Last week I was in hot sun with retirees. They have history, but the place they live doesn't. It's brand new, a community of 100,000. They like it that way. The buildings have historical marker signs with true-to-life descriptions, they're just true-to-life for life somewhere else. The buildings and signs are replicas of other places. Every once in a while, in an otherwise perfectly manicured landscape, there is the unfinished end of an underground pipe, jutting straight up from the grass into midair like a broken bone out of skin.
When I'm away, I think back on the art in Seattle, to see what will rise. This time I thought of transit in half-light, the dredging of the Wing Luke Museum's basement by artist team Lead Pencil Studio. (Maybe it was the art equivalent of finding shade.) I reviewed it back in February, when it opened, but still it feels obscure and quiet. It closes July 20. I really think you'll be glad if you go.
The exhibition is a dream landscape you walk through. It's built out of everyday historical objects intermixed with sculptures and video and drawings. The lights are dim across the three rooms. In one room, a brick wall is revealed that's otherwise forever blocked by temporary white gallery walls. Lead Pencil Studio tore away the walls. There are small windows out onto a narrow alley, opening the art onto the whole old warren of Seattle's still ungentrified Asiatown, where it comes from.
Annie Han, one half of Lead Pencil Studio, came to the United States from Korea with her family as a kid. Transit in half-light isn't autobiographical—that's not how Lead Pencil Studio works. (Other half: Daniel Mihalyo, native of the Northwest.) But their art is always about history and memory. It was completely normal for them to harvest luggage, mirrors, picture frames, dolls, clothing, flags, and torn paintings that once hung on somebody's kitchen wall from the musty basement of the Wing Luke Museum. The museum accepts to its permanent collection any objects of significance to Asian Americans in the Northwest. Some of the things are worth bucks. The rest of the collection's value is derived entirely from having been used by certain people living certain stories—stories of transit, now pulled back out from storage into dim, half, light.
Read the interview with Annie and Daniel. They have their own version (by Kelly O) of the Grant Wood painting American Gothic, with tools for transport and a beautifully ruined wall rather than a pitchfork and a farmhouse.Click.
- MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY & INDUSTRY / MOHAI, PEMSCO WEBSTER & STEVENS COLLECTION, INSTALLATION PHOTO BY KELLY O
- LUMBER STACKS On the left, an archival photo of cedar stacked at the Ballard lumber mill not long before it burned. (See the tiny man.) On the right, Lead Pencil Studio’s homage, except shaped like a ticket window. Behind it on the floor is a whale sculpture with celadon shipping containers on his back, and the ocean, in video projection.