south seattle suburbs

I promised myself this would be a quick, concise post to capture a the interesting spots that I experienced today, in slightly longer than drive-by fashion, in south King County. On such a beautiful day how the hell did I end up in landlocked Kent? To pick up a 55 gallon fermentation tank of course. And what’s the saying? “the voyage is more important than the destination”.

The shot above is from above the Robert Morris earthwork entitled “untitled” but better known as “Johnson Pit #30”.  It’s a quintessential piece of land art in the NW and I’m embarrassed to say I’ve finally stopped to take a look.  There’s been plenty written about it so all I will say is that it does not disappoint. I noticed the concentric arcs of the terraced pit on the steep drive down into the Green River valley and made sure that I backtracked to revisit. Interestingly enough there are several other compelling terrain interventions in the valley, specifically the variety of make shift dikes and levees that line the Green River and surround portions of the Boeing plant, like this one…

If you are not completely burnt out on the news of flooding, levees and disaster from the flooding in the midwest this spring some graphic mapped senarios for the green river valley can be found here.

From there I cut west across the 5 and into Seatac, where I was not surprisingly knocked off my normal route by construction and ended up finding the Highline Seatac Botanical Garden which I had recently heard about this spring.  This lesser known third public Japanese garden in Seattle originally called Seiki was relocated stone by stone because of the SeaTac 3rd runway expansion. From the Seatac Botanical Garden Website:

“The Seike Japanese Garden was previously located at the former site of the Des Moines Way Nursery in the City of SeaTac. In danger of being sold due the expansion of SeaTac Airport, the garden was saved by four different governments and the Highline Botanical Garden Foundation. The project is believed to be the largest relocation of a Japanese Garden ever attempted in the United States.”

It seems a little disjointed from the rest of the garden especially after a long dusty walk down the hill from the rose garden to reach it. It’s modest in size but has some very elegant vignettes of stone, water and highly sculpted plants. Well worth searching out, especially if you have a few minutes before picking up someone at the airport for a late flight.

A few blocks away theres an equally sculptural but very different piece of infrastructure adjacent to the Port of Seattle parking lot and overlooking the north end of the Seatac runways. In the center of  a grassy open space, is what appears to be a very large diameter but low profile water tank.  Looking south west across a massive port of Seattle parking lot jets are taking off at regular intervals.  It could be a great place to do some night time, time lapse of airplanes departing or just enjoying the warm light of a perfect afternoon illuminating a long arc of concrete.

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temple trees, nara 2002, Michael Kenna

With all of the continuing bad news surrounding the Fukushima nuclear accident, I thought I’d share a few really beautiful albiet melancholy film and photography works taken in Japan that I’ve uncovered in the last few weeks. Enjoy.

I was familiar with the work of Michael Kenna, who also has an amazing body of work that includes an entire book on Japan but came across another phototgrapher, who works in a similar style named Michael Levin.  They must get confused quite often but I have to admit that I like Levin’s stripped down aesthetic a little more. Kenna seems to work to create a slightly more romantic effect, especially obvious upon viewing some images from other parts of the world. Both are amazing.

The film above documents Levin’s process shooting and locations in what appears to be mostly coastal regions in northern Japan. The film is good,  but the still images are better.

The second film is a real fluke find.  I was renewing a subscription to Surfers Journal (fantastic photography in that as well) and noticed a video link for Hokkaido visuals with Dan Malloy as part of the film making team. (The embed doesn’t seem to want to work so get there with the link above).  Although Dan is not one of the two film making Malloy Brothers of September Sessions and Thicker than Water fame or in collaboration with Chris Malloy who was part of the Yvon Chouinard, Patgonia adventure flick 180 Degrees South, he puts together an amazing five and a half minute short that captures the sense of coastal Japan in the winter.  I think what really amazes me about all of the Malloy film projects is the really great music.  Hokkaido Visuals uses Tom Waits’ Alice as a soundtrack to great effect to accompanying a very simple, honest and direct film making style.

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bring down the walls

Old side of Elwha Dam (GERLACH all rights reserved)

I feel lucky to have seen John Stamets speak at 4Culture a few weeks ago in support of his exhibit documenting historic buildings and engineering works in the Pacific Northwest. The photography is straightforward, seemingly timeless quality with the composition and exposure purposely simple to provide the maximum amount of visual data in the photograph. In many ways the visual language it utilizes reminds me of the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher although less compulsive and typologic. The show ended in late May but luckily some of his images can be accessed from the Library of Congress website. Unfortunately, I could not find much of his other work, even though he has amassed a huge collection of images, which he suggests may be over 20,000. I seem to remember some of his images of the construction of Seatac airport a few years ago at the terminal but can not locate anything on-line. Anyway it is always great to see some actual prints and the ones at 4Culture were top notch quality.

Stamets, Snoqualmie Falls Hydroelectric Project, Elevator House

One comment that really struck me is that Stamets, HABS HAER work is sort of the bread and butter stuff to pay the bills and that his real passion and artistic endeavor is documenting architecture projects under construction. This interim, sometimes skeletal, sausage making look at architecture is not the polished, heroic images of corporate architecture but work that seems more curious and insightful into the narrative of making.

Elwha Dam (GERLACH all rights reserved)

Similarly interested in dynamic places, especially ones that lean towards the post industrial sublime I have been considering a project that would look at the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams and the subsequent restoration of the Elwha river.  A few weeks ago the Elwha dam generated its last kilowatt and the process of decommissioning and removal of the structure began. It is the largest dam removal project to be undertaken in the US and should be a fascinating process to follow. More details about the project can be found here. On a few trips to the area, I have only been getting my feet wet to discover how to access certain sites and what times of day and under what kind of weather may make interesting photos. It happened to be a minus tide mid-day when I was there last so it was a perfect opportunity to clearly see the topography of the mouth of the river. Upon just a few visits it has quickly become apparent that the river is the subject instead of the dam; process over object. Large dikes are being constructed near the mouth to protect properties once the river flows become unmitigated and the area will undergo massive transformation once sediment from behind the dams is released. It also happens to be a winter surf spot, which makes the trip in the fall and winter much more appealing.

On a related note, photographer Chris Jordan will be speaking at Seattle U this month. Somewhat spendy but I really like Jordan’s work and look forward to hearing about the newer work.

“For the Grandchildren presents a very special evening with Joanna Macy and Chris Jordan on June 21, 2011, at 7:15pm at Seattle University’s Pigott Auditorium. Joanna Macy, Gaian teacher and eco-philosopher, will begin the evening with a reflection on the times we are living in. Chris Jordan will present his compelling photo-art which displays what over-consumption is doing to our planet and all its inhabitants. Joanna and Chris will complete the evening with a deep conversation about our times. Tickets are $12 for students 25 and under and $20 for adults. Tickets can be found through Brown Paper Tickets.”

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Rural context

barn illuminated (photographed by Yogadog)

I’ve been dragging my feet a little on posting my thoughts on the “Barn Illuminated” project because I’ve had some mixed feelings about the work and wanted to let my initial reaction mellow a bit.  It was an installation created by artist Ann Durant located a few miles down the road and the most basic premise was to fill an old barn with some high powered lights and make it glow from the inside. Here’s a portion of the artists statement on VashonLine

“If there is any message in my work, it is simply that place is important.
The Barn Illumination Project is a community arts event that creates a setting for local residents to engage in a conversation about “place” and its relevance in our daily lives. I accomplish this by taking dilapidated barns or industrial buildings and lighting them from within, with high wattage lights. The result is a charismatic glowing structure unlike the building seen in daylight. By abstracting such buildings and highlighting their sculptural qualities it allows people to see them for more than their lost utility.”

I first heard about the project on the local photography email list, requesting that photographers come to the events and photograph the work. I terms of barns I share the sentiment of a photographer friend who says that when he resorts to shooting images of lighthouses, put him out of his misery. Barns, lighthouses and ferries are the defacto imagery on Vashon and these subjects are so overused they become culturally invisible, as brilliantly described in the novel “White Noise” by Don DeLilo.

“THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site. there were forty cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides- pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occassionally scrawling some notes in his little book. “No one sees the barn”, he said finally. A long silence followed. “Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn it becomes impossible to see the barn.” He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site replaced by others.  “We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it Jack?”

DeLilo’s sentiments are not really about barns at all, and it is clear that the the important part of Ann Durants work is about ceremony, gathering and dialog so I do not intend to cynically associate the intent of her work with “the most photographed barn in America”.  However by objectifying the barn and partially removing it from its context it does pose some interesting questions about place.  Of all architecture, the barn is a typology that may be most connected to its location and its structure is highly responsive to its utility and functional requirements of the surrounding crops, animals, machinery, terrain etc. Without seeing and experiencing the landscape, can you really see the barn? I think the images are amazing. Kudos to Ms. Durant on making a beautiful object, I hope that the event sparked conversations about community and place that were as rich and robust.

The imagery also reminded me of other projects that I like quite a lot. The first two are of the “Hole House” an installation created by Hutchison Maul architects and the third image is from photographer Richard Misrach, of a abandoned military building in Wendover, Utah.

Hole House

Hole House


Although I didn’t shoot any images of the barn project it did inspire me to create some of the following images in my barn…

garage interior 1

garage interior 2

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context LA

I just got from LA last week and unfortunately the surf was flat but fortunately there were plenty of other things to keep me busy. It was a beautiful day that would have left Seattle museums and galleries empty in the wake of 70 degree, sunshine and breezy spring weather,  as if here was some kind of cultural virus in the air. My visit to the Museum of Jurassic Technology was a bit of a disappointment in these regards since the perception and experience in the small quirky spaces and exhibits would seem to be more appropriate to lonely wandering than filled with visitors and a gift shop doing brisk business.  I was in a bit of a hurry anyway so a return visit in heavy June gloom or other apocalyptic Southern California weather may be called for.

The second stop was the Art in the Streets show at the Geffen, the site of the infamous commissioned BLU mural that was whitewashed last year for political reasons. The replacement mural is quite forgettable and I’m sure does not offend anyone.

Once inside the show, beyond the grafitti time-line it was a clinic in how to take too many ideas and make a classic hot mess.  I’m not quite sure what actually qualified as “street art”.  A head ache inspiring walk through a black light room filled with day glow plastic detrius should have been an actual walking tour through toy town, maybe one of the most bizzare and sketchy places I’ve been in LA. The import shops filled with colorful toys in contrast with an incredible number of people with serious emotional and psychological issues wandering the street or passed out on the side walk in the middle of the day is a shocking statement on our consumer culture and maybe a too close to coffins draped in dollars.  In contrast, the Shepherd Fairley exhibit seemed more like a designer launching his spring 2011 collection, it’s dusky purple and distressed, and the Banksy pieces were completely underwhelming outside of their original context. The installation in the north east corner of the gallery may be better suited to a city further to the south.  Even work by Gordon Matta Clark was flat and disinteresting? There were mentions of the early work of Keith Harring and Basquiat but the show never made the leap from their earlier informal public work and the change into high profile established artists. In the whole exhibit, I can not think of one image that compares to the actual experience of finding and looking a big beautiful piece of grafitti or wheat paste (which were surprisingly abscent) or really great concert poster stabled to a telephone pole.  Taking it out of context completely neutered it.

However, in all of territory that the show covered the most perplexing may be the inclusion of all of the skateboarding culture and the limited coverage of local Latino murals and street art. So is skateboarding an art, or are the videos of skateboarding art, or is it just a parallel subculture of outcast and outlaws? In some sort of pretzel logic, skateboarders listen to punk rock and hip hop, show posters get stapled all over the city, therefore skateboarding is street art or is the documentation of youth subculture the art. Ask Dash Snow, Terry Richardson or Larry Clark. So where are the fantastic show posters, the Raymond Pettibon room (his show in Phili 10 years ago was amazing), something with some meat from Tracey Peralta. It just seemed a little abitrary and without adding much to the show.

The glossing over of the latino street art culture is a little more difficult to manage.
On one hand I completely understand that gang tagging with the purpose of claiming territory has limited artistic merit but think that the presentation of the photos of LA gangs and symbols was one of the more nuanced and successful pieces in the show. However there is a completely separate tradition of latino and other ethnic muralists that was completely ignored. The murals in San Francisco have become a formalized tour, a stretch of 6th Avenue in north Philadelphia has an amazing series of murals on metal roll up doors and I am sure that there are numerous examples in east LA that could have been exhibited.

For all of the faults, there were some hits. The videos of the massive works across an entire favella in Brazil showed the political inspiration of people living with little or no political voice and I really loved the hobo train markings which gave the rest of the work a broader cultural reach and sense of history.  But overall I can’t say the show captured the adventure, ambition and guts that the best street art shows us. Like this…

A missed opportunity for the curators to broaden the history and make the show “of  LA” with the inclusion of the “Pink Lady of Malibu”.  An early example of someone trying to cover graffti with graffiti of their own in 1966. During cover of darkness Lynn Seemeyer painted a 60 foot tall woman  in a very difficult and dangerous location which was subsequently removed a few days afterwards with great difficulty. It’s a great story and too bad that the show didn’t capture these kind of events that could have provided some local flavor and one less mention of Fab Five Freddy.

As an aside theres a great flick entitled “The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal”   directed by Matt McCormack that somehow missed the cut.  It could have easily replaced one of the Spike Jonze skate flicks (although I do love his films).

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Fermi follies

Tevatron from the air

A few years ago when traveling back and forth from Chicago to Seattle I was noodling the idea to do a comparative photo project in which images of nuclear sites surrounding Chicago would be paired with images from the Hanford site in eastern Washington.  I haven’t really got enough images of either area to do a fully fledged piece and issues of accessibility to both areas pose significant photographic limitations. However, I was inspired by a recent Pruned  post about Site A (a reactor site) and Plot M (a dump), two of the earliest nuclear landscapes near Chicago and decided to post a few images of the Fermilab. Although not specifically “nuclear or toxic” the Fermilab facility contains the second largest particle accelerator in the world and is located south west of Chicago, with a mission to…

“advance the understanding of the fundamental nature of matter and energy by providing leadership and resources for qualified researchers to conduct basic research at the frontiers of high energy physics and related disciplines.

What really struck me when I visited was the high quality native prairie and oak savannah surrounding the developed areas of the site and the very sculptural quality of the industrial architecture. The contrast between high quality “nature” and an intense expression of culture and technological aspiration is very powerful. Wilson Hall the main headquarters lies at the end of a long reflecting pool in a massive scale that one would experience in Versailles. The quite dramatic contemporary structure was actually inspired by a Gothic Cathedral in France, However, the smaller more industrial “follies” really captured my imagination.  Here are a few….

the master substation

fixed target experimental area

Unknown folded dome structure

There are quite a few more of these follies that I did not photograph and some interesting sculpture as well.  Worth the visit if you’re in the western burbs of Chicago.  If you happen to be in the Loop next month make sure to stop by the always great Museum of Contemporary Photography. The opening reception for Public Works a new exhibition about infrastructure is on April 29th from 5 to 7 and the curator’s tour on May 4. From the website…

“Public Works examines geographically and chronologically diverse examples of built infrastructure captured through the lenses of mid-20th century to contemporary artists. Modern infrastructure shares with photography a peculiar history, as the medium is particularly well suited to documenting the grandeur of large public works. Cumulating from the Museum of Contemporary Photography’s permanent collection and the Midwest Photographers Project, as well as from external loans, Public Works includes works by more than 50 international artists.”

From the teaser images it looks to be an amazing show and as a follow up event Matthew Coolidge from the  Center for Land Use Interpretation will be speaking at the Museum on May 26th. 

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caldwell – directors cut

“Compared with the land, everything else is an illusion. The cities are startled thoughts of sleep.”

Caldwell, “The Living Landscape

I was recently converting some portfolio items so that I could access them on the Ipad  and dug out an old piece that I wrote for the Cultural Landscape Foundation to promote an event at Lake Point Tower for the ASLA national convention in Chicago in 2009.  I provided some general background info on the project and a brief biography of Alfred Caldwell but really conceived the piece as a photo essay, contrasting images of the garden  with his writings from the same period.  His words are powerful, edgy and full of fire, the images are quiet and layered. Of course, it was a little ambitious and not the kind of warm and fuzzy content of a promo piece. No sour grapes for CLF, they just needed a quick promo piece and I was interested in something else. That’s the reality of a client designer relationship of any project, building or writing.

What really initiated me to post the missing parts was this years WASLA conference that I attended a few weeks ago.  With all of the current events with the potential to elicit outrage, passion and a call for action only Grant Jones and others to a certain extent (Duane D.), had any substance or unique point of view in a full day of presentations. Grant put forth a challenge to take a leadership roles in projects and our communities and suggested we become designer/advocates, searching for creative outlets to affect change. That really resonated with me and in many ways reminded me of Caldwell’s writings.

So here are the missing pieces of the TLC essay starting with the lost paragraph and including the photos and quotes. I am blown away that some of the quotes are even more relevant today than when they written 40-50 years ago. Enjoy the rage.

“Ongoing environmental degradation and the use of nuclear weapons were serious concerns and Caldwell’s socialist leanings are clearly represented in these two pieces. It is difficult to imagine Caldwell writing these fiery diatribes while at the same time designing such a wonderfully quiet and restrained garden. During this period Caldwell was in exile in many ways, away from his Bristol home and the comfort of his prairie landscape. The writings, especially when paired with the Lake Point Tower garden, provoke thought about this complex and poetic landscape architect. Maybe in the margins we can hope to better understand the man.”

“Of course what lies about us everywhere is a ruin that we do truly not see, because we have always seen it. It is a ruin of defaced and broken stones, with grave images of bankrupt gods overturned on a marble stair. There is a door ajar in an ancient alley, and someone passes fugitive and anonymous. Nay, it is Paleolithic kitchen midden, a junkyard of used parts like the automobile dumps, both fact and symbol.”

Caldwell, “A Job for Durga and Shiva”

The building itself is a pathological straining for effect. And interesting shapes are the doctor’s order of the day. Every building is meant to set a new fashion and outdo the others. What results, an assault upon the optic nerve, is a crass and repellant vulgarity, as it were a love of ugliness for its own sake, a thing unique within the history of the human race on this planet. It is a parade of fashions, if such they are to be called.”

Caldwell, “A Job for Durga and Shiva”

“Rome fell from sheer boredom. To the rich, the empire was a gorgeous, pretentious, and yawning emptiness. To the middling sort of people and especially the farmers riddled by debt and victimized jumpy markets, it was a system frustrating and restrictive, so rigged by the power clique that it was impossible to feel wither loyalty or interest. By the time the barbarians arrived it hardly mattered.”

Caldwell, “A Job for Durga and Shiva”

“The future is clothed with impenetrable darkness, and the past is known only as from a great distance. We are like travelers looking down from a jetliner upon some improbable country, girt by green seas. From the great height, so great that we have lost all sense of distance and the far seems something near that is strangely diminutive, the little indentations of the coast are legendary harbors. The impregnable castles and fortresses, which once defended them, do not even register on the retina.”

Caldwell, “A Job for Durga and Shiva”

“The dams impounding the waters of a continent, the beautiful intricacy of derricks swung against the sky, the high power transmission lines, the factory with its mile long shell of glass, are all the creative spirit of man, like a giant out of the ruins. Once again, as in the ancient past, is a powerful statement on the soul of man.  Architecture is not in the bogus and self conscious playing with shapes and fashions for a crumbling civilization. Architecture is the world of making and doing. That is structure: that is Shiva.”

Caldwell, “A Job for Durga and Shiva”

“Thus art lifted life above the intrinsic absurdity of mere zoology. Every human activity from the commonest to the highest was once expressed as art. Every man was an artist. Ditches were dug by art and bread was baked by art.”

Caldwell, “Lost Cities of America”

“From the el platforms in Chicago you look westward over the tens of thousands of acres of slumland, with the factory water tanks, chimneys, and church steeples thrust up through the tenement aggregations in a kind of grim self-assertion. It has always looked like a catastrophe yet to be cleared.”

Caldwell, “Lost Cities of America”

It was a city of buying and selling, and making. It was a thriving city of the factory districts, with their imported Polacks, Hunkies and Liths. It was the city of the stockyards, where they packed the doped and contaminated meat and worked the immigrants to desparation. It was also a city of dreams. It was the one unique city with electric air and cosmic tremelo.

Caldwell, “Lost Cities of America”

The tract house inhabitants, as if chained to the tortures of Tantalus – always reaching for a life in the country always daily denied – fiendishly commute back and forth, either to the tottering factories of the old Chicago or to the central business district, that is, the Loop, that is, the gaudy acropolis of a frontier town, lined with catchpenny skyscrapers.”

Caldwell, “Lost Cities of America”

Putting a man on the moon was irony. This event was achieved in the very midst of a ruinous war, in the midst of the ecological desolating of the earth, the withering and hostile touch of person to person, the brutality of cities. It was like a kind of spermatozoon out of bygone earth:  that missle’s hurl to leave it all behind – polluted corpses of American Baghdads, speculative lechers of suburban hill and dale, virulent rivers and cesspool seas, industrial fumes like rotten eggs of the air. In flicker of box those billions of dollars for bravo. A girl’s white breast, moonglow on the lost earth, suckles the strontium young, curdles the milk from vats.”

Caldwell, “Lost Cities of America”

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