Thursday, July 27, 2006


Tonight, the child and I visited the Henry Art Gallery. We had two destinations upon our agenda: (1) Maya Lin's Systematic Landscapes sculptures and (2) James Turrell's Light Reign skyscape sculpture.

You are not allowed to photograph in the galleries, so we had to do some low-resolution undercover work. You can always visit the Henry Art Gallery website if you want the official photos, or you can enjoy our "guerilla" photo of 2x4 Landscape. We had to avoid quite a few security cameras as well as docents with walkie-talkies and clipboards. Fortunately, I was still dressed in work attire, minus the tie, and the child put on the charm and increased our collective cute factor. Then I held the camera against my torso and took a few clandestine shots.

2x4 Landscape was my favorite piece of Maya Lin's work. It consists of 65,000 2x4 boards of varying lengths stood on end to form a topographic relief of a hill. You can walk around the edges of the entire structure. Each angle gives you a different view of the hill. It is a 50 foot by 50 foot square that rises to about twelve feet in height. You could also view it from above on one side of the mezzanine level. My other favorite set of her sculptures was the Bodies of Water Series that consisted of Baltic birch plywood topographic reliefs of the Caspian, Black, and Red Seas.

I was also quite excited to see the James Turrell Skyscape. The lower portion of the oval room and the bench that runs along the interior wall are dark, richly colored hardwood slats. The upper wall is painted an off-white and has a small shelf that hides interior lights that give the walls a moody whitewash effect. The ceiling aperture is an oval that opens upon the sky. It has a dome that can be closed during inclement weather, which then provides artificial light. The effect this evening was spectacular, with the cloudless, eggshell blue oval of sky as a seamless part of the room. I found it difficult to even see where the aperture and the sky met. James Turrell has built other skyscapes but I have never viewed one until now. A great experience.

What spurred some of my interest in these artistic and architectural sculptures are some of my recent readings. The first piece that helped me discover some new paths of thinking about my environment and how I interact with it was a two-part article that ran in two consecutive issues of The Believer. "Thirteen Ways of Seeing Nature in L.A." by Jenny Price examines the L.A. River and its 51-mile path through the city of L.A., and how some people are helping to change it from a glorified concrete drainage ditch to a multi-use green space in a city sorely lacking in adequate parks. The second piece consisted of three short essays by poet Lisa Robertson in The Clear Cut Future by Clear Cut Press. Operating under the moniker The Office for Soft Architecture, Robertson uses the languages of art and architecture to reveal the world around her. In these works, also found in her book Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture, she examines the Himalayan blackberry as used in ornamental gardening ("A Common Architectural Decorative Motif in the Temperate Mesophytic Region: Rubus Amerniacus"); the use of color in architecture and army uniforms ("How to Colour"); and meditates upon the use of scaffolding when working on buildings ("Doubt and the History of Scaffolding"). They are fascinating glimpses of the dialogue that occurs between us and our environment. The third piece, and perhaps most new for me, was my haphazard discovery of a locally published journal, Arcade: Architecture/Design in the Northwest. The summer 2006 issue is primarily concerned with the concept of the flâneur, the city wanderer. And, this is what the child and I have become on our "adventure days." We have taken to wandering the streets of Puyallup and Tacoma, not to buy anything, but to take low-resolution pictures of things and events that catch our fancy, as well as observing people, buildings, and "happenings" around us.

This wandering, and reveling in viewing art and archictectural designs and motifs, has allowed us to view some interesting things. We have watched construction on new condominiums in downtown Puyallup, been at the edge of a massive bicycle road race, discovered some quaint little retail shops, looked at Mickey Mouse stuffed dolls in antique stores, visited various parks and play areas, and walked through the building and campus of the Univerity of Washington Tacoma just for fun. We have looked at siamangs, Chihuly glass art, and homeless youth making out on the sidewalk. We have drank coffee, eaten bunny graham crackers, and sipped water from various drinking fountains. We have taken pictures of trees, public art, buildings, garbage receptacles, graffiti, playground equipment, furniture, fixtures, clouds, and cars. And, ultimately, the reading, reflection, and wandering led us to the Henry Art Gallery, a place I have always wanted to visit, where we interacted with art and architecture that intrigued us and then took some photographs of it.

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