Saturday, July 25, 2009

Seattle Behind Fences

Seattle has a wonderful waterfront area outside of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that was designed by five artists working collaboratively to create, essentially, community.The most famous part of this work is called the "Sound Garden," which is essentially a large clumping of wind-activated tone-pipes surrounding benches where you can sit and listen to the music of the breeze.
The area also includes a walking path lined with thick bushes of blackberries and wild roses.
Bridges bearing quotations of Moby Dick span the occasional stream.
A dock was built to allow boaters on Lake Washington to pull up to the art area and perhaps enjoy a picnic at the lookout point.
All in all it is an idyllic setting, perfect for an afternoon stroll or a moonlight picnic. Unfortunately, since 9/11 the area has been given a security threat code "yellow" and has been fenced off. To enter, you have to come during weekday business hours and pass through a check point where you show identification and may be subject to search.
To be fair, I don't believe that the US Government thinks the Sound Garden itself is a terrorist target, but rather NOAA on whose property it is built. Still, what was designed to be a place of beauty and gathering for the people of Seattle has been completely abandoned. Meanwhile, teems of families play and walk their dogs in the park on just the other side of the fence, and boats float just off shore.

Contrast this with another Seattle community art project behind a fence, "23rd and Union." This project takes as its subject the corner of 23rd and Union Street, the center a formerly predominately African American neighborhood that is now gentrifying.
A team of artists worked to collect thoughts and stories from passersby about the intersection. Then, in a bulldozed and fenced-in lot awaiting construction, the artists constructed "a series of five improvised structures built using found materials. They suggest shelter in what can be a turbulent intersection." Part of these structures include giant portraits of some of the original people interviewed.
Now, when visitors walk past the intersection, they see signs encouraging them to call a hotline.
When they call, they encounter an automated and interactive voice-messaging system which first asks whether or not they are at the corner of 23rd and Union. If they respond yes, it gives them the option to either listen other people's stories and thoughts about the intersection, or to record their own for others to hear. Prompts include, among others, "Whose Corner is This," "What Needs to Happen," and "Rap/Pray/Sing."
Through the creative use of technology both old and new, this installation is managing to honor and create place and identity in a changing neighborhood despite being behind a fence.
The website and the hotline both work--check them out!

1 comment:

MFConnection said...

A powerful contrast. The local NOAA boss needs to be jolted into doing what it takes to restore the park to the people it was designed to serve. In Boulder, the NOAA building up on the mountain above the city has an open garden full of attractive and appealing exhibits.