If you're the first visitor of the day at Western Bridge, you might be there before the irises are delivered and before the four liters of water scooped out of Puget Sound have been poured onto the raw concrete floor by the gallery attendant for the exhibition Devouring Time.
The water is enough to fill a pair of human lungs. By the end of each day, it leaves only a stain. This is Drown, by Emilie Halpern. The bouquet of purple irises that arrives each day is placed in a glass jar, and left there. Over the course of the exhibition, the neatly arranged rows of jars on the gallery floor get filled sequentially, and the flowers wilt and brown in their place, leaving a progression of deathiness. That's Untitled (congratulations), by Matt Sheridan Smith.
A few years ago, Smith made a work that involved throwing a sculpture off the side of a boat into Puget Sound; all of his work is about "never really finding a resting point," he's written, "or else if so, an improbable one." How Western Bridge itself will end is as yet unknown. Owners Bill and Ruth True, who own the art on display, say they're closing the place this year sometime. I'm hoping against hope that they'll fail to think up a sufficiently interesting ending, earning the rest of us an extension.
Judging by the tone of this show, I doubt that's going to happen. Devouring Time feels backward-looking. It's morbid in places. Kara Tanaka's Embalmer's Stone is a series of restless drawings on paper, signs advertising an afterlife—or something like it. "DORMANT EMBALMERS STONE STAINED LIKE A DISTANT HONEYMOON," one reads, against a pattern of arrows that point inexorably to a drain.
Dan Webb's Little Cuts is an anti-monument of photographs of the process of him carving a head and then whittling it down into oblivion, displayed along with a Plexiglas box full of sawdust set on a pedestal. It's been seen before at Western Bridge, but now it is hung not in the round but in a row that turns a corner, which changes it somewhat. It's joined by Fortress, Webb's exquisitely carved wooden sculpture of his two sons embracing under a blanket, a moment lost in play captured forever—albeit obscured—in art.
Mungo Thomson made Bill and Ruth two facing mirrors, each one imprinted with only the word Time in the font it appeared on the magazine in their birth years of 1954 and 1962. The mirrors are otherwise empty, except they picture each other. The way the reflections reverberate, they form an infinite, interlocking regress. It's a way to picture marriage.
Matt Browning's sculpture Leave No Trace is a matchbox the artist made by hand using wood, lint, beeswax, and matches, so that if it were to catch on fire, the entire thing would burn, leaving not even a single ash flake. When is a thing gone forever? Amanda Ross-Ho memorializes her teachers' corrections in large paintings that depict only the red-inked revisions from her school papers. Red lines and comments alter words that are gone. Just the process of change remains.