Seattle

Genius/21 Century/Seattle at the Frye Art Museum

For the last thirteen years, Seattle has cheekily retorted the MacArthur Foundation’s annual announcement of “Genius Grant” winners by presenting a roster of its own local “geniuses” through the Stranger Genius Award. The Stranger, which is the city’s weekly alternative news and entertainment paper, selects and awards five individuals each year, from the fields of art, performance, literature, film, and music, with $5,000 of unrestricted funds to produce creative work. As described by visual arts editor Jen Graves, recipients of the award have “[ranged] from drag queens to jazz trumpeters”—a diverse group of brilliant and charismatic oddballs, to say the least.

C. Davida Ingram. Avatar: Fanon & Decca, 2015 (video still); single-channel digital video with audio. Courtesy of the Artist.

C. Davida Ingram. Avatar: Fanon & Decca, 2015 (video still); single-channel digital video with audio. Courtesy of the Artist.

This year, the Frye Art Museum hosts and curates a large-scale exhibition, Genius/21 Century/Seattle, to celebrate the many artists and collectives who have previously received the Stranger Genius Award. The exhibition, which opened during the last week of September, will continue to unfold over the course of sixteen weeks with more than forty performances, screenings, readings, and other events taking place throughout its duration. Considering that most of the works are from fields outside of the visual arts, Genius is an ambitious endeavor that extends far beyond the scope of a traditional museum project.

To integrate the works seamlessly, the Frye’s galleries have been transformed into a series of stages, facilitating encounters between the material and ephemeral—between white cube and black box. zoe | juniper’s We were. (2015) is an immersive installation and ongoing durational performance designed and choreographed by collaborators Zoe Scofield and Juniper Shuey. Cylinders of white string hang from the ceiling to the floor, perforating the dark gallery with illuminated columns of light. Projections of dancers ripple across the surface of the threads, creating a compelling vision that is ghostly and undulates as if projected onto the surface of rain. Ephemerality is inherent in the piece—the residual memories of an embodied, physical experience are retained as short-lived sensorial frissons.

zoe | juniper. We were., 2015; installation and performances. Courtesy of the Artists. Photo: Mark Woods.

zoe | juniper. We were., 2015; installation and performances. Courtesy of the Artists. Photo: Mark Woods.

Themes of theatricality and performance are also addressed by the collective Implied Violence (Casey Curran, John DeShazo, and Ryan Mitchell), whose terrifying architectural appendage, The Dorothy K: Large Claw (2010), serves as the site for a rich schedule of screenings, readings, and performances. SuttonBeresCuller takes cues from the language of way-finding used in casinos and sideshows for their piece, You Always Leave Me Wanting More (2015). The installation of lit-up red arrows erupts through splintered boards from below the gallery floor.

There is something uncannily aggressive about the works by Implied Violence and SuttonBeresCuller that, like a number of other projects on view, point to Seattle as the subject of an escalating frustration. A city in flux, Seattle is transforming before the eyes of its residents, as it becomes one of the country’s fastest-growing cities. “Many artists thrived here because they weren’t interested in the big city ethos,” claims Genius co-curator Erica Dalya Massaquoi, “but robust artistic practice is now at risk in the rapidly changing cityscape marked by political, ideological, economic, and social disparities.”

Victoria Haven. Studio X, 2015 (detail); two-channel digital video. Courtesy of the Artist.

Victoria Haven. Studio X, 2015 (detail); two-channel digital video. Courtesy of the Artist.

Victoria Haven’s Studio X (2015) documents two viewpoints from the artist’s studio in South Lake Union—a neighborhood undergoing an extreme facelift due to the real-estate holdings of Amazon and of other budding corporations. Haven’s two-channel video projects a familiar scene: Construction crews tearing down and building up a site. In this case, the imagery poses a literal as well as a psychological threat. Will there be spaces for working artists in the next urban iteration of Seattle?

Lead Pencil Studio (Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo). Under the Surface, 2008; charcoal graphite and paint on paper; 71 x 58 in. Courtesy of the Artists.

Lead Pencil Studio (Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo). Under the Surface, 2008; charcoal graphite and paint on paper; 71 x 58 in. Courtesy of the Artists.

Annie Han and Daniel Mihalo of Lead Pencil Studio offer a speculative look at architectural development in their three large-scale charcoal and graphite drawings. Perhaps most poignant, Under the Surface (2008) depicts an ambiguous, open-air structure that may be in the process of going up, coming down, or simply existing as is, illuminated by a perimeter of looming streetlights. In tandem with their site-specific outdoor earthwork, Thereafter (2015), Lead Pencil expresses the transience of development. One decade’s architectural innovation is merely a future site for what will be built next.

Genius/21 Century/Seattle is indeed, as the Frye claims, a “pandemonium of disparate artistic practices.” The exhibition is a spectacular window into Seattle’s creative culture as it is materialized and dematerialized right before our eyes. Despite the breadth of works on view, connections emerge and relationships between the works resonate. Genius brings together the visions and voices of over sixty-five of Seattle’s resident geniuses, proving that a shared regional identity is enough to create a compelling and cohesive show.

Genius/21 Century/Seattle is on view at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle through January 10, 2016.

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