Inheriting a collection of objects that is evidence of someone’s obsession can be a gift, a burden, a responsibility. Ultimately, one must ask if the the obsession itself has been inherited. So say the artists behind wait, where am i?, an installation opening at 11th & Commerce on Oct. 9, with support from Spaceworks Tacoma. Jessica Bender, Craig Snyder, Tania Kupczak and Ruth Marie Tomlinson are four artists whose fascinating inherited collections come with “the desire to re-catalog as a transformative act.” In the process of re-categorization, they explore the nature of their own obsessions.
Gig Harbor-based artist Jessica Bender saved 18 hefty, meticulously organized photo albums and ephemera from the trash after learning a deceased family acquaintance was survived by no other family member. The albums record the lives and world travels of one Mr. and Mrs. Perry, of Mercer Island. Bender speculates that their voluminous documentation grew out of a time, pre-Internet, when the world was less readily accessible, both physically and imaginatively. The photos and ephemera (including maps, pamphlets and cocktail napkins) “not only served as memorabilia but also a form of proof. Proof that they were there.” Bender, a preparator at the Tacoma Art Museum, is translating the collection into a form that will enable the lives of the Perry’s to be celebrated through the experience of others.
Tania Kupczak is a Seattle artist and filmmaker who makes work about weather and the emotional content of color. A Midwestern transplant, she spent her early teenage years raiding her father’s 200-plus volume collection of 1950’s-1970’s sci-fi paperbacks. For wait, where am i?, she is photographing the books’ covers and cataloging the images based on a self-invented system that is equal parts nostalgia and formal composition. “The overarching theme is about contact with intelligent alien life and alternative societal structures,” says Kupczak. “I am going to arrange the photo prints in a variety of configurations, some based on memories and emotional criteria and others based on formal elements, such as dominant color.” In her freelance life, Kupczak creates animations and title sequences, as well as production design for film.
Ruth Tomlinson is a Northwest artist who owns an extensive series of snapshots of Mt. Rainier, all taken by her mother. “She took snapshots obsessively, but none so obsessively as those of Mt. Rainier. The earliest photos I have are from 1935. She was probably 13 years old,” says Tomlinson. “These first little 1″ x 1.5” prints are in her scrapbook with childish titles: The Lonesome Fir, Find the Bird, The Mountain that was God. She went on to photograph the same four to five views of the mountain with a succession of cameras until her last photos just a few years ago.” She muses, “Perhaps diary keeping is close to what my mother was doing with the mountain. An obsessive act of preservation. And now that I am left with this record, I am wondering what is my role.” Tomlinson describes translating the iconic mountain shots into a new format as a process of understanding the compulsion to repeat the same act of documentation over a lifetime.
The son of a ship captain, Tacoma-born Craig Snyder inherited his father’s obsession with tugboat spotting. He has vivid childhood memories of his father walking “the endless rafts of logs with his spiked boots as they were towed behind the Shelley Foss.” The elder Snyder’s schedule involved long stretches of living on a boat: “Because his absence was often more noticeable than his presence, knowing which boat he was on provided a certain level of understanding and comfort.” For wait, where am i?, Snyder will create one drawing each day based on the path of a Foss tug as it travels through Puget Sound. The abstract drawings, made of flowing forms based on daily satellite data as well as personal observation, are surprisingly lyrical. The artist says the documentation “serves to re-inform my understanding of my father’s life, and perhaps more importantly, to locate myself within it.” Snyder is an installation artist and adjunct faculty member at Cornish College of the Arts.
The four artists behind wait, where am i? plan to alter and expand their pieces every two weeks during the course of the installation, their goal being for the art works to dialogue with each other as they shift during the installation period. wait, where am i?, 11th & Commerce, Oct. 9, 2010 – Jan. 5, 2011. http://www.wait-whereami.com