Project Easter Island: Seattle

June 16, 2009 by

Places to Go

Editor’s Note: Tiffany Lee Brown is a writer and interdisciplinary artist based in Portland, Oregon. Author of “A Compendium of Miniatures,” she is an editor of Plazm magazine and adjunct faculty at Prescott College. Follow the Easter Island Project (her ongoing participatory project of art, music, and writing) on her website at www.magdalen.com or here on the Viator Travel Blog (click here for the first installment).

I had three homes in Seattle recently. Number one: a performance studio in heart of Capitol Hill called Studio-Current. Two: just down the block, a new restaurant/café called Oddfellows. Three: A fabulous old home in the Madison Park neighborhood. I’d driven up from Portland for a brief artist residency and performance/art gathering for the Easter Island Project’s Participation Tour.

Archaeologists discovered that the giant moai heads on Easter Island, a.k.a. Rapa Nui, used to sport big, painted eyes. Seattle participant Scott T. carved out two replicas, painting compact discs for the pupils. Nice! Here photographed with me, Residents-style. Photo: Steve Fritz

Archaeologists discovered that the giant moai heads on Easter Island, a.k.a. Rapa Nui, used to sport big, painted eyes. Seattle participant Scott T. carved out two replicas, painting compact discs for the pupils. Nice! Here photographed with me, Residents-style. Photo: Steve Fritz

Studio-Current: Home on the Hill

My first stop was Studio-Current, an airy performance studio where I would work (and horse around) for a few days, culminating in an intimate art and performance event. I had a marvelous time. It didn’t hurt that the studio came complete with an awesome built-in community of wildly creative people, and a sparkling, inventive director, Vanessa DeWolf. It also didn’t hurt that the studio sat smack-dab in the center of Capitol Hill, the city’s celebrated — yet still somewhat funky — clubbing and counterculture district.

Literally within seconds of arriving in Seattle, I was sitting cross-legged on the studio floor, giving a Tarot reading to a complete stranger from Bellingham, Washington. A friend of hers had bought her a Tarot gift certificate online, as part of a fundraiser for the Easter Island Project. Half an hour later, I was invited to join a movement-and-sound improvisation session led by two dancers. With its natural light, spongy black flooring, and a multitude of weird costumes to play with, Studio-Current immediately felt like an artistic home to me.

Half a block away, at the intersection of Pike and Pine, I walked past a historically important music venue (remember grunge?), bought a sausage from a street vendor, and ran into an old friend from the cirkus and fire arts scene… all of which took about two minutes. This is also the district where Seattle’s gay scene came of age, and where riot police drove protesters during the 1999 WTO protests.

Oddfellows: Gentrification has its perks

I was walking down to Oddfellows. Vanessa had mixed feelings about this new café up the street, my second home during this trip. On the plus side, Oddfellows offered great coffee, quality snacks, and wi-fi during the day. At night, friendly servers wove through bubbling crowds, bringing us affordable upscale comfort food in a big, beautiful room with high ceilings and dark woodwork. (“This is place is great!” I heard someone say. “It’s so… Portland!”)

On the other hand, the formerly scruffy building used to offer affordable art space to tenants such as Freehold Theatre. Vanessa knew the place well, as a haunt where she would perform and meet up with other up-and-coming artists. Seattle Weekly provides some perspective.

Kristen T. offered this beautiful little paper crane to the project. Pictured here in a photo by Steve Fritz, the crane became part of an installation at Performance Works NorthWest.

Kristen T. offered this beautiful little paper crane to the project. Pictured here in a photo by Steve Fritz, the crane became part of an installation at Performance Works NorthWest.

Development may someday push out Studio-Current and art centers like it, too; the studio shares a building with a yoga shala and a doggie daycare. For the moment, though, the studio is standing tall, hosting performers and dancers, and providing a home for The Field in Seattle. So Vanessa and I decided to partake in Oddfellows’ bountiful yumminess and hope for the best.

Sipping my gentrified latté and walking a few blocks away, I was relieved to discover a boarded-up building; a charity thrift shop with rude clerks and two-dollar shirts; a pile of trash we made street art with; and a drunk passed out at a bus stop. Capitol Hill’s got brewpubs and fancy coffees, but it’s still got a little grit.

Madison Park: Walks and crêpes

A half-hour walk from the studio, I was staying in the Madison Park neighborhood. Vanessa and I walked through sleepy streets of century-old homes and unassuming apartments, punctuated at night by slow-driving, low-riding cars pumping ear-shattering bass beats. Still, it was a welcome relief from the electric, hectic energy of Pike and Pine. Up on Madison Avenue, we ate well-made buckwheat crêpes at the casual La Côte and giggled at our snooty waitress. Then I dropped by the Trader Joe’s for some apples and bottles of Three-Buck Chuckfor the show.

The Easter Island Session

It began with Vanessa. Our secret plan involved keeping the audience in a cement-walled hallway for a while, asking them to wash and cut up the apples, to cork and pour the wine. Then they entered the official studio space and set up their own chairs. Unexpectedly, they decided to set up right where I’d intended to perform; but that’s the fun of participation and improvisation. I ended up climbing a ladder behind the audience and beginning a poetry reading there. My performance evolved into casual storytelling about Easter Island, being biologically childless, and the connection I’ve made between the two.

The Studio-Current audience pulled out all the stops when we got to the participation session. The Easter Island Project asks audience members and Internet participants—whether or not they’re so-called artists—to make “seeds” of many kinds. All you have to do is contemplate the act of creation, or meditate on the question of what compels us to make things: poems, sculptures, babies, and atom bombs. Then you respond by actually making something. Participants make music, poetry, dances, and tattoos in response to their meditations.

Studio-Current director Vanessa DeWolf makes street art with me on Capitol Hill

Home again, making sense of it all.

In some form or another (on film, for example) all these seeds are coming to Easter Island with me next year. If you participate in the project: you are going to Easter Island.

This might be categorized as social practice, participatory art, or community-engaged practice, for all you art nerds out there. It involves effort and it involves trust. People trust me with their creations, well aware that I may do just about anything with them. It’s an honor.

In Seattle, a man named Karl wrote a thoughtful mini-essay about ancestry and read it aloud for our video cameras. That was his seed of creation. A woman named Chris danced an incredible three-minute work of original choreography. Danae introduced herself, then brought out a stethoscope and asked to paint my heartbeat. Debby Watt invited me to perform improvisational free jazz-noise with her (a seed for the project’s 6,480 hour-long soundtrack). Seattle’s phenomenally creative and fun audience brought giant painted eyeballs and delicate paper cranes to the project, along with an allegedly traditional Polish fertility ritual.

Next year, films and photography of the “seeds” these folks created will be projected out onto the mysterious landscape of Easter Island. It was beautiful to have such a generous and fearless group make cool stuff and drink cheap wine with me. Thank you, Seattle and Studio-Current.

Stay tuned for the next Easter Island tour stop: Arizona.

-Tiffany Lee Brown

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