That blackened patch of lawn is supposed to look like this work of art—its a patchwork tree made of cardboard—by Josho Somine, at Carkeek Park.
  • Courtesy Rich Costello
  • That blackened patch of lawn is supposed to look like this work of art—it's a patchwork tree made of cardboard—by Josho Somine, at Carkeek Park.

What the hell is going on out there? Rootbound, the group sculpture show at Carkeek Park this summer (review), seems to be under attack. Its organizer, the Center on Contemporary Art, sent a press release this morning describing what it considers to be several separate incidences of vandalism throughout the park:

Less than a month into its display period (June 23 – Oct. 31), the Rootbound exhibition of temporary artwork in Carkeek Park has suffered widespread damage, including the arson of artist Josho Somine’s 20’ tall cardboard tree, a shrine of fragile ambitions, to which the Seattle Fire Department responded at 4:30 pm on Wednesday July 18. The piece burned to the ground...

Following a review in The Stranger subtitled “Dream Catchers Are Not Going to Cut It”, artist Fox Spears’ work I Will Go Back and Not Come Out, consisting of four large, hand-woven dream catchers, is missing. Spears, a Native American artist, like the others in the show, is now contemplating how best to respond.

Numerous other works reflect a particularly aggressive public attitude this summer, including: removal and damage to Suze Woolf’s Tree Futures; damage to Viewlands Group’s Landscape Intervention (subsequently repaired); damage to Tiki Muvihill’s Fruitless Grafting; and dismantling and removal of about 50% of The Unearth Collective’s The Mediated Landscape.

"We have had more delicate work in the past and it's been fine," CoCA president Ray Freeman told me by phone just now. "For some reason, the public is resisting this time. ...But we're trying to take the attitude that these are public interactions to a certain extent. It's people saying, well, they can choose to enjoy it, tell their friends about it, or burn it. We don't have a lot of control over how they respond. As we say in the press release, it's unlike in the gallery."

Curator David Francis wrote in the release, "By activating a nature preserve where people are radically free to interact with art all kinds of boundaries are redrawn."

That's a diplomatic, abstract response. But it's hard to imagine what else to say.

There's a temptation to see the vandalism as criticism of the show, maybe, but that's a stretch given that the vandals could have been motivated by anything from drunkenness to unrelated anger. Freeman says he knows some of the neighbors of Carkeek Park see the annual art exhibition as an interloper and don't like it, but why wouldn't they have protested until now?

And what does this mean for the future of the exhibition? It will go on, Freeman says. But "it will certainly make us consider how we do it." Artists may be required to use durable materials.

That would make things stronger, but the overall show much duller. I hope it doesn't happen. Maybe chalk it up to an astrologically freakish 2012* and forget it ever happened?

*Hey, it's been hard for plenty of us, let's blame the stars.