Celestial Coincidences in Tacoma

"Hide Away" by Raven Juarez

On the night of Jan. 31, skygazers will find the moon bigger and brighter than usual. The super blue moon eclipse will envelop the moon in a deep tangerine-red haze. It’s been 35 years since a total lunar eclipse and a blue moon (the second full moon in a calendar month) occurred at the same time.

Tacoma-based artists Asia Tail and Raven Juarez couldn’t have asked for a more apt celestial coincidence for their extensive, multimedia show Moon Moan at 950 Gallery, formerly Spaceworks Gallery, in Tacoma. Like the blue moon and the lunar eclipse, their practices merge into a spectacle that infuses its witnesses with stillness.

The duo, longtime friends but first-time collaborators, heard about the super blue moon eclipse after they employed an overhead projector to cast a pink and orange shaded circle on the walls of a small side room in 950 Gallery. The projected blood moon forms the focal point of their first collaborative installation, “The Light and Shadow Story Room.”

In it, four small school chairs patiently face the circular plane. Visitors are invited to play with the artists’ personal trinkets, a collection of found materials such as crystals, dried plants, moss, a pair of plastic hands, stones and gold rings. Carefully arranged in petri dishes on a nearby table, the assemblage forms an altar of the archetypes that permeate the show: images of women, circles, Northwest plants and the moon. While I position a dried-up fern leaf on the stage glass, the moon morphs into a strange landscape, holding new shadows every time I transfer objects to and from the glass.

“The Light and Shadow Story Room,” installation by Raven Juarez and Asia Tail

Long before Tail and Juarez started working together on Moon Moan, the moon crept up in their paintings and drawings. To them, it’s a signifier holding many meanings. Juarez describes memories of her grandfather, a member of the Cherokee Nation, telling her to wash her face in the moon.

The moon is thick with symbolism in many worldviews. It takes many shapes, but mostly the moon symbolizes femininity and change. Along with the sun, its gravitational pull sets the rhythm for tides, bodies of water breathing in and out. It helps establish the rhythm of the earth and our calendar.

These associations, pulled from different “life ways,” as the artists phrase it, run through the show like an electric current. We can see it pulsating from the clocks and ancient feminine figures in Tail’s tender paper collages, affixed to circular hardwood backdrops. Her other larger circular paintings are cast in more subdued, gray-blue tones, as if painted with twilight brushes. In them, two hands hold the moon, birds flutter overhead, stars punctuate the sky.

"A Seer Seen" by Asia Tail
“A Seer Seen” by Asia Tail

Juarez attaches paper cuttings, thread and glass prisms to the canvasses to break loose from the flat surface of paintings and drawings of starry skies and pastures. In “See Through” she casts her sister as a religious icon on a golden grounding, her hair layered over the painting as actual thick black thread. Juarez repeats the visual trick in the mesmerizing “Wasn’t Sleeping,” a round canvas painting cropped strangely around a close-up of a face. From its edge, black threads trickle down the gallery walls.

While created separately and diverging in style, the works in Moon Moan bounce off of each other like answers and questions. They buzz with an intimate knowledge of each other’s lives. Tail and Juarez grew up together. They met through their mothers, a consultant and a lawyer, respectively, for various Native tribes and organizations. Both remember playing in hotel rooms, running through the woods and sewing pillows during sleepover. After attending different colleges in New York City, both artists returned to Tacoma. They’ve seen each other change and grow into womanhood.

A few paintings down from Juarez’ portrait of her sister, a dark-haired woman curls her lips like the Mona Lisa. She smiles behind soft puffs of fog. The portrait is based on a photo of Tail’s mother when she was 11 years old. Upon finishing, Tail realized it looked a lot like Juarez. Never intended as a portrait of her mother, the painting became something more: a portrait of women in the liminal stage between youth and adulthood.

As such, the images of women in the show become amorphous. They could represent anyone. They personify the artists as they are now, as they were and will be, as well as their mothers and maybe their mothers’ mothers, a matrilineal abstraction. Moon Moan is more than an ode to the moon. It’s also a portrait of past and future selves and a tribute to female friendships and the many shapes we move in and out of.

Moon Moan runs through Feb. 17 at 950 Gallery in Tacoma.