Gretchen Bennett Builds Tacoma from a Kit

Seattle-based artist Gretchen Bennett sifts the history, the musical culture, the streets and even the meteorological patterns of Tacoma for artistic grist. Her fourth local investigation in three years has produced the site-specific installation, Window #4: Tacoma, on view at the Woolworth Building through September 24. “I’ve had Tacoma on my mind for the last couple of years, mostly for its rawness, its feeling of authenticity – it seems to be quite intact, untouched, in a fundamental way,” she says.

In January, Bennett’s installation Community World Theatre was exhibited at Howard House in Seattle. That piece delved into the world of Tacoma’s eponymous, all-ages punk music club of the 1980s, where Nirvana and other (then) underground bands played. Window #4: Tacoma is a similarly gritty and enigmatic work structured around a Hudson’s Bay blanket and a careful arrangement of found wood, plastic sheeting and mirror relics, all saturated by a warm but artificial glow. The objects are of indeterminate origin, forming a link between past and present history. The scene unfolds in the moment when “the business day is done and the streets are empty or transforming as the nightlife begins.”

Can you feel my love buzz? (Last Days), by Gretchen Bennett

Bennett says the work was inspired by Tacoma’s rich milieu of history and architectural styles, as well as by the overcast light of the South Sound (her interest in volatile climatic activity and its effect on creativity led to a residency in Iceland in 2009).

Bennett made the key decision to have Sierra Stinson, a Seattle artist and professional window dresser, take the components she compiled for Window #4 and assemble them independently because “I wanted to create an installation that felt true to the idea of art existing in this strip of space poised between street and interior.” She created a “kit” of objects for Stinson to work from that referenced Tacoma’s past and present, its street-level activity; and “established a consistent narrative thread.” Stinson went on to create, in her own words, “the world where this blanket would exist.”

Community World Theatre (detail), by Gretchen Bennett

Bennett’s work can currently be seen in the exhibit, Kurt, at the Seattle Art Museum, through September 6, 2010. In August, she is off to Brooklyn for a residency with the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Window #4: Tacoma, Woolworth Building, 11th & Broadway, through September 24, 2010;

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