Where Bumbershoot has failed, City Arts succeeded this year—in transforming what might have been strictly a music festival into a full-spectrum ecosystem that includes local art and artists. It's an idea Bumbershoot pioneered in Seattle. When I attended for the first time in 1999, Bumbershoot had something like seven separate visual art shows, themed installations of the works of easily more than a hundred local artists, each one a curatorial proposition as well as a showcase for talent both familiar and not. All kinds of people, from museum curators to street artists, were involved. It has slowly starved, and this year it was a deathbed patient.
Enter City Arts, a festival run by the magazine of the same name. The magazine's strength has always been its connections, its open arms. Two sensitive, connective curators were chosen to oversee the art: Sierra Stinson, who organizes one-night-only shows she calls Vignettes by clearing out her studio apartment (providing a source of revitalization in an environment of otherwise depressing gallery closures), and Sara Edwards, the performer whose day job at 4Culture is called "marketing and PR" but would just as well be described as bringing people together over art, period.
On a shoestring budget, and trying not to shift the burden too much onto individual artists, Stinson and Edwards developed the idea of hosting brief bursts of art that changed daily, almost like trailers for shows rather than shows themselves. They were propositions, offered up in a gallery, a lobby, and two side rooms at Fred Wildlife Refuge.
The opener was a Thursday-night throwdown called Love & Anguish: collected acts of transgression put together by Free Sheep Foundation (each day had new sub-curators). Its intentional fuck-you included the subjects of sex, Nazis, race, death, celebrity, nuclear waste, and bongs. At its emotional center was a large image by Stranger photographer Kelly O called Love at First Sight. Echo Valley, the grotesquely huge-breasted porn star, is smiling, captured in the grip of a beady-eyed fan. A small RIP card, low on the wall, revealed that she died this year. She might have survived the car crash had it not been for those breasts, which made it too uncomfortable to wear a seat belt.
In a vitrine at the middle of the room was a crystal decanter with a swastika stopper, etched with the brand "FORGIVENESS." This was by Charlie Krafft, the holder of Seattle's trademark for transgression. None of the amber-colored liquid in the bottle has been doled out.
No less hard-hitting but sadder was a temporary wall work by No Touching Ground that juxtaposed oversize wheatpasted portraits of policeman Ian Birk (the killer of Native American carver John T. Williams) and Christopher Monfort (the killer of police officer Timothy Brenton)—and did so on the eve of the annual police brutality protest. This work related to No Touching Ground's two large outdoor murals on police brutality; one still remaining, on 11th Avenue at East Pine Street, is a touching vision of Williams in a vanishing forest.
A zine distributed with the show featured poetry and prose from Emily Pothast and Amanda Manitach (on Christ's wandering uterus!), plus an interview with C. Davida Ingram on a project she did as an art domme—dressing up and photographing white men as abused mammies (she's African American). When one of them told her that by being ordered to wash her dirty panties and lick the toilet bowl, he felt "equalized" with her, she "realized that my project was utterly and inexorably about failure."
That's a deep impression—and not remotely festive—left by a fleeting weekend festival. The "tension between lightness (its libertine neutrality, its absence of purpose and motivation, its ethereality, its non-sense) and weight (the burden of theory and history, the preciousness of time, the imperative of archive and canonization)" might be considered the entire weekend's theme. Manitach, an artist whose talents seem to keep multiplying and laser-focusing, wrote the description of that "tension" in the catalog for the third night's show, Lightness (co-curated with Serrah Russell). In a corner of the show, white boxes sat quietly on the floor like pedestals waiting for art. But a closer look revealed that their top surfaces were corroded, eaten away by some unknown process, and there were lights inside, faintly shining out through the corrosion. The perversely beautiful pieces were by Francesca Lohmann, lit up by a wall sculpture that looked from a distance like a hair sconce (it was hand-woven brass), by Justine Ashbee.
On Friday night, the show featured only Jason Hirata and Sol Hashemi (curated by Michael Van Horn), with sculptures of tools embedded in Styrofoam slabs and videos on absurdly giant monitors. In one video, Hirata holds the camera while walking through his parents' suburban house, turning on all the faucets. There are so many. In another video, Hirata is in a discount store—Costco?—and he seems to be trying to use a fruitcake as a dowser, scanning it over a display of holiday goods that look similar to what he's holding, but aren't the same.
Another video, destined to be a local classic, was shot in Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park, where the two artists sent a remote-controlled car careening around in the caverns created by Wake, the giant steel abstract sculpture by Richard Serra. You're REALLY NOT SUPPOSED TO TOUCH Wake, but the remote-controlled car bumps comically into it while trying to make a turn. It punctures the institutional seriousness of Wake, and, in roaring across the gravel, leaves a trail of smoke as its own wake.
This article has been updated since its original publication.