On a breezy overcast day in Seattle, I find myself winding my way through the city, first by light rail and then by street car, watching the topography of buildings rise and fall. A short walk from the Terry & Thomas streetcar stop is MadArt Studio, an experimental installation art space which has recently been transformed by Dream the Combine, an architectural duo who teamed up with artist Clayton Binkley to create Lure, a site-specific “intervention” of sorts. The block is populated by low, turn-of-the (previous) century buildings converted to restaurants or work-spaces and surrounded by their taller, more modern descendants.
Lure inhabits the MadArt Studio space entirely, inside and out, and when I come upon it, the wide glass doors of the space are flung open to reveal an intriguing blue ramp, inviting me to points unknown. The angle of the ramp, just off of the sidewalk, suggests something almost magical. I am tempted to mutter “curious and curiouser” to myself as I enter. The Combine has situated several welded metal ramps at odd angles inside the building, which draw a viewer into and up through the space both physically and visually. Both this structure and the building are a vibrant shade of blue because they are wrapped in a silky, mesh-like material of that color. Passing by on the opposite side of the street, one might assume that the building was under construction. In fact, as much labor as clearly went into the creation of this work, it’s general feeling is more one of hypotheses than conclusion.
The space is inviting and whimsical, but it takes all of half a minute to traverse. It’s best appreciated in pauses, when you turn and look back- at the street from where you came, at the way the light and your positioning in space is altered, and at the way you almost float within the structure. The translucency of the mesh and the skeletal metal structure interplay with the building’s ambient light to create new vistas with each step.
This work has plenty of forebears and contemporaries. On a grand scale, it’s simple to make the connection between Lure and Christo and Jean-Claude’s wrapped buildings, and as a Houstonian it certainly brought to mind Dan Havel and Dean Ruck’s inverted or otherwise perforated structures. Artists of this ilk coax us to think about the meaning and purpose of buildings, a question that is especially relevant in Seattle in the waning days of the 2010s. In the mind of Seattleites, physical space is perhaps the key issue. A quick Google search reveals, for a bit of context, that the city of Houston encompasses 669 square miles. Seattle, however, jammed between lakes, mountains, and the Puget Sound, envelops (rounding up) about 84. This scarcity of space is driving all kinds of conversations about buildings– their historical value, their value as housing, and who gets to use them to what ends. The dearth of buildings is a major factor in soaring housing prices and homelessness. In the art world, it causes a dispersion of studio spaces and artists to cheaper, decentralized areas.
A sign outside of the Mad Art space asks the cheeky question “feeling blue?” in reference to the sculpture’s hue. All of these issues of space and Seattle’s need to grapple with its building stock in new ways (is it too much to hope that housing justice might be considered?) can leave one feeling quite emotionally blue. Sculptures like Lure, and spaces like MadArt, which open portals to wonder and turn conventional building uses inside-out, may be just the creative engine necessary to re-imagine these boxes we inhabit, if only we will pause and take in a variety of perspectives.