- ADS FOR SHOE REPAIR, THE FIVE AND DIME, THE MILLINER A Wing Museum tour guide explains this painted curtain, which is on permanent display at the museum. It was originally (1909-1915) in the Nippon Kan Theatre in Seattle's Japantown, showing changing ads for local businesses. The Wing is one big, beautiful reminder that space is not neutral.
After Gary Hill's glass-bomb-drop event a few Saturdays ago—which I didn't attend—I got word from Rumi Koshino and Etsuko Ichikawa, two Japanese-born artists, that they were dismayed by the fact that the event took place in Seattle's historical Japantown.
A mini-replica of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki was dropped in Japantown in front of a crowd for a performance, after which a separate video work, using slow motion, will be created by Hill.
More specifically, Kushino and Ichikawa were dismayed by the fact that the location of the event seemed immaterial to the organizers and the artist. (I mentioned and reprinted excerpts from the three writings that did accompany the announcement; none mentioned it.)
I asked Hill and James Harris of James Harris Gallery about it, and they said the location was immaterial to them. Its particulars weren't part of their thinking, and considering the question now, didn't matter.
I asked Harris what did matter. For the 30 or 40 people who attended, Harris said, the event was an evocation of conflicted feelings. It was raining. People had to wait about 90 minutes. Anticipation built and built, until people really, really wanted the bomb to drop from its cantilever off the building's edge. There was exhilaration when it finally went—and discomfort. It went fast and hard and was, after all, a bomb.
"I think the video is going to be really beautiful, and I think that beauty is going to increase the tension," Harris said.
Originally, the event was scheduled at the Henry Art Gallery, but when that fell through, Harris and Hill grabbed the chance when someone offered the venue of the Rainier Oven building, which houses artists' studios. Rainier Oven is located on the cusp of today's International and Central Districts, and, Harris pointed out, falls on the Central District side (rather than where the center of Japantown is). But going back sixty years, the Japanese neighborhood extended up into and beyond that area far along Jackson, and even today, Rainier Oven sits next to the site of a proposed Japanese immersion school.
- This was a family grocery store for most of the 20th century. After it closed, it was relocated—intact—to the building housing the Wing Museum. Now, when you walk by it on the street, you think it's a regular store. This is the view looking right in the glass front door.
Plus, a moment like this provides the opportunity of realization. A bunch of people simply failed to notice what it took one Japanese observer to see.
Hill's entire glass and video exhibition at James Harris Gallery last month was about "the edge of memory," said Harris. Harris told me he saw the bomb drop as a reminder about the perils and tempting exhilarations of war to a generation of younger people who have forgotten. If forgetting is the problem, then it's inconsistent to willfully forget that the "neutrality" of a real space depends on your position in relation to it.
A few blocks away, the Wing Museum is a monument to the specificity of space. Go on one of their free tours up into the preserved old hotel on the upper floors. You come to a Chinese family association room, with its grand tin ceiling, long banquet table, shrines. Outside are Japanese restaurants, some that have stood for decades. There is no neutral space here.