What was ONN/OF? It was just "a light festival," a modest "gloom-banishing" event that came out of nowhere like a pair of headlights in the night, organized by two artists—Susan Robb and Sierra Stinson—and an art writer, Jim Demetre.
Demetre's family happens to own an old sweater factory in Ballard. Demetre Ski Sweaters were period-sweet, with insignias for certain skiers (a spider for Spider Sabich, for instance, made ominous after his death by gunshot at the hands of his girlfriend). Demetre's father bought the business around 1970 and closed it around 1990.
Much of its 11,000 square feet is an open area without columns or pillars—perfect for art. On one end is a watchtower room where sweater-makers could be overseen. "Nobody makes anything anymore in the United States," Demetre says—nobody except artists and designers, and a company across the street called Bardahl. (Bardahl—motto: "A World Without Friction"—makes a lubricant in a can like the one held by the Tin Man.) Great pink letters flickering over Bardahl form the last remaining neon landmark in Seattle. For ONN/OF, all the windows were covered except one, which faced and framed the Bardahl sign, brought into the exhibition.
Stand-alone art mixed with workshops, a marketplace, a dance floor, a beer garden, in keeping with the hybrid fashion of the moment. Just inside the entrance was a beach escape for the seasonal-affective disordered: a built-out room where people sat on towels and rugs with light-therapy lights as bright as the sun (an environment by Susan Robb). At a row of stands, you could buy, or pay to learn how to make, curvaceous ceramics (by James Lobb) or the Japanese art of kokedama, plants submerged in hanging moss balls. Local design (Object) and fashion (Tarboo) were for sale. You were invited (by design collective Dumb Eyes) to wave your arms like a wizard in front of an Xbox, controlling a cube in a video projection. The cube, crawling with morphing patterns, was suspended nonsensically over a city park on-screen.
Videos and installations ranged from light amusements to meditations taking advantage of the extended time and space. Zack Bent's bewitching, touching Rendering pictures a jar of liquid set on a wooden table against a black background. In the jar's surface, a room in a home is reflected, its everyday activity—doors opening and closing, people walking by, vaguely seen—happening apace, as the liquid (animal fat, it turns out) gradually solidifies. The video is as ordinary and unadorned as one of On Kawara's date paintings, yet as suffused with mystery as a photograph by Francesca Woodman.
In the center of the warehouse was a short yellow school bus. Artist Claude Zervas bought it at auction from a school district (he wants to start a spaghetti food truck). Over the driver's seat, in the position of a destination sign, he installed a fluorescent and LED panel that glows such an intense yellow that it lights up the whole bus. The LED lights are in three clusters that seem, at moments, to read "SEX." They don't, "but you're so used to advertising that does say sex when it's trying to pretend that it doesn't" that you still see SEX, as one rider said. Field Trip, as the bus is titled, was the perfect mascot for ONN/OF: a participatory sculpture with a private side, as each rider separated into her own seat, gazing up.
Two pieces by Katy Stone haunted the proceedings: Up in the creepy watchtower room, she set a tea light in the middle of the floor encircled by a small sculpture of cut metal, sending spidery shadows onto the walls. In another room below, Aurora Australis had a record player facing the corner, Blair Witch–style, with sequins scattered on the turntable and a bendy lamp hunched over it, the light hitting the sequins as they spun so that their reflections rode the corner walls in waves.
Inside a tomblike room with a short door you bent down to enter (the exterior walls lined with a Victorian display of flowers, cards, and candles), Graham Downing arranged a scene of longing: a treadmill running at high speed toward a dangling moon. The moon was a sculpture involving a glass jar, cotton balls, moisture, and black light. It was an ingenious alchemization of materials, more moony than the moon itself.
Echoes of the sweater factory's specific history whispered throughout—in Rodrigo Valenzuela's video of an emptied-out Peruvian mining town with sunlight streaking through; in Justin Lytle's woolly creations, lit from inside like the ghosts of raw materials. In a loft, Emily Pothast and David Golightly (Hair and Space Museum) erected a geodesic dome tent with an altar of crystals inside and headphones steady-streaming "om." Knit ponchos hung on hooks at the entrance, ready to wear. Results were both ridiculous and profound.