The work of the Bay Area artist team of Fletcher + Rubin is best described by the simple title they attached to a 1997 project in a Pleasanton, CA mall: People in Real Life. Since 1993, they've conducted garage sales at the New York gallery and performance space HERE, mounted a show of objects borrowed from the offices of Richmond, CA city employees, created a "decentralized urban farm" in coordination with five residents of San Francisco's Mission District, and designed bus shelter posters for the University of Washington based on objects owned by students living in nearby dorms.
For their project at CoCA, Fletcher + Rubin worked with an 11-year-old Seattle resident named Gregory Smart. Giving Smart a bicycle helmet with a video camera mounted on it, the artists allowed him to document his life from a first-person point of view. The six bays of CoCA's Belltown space each have a screen with video projections taken from that footage. More or less through Smart's eyes, we see him visit Seattle Center's Fun Forest, the aquarium, and Pike Place Market, launch model rockets, wrestle with a smaller boy (perhaps his brother), read, play with his dog, throw a football, swordfight with sticks, watch insects in his backyard, and, in one great sequence, improvise a floor-hockey-type game with the artists using push brooms and a block of wood. There's no voice-over, no attempt by Smart or the artists to narrate or explain the activities, which gives them an incredibly naturalistic feel, though the footage is carefully edited and in some cases runs in slow motion.
The videos are accompanied by three art objects of sorts, the most significant of which is a small-scale indoor soccer field designed by Smart with Fletcher + Rubin. You could call it an installation, but it's a better idea to just let yourself in through the gate in the chainlink fence that separates the field from the rest of the space, and start kicking the miniature soccer ball around until you sweat. The problem with most artist-designed recreational activities -- and they tend to be miniature golf courses, most of the time -- is that the artist is so busy coming up with an original concept or decorating the surfaces of his artwork that he spends little time creating a good, working mini-golf hole. This soccer field has no artistic touches or decoration: It's just a well-designed indoor soccer field, with a list of 10 rules written by Smart, the last of which reads, "10. Have a good time."
At the other end of the space is a small display of worn-out and dog-chewed balls, arranged by size, taken from Smart's backyard. A nearby photo shows Smart standing in the middle of a Seattle neighborhood street, flanked by Rubin and Fletcher. This is the only time we see Smart himself, other than a video segment where he looks at himself in a distorting mirror. As with the killer in a horror movie, we see what he sees. Smart's more than the subject of Fletcher + Rubin's piece; he's a co-creator, documenting his world more than the artists are documenting him. To underline this, the photo of Smart, Fletcher, and Rubin has been altered so that the two adults are the same size as the child, which you take in on your second glance at the image. Perhaps too literally, Fletcher + Rubin set themselves at Smart's level, giving him equal standing in the creation of the piece.
This form of collaboration rids the project of any creepy voyeurism or invasive portraiture. The documents don't give away any more than an 11-year-old would want to give away; Fletcher + Rubin aren't looking to get inside Smart's head, to discover any secrets about boyhood or this boy in particular. As a result, the installation has a pleasing anonymity to it. Smart becomes Anykid, albeit a particularly well-documented one. The piece slowly reveals the care of its construction, the conscious simplicity of its means, bit by bit, until it all seems rather... artful. In a good way, of course.