An Opera That Sails Upon a Sea of Broken Glass

"Atlantis, Full of Cheer" by Christian French
“Atlantis, Full of Cheer” an art installation by Christian French

With its seasonal rotation of Spaceworks storefront exhibits, the Woolworth Windows are a favorite stop amongst art gadabouts. But the art-filled windows also attract visitors from the Broadway farmers market, Antique Row, and the Pantages and Rialto theaters, all within walking distance. Currently featured in the window at S. 11th and Commerce is “Atlantis, Full of Cheer”, a “rock opera” in miniature by Christian French that has visitors of every persuasion trying to decode an enigmatic story still in the process of being written.

"Song of the Golden West", an installation by Christian French for ACT Theater.
“Song of the Golden West”, an installation by Christian French for ACT Theater.

French describes the tabletop drama as the story of “a fisherman who, saved from drowning by a sympathetic fish, falls in love with the Princess of Atlantis.” It is a tale still in the early stages: “I am trying to develop a full opera,” he says. For Spaceworks, he will produce two scenes from “Atlantis” over three months. Scene I, now on view, begins with a silvery Inuit kayak fisherman navigating through shards of cobalt glass as a carved soapstone walrus and penguin watch on. A sun-like disco ball glitters nearby. The glass pieces may represent icebergs – or the shattering of a balanced marine ecology by careless humans.

“The story is ideally a fairytale, and essentially a global warming story. Or maybe the other way around….Art is a language for talking about multiple things at once. Much like poetry.”

“Cascade Container Range” by Christian French

French is a long-time producer of non-linear drama: “By staging scenes from imagined productions, my attempt is to point to consciousness as the venue for all experience. Still life, experimental animation, rock opera and a healthy dose of childhood play all come to bear in these installations.” By condensing the theater stage to table-size, “I intend to create a dazzling spectacle that hovers somewhere between a jewelry store window and an opera performed within the fertile imagination of a child.”

French’s artwork ranges in scale from miniature to super size. A stunning example of the latter is “Cascade Container Range”, a mountainscape he created from overseas shipping containers for the 10th Annual HorseHead International Sculpture Exhibition, in 1999.

“The installation featured a performance by Mark Johnson, who turned the containers into a giant, resonant instrument. We held a live concert of him performing improvised suites and recorded his performance. Those [same] songs are what are currently playing as part of my Spaceworks installation.” French’s aesthetic undertakings may appear random, but connect over long expanses of time and distance as with “Cascade Container Range” and “Atlantis, Full of Cheer”. The thematic thread?

“Ideally, my aim is to make abstract thoughts visible, intangible things tangible.”

“Atlantis, Full of Cheer” by Christian French at the Woolworth Windows, South 1th & Commerce St. in Tacoma through August 21, 2014. ~Lisa Kinoshita