On Seattle's Unrequited Love for the Sun
Courtesy of Sierra Stinson
One night recently, and for only one night, there was an art exhibition at the historic Egan House, that modernist cantilevered triangle that sits alone like a spaceship in the forest between Capitol Hill and Eastlake. Every time new guests arrived, they'd announce that somebody's car lights were on in the driveway. But the lights were part of the art. Graham Downing, one of the artists, owned the car and allowed the lights to die slowly as the battery drained. The car was parked facing a poster of a sunset, and as the sun went down in the real sky, the headlights went down on the poster sunset. The exhibition of 26 Seattle artists, which continued indoors, was called Sun Worshipers. "I have a theory," Sierra Stinson writes in the limited-edition book she made for the exhibition. "Seattle is full of sun worshipers."
In my experience, this is true. A few days after the exhibition at Egan House (which I missed), I went to see the book at Stinson's apartment. It was the sunniest and hottest day of the year so far. As I made my way there, I crossed the street repeatedly from one sidewalk to the other, following the path of maximum sunshine and looking either like a terrorized person or an animal hunting for food. I was never like this when I lived in New York, California, or Texas. We Seattleites could move, but we don't, suggesting we would rather worship something absent than go find it. I like this stubborn wistfulness. It leads to a self-deprecating, postromantic sense of humor. Those qualities are what you find in Sun Worshipers. It's not just a collection of sun pictures.
Stinson self-published the book and organized the exhibition seemingly in no time and with as much ease as she hosts her series Vignettes—the one-night exhibitions in her studio, for which she banishes her furniture to the closet—but her simple grace shouldn't mask the accomplishment. The book, a slim and unpretentious 8½-by-11 volume, is eloquently choreographed. The cover is a floating vision, a swath of thickly cloudy sky. A barely-there sunbreak runs just above the words "SUN WORSHIPERS" in amiable but affectless gray capital letters. Inside, the first two pages are blank except for a statement of Stinson's theory, and then the images and words—the artworks, unlabeled—begin. There are almost 100 pages of artworks (some are stories), on numbered pages. A checklist lives in the back of the book, and you'll get there, but on your first time through, it's nice not to know too much.
All the artists are local, but they don't all know each other, and they're not all well known. Isaac Quigley? I would like to see more of his lacy, crawling, craftastic agglomerations. In photographs shot on film and then manipulated digitally, Frank Correa turns the city into a vivid parallel world populated by Grace Jones's interplanetary relatives. Kelly O's pictures of women are, once again, devastating. Here, they're at street fairs and bodybuilding competitions. They want to be looked at (like the porn stars Kelly has shot), so taking their picture is a kind of natural service, yet it feels like they reveal too much about themselves, things that are completely embarrassing—except that their shamelessness also makes them badass. It's a balance that comes as much from the women as from Kelly herself (disclosure: She's a Stranger staff photographer).
This image will burn on your retina like a sun flash: Kelly's shot of a bleach-blond, middle-aged, sunburned, half-drunk woman with her eyes shut in mid-blink. She stands in front of a community bulletin board, holding a can of beer in one hand (with a wedding ring on it) and, in the other, a sagging, leaking dildo as long as her entire miniskirt. She's naked to the waist except for a chain-mail tank top that cuts into her curved breasts and stomach. She's great.
Many of the works in Sun Worshipers appeared at the Egan House exhibition, but some experiences exist only in the pages of the book. Emily Pothast presents the scrolling text from a feisty Facebook debate she had with an atheist, printed white on black (1 person likes this). The profound and absurd back-and-forth is sandwiched between a photograph of a solar eclipse and one of an uncovered sun whose rays speckle the page in heavenly yellows, purples, and pinks. Turn the page after this ascendant experience, and you hit a full-length Doug Newman, shirtcocking it in a toweringly unflattering self-portrait with nose bandage. High gets low; low gets high. In this portrait of Seattle, there are cheap apartments and animal topiaries and porcelain underwear in the grass and there is technology and god.
Matt Offenbacher's contribution is four pages of sketches of tiny sunburst shapes purportedly lifted from paintings of nudes, horses, and bulls, titled Assholes in art history, part one: Picasso. Greg Lundgren tells a story about teenagers hanging out for a summer in an abandoned Hawaiian Airlines plane. Graham Downing created an icon: a photograph taken from inside an office downtown, showing the night sky punctuated from outside by the top corner of a skyscraper, and from inside the room, the bright, solid reflection of a fluorescent light fixture, a hovering sliver of cubicle radiance.