Spaceworks installation in downtown Tacoma features different twist on art

Spaceworks installation in downtown Tacoma features taxidermy, ‘nightmares,’ clothes

rosemary.ponnekanti@thenewstribune.comJanuary 3, 2014 

This violin is part of Becky Frehse’s “Music Box” in the Woolworth Windows art installation in downtown Tacoma.


Waiting for a bus at the corner at Commerce and South 11th streets in downtown Tacoma is gloomy enough at the best of times, but for the next four months bus riders also will have a giant spider at their backs. The enormous arachnid made of animal skulls, fur and big pipe legs is one part of the latest installation in the Woolworth Windows, courtesy of Spaceworks – and the other two parts push equally out of the art box and into something else completely.

The spider comes courtesy of Acataphasia “Cat” Grey, a taxidermy artist featured last year on the AMC reality show “Immortalized.” A Tacoma woman who makes beyond-life art out of dead animal parts, Grey calls herself a “rogue taxidermist,” and her many creations include a skull stitched like a baseball and a stuffed bunny holding a golden garroting wire. The spider in the Woolworth Window has a face that looks like a longhorn cow skull, with the horns at the bottom as tusks. With four enormous black sunglass lenses for eyes, it’s quite jaunty, and its bulbous backside has two more cattle horns. In between, its body is made of sewn leather and fur pelts, supported by eight gigantic legs of pipe enclosed in foam. In short, it’s a nightmare — but a very funny one, and that’s the whole point. Calling her installation “Own the Nightmare,” Grey’s challenging us all to look again at those things we fear, despise or recoil from — and embrace them just as she does, as jumping-off points for a whole new version of reality.

The windows up the hill at Broadway and South 11th are filled with a 20-year retrospective of RAGS, the annual wearable art show held each March to benefit the YWCA. Plenty of local artists make items for this, and around 30 artists are on display in the largest window, transforming it into what it used to be long ago – a store display for shopping goods. There are the usual dresses, sweaters, scarves and dainty little-girl outfits cleverly made from upcycled fabric, and plenty of art jewelry that, despite its size, is not best seen in a giant window. There are hand-dyed chiffon wraps, light as air; swanky leather satchels; innovatively decorated long vests. One of the most fascinating things, though, is probably already covered up (the installers were working on it when I visited Monday) — a dressmaker’s dummy made of what looked like a thousand hair elastics bound together with metal clips. The form looked solid as wrought iron, yet was clearly as malleable as mesh. It’s eventually going to be wearing a 1960s sheath dress made of yellow squares hung chainmail style.

Finally, in the upper Broadway window, is a wonderful meeting of space, art and music. Tacoma painter Becky Frehse has for a while now been inspired by the music in her home (mostly from her husband, composer and Pacific Lutheran University professor Greg Youtz), creating thickly impastoed paintings of what music might look like if it weren’t aural: swirls, dots, gold leaf, vivid hues, all embedded with violin bows and curled strings. There are a couple of these serving as backdrop in the windows, but there also are many new sculptures: a black violin with yellow fingerboard, nestled in a painted tree branch and with gold leaves spiraling out of its belly; a guitar body textured with rich whorls of paint and lit alternately red and blue; a mandolin with exotic cone pegs growing a garden of paint on its front; one violin in a sparkly commedia dell’arte case, another embossed with gold flowers and sprouting sticks, and a third encased in icy white like a musical snowdrift. On the floor is a marvelous flat piano keybed with a toymakers’ workshop inhabiting the hammers and frame: tiny turrets, elf-feet, little bells and clogs in a bizarre, brightly painted medley.

But maybe the cutest metaphor of all is a little bird with piano-hammer feet, pecking earnestly at a 1920s Corona typewriter and producing the score that gives the installation its name: “The Music Box.” More scores lie scattered around him, like a writer surrounded by typewritten drafts. It’s adorable, and adds the perfect touch to Frehse’s fantasy world of visual music.

Woolworth Windows art Where: Broadway and South 11th Street, Commerce and South 11th streets, Tacoma

When: 24/7 through April 17, 2014

Cost: free


Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568

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