Noodleworks, 802 Sixth S., 652-0636 7- 11 p.m. Fri., May 17; 6- 11 p.m. Sat., May 18
IS THERE something unique, remarkable, or distinctive happening in the Seattle art world? Is there a movement, a tone, a vision—something that sets apart the artists working here today? Or perhaps some kind of aesthetic weight they've jointly, critically amassed? Check out "LAVA 2002" this weekend and judge for yourself.
At the Noodleworks building in the International District, home to several floors of lofts and studios plus a basement noodle factory, 38 Seattle-based artists are offering a snapshot of the local art temperament. Organized, curated, and run by three of the exhibiting artists, "LAVA 2002" is a kind of declaration of the local scene's vitality and importance, the name intended as a metaphor, cheesy as it sounds. "A lot of the artists were saying, 'We're ready to erupt out of Seattle,'" says video artist and co-curator Jennifer West. "'We want to show on a larger, international scale.'" To that end, "LAVA 2002" coincides with an event that may be even more important, and certainly more enduring: the publication of a full-color coffee-table book about the exhibition, with profiles of each of the participating artists.
"Some of these artists have probably never even been in a catalog," says West. "It's a way to get the word out, to suggest to people that maybe there's something happening in Seattle. People in other places can read about what you do."
West and her colleagues raised $10,500 from local benefactors to publish the book, which was produced by Henry Art Gallery associate curator Rhonda Howard. "I think it's a significant group of artists and worthy of documentation," says Howard, who wrote an introductory essay. "The artists now have something to send to curators, dealers, and collectors."
Both the book and the exhibit include some relatively established names (such as Charles Krafft and Claudia Fitch), some who are nearly unknown, and many in between. Most of them work outside the commercial gallery circuit, participating in the city's alternative, artist-run spaces, like SOIL and the Pound Gallery. "Our galleries are kind of staid," says Deborah Paine, who coordinates Microsoft's art collection and who personally contributed funds to the book. "You have to look to other venues to see what's really going on."
In her essay, Howard expresses impatience with the fact that Northwest art continues to be associated mostly with the "mystic" painters of the 1950s and '60s. "While this artistic heritage is undeniably important," she writes, "the time has come for the rest of the world to move beyond the old school and take a look at new art from the Northwest. . . . Important art is happening in Seattle right now." Howard does not attempt to characterize the "LAVA" artists as a whole or group them into a category, but she says there are "a number of impulses happening" and she points to several themes in the work: manipulation of the body, unexpected collisions of different elements, and virtual worlds, among others.
At Noodleworks, some of the creations will be "site specific"—installations in the bathroom, video cameras in the closets, and so forth. "We encouraged people to react to the space specifically," says West. But you've only got two days to see the results. Since the show is run entirely by artist volunteers, staffing it for a month is out of the question. "And there's something kind of nice about doing a short show," says West. "There's a certain momentum in it."