Visual Art


Many artists have a recognizable style; with Jenny Heishman, you only know something is hers when you can't categorize it at all. This spring, I asked her to talk about one of her enigmatic sculptures—a drippy gray mountainous blob with a bright orange strip of Plexiglas, a plum-colored paperboard, and a yellow triangle, all mounted to the wall like a self-balancing landscape painting gone mad. The only way I could think of to discuss the piece was asking her to impersonate it and play a game of 20 questions. (She said, among other things, that it was winking and posing its own question: "Is that your poker face?") Heishman once showed at the now-closed Howard House gallery; she has since made pieces for Vignettes, Prole Drift, and the online gallery Violet Strays (in which she made cubistic use of mousing). She's done big permanent public sculptures (in Fremont) and disappearing ephemera at Olympic Sculpture Park. She's a whole universe of uncategory. JEN GRAVES


Sol Hashemi was just a little punk art student for a while—but he had his first big gallery show of sculptures and photographs this year, at James Harris, and proved himself to be as funny and smart as you already knew he was, but also sort of elegant and meditative and Northwesty in the best possible restraint-showing, soda-can-meets-pristine-beach kind of way. More, please. JG


Nobody around here has seen Joe Park's paintings in a while, and that's a damn shame. Singletons pop up every once in a while in various places, but since he left (the now-closed) Howard House a few years back, he hasn't had steady representation in Seattle. Luckily, he still produces major bodies of work for his San Francisco gallery, Rena Bransten (you can see images online), and he's just so freaking good at what he does: making pictures that surprise and impress you, and that mutate with the years—he never stops putting new ideas into his hands. When he reanimates Velázquez's Las Meninas or that unbelievable chandelier in Jan Van Eyck's Arnolfini Wedding Portrait, you just stand back. JG


A couple of years ago, Robert Yoder made a funny confession: He didn't like contemporary art in Seattle. Things needed to change, he felt. Since then, he's not only advanced his own abstract-painting-and-collage practice, he's also turned his home into a gallery and tiny printing press. His eye is exquisite and, it turns out, so is his editing. Now that's how to bitch. JG


The specifics are unclear, but essentially, the Hedreen Gallery at Seattle University has approximately zero dollars with which to mount exhibitions (in the public gallery attached to the theater that was built a few years ago—in an entirely different economy). And yet Jessica Powers and Whitney Ford-Terry have turned the Hedreen into a place where the whole region, from Portland to Vancouver, congregates, creates, celebrates. They've organized the only all-campus art critiques, they've shown and discussed censored art, they've hosted dozens of local artists, they curate an online "shelf" of art readings, and they always feed and water whoever arrives, from students to museum directors to homeless wanderers-in. They've created a center—they are the center. JG



You can't have a serious conversation about genius in Seattle literature this year without bringing up the third issue of Jennifer Borges Foster's sporadically published literary magazine, Filter. It's made up of dozens of hand-stitched chapbooks written by an army of local talent—David Lasky, Stacey Levine, Ed Skoog—mixed in with surprising, beautiful art prints from Ben Beres and Brandon Downing, among others. Foster pokes at the presentation of words, by cutting paper away to reveal passages beneath, by covering paragraphs with art, or, in this case, by presenting writing as a party, an exciting, loosely bound collection of great ideas. PAUL CONSTANT


Seattle is suddenly home to a fine array of literary magazines. The latest issue of Pageboy is a lovely object, with words from Paul Nelson, Sarah Galvin, and Doug Nufer (among others), punctuated by Shannon Perry's melancholic watercolor portraits. Filter (see Jennifer Borges Foster, above) is beautiful and challenging. And the idealistic kids behind Hoarse—Elena Moffet, Emily Wittenhagan, and Gregory Flores—are helping make the scene into a, well, real scene. Every issue of their quarterly magazine is accompanied by a booze-soaked launch party. The most recent, Houdini-themed issue inspired a raucous celebration with readings, a magician, cake, and some of our best up-and-comers in a room, chatting. That's the kind of community Seattle literature needs. PC


About a year ago, Greg Bem moved to Seattle from Philadelphia. In the time since, he's helped launch the exciting Breadline reading series at Vermillion, he's started recording the Breadline readings (and others, including launch parties for Hoarse) and making those recordings available for free at and, and he's helped curate stand-alone events including an ambitious John Cage–themed 22-reader performance called Silence and Communication at Sole Repair. That's an exhausting slate of projects, even if you don't add in the fact that Bem is always writing and performing his own muscular, experimental poetry all around town. Here comes year two. PC


One of the more surprising transformations of the year was watching Mad Rad's Buffalo Madonna—a man known for scaling the sides of a festival stage at Sasquatch! a few years back and rapping from above the stage's roof—transform into a subdued memoirist publishing under his given name. A confessional essay Nathan Quiroga read aloud at several literary events this year, later published in The Stranger, was daring, dark, and rueful. Quiroga is of the mind that readings aren't as alluring as they need to be, and this year plans to start a reading series in alleys at twilight, with writers up on ladders, and beer, and possibly music. CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE



The writer/director of The Off Hours, Megan Griffiths, did not come out of the blue. She has worked on several locally produced films—David Russo's The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle, Lynn Shelton's We Go Way Back, Dan Gildark's Cthulhu, and Brady Hall's June and July. Indeed, she has paid her dues, and her second feature, which premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, announces her arrival as a serious filmmaker. What we see in The Off Hours, which is about two women who work at a diner on the edge of a dying industrial town, is a director who works well with actors, and who profoundly understands that a film that lacks a distinct mood and pace (or stimmung, as some scholars of film noir call it) is a film that is worldless. A film must be its own world—be it dark, gloomy, sensual, or blissful. The world of The Off Hours is dim and soulless. The people in it want more out of life, relationships, and work, but these desires never find a connection. One hopes that Griffiths's next film, Eden (it is about human trafficking), will continue and deepen the moodiness of The Off Hours. CHARLES MUDEDE


Not too long ago, Jennifer Roth gave a talk at the Northwest Film Forum about the difficult business of producing films. The event was sold out in minutes. People all around the city badly wanted to learn from a person who actually has real experience in making films that have considerable budgets and international recognition. Roth, a New York native, a mother, a wife, a former specialist on Arab culture and language, has contributed, as line/executive producer, to three great films: The Squid and the Whale, The Wrestler, and, most recently, Black Swan. She also recently participated in the production of Lynn Shelton's latest, Your Sister's Sister, and is currently helping produce a film that stars Julianne Moore, What Maisie Knew (based on a Henry James novel of the same name). Roth reminds us that filmmaking is not only about the director, but the people a director works with. The fact that she has worked with some of the best talent in American independent filmmaking says lot about her own character. Like likes like. Roth is one smart cookie. CM


This spring, the gutless poor planners who oversee Seattle Central Community College responded to state budget cuts by wholesale axing SCCC's widely beloved, long-running, unmatched-in-the-city film and video program, which was excellent at teaching technique and in its overall philosophy. It was neither a trade school nor a liberal arts college: It was both. The program had been run by filmmakers Sal Tonacchio and Sandy Cioffi. May they both continue teaching Seattle students—somewhere. JEN GRAVES



Yussef El Guindi has spent years as Seattle's most successful seldom-seen playwright. He's been produced in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, London—sometimes glowingly—but here, until recently, only in Theater Schmeater's basement playhouse. In June, ACT Theatre produced Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World, giving El Guindi's work the local exposure it deserves. Not all El Guindi scripts are masterpieces (Jihad Jones and the Kalashnikov Babes is, um, ham-fisted), but his best ones are like looms that weave together the personal and the political, the cultural and the economic, and the religious and the secular in stories. He primarily writes about immigrants and WASPs trapped in their cultural roles and struggling to reach beyond them toward each other, instantiating the old Max Weber/Clifford Geertz formulation that "man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun." BRENDAN KILEY


When you see Matthew Smucker's name in a theater program, chances are that his set design will be the best thing in the theater that night. He doesn't try to upstage the action—it's just that his sets are so damn eloquent. Cases in point: His designs for The Clean House and Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl, which served almost as commentary on Ruhl's sometimes overly whimsical writing. Smucker contrasted high platforms (in the former, a balcony that hung over the heads of the audience; in the latter, a high-dive board over the stage) with low blues and shadows to create a gloomy tension between floating and a pit. Other Smucker joints worth recalling: the opulent, gigantic, Wonderland-style set for The Women by Clare Boothe Luce; the worn, wooden, U-shaped bar that brought (and implicated) the audience into Steven Dietz's conspiracy play Yankee Tavern; the hyperrealist classroom of Speech and Debate; the grassy lawn and two-story house of All My Sons; the stage-filling, concrete monolith of The Pillowman that opened to reveal Martin McDonagh's house of horrors. And let's not forget the little girl Smucker crucified on a light-box cross. BK


Edie Whitsett is that rare and wonderful thing: a world-class theater artist who's stayed deeply engaged with her profession while remaining in Seattle. Whitsett's calling card is painting—Ming Cho Lee, the legendary set designer, has praised her as the best scenic painter west of the Hudson—and she did years of exquisite work during her tenure as lead scenic artist at Pacific Northwest Ballet. At that time, she was executing other people's designs, but next spring she'll return to PNB as the scenic designer for Snow White. Now she's primarily working in three dimensions, serving as prop master at Seattle Children's Theatre, where amazing props are mandatory. When I press one of Whitsett's former colleagues for specifics on what makes her a great scenic artist, I get this: "She is joyfully involved with every aspect of her designs, gives clear and detailed drawings, paint elevations, and prop research and instructions, without ever being a vainglorious dick. The amount of work she is willing to do for each show, joyfully, is what sets her apart. She loves theater enough to always do it properly." DAVID SCHMADER


From the start of its run, Strawberry Theatre Workshop's Cloud Nine was known as "a troubled production," thanks to a curious lack of direction, which was both literal (had director Nick Garrison concerned himself with the second act at all?) and conceptual (questions of what it meant to remount Caryl Churchill's 1979 exploration of colonialism and sex in 2011 were apparently unasked and unanswered). But trapped inside this miasma was a cast of seven extraordinary actors—Ian Bell, Imogen Love, James Cowan, Scott Shoemaker, Basil Harris, Sarah Rudinoff, and Gretchen Krich—who steadily rallied and fought their way to brilliance. By the time I caught the show near its close, Cloud Nine had transformed from the muddled drudge of opening weekend into an imperfect production lit up by state-of-the-art performance. (Demanding individual recognition: Bell and Love, two performers I count on for camp comedy, navigated treacherous dramatic territory faultlessly.) Theater is a process, shows grow, etc.: Thanks to its cast, Cloud Nine was a gratifying illumination of how these truisms play out in real life. D. SCHMADER



Nobody has done more to elevate electronic music in the Northwest than Sean Horton. As founder and director of Decibel Festival (now in its eighth year), Horton has built the event into a world-class exhibition of electronic music and digital art. An impeccable curator, he stays tenaciously attuned to the most cutting-edge talent in any given year, booking artists either on the verge of blowing up or who've already created a major body of work. Though the festival itself has expanded to five autumn days, the organization as a whole has upped its booking schedule. There have already been more than a dozen shows in 2011, building brand recognition and gaining more followers by the month without compromising ethics. And Horton often performs DJ and live sets under the name Nordic Soul, exposing even more listeners to an eclectic mix of techno, dubstep, house, downtempo, and the various bumping tangents thereof. DAVE SEGAL


Randall Dunn has become one of the most sought-after producers and engineers in Seattle. His work behind the boards with major recording artists like Sunn O))), Boris, Earth, Secret Chiefs 3, Eyvind Kang, Black Mountain, the Cave Singers, and Wolves in the Throne Room has earned him worldwide praise. He's the go-to studio whiz for heavy musicians seeking unconventional treatments and techniques. And in addition to his stellar nurturing of other bands, Dunn leads Master Musicians of Bukkake, one of Seattle's most interesting groups. MMOB have developed into profound explorers of far-flung world-music styles, into which they transmute their own peculiar sensibilities to create pieces that are at once strangely devotional and supremely other. Ignore the group name's reference to a certain kind of Japanese porn; MMOB are seminal in a whole different way. D. SEGAL


This year alone, OC Notes (Otis Calvin III), a local hiphop producer, has released four superb albums: Metal Chocolates (with the highly regarded rapper Rik Rude), The New Generation (embracing the new age), Medicine, and Secret Society. As a local hiphop album, Secret Society (the first of OC's rock-influenced recordings, the other being The New Generation) is second only to Shabazz Palaces' Black Up—and it's a close second. (True, if THEESatisfaction had released their sophomore album this year, Secret Society would be third—but, again, a very close third). OC Notes, who recently moved into Vitamin D's former recording place in Pioneer Square, is a genius, and like all true geniuses, he is generous. OC Notes is a pure giver; he is always giving beats to this city. CHARLES MUDEDE


Katie Kate is a rapper, producer, and classically trained pianist. She studied music at Cornish and is currently a member of the Out for Stardom crew (Mad Rad, Fresh Espresso, and Metal Chocolates). Recently she completed her debut album, Flatland, which we're hoping will be released this year—and the album's production is solid and her range (singing, rapping, beat-making, keyboarding) impressive. Indeed, Katie Kate could easily become one of the top local producers—a realm that's screaming for more female talent. Her hiphop beats for "Totebag" and "Body Out" are first-rate, and the techno/new wave of "Copenhagen" and "Houses" is beautifully cold, dark, and cosmopolitan. Katie has a muscular sense of composition or design; her music is carefully built, part by part, with this part corresponding with that part, and this melodic line corresponding with that melodic line. Her music is in the details. CM


Is it too soon to name as a potential Genius the 37-year-old French conductor who this very weekend is leading his first concerts as the new leader of the Seattle Symphony, somebody who mixes Beethoven and Frank Zappa and who plays Bumbershoot wearing jeans? Yes, it is too soon. And we don't care, because we want him to be a Genius, we need him to be a Genius, we crave him to be a Genius. Nothing this exciting has happened at the fusty-crusty Seattle Symphony (and no, it's not classical music's fault, it's the fault of timid/pandering/set-in-their-ways humans) in forever. Sing it out: LUDO. JEN GRAVES