• 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

  • 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 


  • Thursday, March 02, 2017 12:10 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    The painter’s lament

    Whenever someone asks,

    “How did you get from here to there;

    How is it that you saw the possibilities?”

    it’s easiest to tell the truth —

    I honestly don’t know:

    I sat and stared

    and then followed my heart;

    I let my chosen colors do their work,

    and tried to balance light and dark;

    to allow it to become

    whatever it was born to be.

    Creating art

    is a quite bit like parenting,

    except —

    the outcome’s slightly more

    in your control.

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

    To view her work, visit 


  • Monday, January 02, 2017 10:58 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

  • Monday, January 02, 2017 10:34 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Divine Ammunition: The Sculpture of Al Farrow at Bellevue Arts Museum

    Over 50 years ago when Eisenhower gave that speech, violence had reached a tipping point in the United States, and across the globe. World War II brought death and human conflict at a scale the world had never seen before. Nearly 70 million people died as a result of that war. As a result of human violence and combat. At that particular historical moment, making guns had become more important—and more financially lucrative—than ever before. 

    We make guns, but what do guns make? Do they make violence, or do they make stability and structure? And who decides? These are just a few of the questions Al Farrow asks with his show, “Divine Ammunition,” on now at the Bellevue Arts Museum. Farrow meticulously crafts sculptures of religious structures and devotional objects—scale models of mosques and cathedrals, along with menorahs, reliquaries, and icons—all out of guns and ammunition. For him, guns make religion.

    A scholar of both religion and war, Farrow has long been interested in the historical connection between violence and religion. In “Divine Ammunition,” he seems most interested in the forms and objects that emerge from the two—objects like guns and reliquaries. Bullets and flying buttresses. Church domes and Uzis. In Farrow’s work, the forms of violence and religion become almost interchangeable. You might not notice that the dome of one of Farrow’s mosques is made entirely out of intricately arranged copper bullets, or that a cathedral buttress is actually a handgun. But look closely, and the munitions reveal themselves.

    As Farrow reminds us, it is in objects that we as people come to locate intangible concepts like war and religion. Violence lives in our guns, the tools we use to inflict it. Religion resides in cathedrals and mosques, the structures we build to house it. Religious identity lives in menorahs and reliquaries, the devotional objects we use to invoke it. 

    With his work, however, Farrow questions all of this. For him, guns are no longer tools of violence, but instead are used as building materials. They become the foundation of the synagogue or mosque. They are creative rather than destructive. Stripped of their firepower and force, Farrow’s spent ammunition and dismembered guns are left only to their forms, becoming bronze circles and cylinders, miniaturized roof tiles and building columns. 

    Of course, we know that guns don’t make violence and churches don’t make religion. Humans make these things. It is we who are responsible for our technological advancements, for our industrial developments. It is we humans who figured out how to make double-barreled shotguns and double barrel vaults. And it is we who determine to what use these objects and forms are put.

    Hearing Farrow talk about the process of acquiring his materials—spent ammunition and hundreds of thousands of guns and munitions parts—one is reminded of this very fact. “I used to be very anti-gun and unsympathetic towards the American gun community,” Farrow notes. “I’ve shifted on that, though.” Now, he says, he is more understanding of the various uses to which armament can be put. “I’ve come to realize,” he says, “that gun culture and gun collecting is not so much about violence.” It’s about the object and the appreciation of its historical and cultural significance. Guns are not so far from antiquities and artifacts in that way. 

    “I am a part of that culture now, gun culture,” Farrow admits. His use—artistic creation—is just one of the many uses to which guns and ammunition can be put. The same object can be an instrument of destruction or of creation. It can kill and it can save. And as Farrow reminds us, creation and destruction will always be intimately intertwined—it’s impossible to have one without the other. The danger, though, is when we cloak that destruction and violence in the shroud of something generative, like religion. Because, as Eisenhower reminded us so many years ago, military strength can bring great power and possibility. But the real power comes in how we choose to use 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

    “Divine Ammunition: The Sculpture of Al Farrow” is on view through May 7 at the Bellevue Arts Museum, located at 510 Bellevue Way NE in Bellevue, Washington. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11 A.M. to 6 P.M. For more information, visit

  • Monday, January 02, 2017 10:03 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Tabaimo: Utsutsushi utsushi at the Asian Art Museum in Seattle, Washington

    The fascinating exhibition by the world renowned artist Tabaimo at the Asian Art Museum tells us that the world is not what it seems. Behind mundane objects, in a clothing chest, in a toilet, in a bedroom, lurk other forces, other realities, other creatures, even escape to magic spaces. 

    The exhibition, which the artist also curated, includes four new videos that respond to works in the Asian Art Museum’s permanent collection. Tabaimo invented the tricky title of her show, “Utsutsushi utsushi” based on the underlying idea of “utsushi” copying or studying a master artist’s work in order to not only understand it, but to grasp its deeper spiritual meaning, to connect across time to it and to honor it. She has turned the concept into an active verb, as becomes clear in viewing the exhibition. She does not just explore the style of the historic master works that she chose for the exhibition, she expands on them, imagining a narrative that takes place inside or beside, or above or below them. 

    Tabaimo’s work perfectly suits the present moment: uncertain, unsteady, unsafe, unpredictable, but it is also deeply poetic. The artist began by paying homage to her mother, Tabata Shion, a ceramic artist, who inspired the unusual title of the exhibition. Tabaimo’s mother practices “utsushi” as a ceramic artist. The exhibition begins with her work juxtaposed to her master, the artist Ogata Kenzan from the Edo period in Japan.

    Tabaimo practiced her own “utsutsushi“ with specific historical works in the collection of the Asian Art Museum, all of which are included in the exhibition. The most straightforward example, and perhaps the thematic heart of the exhibition (although it appears in the last gallery), is Tabaimo’s video in response to the Museum’s unique early seventeenth century six part panel “Crows.” The original awes us with its brilliantly conceived “murder” of crows (as a group of crows is called). The artist discovered that the crows were so subtly drawn, that she actually had to trace them for her own work, “Crow.” In her video a gold wall opens up into a receding space, as crows fly into it, or land above it. But crows also pop up, and fly into several of the other works in the exhibition. You can look out for them. 

    For another “utsutsushi” her point of departure are two hanging scrolls of “Dragonflies” and “Butterflies,” detailed naturalistic ink drawings and verses, the result of collaboration among over 70 late Edo artists. Tabaimo “liberated” the dragonflies and butterflies in her video, formatted like the scrolls. Now they fly free and disappear from view. But she explored the original work carefully as she recreated the creatures. 

    At the beginning of the exhibition, she pairs two 16th century Chinese wooden chests and a video called “Two,” 2016, which appears on the back of a transparent wall behind the chests, so that their silhouette frames the video. Here we see what I referred to in the beginning, the forces lurking behind the mundane. Initially we see a chest full of bed covers, but then an arm reaches out from a pillow! And it goes on from there. I won’t spoil the experience with too much detail. 

    “The Obscuring Moon” develops a narrative for a shadowy woman who barely appears behind a screen in an original print by Hiroshige. Tabaimo places her in the center of an elusive story. But she carefully emulates  Hiroshige’s colors, and we are treated to a roomful of his prints in order to enjoy that connection. 

    Another reference to women is “aitaisei-josei,” a story of suicide, based on a  seventeenth century story and a modern novel, “Villain,” by Yoshida Shuichi. Tabaimo creates connections between Ohatsu and Kaneko Miho, the main female characters of the two books, through metaphor and symbolism. 

    Among the pre-existing work, each surprises us in a different way. Most amusing is the “Public ConVENience,” 2006, a three walled walk in with projections of life size Japanese public toilets. The characters come and go with many unexpected actions.  

    “Hanabi-ra” gives us what appears to be a representation of a man covered in flowered tattoos and “haunted house,” on loan from the Asia Society, is a large screen city scape with unpredictable scale shifts, and narrative jolts. Tabaimo utsushi’d the spirit of the voyeuristic aerial cityscape from a 17th century Japanese painting that details the daily lives of city dwellers. We see the original example in the next room. 

    This exhibition is another Asian Art Museum coup, a cutting edge artist in our wonderful “other” museum in Volunteer Park. Just to give you an idea of Tabaimo’s status, she represented Japan in 2011, at the Venice Biennale, and her work is in the collection of Asia Society in New York.  

    Don’t fail to go, as the Asian Art Museum will be closing when it is over, for two years of remodeling and expansion, its first real remodel since it was built in 1933.

    Susan Noyes Platt, Ph.D.

    Susan Noyes Platt, Ph.D. is an art historian, art critic, curator, and activist. She continues to address politically engaged art on her blog

    “Tabaimo: Utsutsushi utsushi” is on view through February 26, Wednesday and Friday-Sunday, 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. and Thursday from 10 A.M. to 9 P.M. at the Asian Art Museum, located in Volunteer Park at 1400 East Prospect Street in Seattle, Washington. For more information, visit

  • Monday, January 02, 2017 10:01 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Simple as It Is

    The heart is lopsided as a grin

    first thing Monday morning

    at a patch of sun on the floor

    simple as it is

    barefoot being stepped in


    and at the sink the hands make

    a leaky old cup drinking from

    that wets your chin

    dribbling down your shirt front


    that only acts like it’s broken

    holding every drop you need

    and then some

    Paul Hunter

    Paul Hunter is a Seattle poet whose most recent farming book is “Stubble Field,” (2012, Silverfish Review Press).  These pieces hint at another farming collection—“One More Spring.” He has an autobiography in prose poems—“Clownery”—due in January, and is still a fair shade tree mechanic, if he works on a car with no brains.

  • Monday, January 02, 2017 10:00 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Farming for the Answer

    Given time and space alone

    in soft dirt afoot in the field

    after the known round of chores

    what is there more could you want


    than be paid like a king when

    even now asked your opinion

    there settles a silence a pause

    as the living things of your world


    each lift their slow grazing heads

    wave all their long greening arms

    gather themselves in your presence

    and wait for the answer to come

    Paul Hunter

    Paul Hunter is a Seattle poet whose most recent farming book is “Stubble Field,” (2012, Silverfish Review Press).  These pieces hint at another farming collection—“One More Spring.” He has an autobiography in prose poems—“Clownery”—due in January, and is still a fair shade tree mechanic, if he works on a car with no brains.

  • Monday, January 02, 2017 9:57 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Living on as if a Burden

    Toward the end of every living thing

    ripe a moment beautiful that

    decay sweetens in toward the pit


    that on the way sheds perfection

    until the skin scarcely matters

    where reluctant or fierce to be done


    its age that has borne the crumbling

    that tells mostly gone what has been

    falls away saying so far so good

    Paul Hunter

    Paul Hunter is a Seattle poet whose most recent farming book is “Stubble Field,” (2012, Silverfish Review Press).  These pieces hint at another farming collection—“One More Spring.” He has an autobiography in prose poems—“Clownery”—due in January, and is still a fair shade tree mechanic, if he works on a car with no brains.

  • Monday, January 02, 2017 9:56 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    It Matters

    Hardly anyone writes thank you notes anymore. But there are two I’ve been meaning to send. And I’ve learned to identify the feeling inside that knows when it’s not okay to send an email or text. I know there are people who say it doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t think that’s true. What’s true is that it’s easy to stop remembering what matters. 

    It’s not like I believe there is nothing like the good ol’ days, I don’t. In too many ways they weren’t. But each day I’m trying (vigorously!) to balance my embrace of change with the unwise dark, dark side of embracing too much of it, blindly. 

    I was twenty-three when I taught my first beginning adult dance class. It was an effort and a half to keep myself from moving too fast, but I always enjoyed the challenge. For recital, I chose music slow enough for students with less experience to gracefully make their way through. 

    Except, clearly, it was still too fast.

    Two of my students, Leslie and Chen, were the best sports and the worst…well, the only good thing you could say about their technique was that they tried. At recital time, I choreographed a simple sequence for them, cross walks in a circle, but who was I kidding? It would be cute for children to do this, but it was 50/50 whether people would love adults for trying, or drop their heads in pity. 

    As recital drew nearer, Leslie and Chen’s smiles tightened to mirror what they were feeling inside. When I asked if they’d like to run the ticket sales at the door instead of performing, I could tell they were as relieved as I was. “We’re all best at something,” Leslie said with her arm around Chen’s shoulders. 

    One evening I heard Leslie say to Chen, “You say she’s your friend, but when I hear you talk to her, you don’t even sound like yourself.” It was such an intimate yet dicey thing to say, I remember turning my back to give them privacy.

    “What do you mean?,” Chen said.

    “Like when you said you thought Aaron (the only man in class) was weird, just because she thinks so, when you don’t even feel that way. You love Aaron.”

    “I don’t like to make her mad,” Chen said.

    “So what if she does get mad, if it’s how you really feel? At this age, you decide one of two things, to tell the truth the way you see it. Or tell hers.” 

    I didn’t know if Leslie was referring to Chen’s mother, sister, daughter, or friend, but I guess I no longer needed to know. 

    “I’m not like you. I don’t need to be right all the time,” Chen said.

    “No, but does that mean you need to be invisible?” 

    Chen walked away. A few seconds later, she turned back to say, “You coming?” But her voice was warm when she said it. I have a photo of them taken at recital. Chen’s arms are clasped around Leslie’s back. She is peeking out from under Leslie’s right shoulder and they are both laughing. The look on their faces told me things about friendship I was just beginning to understand: that there is dependable honesty between friends…if we are lucky. 

    I suppose there are some conversations you never forget, and don’t ever want to. Leslie and Chen prepared me for a lifetime of risky truth-telling, one of the most difficult demands of all on a friendship. In that sense, they turned out to be my teachers.

    And what’s lovely is that I finally get to thank them properly. Pen to paper. Next to nothing on my part, but it matters.

    Marylou Sanelli

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

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