Mount Analogue Defies the Boundaries of Genre

Photo by Mount Analogue

In less than two decades, computers have evolved from beige boxes maybe able to gather one dirty picture from the ether before your parents return from work to palm-sized robot butlers that can order you a gallon of hot soup and a monogrammed body bag in the duration of a bus ride. The world’s media is constantly available, so how can a maker or purveyor of media create something that even gets people out of the house?

Seattle’s Mount Analogue is producing genre-defying art and literature designed to be experienced in person. It publishes books, creates collaborative art installations, and recently debuted the first edition of a comics journal, Spicy Metal.

Have you ever read a book that comes with reading gloves? For Mount Analogue’s Erasure Series, founder Colleen Barry mailed four poets a bottle of Wite-Out and a prose book to create an erasure, produced by erasing selected words of an existing text. Open Books in Wallingford displayed the erasures for a month last spring.

“I made four polycarbonate boxes, like the kind premature babies are incubated in, and decorated dollar-store rubber gloves with fake flowers, glitter and sequins,” Barry says. (Follow the gloves’ psychedelic adventures online in a series of “poetry commercials” edited by Chris Lott.) We’re talking at Café Barjot, where “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper is playing on repeat. It sounds a lot like our hangovers from the previous night’s Blow Up, Mount Analogue’s one-night-only inflatable art installation at the Factory gallery in July. “The show is about joy,” Barry says of Blow Up. “Not naïve joy—playfulness as a form of resistance.”

The show featured three artists affiliated with the American Institute of Architecture: Amanda James Parker, Peter Dodds and Guy Merrill, plus Trevor Dykstra of Seattle Design Nerds. Surreal video and sound installations surrounded a Mylar balloon large enough to contain several people and a photo booth. It expanded and contracted, making a crinkly breathing noise that was overwhelmed periodically by an ambient sound installation.

Is Mount Analogue an art collective or a press? Barry says the concept of MA was partly inspired by pataphysics, a branch of philosophy invented by writer Alfred Jarry that examines imagined phenomena. Pataphysics is paradoxically modeled after science but designed to resist definition. “I want to tap into mystery in the world,” Barry says. “The less people are able to categorize Mount Analogue, the more I feel I’m succeeding.”

Barry, whose dad is an inventor, moved frequently as a child. Her home was her imagination, and books, which drew her to one of her first jobs at an imprint of Random House specializing in sci-fi and romance novels. At UMass Amherst’s poetry MFA program, Barry was in James Tate’s last workshop. She credits him significantly for the introduction to a particular kind of surreal observational humor in poetry. You’ll notice this quality in most Mount Analogue media, like Ted Powers’ excellent Manners (published in collaboration with Cold Cube Press), a book of collage and poems with titles such as “My Life as a Trash Clown.” Another MA publication, The Final Rose, by Halie Theoharides (Mount Analogue’s first project) is a series of close-captioned screenshots from The Bachelor that comes with plastic rose petals for readers to send to people they would like to marry on television.

Mount Analogue is also invested in civil rights. It produces an ongoing series of collaborations with female-identified people called “Conversations with Women.” After the last election, Barry distributed free political pamphlets essentially designed to help people not fling themselves from the windows of their apartments in despair.

I would call Mount Analogue another dimension. Barry loves artists who immerse us in other worlds that sharpen our appreciation of this one. She is planning to collaborate with multimedia artist Marina Fini to turn Mount Analogue into a motel room for an installation called “Cheap Rooms, Low Rates.” The project is about the mythos of the American motel room, making public spaces private, and “flipping a traditionally male-dominated space on its head.”

Mount Analogue is one of a group of arts organizations including Gramma Poetry, Specialist Gallery and Cold Cube Press that recently moved into the Tashiro Kaplan Building in Pioneer Square. Collectively the four are going by XYZ, and their official collaboration is one of the most exciting things happening to art in Seattle. Barry’s next big project is the XYZ opening on Aug. 3, when Mount Analogue hosts an installation by Mary Anne Carter (disclosure: she’s my partner) called “Women in the Style of Taco Bell,” a fire sauce-flavored kaleidoscope of costumes, sculptures, performance art and gold-dipped pool noodles juxtaposing femininity and corporate identity.

Any encounter with Mount Analogue is an opportunity to visit another world, whether it fills a gallery or a polycarbonate box.