Can you find the surprise? Courtesy Matt Sellars and Platform Gallery / Photograph by Mark Woods

Those who reach the end of this review will be rewarded with something that is totally unexpected, almost out of the blue. This is my promise to you. With that said, let's begin with the gallery space itself, Platform Gallery. For those who may not know, Platform is in Pioneer Square, situated beneath an apartment building named Tashiro Kaplan. Artists live in the building above, and art is shown in Platform and other galleries below. Pipes servicing the apartments run along the ceiling and down some of the walls. The windows face a street and a brick building. All of the mentioned elements of the gallery space will play a role in the surprise ending.


Platform is currently featuring sculptures and drawings by Matt Sellars, a local artist whose work, admittedly, I'm not familiar with. The exhibit, Supra Tidal, Sellars's third at the gallery (the first was Diaphaneity, 2006; the second The Empty Quarter, 2008), is about the areas of Seattle where humans, land, and the sea meet. Walk into the space, and the first thing you see is a long brown table that's loaded with miniature fishing boats. The handmade terra-cotta boats rest on the table like so much junk on the shores of a sea. Some are even on the floor, as if blown there by some strong or constant wind, blown there in the way human-made and nonhuman-made ("the starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale's backbone" —T. S. Eliot) refuse are blown onto a beach.

Beyond these boats is a very pleasing arrangement of sculptures sustained by metal rods on pedestals. This section is the center or star of the exhibit. Sellars calls these sculptures "clouds," but nothing about their shape recalls the forms of clouds, which are puffy, irregular, and constantly changing. These sculptures are, instead, the complete opposite of those masses of water vapor and ice crystals: solid, smooth, and symmetrical. Nor do they recall the kind of animals (birds) or machines (planes) that have mastered the sky. What we see instead are the large and small bottoms of machines that have mastered the sea: sailing ships. Most of the sculptures have the appearance of some type of keel—a fin keel, a bilge keel, a centerline keel. One of the larger sculptures, when seen from behind, appears to be sailing for the window, toward the street and brick building.

The last section of the exhibit is drawings of beaches in West Seattle. In one, 3600 Dr. SW, we see large logs, dreamy clouds, distant mountains, a crowd of condos, and the sea. Another drawing of a beach "near an Italian restaurant" captures soaring birds, distant and tree-covered hills, and the sea. Another drawing of a beach near Lincoln Park has swirling birds, big clouds, tall evergreens, hard rocks, dead logs, and the sea. Each drawing concludes with a written statement that describes the beach's location, the state of the weather and water on the day the picture was composed, and the garbage Sellars collected—"[The beach] is just south of the sewage treatment plant on Alki. A wide variety of plastic and Styrofoam. Extreme low tide today..."

While looking at these drawings, something amazing happens. The sound of water erupts and fills the gallery space. It begins with a pouring sound in the back; then it ripples as it moves across the center of the space and dribbles to an end near the window. The watery sounds brilliantly connect all of the art objects: the sea in the drawings, the sea on which the sculptures glide, and the sea that tossed the wasted boats onto the windblown beach.

Support The Stranger

This reading of the work, however, turns out to be completely wrong. The watery sounds have nothing to do with Sellars's art and everything to do with the artists in Tashiro Kaplan. The used water from the above apartments periodically runs through the pipes on the gallery's ceiling. The meeting of the two things—the water used by the artists and the theme of water in the exhibit—is purely accidental. Nevertheless, the revelation of the source and meaning of the water improves rather than diminishes the experience of the work for two reasons. One, it animates Sellars's art, which is all about the kind of city we live in, a city surrounded by water. The pouring, rippling, dribbling noises in the pipes connect city water with art about our water city. And two, it reminds us of what a city actually is: a type of river.

With a regular river, water flows from a high point to a low one. With a city, a special kind of river, the water flows through our bodies and our pipes. Both rivers end at the sea. recommended