Buried beneath the glass-and-concrete edifices of Tacoma lie traditionally sacred grounds, loci of historical importance submerged by modern structures and urban rhythms. One of these places is Tollefson Plaza, at S. 17th and Pacific Ave., once the site of a Puyallup tribal village and medicine house. Artist and Puyallup tribe member Shaun Peterson sited his 20′ cedar Welcome Figure there, earlier this year. Another artist attracted to the site is Monika Proffitt, whose Spaceworks Tacoma installation, Forest of Souls, will open on the winter solstice, December 21, and conclude with the spring equinox on March 20, 2011.
Lighting is the medium Proffitt is best known for, and for Forest of Souls she is creating an underwater, fiber-optic light sculpture that will illuminate the cascading pools at Tollefson Plaza. She says a conversation with the grounds maintenance supervisor, Tom Slagle, first inspired her idea for the project. “[Slagle] mentioned that the site of Tollefson Plaza is where a natural cold springs used to come out of the ground and flow into the river,” and that this aquifer was of importance to the medicine house. “This was very intriguing, and I thought about how the city had somehow decided to put in a fountain/water feature in the same place where once upon a time natural water used to flow.”
Because of the site’s history, Proffitt says she felt that the essence of “ancestors and silent people” must be ever present there. “I wanted the light installation to give them voice in some silent, yet understood way.” Forest of Souls will be Proffitt’s modern homage to the area’s original inhabitants.
The Seattle-based artist, formerly of Colorado, says the prevailing gray of Northwest skies first sparked her interest in light as a medium. Early experiments with rewiring incandescent lamps progressed to making multimedia installations using recorded stories, LED lighting and blown glass. The River Project, an installation at the Pilchuck Glass School, gathered the recorded stories of friends and strangers in a darkened room where the disembodied narratives flowed over a stream bed of rock-shaped, cobalt lights. Over several years, Proffitt has become expert in her manipulation of the emotional qualities of light and color.
With Forest of Souls, she breaks new territory: “I have not worked with a large series of pools of flowing water like what is in Tollefson Plaza. I am excited to see what comes of something this large.” The art work should provide a striking nighttime spectacle, “when light disturbance from other sources is minimized. At night, my intention is for this piece to enhance the sense of serenity and soothing motion that the water feature provides in Tollefson Plaza.” In addition to her studio work, Proffitt recently opened a bar, The Living Room, on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Forest of Souls, at Tollefson Plaza, S. 17th and Pacific Ave., December 21, 2010 – March 20, 2011. www.monikaproffitt.com.