Do you know about Clyde Petersen, the Seattle artist/musician/filmmaker? He is a force. But not a forceful force. He's more like a radical shift in the air. He's political but not oppositional because he just doesn't even start from the terms as they are given. He goes a different way entirely , joining and bringing with him a giant bunch of other people who feel the same way, that things are crazy, that people who feel this way aren't alone, and that even if everything in the world feels wrong, you still have each other, and music, and art, and laughing and puppets and Lake Washington.
You could talk about queer and trans politics, or you could just say that Boating with Clyde, his exhibition at Gallery4Culture (it closes September 26, so go soon), is about getting off this land and entering a very different world to meet up with some people you will really value.
The show consists of a talking fish on the gallery wall, a few other mounted fishes on the wall in various forms of species drag (a furry fish, for instance), and then an actual wooden dock you walk up onto and sit on.
From the dock, you're looking out at about a thousand handcut cardboard lily pads "floating" on a plastic blue sea with an actual red rowboat on it that Petersen made.
He also made the continuous stream of videos shot on Lake Washington that are playing on the wall above this nautical imaginary. You are positioned out on the water, sitting there on your dock.
There are 20 videos playing on a loop, each one three minutes, and they feature indie, punk, and folk musicians, scientists, and authors, talking about everything from the real town of Pity Me in England to water science, and playing their songs.
All of these people actually went out boating with Clyde on Lake Washington. It turns out that many instruments are playable and passably recordable from a rowboat: percussion, ukelele, electric guitar, xylophone. Longer versions of all the videos that play in the gallery are worth checking out at Petersen's Boating with Clyde video page.
In the gallery, intercut with the live-action videos are short puppet shows (made with Karl Blau). There are recurring characters, like the cast of an underwater TV news crew for a station called KARP. New Report (2005), the feminist news station that's "pregnant with information" by Wynne Greenwood and K8 Hardy, is a sister work to those segments of Boating with Clyde, which also shares something with Susan Robb's experiment in Northwest communal trekking, The Long Walk. It's another entry, too, in a heartening rise in feminist works from Seattle spaces like Hard L and Reel Grrls (where Petersen also works with youth).
Boating with Clyde is an installation whose core creation is safe space. Maybe that doesn't sound like it's supposed to be what art does. That in itself could reveal something not quite humane about assumptions about art inherited from modernism, all those dumb xxxtreme-art cliches about breaking boundaries and et cetera that have steadily been getting pushback since at least the rise of the feminist art movement, but that have remained so dominant.
Going boating with Clyde feels good. Try it. Here's one of my favorite videos from the show, featuring the band Onsind (from Pity Me, England), who don't perform it here but also wrote the anthem "Heterosexuality Is a Construct":