What’s Good in Seattle: The Photo Opp, June 12, 2014

Posted on June 12, 2014, 9:30 am
8 mins


It’s easy to love Seattle in summer. (Dear God, why am I inside right now?!) Here is my weekly list of things to love about Seattle, rain or shine, night and day.

Artist Shaun Kardinal

Art Walk in Pioneer Square last week was a blast, and with perfect weather and plenty of compelling shows. It wasn’t just happening on the ground, but also in the cloud. Artist Shaun Kardinal was loading a digital art series called Flying Formation to his Instagram account during the art walk. Kardinal is known for enhancing landscapes and postcard imagery with geometric designs, but this time he took sky- and waterscapes and formed his divine geometry with photos of birds. You can see the full series on his site with a little commentary from the artist.

This is not your typical put-a-bird-on-it bunk. The images are sharp, appealing and various within the simple idea, with text that gave a knowing nod to some of the best of pop culture. Kardinal began with a divine spiral of doves labeled “(mainlining the secret truths of the universe),” a line from crime drama True Detective, in which an ominous spiral figured prominently. He then dripped a dozen images, each labeled with one word that in their entirety form a quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”

I like art that is smart, complex and well planned but does not take itself too seriously—Douglas Adams was a master of that—so I loved Flying Formation. Don’t get me wrong; grand, heroic gestures in art are important, too, but just as important are the personal gestures that excite curiosity and the imagination and let people bond over ideas rather than lifestyles and consumption. Kardinal did so using a medium that is often criticized for being self-indulgent and alienating—for promoting lifestyle and consumption and appearance above all, with a few preset filters to give the banal an “arty” edge. Kardinal proves that the medium is not necessarily the message, as he offers a flight of fancy that reaches outside of gallery walls and hashtags.

Images by Shaun Kardinal

ARTSparks in Occidental Park

Speaking of hashtags…Occidental Park has become home to two media-savvy installations. Artist Dylan Neuwirth is a big user of social media (Instagram and Twitter here). He’s upbeat and he knows how to frame a shot. He also knows his stuff when it comes to creating clever and contemporary art from glass, notably neon lights. I adored the craft, commentary and curation of Neuwirth’s recent show at Vermillion. One of the pieces from that show, the tongue-in-cheek Just Be Your Selfie, has been made into a larger version spanning the walkway in Occidental Park. Visitors are encouraged to get creative when they take pictures themselves and tag them to become part of a communal portrait gallery. News media, in an ever desperate bid to fill dead air with fluff, has been using the selfie phenomenon to malign Millennials and a generalized narcissism in our culture. The commentary is not even self aware so it never actually comes to a conclusion—just cynical alarmism. Just Be Your Selfie (#justbeyourselfie) bypasses that (doesn’t even raise the finger) with a playful streak, gets people outside and perhaps more relaxed in the historic district, loaded with galleries that they might be too intimidated to enter.

Artist Tariqa Waters (aka Martyr Sauce) has also created an Instagrammable art installation. Colored, reflective boxes now girdle many of the trees along the walkway in the park, stenciled with tweet like messages encouraging people to photograph themselves in the image. It’s a candy-colored, graffitied funhouse mirror, one that actually doesn’t preserve much of the identity of the person, and that’s rather the point. The No ‘I’ in Self installation takes the selfie phenomenon and spins it—no bathroom mirror, no flattering 3/4 overhead shot, no rehearsed pose and expression—such that the distorted, colored images directed to @NoIinSelf reflect that it never really is oneself depicted in the carefully crafted selfie, but a fragmented idea—as in a glass darkly. It’s lovely, but the overall effect urges one to actually see the other face to face.

Both installations are up through September. You can see Waters’ work and regrams at her Instagram account.

(And while you’re at it, follow us on Instagram, too!)

Photo Center Northwest

Of course, photography is a practice quite a bit more refined than what a smart phone will allow. Locally, one can acquire and hone photographic techniques at Photo Center Northwest, which also puts on great shows, including one of work from Vivian Maier and the group show that ends this weekend, Process, which features work from professional artist photographers who use the medium in novel and sometimes unexpected ways.

That playfulness is a uniting thread here; photography is relatively a young medium (and Seattle is a relatively young city), and the lack of a canon allows people to experiment and write the rules as they go while still hemmed in by the exacting method of the medium itself, the bounds of the lens. Photography is not about documenting everything as they are, but seeing things in a new light, and Photo Center NW and its crew of instructors, artists and curators are helping people do just that with affordable classes and a free and open gallery space.

Tonight, as part of Capitol Hill Art Walk’s anniversary festivities, Michelle Dunne Marsh and Rafael Soldi of Photo Center NW will lead a tour of the neighborhood called Through the Lens, with a special focus on the photogenic aspects of the Capitol Hill neighborhood. The tour starts at 6 PM from the Shelter House at Cal Anderson Park (by the play fields). If you can’t  attend the tour, consider stopping by the center itself to see the last days of the Process show.

T.s. Flock is a writer and arts critic based in Seattle and co-founder of Vanguard Seattle.