moments of individualistic action. In the centre of the exhibition space, a media back drop, similar to those seen in television interviews, covered with manipulated corporate logo’s hangs from a wall. In front of this the audience poses for photos, thus disseminating their own personalised version of the work through social media with every image that is taken. Juried Performance by Christenson and Mudd, offers a more chilling critique of digital culture. Over three screens a man is seen to arrange table and chairs as for a jury or hearing, surround this with black and yellow hazard tape, seat himself facing the absentee jury, and put a gun to his own head. These films were sent to a number of influential art institutions, acting as fables for the juried art competition. The yellow and black hazard tape featured in the films extends into the physical space of the gallery, tying the imagined scenario to our own real experience. This forces us to confront our own accountability in the unstoppable human consumption of digital imagery.
Trying to tell where one exhibition ended and the next began, I further explored the block of interconnected galleries and open studios. Highlights included: Urban at artist led Gallery 110. A group show organised by local artist Susan Gans exploring Seattle and the identity of the pacific north west through photography. Also, the studio of artists David and James Weed that becomes a gallery space each month to coincide with the art walk. This month featuring painting and wall mounted interactive signs that pose questions on everything from healthcare to immigration. Lastly, artist, designer, and creative strategist Mary Anne Carter runs a pop up version of her online platform and shop Jesus Mary Anne Joseph from a hectic, neon, and glitter filled studio.
In the wider Pioneer Square area a huge number of other organisations were taking part in the art walk, including openings at Foster White Gallery and Axis Gallery. Foster White is a well known and long running commercial gallery exhibiting early and mid career artists based in painting and sculpture. This month they were presenting new works by Shawn Huckins. Axis run a large event/gallery space, a bar, and a photography studio. They fill they’re 6000sf space with an eclectic open submission exhibition each month to coincide with the art walk.
The close proximity of DIY artist led spaces and sleek commercial businesses was a striking feature of Pioneer Square to an outsider. I came away invigorated by the popularity of the event but intrigued by how their relationship to each other might work. How do they occupy property in the same central district of the city? Do their audiences, which are seemingly so close to each other, actually mix? And does a seemingly close relationship between galleries catering to different spheres of the art world exist is a similar way in the UK?
All Galleries and studios visited:
Coca – http://cocaseattle.org/
Gallery 110 – https://www.gallery110.com/
SOIL – http://soilart.org/
Shift – https://shiftgallery.org/
Foster White Gallery – http://www.fosterwhite.com/
Treason Gallery – https://treasongallery.com/
Axis Gallery – http://axispioneersquare.com/art-gallery/