Touch the Untouchable
Ryan Feddersen Switches Manet's Nudes and Hands Out Crayons
Bumber by Number
Sat–Mon 11 am–8 pm, Seattle Center Pavilion
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When Ryan Feddersen graduated from Cornish College of the Arts in 2009, her final project was an installation you couldn't forget: walls papered with a life-size paint-by-number picture of the White House State Dining Room (where a large painting of Abraham Lincoln hangs), and a table in the center bearing half-eaten, partially-moldy-looking fruit. The fruit was made of crayons—it was a cast-crayon feast. It was set out for visitors to use on the walls, and they did. They didn't stay inside the lines, either; they made a giant mess of things. Feddersen laughed remembering this, because to her, it's the same thing as what goes on in the real White House—a mess is made.
What's important to Feddersen is that people have the chance to touch the art. That it doesn't stand apart, on a pedestal. Her critique of the conventions of European art comes to her in part through her family's history—she is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (and, if the name looks familiar, that's because her uncle is the noted artist Joe Feddersen).
For Bumbershoot, she's taking apart another icon: Édouard Manet's infamous Luncheon on the Grass, an enduringly freaky painting he made in the early 1860s depicting a naked woman, two men in suits, and a bathing figure in the background. The woman is staring directly out at you (as in another Manet painting, Olympia), and the two men are based on Manet's brother and future brother-in-law. Feddersen is creating a paint-by-number version of the painting—again with a crayon feast available to be used on the walls, based on the picnic in the original's foreground—but with the roles reversed. The men are naked, and the woman is clothed. (And the female figure is based on Feddersen's sister.)
The Manet painting has been parodied often, at times pointedly and by Native American artists; Feddersen is continuing a tradition.
"I also had the constraint of the outdoor setting," Feddersen says. So she created a diorama-like stage for the experience that's 8 feet tall and 32 feet long. It's about 300 square feet of imagery all together, waiting for whatever happens to it. "I did make it so that the colors in the numbers correlate to the numbers of the crayons—so people could do it as intended. I doubt anyone will go to that level of effort, but that kind of honest detail is important to me," she said.
Since graduating, Feddersen has been attending residencies that bring together Native American artists to create work, including installations and murals, from Montana to San Francisco.
"The kind of art I make, there's a purpose behind it, and in my view, the purpose is about pulling the community into art, and that's not really something you can do with an object you put on a pedestal that you're not allowed to touch or look at too closely," she says.
She does her part, then she lets go. "Part of the curiosity," she says, "is seeing what people are going to do."