If you can’t see the window for the trees, that’s all part of the art in the latest Woolworth Windows installation in downtown Tacoma. Run by Spaceworks, the storefront window art is coincidentally arboreally themed for this session, just mounted and running through mid-December, with four big multi-window exhibits that use paper, twigs, metal and more to explore themes of fear and hope through nature.
Trees become ghosts in window one, on the north end of the Broadway windows. Framing large-scale black-and-white photographs with mobiles of dangling twigs and lichen and pebble floors, Sarah Beth Smith constructs a landscape for her photographic subjects that’s at once minimalist and cinematic. Dressed like ghost-brides, the women in each photo run, fearful, through misty paths or beside steely-gray waves, forever trapped in the large screen of their landscape while around them, in real life, the foliage hovers mutely. The effect is bleak, mournful; yet at the same time dramatic in a "Blair Witch Project" kind of way.
In the middle window twigs give way to something sterner: metal. Part of Metal-Urge, the city-wide celebration of all arts metallic during October, Carla Grahn’s sculpture is titled "Athena’s Bling" – and for good reason. This is truly goddess-sized jewelry: a six-inch ring of gray steel, welded with glass doorknobs and hex nuts for ornament; a six-foot necklace cross made of a mosaic of metal ovals and circles, but painted in corals and pinks just in case you missed the fact that this warrior god was a woman. There’s a draped necklace of silver-ball chains, a two-foot-wide bronze brooch with more huge hex nuts and heavy chains, and a set of giant metal earrings. It’s fiercely feminine, strong and spiky – but possibly more suited for an Amazon queen than the austere goddess of wisdom.
The forest returns in the corner window on Broadway and South 11th Street, cut delicately out of vinyl and PVC to illustrate the fairy tale of the six swans. Printing the text of the tale on sky-blue vinyl, artist Tory Franklin cuts delicate, filigree trees in gelato colors of tangerine, lime and blue, sticking them to the back wall and front glass of the windows. In the middle of this two-dimensional theater set fly the king’s sons, transformed into swans by a wicked witch stepmother: Cut out of plywood and painted like orange Fabergé eggs they soar between the plastic branches toward their sister, thin as an Indonesian shadow-puppet, who makes endless, cobwebby tunics out of vinyl-cut star-flowers. It’s a beautiful combination of flat and 3D, solid and delicate, illustrating the magical border between the real and the fairytale worlds. (Oh, and if you’re looking for the ending to the story, you’ll find it in Seattle, in the University of Washington’s medical gardens as part of Mad Campus Art.)
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Down on Commerce Street, the fourth window is filled with trees of a more threatening kind. In "61 Mortal Decisions," Deanna Pindell reminds us of what we are doing to our environment – especially the 61 trees that exist for each person on this planet – with a harsh, though-provoking installation. Heavy bark gives a foresty backdrop to a foreground of tree stumps, each populated with a black-lidded Mason jar containing human "specimens" like Red Bull cans, wishbones, state tree area signs and the like. The rest of the window is filled with a jungle of iron-like ropes and black leather vines ensnaring mute white ceramic birds and offering an ominous glimpse into a treeless future.