Today is the day after Thanksgiving. I felt like a boa constrictor this morning, like I had swallowed a small goat or a golden retriever in one bite, and was going to live off it for the rest of the month. I had no appetite and even a slip of water would have certainly just leaked out of my mouth. My 14 year old cousin (or second cousin – whatever your cousin’s kids are called) was visiting from Ohio (long story) and she was just dying to check out Walden Three. I wasn’t so shocked that she watched the videos we’ve posted or kept up with the exhibits we were mounting, but from her report over dinner last night, a lot of the kids in her high school were paying attention to Walden Three – talking about the artists like they were household names, and thinking Seattle was some sort of new promise land for art. What about New York I said, and she just shrugged and replied, “New York is so been there done that. Blah.” Huh. Well, she was only 14, but it was curiously strange to hear her reports about what was happening in my town. I’m not sure how much of it was a sincere interest in art, and how much of it was the sprinkle of celebrity (which, come to think about it, has picked up over the last few months), and how much of it is the spectacle of parties, and arbitrary art grants and that out-of- control McMullen project that ended up catapulting a Honda into Elliot Bay, but she was a believer and I, as her cousin(?), as a Seattle artist, was bound to take her there.
We arrived just before noon and found the place to be pretty buzzing with the escapees of other family functions and a weird collection of misfit teenagers, fashion people, and lots of tourists milling about. Doris was brimming when she saw the big yellow signs announcing that filming was in progress and to step onto the set of Walden Three you were giving your consent, etc… and almost hyperventilated pulling out the permission slip her mom had signed. We checked in and I started to head towards the Denny Stairs to see what the class was today. Twenty step later I realized Doris was not in tow, and I headed back to the reception area. I’m getting fixed up. Doris was seated in an old barber chair with three stylists from Vain already inspecting her head to toe. Are you sure? Yes. Okay, I’ll be on the stairs over there, come find me when you are done? Sure thing!
I wasn’t entirely sold on the stylist stations, but they did prove to be very popular, and did make the crowd more interesting. The idea, initially, was that people in Seattle, as a whole, did not know how to dress, or give fashion much attention in any regard. And that if Walden Three was going to film and export the art and image of Seattle, we had to help the visitors, we had to make them more interesting, and craft a better image of fashion in Seattle. Was it manipulation? Sure it was. Propaganda? Yes. Smoke and mirrors? Definitely. But marketing artists and cities and renaissances is not an unfiltered business. It is the job of Walden Three to present the Pacific Northwest and it’s residents in the most compelling, interesting way, and if we can veto a flannel shirt here and a North Face jacket here, I’m all for it. When viewing W3 as a film set, it did kinda make sense to have hair and makeup and costumes to “dress” the “extras” that visit the set. Vain and Gene Juarez and a healthy dose of art students volunteered their time, and there was always a mountain of used clothing and wigs and accessories, and enough fashion talent on hand to keep the experiment from entirely derailing. So those kids you see with torch-burnt cut-off overalls and magenta eyeliner didn’t all arrive that way. The W3 stylist station transformed them right at the entrance.
Jed Dunkerley was just starting a lecture called “I could have made that” which followed the careers of a lot of twentieth century artists that seemingly lacked any real talent, but did change the way we viewed art through simply being the first to do something – to lay claim to a new idea or new way of looking at art. It was a lot more interesting than I can describe (hey watch the video if you have the time) and the huge projection screen flipped through example after example in tempo with Jed’s well played argument. It was well worth my buck (I suspect they charge a dollar to keep the riff-raff out?) and gave me a new appreciation for Jeff Koons and Cristo – not so much for Damien Hirst…
I came looking for Doris and could only see her sneakers under a dressing room cover. You all right in there? Yup! You wanna come out and see the exhibit upstairs? In a minute, almost done – you go up and I’ll find you! I gave the look of a concerned parent, and one of the girls helping her gave me a reassuring glace. I shrugged and marched off to the Mercer Gallery.
As excellent of a show as it is, I’d seen the Scott Fife/Dan Webb show in the Dearborn Gallery a dozen times and really wanted to check out Emilio Caliente’s new show on the top floor. Caliente is a 16 year old from Wenatchee and I don’t know how he popped up on the W3 radar. One of the floor managers once said, it’s like putting a streetlamp in the forest – it’s naturally going to attract all sorts of things. I got the feeling there was no shortage of proposals coming in, and Caliente just happened to make the cut. I saw the title of the show ‘String Theory’ right as Doris tugged on my hand. Oh shit! Is that a wig or did they really dye your hair silver? Her brow stiffens and her lips tighten, but she is too excited to be angry. My 14 year old cousin does not look at all like my 14 year old cousin, she looks like… she is about to shoot a music video for Japanese pop band, or maybe a character from Alice in Wonderland… I remember that she isn’t my kid, and her mom did sign the permission slip, so just nod and tell her she looks very chic. I wasn’t a lying.
Caliente’s installation consisted of what looked like an intricate pattern of colored string – hundreds of feet of it – weaving and overlapping through the gallery, all parallel to the floor and strung tight in a maze of straight-lined vectors. It reminded me a little bit line 70’s yarn art, or lasers bouncing off mirrors – each color starting at an eye bolt anchored to the wall and shooting off into the space, overlapping, crossing over, running tandem, and shooting across the room like a colorful spiders web (minus the symmetry). To the right, as we both walked in, was what we believed to be the beginning of the show, with names penciled onto the white wall in the same color as the string. Doris and I decided to follow different people – she choice “Tara Moore” and I picked Ernest Heckenbock. About every ten feet was a flashcard clipped to the string with a short paragraph describing something about Mr. Heckenbock (what was quickly revealed as a fictional character). Mr. Heckenbock was a big alcoholic, and loved to drink Evan Williams whiskey. And below the card were three empty bottles of Evan Williams. Ten feet later another card read “after spending two hours looking for his car keys, Ernest drove drunk through town, trying to remember where the Taco Bell was.” And then I spot Doris, and our lines are close to crossing over one another. “Ernest says hello to Tara who is working the register, and orders 7 beef burritos.” Doris says hi, and we cross over each other, she following the story of Tara Moore, and me following the drunken day of Ernest Heckenbock as he drinks and crashes and pukes and meets old friends, with props and crossing strings and note cards leading me on a zig-zag journey through the gallery. But I’m telling too much! You really should check out the show yourself. This 16 year old is pretty brilliant.
Doris and I spend an hour following the different characters in String Theory, and awkwardly say hi to the other visitors we pass following other strings. When we started walking back down to the main floor, I asked her if she asked for an autograph and she looked at me entirely puzzled. Who’s autograph? That guy you were talking to, who was reading Vera Morellis’s storyline. That old guy? We where just playing along with the story… Who was he? That’s funny! I thought for sure you were asking for his autograph. WHO WAS HE!!! That was Steve Martin. Huh. She shrugs. Never heard of him.
We ended up going down to the artist bazaar so she could pick up Walden Three t-shirt for her and her friends and ended up buying a bracket and a little painting of a cat throwing rocks at windows. I bought a nice Shaun Kardinal piece – a vintage photo of the moon with string threaded through it in a geometric pattern. I’ve always liked his work, and it left me with a memory of the show upstairs.
In the end, it was a great day and Doris was thrilled by it all. I was a bit worried what her mother would say when we got home, but she just couldn’t stop laughing, so I guess all is well.