Share story

There’s more than one way to peer into Seattle artist Rick Araluce’s spooky mixed-media installations at Bellevue Arts Museum.

Take the exhibit’s title piece, “The Minutes, the Hours, the Days.”

It’s a free-standing doorway with a spyhole that, when you peer into it, reveals a chamber occupied by an old-fashioned clock with its hands moving at high speed. (An “hour” whirls by in about 10 seconds.) A silvery moon casts a fluorescent sheen over the room, which has one whole wall open to the sky.

The entire miniature scene is like something out of an experimental film by the Quay Brothers
.

Having taken it in, you might be tempted to move along to the next item on display.

Big mistake.

The spyhole, positioned at adult-height, provides just one glimpse of what’s going on in the piece. Peer through the keyhole below the doorknob, and other sights reveal themselves. Crouch on your knees to look through the crack at the bottom of the door, and you’ll see still more oddities.

“The work I do tries to generate emotion, feelings,” Araluce said while offering a tour through the exhibit last month. Doors, he adds, are “pregnant” with associations: “Gosh, what’s behind there?”

Araluce has shown at Traver Gallery since 1996 and been included in exhibits across the country, notably “Otherworldly: Optical Delusions and Small Realities” at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design.

But with the BAM show, he has greatly expanded his range: “That extra multidimensional component of movement, of sound, of interactivity, is a new thing. And of course the scale.”

The largest piece, “The Blind Trance,” consists of 13 identical doors, each about 2 feet high, that line one wall of the gallery. Behind them, rattles and thumps — sometimes tentative, sometimes aggressive — create an eerie atmosphere, as if some primal force behind the wall is struggling to get out.

“The Longest Hours” has still more bells and whistles. Housed in a Shaker-plain wooden structure, it’s a corridor lined with lights that flicker as a thunderstorm crackles above the tinny sound of a radio station playing scratchy tunes from a long-ago era.

When you look down the corridor, a brightly lit side corridor seems to extend out to the left. Step back, however, and you’ll see that simply isn’t possible.

Araluce comes by his theatrical-illusion wizardry, in part, through his day job as lead scenic artist for Seattle Opera. Opera director Speight Jenkins notes, “He’s been with us for 16 years, and as such he played a large role in creating the new ‘Ring’ and has done wonderful work here.”

Araluce admits to being “a little bit of a micromanager and a do-it-yourself sort of dude.” He builds everything he can from scratch, including his pieces’ soundtracks, which he creates on his home computer. No detail is too small to bother with, and each piece takes him months to complete.

“I’m a little crazy,” he admits. Pointing to a window at the end of the corridor in “The Longest Hours,” he notes its lower sash actually moves up and down.

“Some people would go ‘Why?’ And I would say, ‘Because I can.’ ”

One piece, “The Strange Pilgrimage,” is truly startling. At first it seems nothing more than an oddly placed heating vent in the wall. But look through its grille-work, and you’ll see a small bare room. Keep looking and suddenly a crutch comes spinning by. Guided by a motor and a magnet, it follows a circuit that lasts under a minute.

It’s not the only thing that moves. “There’s an electrical wire over at your right, and it will twitch from time to time,” Araluce reveals with quiet glee.

The idea behind “The Strange Pilgrimage” and the show as a whole, he says, is to create “an experience that doesn’t give itself up all at once. … What can I see? What can I barely ascertain?”

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com