"For those of you who don't know where you are, you're in the Hedreen Gallery at Seattle University," Jessica Powers announced at the start of last week's Lunch, a series of
events held every Friday at noon at the gallery. There were about two dozen people there, sitting on the floor on a big red rug, ready to see four writers called the Affective Collective deliver a poem-play with original music in response to Roberto Bolaño's novel 2666. There were free sandwiches.
"This is the midterm for Affective Collective at Autonomous University," said Autonomous University "administrator" William Owen (young, brainy, bearded), "a reading group with research sub-grouplets doing painful projects like the one you're about to see."
He was facing the gallery's window—outside, along 12th Avenue, the collective had slung chapbooks over a clothesline "to be read by the elements." Next to the rug was a small homemade wooden stage; across the room, on a stool, was a Rolodex with a flip animation of the words "Don't Call Us We'll Call You." It was sent to the gallery unsolicited by Vancouver, BC, artist Erik Hood. (The gallery called him.)
The Rolodex is one of the few art objects to have been on display at the Hedreen Gallery since the yearlong project House Systems began this fall. House Systems was preceded by a series of all-night, one-night-only solo shows by artists, including Oregon Painting Society (which installed black lights and a forest of plants that were wired so you could play them like musical instruments) and Eli Hansen (who led a craft night complete with chain saws and prizes).
House Systems includes Lunch. It also includes three other regular series. Directives and Shelf happen online (at www.house systems.us). Rebar Niemi posts a weekly Directive every Wednesday for you to take on if you like—use Gmail's aesthetics bar, write one sentence defending your position on a cultural phenomenon such as Gucci Mane—and after, sending documentation is encouraged. Shelf is a curated online bookshelf of cultural theory readings—e.g., "The Gift of Terror: Suicide-Bombing as Potlatch" by Ross Birrell—in PDF and link form, updated Thursdays.
Face Time means an artist comes to the gallery every other Saturday for a gathering. This is the opposite of years-in-advance museum programming: Artists are invited only a few weeks ahead of time and encouraged not to show something, but instead to take advantage of the potential for a collaborative event on a university campus. Cat Clifford once led a group in trying to learn Yvonne Rainer's noted minimalist dance piece Trio A (a lesson in skills that defy traditional dance skills). Hood (of the Rolodex) and Sam Willcocks built a Quaker cannon—one made of wood, meant to avert violence by fooling the eye—and then took a group to Volunteer Park for a ritual simultaneous singing of the American and Canadian anthems over an attempted miniature 21-gun salute in the pouring rain.
House Systems stretches over four terms of Seattle U's academic calendar, so it is divided into four themes: Fort Club (construction-related: Clifford, Quaker cannon), Book Club (the Affective Collective, ongoing through March 19), Yacht Club ("a congregation of solemn observers on the sea"), and Night Club (a club of "hidden knowledge").
"Maintaining a short and inflexible time frame, we aim to encourage spontaneity and the harnessing of entropic energy one engages when fighting a deadline or solving a dilemma," Hedreen's curators Jessica Powers and Whitney Ford-Terry write. "The space will be used, nothing will be exhibited in it. There will be objects that come and go, but our aim is to go beyond the static arrangement of objects. Accumulation is important, and so is change."
This year at the Hedreen is about antimonumentality. The curators have an annual budget of $6,000. It's a case of no money equaling great art.
What the Hedreen is doing fits with the fragmentation of Seattle art in recent months—and in coming years. As big projects have downsized in the crashed economy, small events are cropping up, where the emphasis is less on objects and more on inquiry, connection, collaboration, and hospitality.
Lawrimore Project, for instance, used to be housed in a gallery the size of a small museum. Its new space is one small room. But within those limiting walls there's been more interaction with artists. The best example is artist Wynne Greenwood's series of three intimate public interviews with other artists during her own show, which turned a solo show into an in-depth ensemble performance.
Scott Lawrimore also is using some of his overhead savings for a publication that's added to with each month's show, including images and commissioned writings. Other seedlings: NEPO House, where artist Klara Glosova invites fellow artists to use her Beacon Hill home as an installation space; TARL, the group of artists that hosts events by a backyard campfire and shows in a basement; La Norda Specialo, the artists zine published by Matt Offenbacher; John Boylan's nighttime conversations at Vermillion based around a cultural theme (most recently, Style); and Lawrimore's Art Klatch, the early-morning open meeting Lawrimore hosts every week. The spirit of all these is the same.
"What we're doing is we're making culture," artist Cris Bruch said at last week's Klatch (Wednesdays at 8:30 a.m. at Panama Hotel). "We don't have a plan, but we're building something together. It's like making a language, and we're all making little bits for it."
Much is in flux: Last week, Western Bridge held the first of a series of private meetings to discuss what might come out of its ashes when it closes in 2012 (so sad). Seattle Art Museum's contemporary art curator position is open. And the University of Washington has begun the search for a new art department chair, just as the City of Seattle has hired a new director of the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, Vincent Kitch. Much is up in the air.
The ethos of what Powers and Ford-Terry are doing at the Hedreen is rooted in the conceptual art of the 1960s and '70s with "its various challenges to the conventional notions of what one was supposed to do in an art gallery or museum," says Seattle U art historian Ken Allan. "Rather than stand and look at an already conceived artwork in an attempt to 'get it,' and therefore to confirm its status as a precious object to be bought and sold, artists produced documents of an activity that had some ephemeral effect on a landscape or a situation in everyday life."
Or a not-so-ephemeral effect. Powers and Ford-Terry, advisers to Seattle U's art club, have begun to organize a monthly event called The Honesty Crit, where anyone can come to listen to new work under discussion. At the last meeting, more than 40 students showed up, not all from the art department. Word is starting to get out on campus. In December, Lunch hosted the first Seattle screening of the David Wojnarowicz video that the Smithsonian censored, followed by the best organized discussion on the subject that has taken place here.
The Hedreen curators work for almost nothing, but more resources may be coming their way soon, they say. "This year is kind of a beta," Powers says. Beta is changing the city.