Culture Club: Seven Installations
411 Union is the site of this year’s City Arts Fest Culture Club, the hub for ongoing performances and events throughout the festival. In the spirit of reexamining the history and psychogeography of the city, the empty storefront—once a men's clothing store called Barcelino—is possessed by seven artists or artist teams who transformed its nooks and crannies. A retail counter has been turned into a bar/vitrine for housing sculptures. A dressing room has been transformed into a kaleidoscope. Sign Savant, the working name of sign-painter/artist Japhy White, covered the ghost walls with elegant, twining line work.
In one of the most entertaining installations, Jessixa and Aaron Bagley turned a closet into a hilarious reliquary for the ghosts of high school past. For GRIZZLY 1971 they illustrated an entire 1971 yearbook from Queen Anne High School, breathing new life into awkward adolescent portraits by reinterpreting them and bestowing funny monikers: "MARIE QUARKED, TURNED THE SCREW" or "KARI HELLMAN, GIRLS MAYONNAISE EATING TEAM." One wonders if anyone from Queen Anne High School circa 1971 might wander in and find themselves with a new identity in this ridiculously encyclopedic stroke of historical revisionism.
Around the corner, Allison Manch and Ian Young experiment with garment production in The Feeling of Being New Again. Untrained seamstresses, Manch and Young collaborated to make homely, clunky, hand-dyed, hand-stitched outfits for clunky, life-size cardboard mannequins. There are three female figures enigmatically circling the torso of a fallen male figure. He has a polaroid camera on his chest. The scene being acted out is menacing but laughingly vague….a ritual sacrifice?
In Maggie Carson Romano's From here, elsewhere, a glass display case in the back of the store is filled with dozens of miniature pots containing soil and a single blade of grass. The pots are paper-thin, made of cement cast in ice cube trays. The grass was grown in the space, absorbing light from fixtures in the store. During the Culture Club opening, Romano stood behind the counter giving away the grass pots to visitors, with the intent of dispersing the objects throughout the city. From here, elsewhere is another of those understated gestures Romano offers through her work, gestures that leverage simple systems in nature: wind, light, plant growth, electrical current. Nothing is forced, only coaxed. Even the dispersal of objects through interaction with strangers is a gentle nudge. What will eventually happen with these small objects Romano has set in motion? Will they be lost, transplanted, crushed? Will the grass root eventually crack the delicate cement in the same way the root of a tree can buckle a sidewalk?
At the other end of the storefront near the front entrance, Ashleigh Rauen’s 78 Carnations is a weirdly glamorous (and pungent) meditation on death with a smattering of cryptic, Peter Greenaway-esque number play. For the installation, Rauen installed hay bales, bundles of white carnations, hand-hewn wood coffins, and metallic streamers into a corner of the storefront. Small monitors hung at eye-level inside each coffin (but behind a scrim of silver streamers that must be navigated, brushed aside) play video footage of glittery, girlish eyes, a Vashon Island farm, and horses leaping over coffins. In some scenes, the coffins have been stuffed with smoke bombs and gush pink clouds. Horses leap these too. The coffins were constructed from planks rescued from an old gym on Vashon Island that was built in 1895 and torn down in 2009, says a zine Rauen made to accompany the installation. In the zine, Rauen writes about playing Glenn Miller 78's on a victrola in the woods, the price of 78 carnations from a florist and 78 years of life expectancy.
One of the gems of the exhibit is Julie Alpert's Kaleidoscope Dressing Room. It's a three-way dressing room that Alpert transformed into "a private kaleidoscopic funhouse" by lacquering the floor with hand-painted patterns and decorating mirrors with zig-zags of neon pink tape. Curtains printed with Alpert's watercolor designs enclose the space and complete the psychedelic cocoon effect. Her mashup of patterning takes unblushing pleasure in decoration for its own sake and harkens to movements like Arts and Crafts or Wiener Werkstätte that championed a holistic approach to interweaving art, design, fashion and interior decor. Kaleidoscope Dressing Room is a sample of the sort of work Alpert has been recently developing and will be showing at Gallery4Culture in November. (In fact, a performance involving Alpert’s textiles and garments is rumored to take place at or around the gallery during her November 1st opening.) If her Kaleidoscope curtains are any indication of what's to come, it should be exciting.
A final pièce de résistance lives on the outside of 411 Union, where Lindsay Apodaca and McKenzie Porritt invite the voyeur into their boudoir. Passersby are met with a window display filled with religious tchotchkes, sex toys, stuffed animals, cartons of American Spirit cigarettes stacked in small towers, 27 copies of Home Alone on VHS, handcuffs, and porcelain owls, among other things. Apodaca and Porritt’s In My Room illuminates the nitty gritty aspects of their shared lives, including shared compulsive behaviors, pastiche spirituality, addictions and aesthetic obsessions. They've been roommates off and on for six years and their collective junk tells a story. Porritt says seeing the installation is “like the feeling you get when you accidentally dump your purse out onto the street, or when someone opens your laptop before you are able to confirm that you closed all the porn you were streaming last night.”
Both artists are fascinated by junk, hoarding, second-hand objects and the aura embedded in material stuff over time. Aura like that can’t be bought and doesn’t come factory sealed, yet all the precious detritus of In My Room is laid out with more care and lustiness than a Macy’s window display, poking fun at (and celebrating with the abandon of a glutton) the impulse to turn objects into fetishes. These are fetishes in every sense: spiritual, sexual, consumer. It's ballsy to lay it all out on the street like this. But if Apodaca and Porritt’s theater of trash, treasure and trinket is as embarrassing as it is luxurious, it’s one of the qualities that give their work such appeal: seducing the voyeur/consumer/pervert/pack rat in all of us, they entertain with prettily-arranged objects while holding up a mirror.
It’s a happy accident that next door to In My Room there’s a designer watch store with window displays that have been emptied for the night. Filled only with naked jewelry stands and histrionic advertisements for a sale, the conspicuous absence of merchandise reads like a perfect counterpoint to the proliferation of objects next door. Fetish and lack go hand in hand, after all, just as much as shame and titillation.