Kirkland's past meets Kirkland's present in the contraption-filled "Steambot" at Kirkland Arts Center.
“Steambot” — the new group show at Kirkland Arts Center — is an exercise in creative anachronism: a blend of the digital and the dilapidated, the futuristic and the rustic.
Curated by Cable Griffith and Genevieve Tremblay, its stated aim is to collapse the time between “the cutting edge of today and the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the past.” Interactive high jinks are part of it, too.
The show cleverly links the Kirkland of 1888, when the Peter Kirk Building where it’s housed was built, with the high-tech Eastside city of today. Its contributors aren’t just artists but “programmers and fabricators,” and a number of their pieces are collaborative.
The one non-art object included here is Kirkland founder Peter Kirk’s top hat, a glossy black affair of beaver pelt, leather and silk that’s as lovingly displayed as any precious work of art. But while the “Steambot” team didn’t have a hand in making the hat, Rebecca Cummins and Rusty Oliver do have some fun with it in “Veloscope,” a contraption that’s a combination of bicycle and animated short.
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As you pedal away, images on the inner rim of the wheel run together to create the illusion of Kirk’s hat bouncing on and off the top of his head, while his mustache turns into a bird that can’t decide whether or not to stay on his face.
Even more magical is “Ember” by Pat Gallagher and Randy Moss, billed as a “digitized lamp” but more accurately described as a lowered cyber-chandelier that you can circumambulate as it lights up in ripple patterns in the dark.
Cummins’ “Log Cam” is a hollowed-out stump that, when you look through it, turns out to be a camera obscura aimed at Kirkland’s Market Street. As cars speed by, you see them upside down in dream-soft focus. It’s a fun item — and it smells nice, too.
Oliver’s “Knife Switch Intuitive” is another interactive piece: an amalgam of steel, wood, brass, copper and electrical components that, at the press of a button, sends flamelike lights traveling up three dark glass tubes. It’s like something out of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, as portrayed in an old James Whale movie.
Simon Winder’s goofy “Time of Flight” is more low-tech yet charming, with its paper dirigible that dawdles across the room, again at the viewer’s command. But it’s Winder’s inkjet photographs — “De-generating” and the 16-panel “Impressions of Steam” — that make a bigger impression.
The first is a multiple, fisheye-lens take on an abandoned, graffiti-covered steam-power plant. The second observes the varying kinds of corrosion that steam inflicts on ventilation fans, freight cars and the pipes, valves and coils of less readily identifiable machinery. The shots were taken at a decommissioned generating station in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood and in locomotive graveyards in Tillamook, Ore., and Snoqualmie. “I like the opportunity to focus on the details and render them into the deconstructed abstract,” Winder says in his artistic statement, “allowing the viewer to see the curves and forms of the skeletons of forgotten function.”
A couple of pieces either misfire — what are Cummins and Daniel Carillo trying to do with “Peter Kirk Knob (after Lumiere),” their murky tribute to the stereoscopic experiments of Louis Lumiere? — or feel awfully in-jokey. Cummins’ “Great Couples in Art” pays tribute to local art luminaries by giving them the Victorian silhouetted-cameo treatment.
Anyone interested in Kirkland history will want to see Cummins’ photograph on vinyl, “Corner of Waverly and Market St., Kirkland, Washington, 1889.” A huge blowup of an archival image that dominates the gallery, it’s one of those what-have-we-wrought images that give you pause as you see how much has changed in 120 years.
As captivating as much of “Steambot” is, it feels a little thin as a show, with its dozen pieces sometimes straining to fill the gallery. Still, it’s well worth a gander.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com