Building a miniature train tunnel and turning ambient, urban sound into color — two installations by local artists reveal what’s hidden in Seattle.
What does it take to see your city with fresh eyes?
Two striking installations by Seattle artists provide contrasting yet complementary answers to that question as they translate Seattle’s urban fabric into seductive viewer/listener experiences.
Rick Araluce, the lead scenic artist for Seattle Opera, walks away with the “wow” factor in “The Great Northern,” his epic-scale piece at MadArt Studio. But the immersive pleasures of Andy Behrle’s “luminous soundscape” at Jack Straw New Media Gallery are just as engaging in a quieter way.
Rick Araluce: “The Great Northern”
Noon-6 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays through Feb. 27, MadArt Studio, 325 Westlake Ave. N., Seattle; free (206-623-1180 or madartseattle.com).
Andy Behrle: “luminous soundscape”
9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays through March 11, Jack Straw New Media Gallery, 4261 Roosevelt Way N.E., Seattle; free (206-634-0919 or jackstraw.org). Student workshops on creating sound-and-light art, 1 p.m. Feb. 13 and 20; tour for the deaf and hearing-impaired, 10 a.m. Feb. 13.
Anyone who saw Araluce’s show “The Minutes, the Hours, the Days” at Bellevue Arts Museum a few years ago knows the kind of wizardry he brings to his projects. His spooky creations always play masterfully with theatrical illusion. But with “The Great Northern,” he outdoes himself.
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The show’s title piece is a 22-foot-high replica of the south portal of the Great Northern Railroad Company’s tunnel beneath downtown Seattle. Stand at its entrance and you’ll swear you’re looking a hundred yards or more down a curving, subterranean railway. Periodically, a gleam of light appears in its depths and a deep rumble-rattle gives every indication that a locomotive is coming around the bend.
But this is a train that’s always approaching, never arriving.
The tunnel walls themselves are an uncannily realistic rendering of rain-stained, oil-stained, flaking concrete. The rail bed is, likewise, an exercise in 3D realism.
Step away from the entrance, though, and you’ll see the whole installation is only 40 feet deep. Using his stage-scenery savvy, Araluce creates an illusion so persuasive that you’d think you can walk straight through it to Belltown. Never mind that, at its farthest end, it’s only knee-high.
What motivated Araluce’s huge replica and the smaller accompanying pieces in the show?
“I am fascinated with what is not seen,” he writes, “infrastructure that most (people) never notice or consider.”
“The Great Northern” makes you notice it in a big way.
Andy Behrle’s “luminous soundscape” is prompted by a similar desire to fix viewers’ attention on city sights and sounds that are frequently ignored or tuned out.
His starting point is six videos he made of city sights: passing highway traffic, a pedestrian thoroughfare, a freight train rolling by, waves crashing on shoreline riprap, crows hanging out in a tree, water action at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks.
Their sounds are transmitted via a “computer filter” to a device that creates vibrations in water-filled pans. Below the pans, six different-hued lights are projected through the agitated water and onto the gallery walls, thanks to some trickery with mirrors. There, like candy-colored spheres, they shimmer and overlap in the dark.
The room, in the meantime, is filled with sounds from the backdrops of our daily lives — and not just the crow-caws, traffic noise and water splashes Behrle caught on video, but all the noise we tune out. Spend time with “luminous soundscape” and you realize that Seattle has trained you to distinguish between helicopter, floatplane and airliner racket without having to glance upward.
“Imagine if we could see what we hear,” Behrle writes in his artist’s statement. “What if sound waves were visible and all the sounds of the city became something to experience with our eyes?”
“luminous soundscape” hints at what it might feel like to experience those synesthetic sensations.