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  • Sunday, July 02, 2017 12:12 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    I have a confession. At the time of this writing, I have not seen “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” at the Seattle Art Museum. In fact, I’ve never seen Kusama’s work in a museum or gallery. 


    And yet, I have seen it. The images of Kusama’s work precede her. They’re everywhere: I’ve seen them in my art history books, on the Internet, in the barrage of promotional materials from SAM over the last few months. Oh, and of course, on Instagram.


    Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms, the artworks for which she has become best known, are a selfie-lover’s dream come true. The rooms are fully immersive spaces where visitors enter one or a few at a time, close the door behind them, and are surrounded on all sides by mirrors. Often, the spaces are filled with sculptural objects like her signature polka dot pumpkins or stuffed tubers. Once inside, these intimate spaces can simulate a feeling of being in the infinite (or so I’ve been told). One of my friends even described his first time in an Infinity Room as a “cosmic experience.” 


    Kusama made her first Infinity Mirror Room in 1965. And she’s continued making them. Today, a kind of frenetic craze has built up around them. Kusama is also a prolific painter, sculptor, performance, and video artist, but right now, her Infinity Rooms are all the rage.


    When the exhibit was at the Hirshhorn in Washington, D.C., earlier this year, the museum broke all kinds of attendance records, with 32,500 visitors in the first week alone. In Seattle, the buzz has been building for months, and when advance tickets for the SAM show went on sale last month, they sold out in less than 24 hours.


    What’s the draw? What is it about these Infinity Rooms that’s getting people to stand in line for hours to get inside one of Kusama’s mirrored rooms, knowing they might only be allowed 20 seconds once they’re in? Why the hype?


    I think the answer has something to do with social media, and a lot to do with Instagram. It’s not a stretch to say that Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms have become an Internet sensation. Search the hashtags #yayoikusama or #infinityroom and you’ll get over 400,000 posts—hundreds of thousands of selfies and video shorts of people standing in these expansive-looking spaces, surrounded on all sides by sparkling lights or pumpkins and polka dots. Someone at the Hirshhorn even broke one of the pumpkins in an Infinity Room back in February, reportedly because he was distracted while trying to take a selfie. Everyone wants to get their photo inside an Infinity Room. Because let’s face it, they photograph pretty dang well. That’s how Kusama intended it.


    Kusama is known for her embrace of the camera, unabashedly promoting herself and her work through images. Much like her fellow pop artists Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, Kusama has found a popular following that lives outside the traditional boundaries of the art world. Her astute understanding of the powers of publicity has lead to her immense popularity—in 2014, museum attendance records identified her as the most popular artist in the world. Over the course of her 65-year career, Kusama has worked hard to craft an identity that can be easily dispersed and digested in a culture of images.


    Today we often look to images to locate our sense of self-identity, but for Kusama, this duplication and mirroring is a means of melting away the boundaries of self. It is a means of merging with the infinite. In the 1960s, this line of thought had a lot to do with that era’s counterculture movement. Her early performances from that time were just as much about making a political statement as they were about making art. Then, Kusama’s fantasy of a shared body and erasure of individual difference could be read as a means of fighting against the flattening effects of capitalism. “Become one with eternity,” she wrote in 1968 for her first “Self-Obliteration” performance. “Forget yourself. Self-destruction is the only way out…”


    But today, Kusama’s work and the craze for its reproduction in selfies is hitting a different note. Rather than expanding social consciousness or serving as a vehicle for political commentary, it just feels flattening. Her work is being reduced to an image, and not in a good way. Snap a pic inside one of her rooms, post it to your Gram, and watch the likes roll in. Kusama’s Infinity Rooms have become yet another example of our unquenchable thirst for the easily-consumable image.


    But perhaps this is what Kusama’s work has been about all along. From the beginning of her career, she’s been exploring reproduction as a means of self-dissolution. And isn’t that exactly what the selfie is doing today? We are duplicating ourselves, ad infinitum, on that tiny screen on our phones. Our identities have become a series of images and profiles that live on the Internet—on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat. More so than ever before, our conception of self lives in a reproduction, in an image.


    Kusama’s work asks us to examine this reproduction, to question where the reality lies. Her Infinity Rooms beg to be photographed, but as soon as we do, we’re faced with our own reflection—we see ourselves taking a picture. Seducing us with the promise of the perfect selfie, Kusama forces us to catch ourselves in the act of looking. At ourselves.


    Lauren Gallow

    Lauren Gallow is an arts writer, critic, and editor. You can read more of her work at www.desert-jewels.com/writing.


    “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” is on view through September 10 at the Seattle Art Museum, located at 1300 First Avenue in Seattle, Washington. Hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday through Sunday from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M.; Thursdays from 10 A.M. to 9 P.M.; and closed Tuesdays. For more information, call (206) 748-9287 or visit www.seattleartmuseum.org.


  • Sunday, July 02, 2017 12:07 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


  • Sunday, July 02, 2017 11:53 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)



    Then, Only Then


    I tell you something that I’m tired of?


    I’m tired of people whipping out their phone to share photos, no matter how hard I try to ooh and ahh at every image.


    It’s not often that I get to see my friend Lynn. She’s independently wealthy and travels a lot. I’m not, so I work a lot. The last time we met one thing was clear: Lynn’s latest adventure is her phone.


    “Why are you taking pictures of that?” I asked.


    “To share with my daughter.”


    “It’s a salad. Surely she’s seen one before.”


    “To show how pretty it is.” And, like that, she begins to scroll through a million salad photos. Okay, that’s a teeny exaggeration. But there were many. So many, in fact, my first thought was, there’s silly, and then there’s ridiculous. But never mind. Obviously my fatigue is beside the point.


    Or maybe it is the point. 


    Because it prompts the other side of my brain to kick in, the questioning side. My favorite dance teacher once said that most people are followers. “But an artist’s job is to question everything.”


    Honestly, that was all, positively all, she had to say. I’ve questioned copy-cat behavior ever since. It used to drive my mother crazy. “Can’t you just go along with it like everyone else?” she’d say, often. About so many things.


    “No. Mom. I. Cannot.”


    I still believe the best reason to come together for dinner is to ignore the rest of the world, not to include them, and I said as much to Lynn.“Lynn, I want to share stories about what we’re doing and what we want to do next, not listen to pings.” 


    Oh, I miss uninterrupted conversations! We are designed for fewer interruptions, I think.


    Plus, I’ve learned to trust myself when she just knows when something is wrong, when, no matter how much money it makes for some, it’s just not better for everyone, especially people with addictive tendencies. You figure this out pretty quickly when your  friend who’s fought long and hard to give up alcohol (and pot ... and pills) is snapping photos of everything around you instead of talking to you. 


    Finally, she put her phone on the table face up. I reached over and put it face down. “You seem different,” she said. “As much a stickler as ever, but more relaxed.”


    My mind raced, flicking through what she just said for some little prize to make my point. I wish I could say this isn’t stickler behavior, but it is.


    “Well,” I said, “this always-on/never-off thing is too much interference for my stress level, so I leave my phone in my purse. Are all the photos really necessary?”


    “Well, they don’t make me happy, but they don’t make me any less happy.”


    I thought this was such a real thing to say, that it spoke of such personal honesty. 


    “Well, there you go,” I said. “Now that your phone isn’t having more fun than we are, I get to hear you say the kinds of things I love you for.”


    “Oh my God,” she said. “You’re right! I’m brilliant.” 


    Then, then, laughter and intimacy began to catch up to us.


    Mary Lou Sanelli

    Sanelli works as a writer and speaker. Her latest book is A Woman Writing

    For more information, visit www.marylousanelli.com.



  • Monday, May 01, 2017 1:07 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)



    Painting as a Form of Love


    Brush in hand the painter

    first dances in surroundings sees 

    signs of feeling in flight at a touch 

    tracks its motion deep into 

    stirred weedy thickets skips away


    caught in an illusion a denial

    spread flat in its particularity

    what is it he seeks but to reach 

    around blind touch the living

    catch what he can as it flees


    where he makes a quick sketch 

    to find one true line a caress 

    as an entrance to love then

    paints it all out rapidfire

    underpainting all in grays


    that will bury each stroke 

    beneath others he means to refresh 

    with color as each stroke is lifted

    turned wet to the light of its being 

    and coaxed to the surface set free


    —homage to Rob Herlitz




    Paul Hunter 

    Paul Hunter is a poet, farmer, teacher, and shade-tree mechanic. His new book CLOWNERY: In lieu of a life spent in harness, is kind of an autobiography in prose poems.


  • Monday, May 01, 2017 1:05 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)



    Different Time, Same Story


    It’s hard to explain to people today, when it seems that everyone wants to be Italian, that our neighbors once targeted my family. 


    We’d only lived in Connecticut a few weeks. Because, by God, my father wasn’t about to raise his kids in the big, bad apple. And then, in broad daylight, someone painted “DIRTY WOPS!” on our garage door. 


    I think the way in which I perceived myself changed the very moment I saw those words.


    My mother thought it was one of the neighbor kids. I remember her saying something like, “kids do crazy things.”


    I didn’t believe it was a kid at all, but I didn’t argue. Not on your life. My opinion was called talking back. So I kept silent about a certain neighborhood grownup who shook his head whenever our car drove by. Even at my young age, I could detect his contempt for all the European problems he never had to face. And for all the Europeans he did.


    My father has said that imagining the “American dream” was the only thing that got him through the Second World War. But he didn’t carry the streets-paved-in-gold generic illusion. He defined the “dream” as living in a peaceful country. I’ll never forget the look that came over him when he saw the slur on our door, as if part of his dream had been ground out like one of his cigars. As if he’d finally witnessed something he’d been afraid of all along. 


    It was a different time then, of course, when lots of us still believed that the police always did the right thing, and so my father might have pretended to agree with my suggestion to call the police, but he never did. “It’s nothing,” he said, “a joke.” And then he got out the hose and a scrub brush.


    And now I wonder: do we all see what we want to see, or can handle seeing, and make light of the rest just so we don’t have to turn a small but obvious cruelty into something much bigger?


    That night, I heard my dad cry for the first time. I felt his tears would wash me away. I buried my head in my pillow.


    My mother cried too, but I was used to that.


    There was another clue that my father was a little less secure in our new neighborhood than he let on. He likes to say that everybody in this country loves to eat, but nobody wants to farm. He was proud of his garden, yet he planted it in our shady backyard, not in the sunnier front. See, all of the men in our neighborhood wore suits to work. My father left the house in overalls. He still does. 


    And today, with all the renewed discriminatory rhetoric we face, well, I hope something else my dad likes to say is true: this too shall pass. 


    It’s the little memories that have the largest effect.


    I have my reasons for why I didn’t change my name once I married. But the memory of my father scrubbing our garage door is one of the strongest.


    Mary Lou Sanelli

    Sanelli works as a writer and speaker. Her latest book is A Woman Writing. For more information, visit www.marylousanelli.com



  • Thursday, March 02, 2017 1:07 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


  • Thursday, March 02, 2017 12:22 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Ukranian-born American sculptor Alexander Archipenko set out to do the impossible. He sought to represent movement in sculpture. In “Archipenko: A Modern Legacy,” on now at the Frye Art Museum, the artist’s lifelong quest to expand the definitions and possibilities of sculpture raises a larger question about what it means to be an artist. About what an artist’s role in society can be.


    For Archipenko, the role of the artist was one of provocateur. Of driving forward and instigating social change through artistic production. Aligning himself with avant-garde artistic and literary groups quite early on in his career and all through it, Archipenko consistently experimented with what the sculptural form could (and couldn’t) do. 


    Walking through the exhibit at the Frye, which is organized chronologically—(the historian in me rejoices!)—visitors can trace the evolution of these experimentations in his abstract figurative sculptures. The moments where Archipenko really nails it, where the single curve of a hip or outline of a shoulder can suggest the most graceful saunter or the most delicate repose, are made all the more successful when seen next to the drawings and sketches where he was working out these ideas. 


    At the beginning, Archipenko’s more modern, abstract sculptures are juxtaposed against an equal number of works adhering to more classical representations of the human form. A lifelike, white marble sculpture from 1921 effortlessly reads as a figure: the face is abstracted and one arm is truncated, but the all-too-familiar form of the reclining female nude is easy to discern. In case you still had doubts, just read the title: “Reclining.” Case closed.


    Right next to “Reclining,” however, is “Walking” from 1912-18, a bronze sculpture that gestures at the human form, but abstracts and breaks it apart as much as constructing it. Here, Archipenko pushes the boundaries of what signifiers are needed in order for a sculpture to read as “human figure.” A vertical rectangular form at the bottom suggests “leg,” while the hourglass shape above reads “torso,” and the circular form on top suggests “head.” Much like the Cubists with whom he was often associated, Archipenko questions the very forms of representation themselves. “How much can I abstract the shape of the body,” he seems to be asking, “until it no longer reads as human at all?”


    While many of Archipenko’s sculptures walk the line between representation and abstraction, many fall over into pure abstraction, where the human form is hardly recognizable at all. In “Boxing,” the sculpture is so abstract that the title might be the only way to discern what he is representing.


    Forms and masses meld together and are barely readable as two figures dueling. In the middle of the sculpture is a hole—Archipenko’s trademark move. Putting negative space in the middle of a sculpture, the medium that is supposed to be about form and mass. This is what Archipenko is known for: sculpting the void. Representing nothingness. In so doing, Archipenko seems to be asking, “What are we trying to do here, anyway?”


    Because the larger question informing Archipenko’s work is not so much about representation vs. abstraction, positive vs. negative space, movement vs. stasis. It’s about what the artist can do. It’s about how far an artist can push the boundaries of representation, can push the limits of what’s acceptable, and still be understood. 


    Archipenko’s most successful works are the ones where he stretches these limits to their max, reducing the form down to its most essential parts, stripping away the layers of excess. “Torso in Space” from 1935 is nothing more than two curves and a line. But it nevertheless reads as a torso in the clearest, most modern way. Here, Archipenko proves that testing the boundaries of what’s possible can yield highly elegant results.


    We know that the history of Western art is a history of vanguard movements. It is a history of artists pushing the limits of what’s acceptable in art making. We remember those artists who went against the grain, who questioned their culture and tried to critique it in some way. Picasso, Monet, Rodin, Van Gogh, Warhol. We tend to forget it now, but all of these artists were considered radicals in their owntime. Add Archipenko to that list—his experiments in sculptural abstraction parallel that of Brancusi or Boccioni. 


    What Archipenko and the rest of these artists tell us is that the status quo will always be there. There will always be rules and guidelines about what is possible or acceptable, in the world of art and in the larger culture by extension. It’s the role of the artist, the cultural provocateur, to challenge this status quo. To test its limits and possibilities, to experiment and question. Or, in the case of Archipenko, to blow a hole right through the middle of it.


    Lauren Gallow

    Lauren Gallow is an arts writer, critic, and editor. You can read more of her work and learn about her immersive art project “Desert Jewels” at www.desert-jewels.com/writing.


    “Archipenko: A Modern Legacy” is on view through April 30 at the Frye Art Museum, located at 704 Terry Avenue in Seattle, Washington. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11 A.M. to 5 P.M. Admission is always free. For more information, call (206) 622-9250 or visit www.FryeMuseum.org.


  • Thursday, March 02, 2017 12:21 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    Here We Are


    I’m not unlike many professional artists. My work means piecing together a career from teaching, publishing, speaking fees, grants, honorariums, and applying to choreograph in far away places, which satisfies my addiction to traveling, and my love of dancing. Dancers are my mobile community. Wherever I go, here we are.


    I’m in KeriKeri, New Zealand, first studio on a North Island tour.


    And it’s not every day that I get to teach Polynesians, so, quickly as possible, I’m going to write this and press SEND. I’m sitting outside a private home, pilfering the wireless. My lodging doesn’t have internet, possibly what I like best about it. 


    Talia walked into the studio slowly, but I didn’t get the feeling it was because she is bigger than most people, only that she comes from a humid place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and slowly is just how people move due to the heat.


    “I know nothing about your kind of dancing,” she said, “I worry I make fool of myself.” But as soon as she started moving her hips, it didn’t take long to see how there is nothing slow about her dancing.


    “Hula is an amazing dance form,” I whispered to the director.


    “We have a lot of Samoan dancers,” he said. “We had to have our floor reinforced.”


    I liked Talia right away. When I think more about why, I consider all the people who are moving to Seattle lately with lots of money and, oftentimes, airs to match. But Talia has the nature of someone who’s had to work physically hard to earn her place in the world, and I can identify with that.


    “I got the sugar,” is how she put it, meaning she is diabetic and suffering from peripheral edema caused by bad diet and excessive salt and/or sugar intake. A lot of Polynesians, I’ve found, have a hard time giving up Spam for whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.


    I’m fascinated by Talia’s jet black braid winding into a bun on top of her head; by her long skirts in all colors of the rainbow worn by people back home in a parade maybe, but not out and about, not in Seattle anyway…except maybe in Fremont; by the way she places her hand in front of her mouth as if trying to hide her laughter because she naturally wants to laugh off her errors more than the rest of us. What she does next is rub one hand over her stomach while the other rubs the small of her back, as if she is literally trying to rub out the mistake. It’s the funniest thing.


    We talked about her sons who went to America to serve in the military; how she had her first baby at fifteen, nine others after. Nine! “Catholic, that’s why,” she said.


    While the director is speaking, Talia says softly, “Fa’afafine,” raising her eyebrows. Later, she explained how Samoan’s don’t believe there is any such thing as “homosexual.” Fa’afafine is simply a third gender, well accepted and “celebrated in my culture,” she said, just as a stripe of sunlight washed over the tattoo of a gecko slithering up her thigh.


    No one could have choreographed the effect any better.


    Mary Lou Sanelli

    Sanelli’s latest book is “A Woman Writing.” She is speaking at Town Hall Seattle and joined by dancers from Cornish College of the Arts on April 27, 2017, 7:30 P.M. 

    For more information, visit www.marylousanelli.com.



  • Thursday, March 02, 2017 12:12 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)



    Art’s challenge


    The sacred challenge of art — even graffiti —

     is to remind us of our commonality;

     that whatever our gender, race, or creed, we share so much:

     eyes to weep as well as see — or look away;

     ears to listen or close; mouths to smile or curl in disgust;

     arms to hold, resist, or fight; hearts to love or wound…



    Diane Walker is a poet, artist, and actress living in the Northwest. 

    To view her work, visit www.facebook.com/contemplativephotography 

    or www.contemplativephotography.com.


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