I'm sitting with visual and sound artist Garek J. Druss in his south Seattle studio while a video of a subtly shifting color field is projected onto a grid of folded paper rectangles. Its ambient soundtrack swells and recedes. As Immensity Without Horizon plays (that is also the title of his show that opens today), we talk about synthesizers, spirituality, and what it's like to spend a month in rural Finland in the dead of winter.
"It's a really small, small town,” Druss tells me of his experience at the Haihatus Multi-Arts Residency in Joutsa, Finland, three hours north of Helsinki. “Sun rises at 10, sun sets at 2. So I’m painting for those hours, and then playing music the rest of the time. There was only one other resident there, so I had a lot of time for a very inner, personal dialogue, in this area surrounded by beautiful trees and lakes.”
I ask if he got lonely and he laughs.
"No, I had my synths!"
On the opposite wall of Immensity without Horizon are large, intricate geometric line drawings on watercolor paper. Between the walls, a wooden table is covered with folded drawings perched atop 12" square mirrors, face down so that the drawn surface is visible in the reflection.
All of this work has since been installed at Bridge Productions in Georgetown for Immensity without Horizon, Druss's first solo show in Seattle since 2013’s The Celestial Din at Seattle University’s Hedreen Gallery. Immensity without Horizon opens today, and the reception is Saturday, May 13, 6-9 pm.
"The compositions of the drawings are stills from the video that I took and used as a compositional outline," Druss explains. "I'm basically trying to replicate the same sense of movement, and the same, sort of... pause and awe that the video has. And the video's made from footage of the three-dimensional drawings. So it's just like a giant—it keeps self referencing itself over and over, and these are some of the same things from the stills, and it's just kind of...building up."
I imagine this feedback loop like a constantly-growing spiral, and feel reminded of my own embeddedness in the big, cosmic whatever-you-want-to-call-it.
(God I love when art does that.)
Druss's foray into video art is recent, growing from a desire to visually explore the kinds of internal poetics he finds it much easier to express in music. "It's a similar process to what I do with sound," he says of the video, "taking a melody or a tone or something I'm interested in, and kind of manipulating it to create the experience I'm after."
The subject matter of Druss's work is esoteric, but specific: he's interested in "the resonant space one feels at the peak of meditative presence, ego death, or release in the midst of the sublime."
"Where I come from, with punk rock, noise, and heavy metal, a lot of people don't want to talk about spirituality," he tells me. "I'm still trying to figure it out, and I'm still constantly learning about it, questioning, struggling with it, but I want to make work that talks about that in a very open way.”
At Haihatus, surrounded by the soft grays of a Finnish winter, Druss researched landscape painters like J.M.W. Turner, who described the humbling effect of experiencing the sublime in nature. "I feel like it's what will unite us, ultimately, if we start understanding it more, being okay with it and talking about it."
Born and raised in Idaho, Garek J. Druss's work has all the verdant immensity of a Northwest landscape, but it was not until he left his longtime home of Seattle for a year in London that he felt like he had truly found a context for it. "In London, I felt like there was already a dialogue for what I was interested in doing, whereas I feel like I've spent a lot of my past in the Northwest kinda trying to explain or justify myself. I felt stronger. I feel awkward saying that out loud but that did it. I started to understand the bigger picture."
During his stay in Europe, Druss completed two residencies—the aforementioned Haihatus Multi-Arts Residency in Finland, and the SÍM Artist Residency in Reykjavik, Iceland. The music that came to fruition during this year—in addition to soundtracking the video in the exhibition at Bridge Productions—will be featured on an upcoming LP for Seattle electronic label Further Records.
"The sound for the video is the last track on the new record," Druss tells me, and then we sit in silence with the work until I have to tear myself away.
Pause and awe, indeed.