GO Arts: Feminism, photography, steamroller prints and psychedelic opera transform the Woolworth Windows in downtown Tacoma

Tacoma News TribuneMay 28, 2014 

There’s a woman looking at the art in the Woolworth Windows in downtown Tacoma. Only she’s actually inside the windows. And she hasn’t moved for a week now.

It’s actually a mannequin, but the drive-by snapshot of the summer Spaceworks art installation is delightfully different from the reality revealed by the walk-up version – which is exactly what you’d hope for from this site-specific art location. Among the surprises: a dreamy photographic series, fine detail in huge steamroller prints, a mini opera set and the feminist diatribe that the curious mannequin is staring at, day and night.

Ellen Hochberg is the artist for both that window and the first one in the row along Broadway. In the latter, her word-and-light installation “Boxes” makes a rather obvious point, with self-identifiers like “American,” “Urban,” “White” and “Straight” in lightboxes against a white wall. They light up at night, and there’s an intriguing floor grid of half-egg shapes, midnight blue and looking quizzically space-age. But the point about putting people’s identity in boxes isn’t given any freshness with this expression. In the next window, though, after the mannequin staring at a jumbled wall of empty picture frames has made you stop and look, you realize what you’ll never see driving by – that in each frame is a barely-there silhouette of a girl or woman. The frame backs tumble to the floor; some of the glass is cracked. In the old school desk and books on the side you realize the point Hochberg is making, that many girls don’t get educated, and many don’t learn about the strong women who’ve been leaders before them. This point, also, is a rather obvious one. What’s inventive is the way the mannequin pulls you into the window by proxy. Some frames are filled instead with scrolling digital photographs of eyes; what would be truly cool would be mirrors reflecting both the outside viewer and the mannequin’s own eyes, a blurring of reality.

Down below on Commerce Street, Christian French does his own reality blur. A set for what he calls “a multi-phase installation with scenes from a psychedelic rock-opera,” the installation begins a tale of a fisherman who falls in love with a princess of Atlantis. To one side, red theater curtains frame a pile of blankets and a silver globe – home, with an unknown future. To the other, a table holds a mini film-set with black backdrop, featuring a silver Inuit fisherman in a kayak gliding through a sea of broken indigo glass amid glass ice floes bearing soapstone walruses and penguins. The whole thing’s dreamy, a window (literally) into a story, a tiny opera of the mind that plays with dimensions and reality.

Back up on Broadway, the rest of the Windows feature local 2-D art. There’s a sweep of this year’s steamroller prints from the Kings’ Books Wayzgoose: highlights include a Gothic, upward-angled view of a shadowy Stadium High tower (by their school print students), giant hands emerging from a honeycomb to clutch a coffee cup (Audra Layman), an enormous skull with concentric striations around its dome like tree rings (Chris Sharp) and Beautiful Angle’s rather Japanese-feeling image of a father and son eating strawberries while contemplating the stars.

Finally, in the central window, is a fascinating photograph series by Tacoma artist Kristin Giordano. Taken with a plastic lens Diana camera to evoke a nostalgic, blurry kind of filter, the scenes take in a quasi-fictional, idyllic community of identical houses surrounded by picture-perfect vines, daisies, a pond. Called “Radiance,” the series was inspired by the scarily-perfect world of Camazotz from Madeleine L’Engle’s classic children’s novel “A Wrinkle in Time.” But guess what? It’s actually in Puyallup, by the river – another blurring of reality, as this dreamy, puff-cloud, picket-fence fiction exists just ten minutes away from its own art installation.

The Woolworth Windows’ current installation is visible 24/7 through Aug. 21 at Broadway/Commerce Street and South 11th Street, Tacoma. spaceworkstacoma.wordpress.com

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 rosemary.ponnekanti@thenewstribune.com

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