About a year ago, the billboard on Fauntleroy Way in West Seattle bore soft pink and yellow stripes and a photo of an infant. The advertisement for WestSide Baby’s yearly diaper drive read Stuff the Bus. As of yesterday, the billboard spells out a different imperative: CALL ME.
The plea is from Laura Sullivan Cassidy, hoping commuters driving north on Fauntleroy will dial her hotline; the artist’s number is printed right there (206-483-CALL) on the newly photo-collaged billboard. During the month of May, anyone who calls the number will hear a poem written and recorded by Cassidy. Every day a new poem will play.
Cassidy’s “Broken Languages” is one of 10 public art works permeating Seattle during this month’s citywide art show A LONE, a collection of public installations of audio-, visual- and text-based works on billboards, readings, wheatpastes, banners and stickers. A LONE is curated by bi-coastal gallery Vignettes in collaboration with local publisher Gramma Poetry. From Ballard to Capitol Hill to SoDo, the art will leak through the city’s cracks when and where you don’t expect it.
“This was an opportunity to step outside of the home gallery,” says Sierra Stinson, who, as one half of Vignettes, used to host and curate one-night-only shows in her Seattle apartment. “I wanted it to be public. I started thinking about the solitude of the viewer, and how people usually encounter public artwork. To intercept these spaces for advertisement felt more like an encounter to me.”
Seattle, she says, not only needs thoughtful public artworks, it also needs “public poetics.” “There’s a lot to be said to an audience in this city.”
If the city is willing to listen, it’ll download a poem from Soundcloud by New York-based poet Tommy Pico and, as suggested, take it along on a walk. If it’s willing to read, it’ll see billboards emblazoned with messages by Seattle artist Leena Joshi, British poet Yrsa Daley-Ward and Portland-based Alyson Provax, who writes You’re not the only one, plus other notes on billboards, mirrors and windows around the city. Instead of four white gallery walls containing all the art, it’s the entire cityscape, with all its visual baggage, swallowing and emanating artworks back to a potential audience of 700,000 citizens.
Dealing with themes such as gentrification and the mass media’s (biased) coverage of the events in Charlottesville, the works in A LONE blend poetry and visual art and speak to the intricacies of being alone in a big city full of people. “You’re alone together,” Stinson says. “That’s kind of a fascinating thing.” Serrah Russell, the other half of Vignettes, calls it “the dichotomies of solitude.”
“There’s the disconnect between a certain loneliness associated with living or being in a city while there are people all around you,” she says. “But also the fact that there’s always going to be some kind of loneliness because we’re all human, and thus unable to completely connect. It’s both a beautiful and tragic idea.”
For a project exploring loneliness, A LONE brings a lot of people together. Detailing the who’s who of everyone working behind the scenes seems near impossible, but credit goes to longstanding art patrons Bill and Ruth True, who are footing the bill for the project’s organization and commissioned most of the artworks, and Drew Swenhaugen, former managing editor of Gramma, who helped curate this project. After he left Gramma, Colleen Louise Barry and Aidan Fitzgerald stepped in as editors and inherited some of the project’s organization.
“It’s basically one big happy family,” says Barry, who runs the interdisciplinary art space Mount Analogue, where the interior exhibition portion of A LONE will be on view, including works by Sophie Calle, Emilie Halpern and Kara Tanaka. On opening night, poets Sarah Galvin, Rachel Kessler, Tommy Pico and Anastacia-Renee will read from their work inside the space and on the sidewalk outside the Tashiro Kaplan Building, where Gramma and Mount Analogue are located.
“We talk a lot about all the people moving here and what that’s doing to the city,” Fitzgerald says. “I like the idea that maybe someone does move here and gets off a plane and sees one of these works. Or maybe they call Laura’s phone number and hear a weird poem. That’s a great opportunity to connect with someone.”