Happiness Mapped on Their Faces, Curiosity the Twinkling Eye’s Course

I always carry too much on my person. A computer, books, snacks, bike tools – Coat checks are designed for people like me. When I arrived at the Frye, I went to the desk to deposit my bag and was informed that all the galleries were closed for transition. Disappointed, I made my way to the exit and stopped. I stopped because I noticed a sound. A sound I had heard when I had walked in, but quickly dismissed. Ignoring the woman at the coat check I followed the sound over to the education wing. I heaved a sigh of relief in cue to the ambient sound of an arrhythmic glockenspiel, I had found the exhibit I had come to see. I often feel like exhibitions that spring from educational or programming endeavors go overlooked – and though quite exceptional in content and presentation this one was no exception to pre-conception.

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Happiness Mapped on Their Faces, Curiosity the Twinkling Eye’s Course – The Exhibition now on view in the Education Wing the Frye Art Museum in Seattle – challenges notions of conventional cartography by asking artists and amateur cartographers to map the architectural and cultural topography of Seattle. As part of their summer studio art class, Geocaching and Art in the Public Realm, Taught by Susie J. Lee, students were asked to participate in seven artist-conceived caches exploring issues of site-specificity, fiction and rehistoricization, psychogeography, and globalism. Students utilized GPS technology to locate these caches and, under the conceptual guidance of artists like Harrel Fletcher and Oliver Herring, engaged in a number of collaborative works. These works called upon each participant to play a critical role in authoring the cultural geography of their experience to find the soul of the city among its people and places. From charting the course of a balloon around a windy city to composing a street corner soundscape on a glockenspiel – students documented every step of their process.

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This source material was skillfully distilled into a series of videos, photographs, and sounds recordings used throughout the exhibition alongside descriptions of the artist’s intentions. The documentation was exhibited in a way that engaged me as a visitor not only in the process of the piece but its overall intention as a scaleable example of the meta-geographies that compose spatial understanding. The display was simple and modest, using small video screens and headsets for audio, with the exception of a unifying audio-sphere of distant pinging sounds taken from one of the pieces. The sound added to the whimsical nature of the exhibition and primed the visitor for a fresh perspective on the relationships between people and places and giuded me through the exhibition. As a visitor, I too was encouraged to participate in the exhibition by joining in on the geo-caching game. After signing up for a free ground speak account – was able to go out and find the artist caches and do the projects myself, bringing the exhibition experience outside the museum and into a broader cultural consciousness.

This modest exhibition was the clever work of Yoko Ott, a Seattle-based independent curator who, in my opinion, successfully orchestrated a multilayered experience for both the participants of the summer program and  visitors to the exhibition. As a visitor I was invited into every stage of production and left a desire to become more actively engauged with the spaces and people that compose the discrete cultural geography of the city in which I live.

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I'm also a contributor to the Henry Art Gallery's Hankblog and editor/producer of the Gallery's ArtCasts.

I'm currently working as a Wallace Foundation Fellow with emp|sfm to foster a new network for the NorthWest all ages music & arts community. Its called The Sound Board and you should totally check it out.

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