Do you despair at Seafair? Have Blue Angel blues? Fear not; there is still plenty more to do in Seattle. There is plenty to distract from the racket by the water and in the sky. Last week, my picks for what’s good in Seattle came in threes, and lucky for us all of them (three one-act plays at ACT Theatre, three artists at The Frye Museum, and Three Dollar Bill Cinema) are just as good and relevant this week. Inspired by the name of a gallery show (and this being wedding season), I want to highlight something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue (and not the angels) in Seattle this week.
Something Old at The Belfry
The Belfry in Pioneer Square (309a 3rd Ave S) is a history, biology and design lesson rolled up into one quirky, cozy boutique. Dealing in vintage items, carnivorous plants, seashells, skulls (and skull replica necklaces), prints and lots of rare taxidermy, the Belfry is one of those unique spaces that is SO SEATTLE in the best possible way. It has a rustic, pioneer town vibe true to its locale. (For once, old timey script in branding comes across completely authentic, rather than an “old-school” affectation.) Its current stock of pristinely posed and preserved ungulates includes a jaunty steenbok atop a cabinet and, in another cabinet, an exceptionally rare and tiny dik dik faun from the late 1900s. I had never seen one before and at first thought it had to be fake miniature of something, but in fact the poor critter passed in infancy and is beautifully maintained, its horns just peaking out as nubs within a whorl of tawny fur.
Its easy to engage the knowledgeable and courteous staff if you want to learn more about the critters in your midst, and earlier this month they offered taxidermy classes to those who wanted to learn the art themselves. The Belfry is not your typical tourist-trap curiosity shop. It’s more like a true Wunderkammer with a cheeky, macabre twist.
Something New at Roq La Rue
Chie Yoshii‘s breathtaking new collection of works “In the Darkness of Mere Being” premiered this month at Roq La Rue Gallery (532 1st Ave S), and it will be moving into the gallery’s mezzanine space on Sunday. Until then, you can see Yoshii’s work on the ground floor with Casey Curran‘s new works, which in themselves an example of some old, new and borrowed in one piece. But that can be said of most art. In Curran’s case, it’s because he is using taxidermied elements in his kinetic works. In Yoshii’s case, she is strongly influenced by past painting movements, yet her style is discernibly modern while maintaining a great mystique.
She also has the something blue element; the consistent palette of her works uses deep, dark backgrounds, luminous bodies, all of which are punctuated by a vivid blue in water, textiles and feathers from piece to piece. Fans of the pre-Raphaelites will feel them being quoted visually, but Yoshii’s compositions are more saturated, even in their darkest corners and the figures are more sculptural—not flat, but not quite natural either—hinting at a love affair with Romanticism, too. The result is something definitely in the vein of those two, with dreamy Surrealist and Symbolist elements thrown in to boot. The title of the exhibition comes from Carl Jung’s quote, “Human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” It is apt, because Yoshii’s skill really does allow her to conjure a numinous light from darkness, depth from a flat plane, and make it look inspiringly, mystically effortless.
Regardless of whether you see the signature of previous eras in her works, the point is this: It is rich, beautiful, painterly work that is rewarding to audiences who allow themselves to sink into its cool, glowing darkness.
Something Borrowed at The Seattle Public Library
Seattle is known for being an exceptionally literate city, and despite being a relatively young city (in terms of residents and infrastructure), we have a top-notch library system. No, we don’t have breathtaking murals by John Singer Sargent (the art at the Boston Library is one of the only reasons I can provide for ever visiting that city, and it alone is worth the trip, IMHO), and after eight years I still have trouble navigating the apparently Escher-inspired stairwells at our central library, BUT the facilities and programming are pretty great. From the usual readings, to free talks from specialists in many fields, to international film series, to music performances, the calendar at the Seattle Public Libraries should be a default for everyone who has trouble coming up with things to do in the city on weekends. Being centrally located, it’s easy to plan an evening around one of their many free events.
Take this weekend for example: The Seattle Central Library (1000 4th Ave) will present the Steve Griggs Ensemble in the next installment of their musical residency with SPL, Songs of Unsung Seattle. This performance series highlights lesser known (or conveniently forgotten) parts of Seattle through the music of those eras. On Sunday afternoon, August 3, from 2 PM to 3:30 PM, Griggs and company play Panama Hotel Jazz, which narrates “Seattle’s history of immigration, discrimination and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.” It’s free and it dovetails beautifully with the Deco Japan exhibit at Seattle Asian Art Museum and the Art of Gaman exhibit at Bellevue Arts Museum. For those who want to stay closer to downtown, round out the afternoon with a look at the Wing Luke Museum’s historical exhibition, GRIT, looking at the lives of Asian American pioneers in the Pacific Northwest, then have tea at the Panama Hotel itself, filled with paraphernalia from the early 20th century Japantown in Seattle.
Something Blue at M.I.A. Gallery
I have been anticipating the solo exhibition opening this evening at M.I.A Gallery (1203 A Second Avenue Seattle) with such fervor that I think I must now know how a bride feels as her wedding day approaches. (Well…almost.) Titled Something Blue, the work is a series of self-portraits selected from Kimiko Yoshida’s breathtaking Brides series. Yoshida’s photographs are not Cindy Sherman-style characters; they are complete transformations into something archetypal, beyond human. The bride as a symbol of binary gender, of patriarchal ownership, virginal purity and all the many other culturally complex codes and expectations are obliterated to the point that the gender and the identity of each figure evaporates but a distinct spirit remains. The pictures do not often conjure any concept of marriage at all, but by making the association with matrimony and ceremony, the audience is forced to question the reason they have certain expectations and what they imply for us.
As with Yoshii’s work, the greater nuance and context doesn’t have to be immediately apparent to enjoy the works. Some people will see them as some of the best selfies ever made. (The irony is that Yoshida sees herself as disappearing entirely, almost in an act of kenosis, as she embodies these ambiguous figures.) They are exquisite objects in their own right and a must-see, on display through August 30.
Bonus Round: Weekend Events in Seattle
The sheer number of indoor/outdoor events is intimidating this weekend. Summer at SAM presents music and activities at the Olympic Sculpture Park tonight, July 31. On Saturday, July 2, LxWxH and Cullom Gallery co-present a closing party for Ellen Ziegler’s beautiful Vermillion series from 3 PM to 5 Pm in Georgetown, while in Pioneer Square the TK Lofts will celebrate their anniversary with a streetfair, loaded with art and performance. And on Sunday, epicenter of street-level cool Cairo will present its third annual Vibrations Festival at Volunteer Park, featuring unique vendors, live music and performance from 2 PM to 10 PM. Also that evening, Hedreen Gallery and art-collective New Mystics will present a performance, projection and sound installation on the Seattle University campus titled Dream Cargo for one night only. Click on the links to read more about each event and get out and enjoy sunshine and art together…or take a moment to chill in a gallery. They are all great options.