They had no backing and no space. But they had the conviction that local women should plant a footprint in Seattle Art Fair weekend (preview here, full calendar here). They were inspired in part by exhibitions like this recent one in LA.
So Barbara Robertson and Ann-Marie Stillion created In Context, an exhibition of site-specific work by 14 Seattle-based artists: Pat De Caro, Marita Dingus, Eva Isaksen, Etsuko Ichikawa, Anna McKee, Mary Ann Peters, Tracy Rector, Robertson, June Sekiguchi, Stillion, Kate Sweeney, Mary Welch, and the team of Amanda Knowles and Emily Gherard.
Nothing in the publicity for In Context says overtly that the artists are women. But yesterday, Stillion and Robertson said they believe In Context is the first survey of large-scale work by women artists in Seattle period, except maybe at a museum (even so, nothing comes immediately to mind).
They don't intend it to be a comprehensive statement or even a cohesive group show. It has no single theme, style, or medium. Just bigness. Women taking up space.
Stillion and Robertson chose artists they believe in who could work on a very short time frame—they conceived the idea in May—and convinced the company that owns an empty former furniture showroom across from King Street Station to rent them the airy, open place with high ceilings and windows for broadcasting the art to the street.
It opens Thursday during Pioneer Square Art Walk—and it includes a talk Friday night about women in the arts—but I snuck in yesterday. Most of the works were finished and several artists were present, so I came away with a few highlights.
Isaksen made a large tapestry that's a soft storm of small individual prints she created on tissuey Himalayan paper. The words are taken from 40 years of her personal letters back to her homeland in Norway, in her northern Norwegian dialect, and reverse-printed so that the ink on each letter bleeds. Tied neatly with a string, her bitty stack of old address books sits at its foot, on the floor.
Watching over the show, Dingus's seated Black figure made of castoff materials has a face painted on either side. (Dingus's painting has never been more assured.) One face looks surprised, with eyes wide and mouth slightly open. The other's jaw is set. They don't tell their stories, they harbor them.
In an installation of photographs and video, Ichikawa brought together interviews with blind people about what they find beautiful and her own discomfiting experience discovering beauty inside a nuclear cooling tower south of Seattle.
From Robertson's preoccupation with (Seattle's preoccupation with) new construction comes a mesmerizing digital animation of abstract shapes, a floating world of shifting geometry like what she sees in the skies when she looks up, minus the cranes (with a score by Johanna Melamed).
A seemingly vivacious work by Peters in the front window—a fishing net strung up and hanging, full of brightly colored personal belongings—has a grim story. Recently Peters met a nurse with Doctors Without Borders, who'd been asked for the best way to respectfully remove the bodies of Syrian refugees from the waters where they are washing up along with their things. Refugees in boats carry lemons to fight nausea, so Peters quietly set lemons at the base of the "catch."
At first glance, I wasn't sure about the gender of Stillion's nude at the edge of the beach, who's also between water and land, and visually set between mountains in the distance. That's part of the point. Stillion is testing how the old form of the nude can exist outside the binary problems of the historically male gaze of art.
Before Friday night's talk about women in the arts, read this real-talk interview with curator Helen Molesworth in the Art Newspaper.
I'd like to see a larger, more concerted version of this show at next year's Seattle Art Fair. Next year, Out of Sight, rather than a sprawling show of artists of all genders, should be Seattle's WACK! (which was so much better than Seattle's Elles).
Call the venue Queen Street Station.