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Friday, April 4, 2008

Ellen Forney on Fighter Jets

posted by on April 4 at 14:55 PM

Artist and local treasure Ellen Forney attended last night’s design meeting on the Capitol Hill light-rail station, where artist Mike Ross has proposed a sculpture of chopped up fighter planes. Forney is also creating artwork for the station, in the tunnel through the west entrance, and in the comments of my post below, she thoughtfully weighed in with her perspective and insights. Here’s what she wrote.

Lots of people are upset about Mike Ross’s deconstructed fighter planes, which makes sense: Capitol Hill = liberals and pacifists, history of peace marches, etc., and how do military planes fit in here? I frankly haven’t figured out my opinion of his proposal either, which means his piece is thought-provoking, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I went out for beers with him (and his girlfriend and a pack of Sound Transit people) after the meeting and we talked about the project, and what he was thinking in putting that sculpture together.

FYI, there’s some precedent for deconstructed war machinery in Seattle - Magnuson Park has those half-buried nuclear submarines that are arranged to suggest orcas (though yeah, in a different neighborhood).

His intention in breaking the planes into pieces, arranging them into a curvy shape, and painting them pink was described as “emasculating” and “transformative,” both by him and by David Hewitt, Sound Transit’s (also awesome) station architect. Mike hopes to suggest the fragility in strength, also an interesting concept. I asked him later about the color choice and he said it’s not new - he got the idea from a friend who paints military equipment in pink bubbles, and a group in London who painted a tank pink.

Mike explained his thought process more eloquently over beers, I think. For his presentation at SCCC, he started with the organic and more touchy-feely aspects of the design (clouds, birds, brushstrokes) and so the finale - “They’ll be fighter planes!” – was kind of a shock. It probably would’ve gone over better (for me, at least) if he’d started out the other way around: “They’re fighter planes! Think Boeing and the Blue Angels. But I’m dismembering them and changing their form and meaning.”

I think he did a great job with the limitations of the space – it’s so full of crossbeams and metal mesh that it’d be pretty impossible to see the whole sculpture regardless of what he came up with. That it is intended to be seen in pieces was an interesting solution (one that hopefully will work in real life).

I haven’t come to a conclusion about what I think about his proposal, and I told him that and he was cool about it. I could go on about all we discussed (why there are two jets facing each other: aggression and non-aggression both entail more than one entity; how doing public art is a difficult task; about the documentary he saw recently about Eisenhower coining the term “military-industrial complex” in a speech in 1961, and how horrifying it is that that’s what our country has become; how awesome Capitol Hill is) but it’d take way more space than this lo-o-ong comment.

So: fighter planes… dunno… but at the very least, he came up with something that’s not “safe” and totally public art-y, and it’s worth thinking about beyond a knee-jerk reaction. Plus he seems like a good guy, for the record.

Also, thanks for the correction, Ellen: Ross is from Brooklyn, not San Francisco, as I mistakenly wrote in my post.

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Cool, I've never been to San Fransisco. Is that anywhere near San Francisco, or is it in Canada?

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 4, 2008 3:15 PM

They're so similar, Will, I couldn't even tell the difference. Fixed now. Thanks.

Posted by Dominic Holden | April 4, 2008 3:19 PM

I've never seen Brooklyn, but I Googled "I love Brooklyn because" and came up with...

xtcian: brooklyn, brooklyn über alles

I love Brooklyn because the people I lived near were nothing like the characters on that show. Keep 'em out, and far, far away. They can keep Manhattan.

“I love Brooklyn because there are a lot of great restaurants and bars, and I love going out and having fun.

So there. Now I know all about Brooklyn.

Posted by elenchos | April 4, 2008 3:24 PM

yes, his mistake was reciting that story of googling about seattle.

if he said, the purpose of art is to challenge the viewer, and that emasculating a fighter plane was challenging for both war mongers and peace activists, it might have been received better.

Posted by infrequent | April 4, 2008 3:27 PM

@4 -- Challenging the viewer is "A" purpose of art, not "THE" purpose of art.

Sometimes art can lull, it can delight, it can sexually stimulate.

In my experience, the only people who think art must always challenge the viewer are churlish, stuck-in-adolescence misanthropes who wield their medium as a virtual weapon, and who probably need a good kick in the pants.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | April 4, 2008 3:38 PM

"...emasculating a fighter plane..."

too limited a view

Posted by freehints | April 4, 2008 3:40 PM

All you twits with your knickers in a twist over the fighter-jet art: Would you rather have an innocuous piece of pablum such as Moore's "Three vertebrae" installed there?

Posted by Dr_Awesome | April 4, 2008 3:48 PM

What, we can't find a qualified local artist? Or at least an artist from THIS COAST?

Posted by joykiller | April 4, 2008 3:49 PM

There's a million ways he could have improved his talk, and maybe he could have sold it to the 130 people in the room. But what it really boils down to, is the most expensive piece of public art on Capitol Hill is going to be a re-imagining of military technology. It's a weird message.

Posted by 8blockwalk | April 4, 2008 3:50 PM

during his presentation the artist guy used the word potent over and over - he is a young sexy guy, nice looking, hormones raging

he is not emasculating anything, anytime soon

Posted by Barry | April 4, 2008 3:50 PM

you know what'd be really emasculating for those fighter jets? to be left out of an art installation entirely.
then you could replace em with, i dunno, maybe a design that wasn't cobbled together out of a google search, some pseudo-transgressive MFA-speak, and the so-utterly-banal-it's-almost-self-parody "swords into plowshares" motif.

Posted by brett | April 4, 2008 3:57 PM


Exactly. And I'll add that this is public art. Art that thousands of people are going to have to look at twice a day, five days a week. Any artist hired to do that kind of work should take that into consideration -- and hopefully not create something that's unbearably fugly.

Posted by keshmeshi | April 4, 2008 3:57 PM

@8 How provincial. I guess all the talk of unity in America, and disdain for nationalism is really hollow talk at the end of the day, eh?

Frankly, we should just build the light rail stations to look like New York Subways. No art, no high ceilings, just buildings. Right now, that seems like the better way to do things.

Posted by Confused Anthony | April 4, 2008 4:00 PM

yes, it is "a" not "the". i certainly don't think to challenge is "the" purpose of art, as my other posts have suggested. nor does the context here indicate i would have to feel that way.

my point was, he could have explained what he was doing with this work. i wouldn't necessarily have liked it. but he might have given pause to the uproar had he just said, "hey, i know you don't like what fighter planes normally stand for -- that's why it is such a strong symbol to use."

notice i said he could explain it that way, not that i would. and that it was merely one suggestion as to what approach to take to make fighter planes as art more palatable on capitol hill.

that said, you can direct your kick in the pants elsewhere.

Posted by infrequent | April 4, 2008 4:03 PM

#7 - all you twits who don't appreciate the anti war effort need to to Iraq and sacrifice you tits to the God of War - He pilots jet fighters

twit, it is almost funny, what a horrible usage. Twit, or is it tit... tits and twits with tits.

To all of you - twits and tits included - go have a drink after work and then, a contest next week for the best art. We have three or four years, maybe six or seven, to talk about it.

Posted by Andy | April 4, 2008 4:03 PM

Tits, tits, hmmmmm--yeah that's the ticket!!--life-size statues of Ellen Forney characters and Erica C. Barnett and drag queens and Savage and other tired representatives of the Hill built into the walls of the station, with nipples (hell, pick an orifice) that at the drop of a coin would directly dispense warm, sweetened latte into the mouth of the commuter waiting for her/his train. Culturally comforting, familiar, mildly stimulating: ergo, popular public art. Something about it would kind of suck, though.

Posted by transgress you | April 4, 2008 4:42 PM

What do you expect when you hire an out of town sensationalist who's most significant piece of work is a couple of tanker trucks entwined for a burning man festival?... Seriously?

Posted by local | April 4, 2008 4:46 PM

What do you expect when you hire an out of town sensationalist who's most significant piece of work is a couple of tanker trucks entwined for a burning man festival?... Seriously?

Posted by local | April 4, 2008 4:46 PM

Don't like it and am generally confused why a light rail station has to occupy such a huge space? If it's going to be underground, why not just have an escalator like every other city? I feel bad whining about anything related to public transportation, but wtf?

It would be so much more engaging for the community to have a contest with local artists, i'm not sure why they're missing the opportunity and cost savings?

Posted by jesse | April 4, 2008 4:52 PM

Ellen Forney = the voice o' reason.

Posted by homage to me | April 4, 2008 5:46 PM

@19 - it's not going to occupy such a huge space when it's finished; they need all that extra space as a staging area, to store and deploy the gazillions of tons of materials and equipment they're going to need to build it. When they're finished, that space will have something on it, not just a station.

@7: Moore's "Three vertebrae" -- HELL YES I WOULD.

Posted by Fnarf | April 4, 2008 6:39 PM

Well then. Ugh at the banality of the corporate non-offensive art embodied by pieces like Moore's.

Is the poetry embedded in the wall at the north end of the old bus tunnel safe enough and inoffensive enough for you, or would you rather it be torn out and replaced with something squishy and soft?

Posted by Dr_Awesome | April 4, 2008 9:40 PM

No, I think it should be a hanging offense to put poetry in public transit spaces. The entire bus tunnel from end to end is an art atrocity.

Posted by Fnarf | April 4, 2008 10:28 PM

i think the sculpture is a fantastic idea. take something destructive and terrible, paint it pink and orange, and turn it into two birds elegantly mating? fuck yes! i am flabbergasted that there is any issue with this at all. but then again, i'm rather drunk.

Posted by helix | April 4, 2008 10:55 PM

As a little background: I am from Seattle, I have been living in Brooklyn for ten years, and I am moving back to Capitol Hill very soon, so that's why I'm paying attention. Regardless of all the other issues, it is crazy to me that someone (especially someone who lives in NYC) would consider putting something in an underground subway station that evokes destruction, planes crashing, or violent action of any kind. I don't have a problem with and often enjoy art that makes me feel uneasy. But trust me, you don't need anything extra reminding you of the possibility of destruction when you get on the train. Fnarf's thought yesterday of a deconstructed car was a good one, and on some level, a deconstructed car in a mass-transit station is just as potent an anti-war symbol, if that's part of what he was going for. However, I would not presume to change the artist's idea – I would just demand that he execute it somewhere else.

Posted by Strath | April 5, 2008 7:22 AM

I think the deconstructed car is already implied by the plane.

Posted by Jim | April 5, 2008 9:35 AM

Since I pretty much stare at my shoes I probably wouldn't notice what was hanging from th rafters.

Posted by elswinger | April 5, 2008 11:37 AM

Perhaps it would better fit Capitol Hill, or The Stranger anyway, to just adorn the station with dildos and fake boobs. Hell, let's just put Toys in Babeland and Castle in the station. Sound Transit can install TVs that play gay and lesbian porn 20/7.

Posted by Jon Morgan | April 6, 2008 8:41 PM

Makes me sick these east coast liberalites coming over here taking jobs away from local artists.

Why can't we have a locally built 777ER with a local celebrity painted on the side. Perhaps we could also restrict the use of the subway to local residents.

Posted by Mike Rogers | April 8, 2008 8:12 AM

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