Dan Corson, a prolific public artist, offers a spellbinding interpretation of a cave this fall at Suyama Space.
In the BBC television series “Planet Earth,” an episode is devoted to caves: from Mexico to Borneo, camera crews plumb previously unseen depths for evidence of the life-forms within, including pillars of crystallized gypsum as well as salamanders that have evolved out of the need for eyes.
Sculptor Dan Corson, a prolific public artist and self-proclaimed “cave geek,” has ventured inside many of these weird worlds, and he offers a spellbinding interpretation of one this fall at Suyama Space.
Curator Beth Sellars chooses three artists per year to interact with the gallery space of the Belltown architecture firm Suyama Peterson & Deguchi. Its raw timber ceiling and floors once hosted a livery stable, then an auto-body shop. Now, along with the light that streams through skylights and an ocular window, they’re parts to be visually played with.
“I’ve always thought he (Corson) was one of the best public artists in the region, because of his ability to take something that’s a need and turn it into something that’s a piece of art, but also really functional,” says Sellars of Corson’s works, such as the green-and-black wire poles at the Link light-rail maintenance station. (He also did the otherworldly “Space Forms” installation at the Beacon Hill Station, and, with Norie Sato, did the “Shimmering Shadowlines” near Tukwila International Boulevard Station.)
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For years, his “Wave Rave Cave” under the Viaduct at Bell Street has paid homage to the area’s nightlife. Now, “Grotesque Arabesque” is a fabrication of a cave inspired by one Corson explored in the Yucatán.
“It was interesting because you couldn’t see all of it from one vantage point,” he says. “It wasn’t about twists and turns, but rather expansion and compression.”
Rather than re-create the reality of the cave, Corson wanted to make a piece that required such varied viewings. To do so, he fed sketches into his computer, manipulated them and projected them onto the gallery’s far wall. Iron bands were hand-wrought on site to mimic the shapes, and electroluminescent tape was applied to each.
Blue gel covers Suyama Space’s windows, including the ocular one whose bright beam on sunny days adds a dark band of blue across “Grotesque.” Hanging overhead, the beams are reflected in water below. A timed drip sends a ripple across the water every few minutes. The whole scene, with yourself inside, is mirrored in Mylar on the gallery’s far wall.
The cumulative, immersive effect makes “Grotesque” more than its inspiration. Like James Turrell’s “Spread” at the Henry in 2003 — a hypnotic 4,000-square-foot walk-in color field — and Susie J. Lee’s simulated “Rainshower” at Lawrimore Project in 2007, it’s enjoyable in an intuitive, free-associative way.
From different angles I saw a dinosaur’s rib cage, a pulsing light trail behind Tron’s motorcycles and the album art of Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures,” itself a map of a dying star. Mostly, there’s the overwhelming urge to plunge into a 6-inch-deep pool of water. Corson, who is as interested in the psychology of color and light as Turrell, says that response is common.
“I think that’s interesting, especially from a Jungian and psychological perspective, what that might say,” says Corson. “Of course, others get queasy. What does that say?”
Take a long lunch and see for yourself.
Rachel Shimp: firstname.lastname@example.org