I promise this will be a post about art, but first I'd like to talk about what Seattle can't stop talking about: the weather.
The snow falling outside my window right now is as fat as feathers. It's unusual and fantastic. I haven't seen snow like this since I lived in northern Michigan, which gets that chunky, classic lake-effect snow. As we enter the second week of this city's #Snowpocalypse—today seems to be its dramatic climax—and wait for this alien white stuff to transform back into this region's normal shit, rain, I find myself thinking about my favorite part of living in the midwest: hygge.
Often described as "a Danish tradition of coziness," hygge is a recently rediscovered term that's become increasingly hip in northern, wintery, white cities. It's a feeling of coziness that can, apparently, be summoned in a cup of hot chocolate under a snowy window. Or via a warm fireplace and a nice novel. It's sweet and sentimental, people will have you believe. But I think hygge is a bit different. It's a cozy feeling, yes, but it's one that's won. To describe it, I will have to visit a true winter hardship that Seattle will never have to really endure, a polar vortex.
In 2015, Minneapolis was undergoing a polar vortex that made the state colder than Antarctica. I remember this clearly because I was assistant directing a play at the time that was set in Antarctica, and we had to cancel a performance of the play because Minnesota's temperatures were more extreme than this planet's coldest continent. Minneapolitans, like most Midwesterners, predictably laughed at the weather. Just like in a hurricane, there's nothing you can do during times like this but stop everything, hunker down with friends, and throw a party. This is where hygge comes from.
Polar vortexes move like a hurricane, and the experience of this 2015 vortex reminded me of my family, who are very funny swamp people from Florida, and the way they treat hurricanes. My most distinct family moments have all been during hurricanes because they are a time when the family must band together to avoid drowning, or at least drown together. I would argue that this creates a sort of southern hygge, one filled with grilled meats instead of hotdish. But the dark humor is the same: In a hurricane, grandpa will tell stories of his neighbor who survived a twister by holding onto his toilet (surprise, hurricanes are filled with tornadoes); in a polar vortex, my friends all talk about that one sorority girl they knew who died by passing out drunk in a snowbank (different girls—this is a common thing in the midwest).
So while hygge is a feeling that sometimes happens while holding a warm cup of hot chocolate, it's not something that can be bought. It is the result of a crisis that requires many people to come together. During periods of hygge, the world feels like it might end, and that's thrilling because it means you don't have to work. In fact, it's unclear when you may have to work again. You might as well drink.
Seattle has been experiencing its own hygge this weekend. Saturday in Cal Anderson Park was like an impromptu winter Burning Man. People were erecting penis ice sculptures like it was a Bacchanal. But there were other smaller, truer moments of hygge:
Now to what this has to do with art.
Last Thursday, right before our second big burst of #Snowpocalypse struck, I encountered a piece of art at the Pioneer Square Art Walk that forced hygge. They were a pair of rug pants.
The pants, created by Janelle Abbott, one-half of the fashion duo FEMAIL, were a part of Abbott's show, Desperately Seeking Shavasana, at Party Hat. They were intended to be a playful exploration of shavasana, the "corpse pose" in yoga that contemplates death, as well as the necessity of rest and America's obsession with self-care. Other parts of the studio were decorated with cement stuffed animals sitting on rugs—a good representation of what people look like when they go into k-holes. When wearing these rug pants, you are forced to succumb to the earth and become one of those cement goblins. It was surprisingly heavy, like a weighted blanket attached to the back of your pants preventing you from moving.
While a bit twee from above, once I was in the pants I was transformed. Suddenly, the ceiling—a really ugly ceiling with cement and pipes—was gorgeous. I couldn't stop looking at it because there was nothing else to do. I was cozy, and the key to this was the struggle. Without the crisis, the rug pulling me down, there was no release. This is needed for hygge. True coziness is a person's mastery over a world that's dragging them down, whether that be a snowstorm, hurricane, or a 40+ hour work week. It is resistance.
Anyhow, enjoy the snow. Hopefully we don't die during our commutes.