With a terrifying deep-fryer, the Trader Joe's logo rendered in cross-stitch, portraits of restaurateur Linda Derschang, and more, the show "Oh, You STILL Work There?" interrogates the way many artists make ends meet.
The four faces look like dreamy smears of femininity, the lips outlined, the eyes closed like a doll’s that click open and shut. One of the faces has sunsets of eyeshadow on each eyelid, brightly pretty but ill-defined. Look closer, and outlines of cartoon sheep shaped like puffy little clouds seem embossed across each impression.
These self-portraits of a sort are Jessica Marie Mercy’s “Expendable Femme” series, on view at Seattle gallery The Factory. They may be the most haunting part of the show “Oh, You STILL Work There?” — works by those who have jobs in the service industry to pay the bills to make the art, named after a question they get tired of hearing.
The faces are imprints of Mercy’s own, from removing makeup with baby wipes — hence, the counting-sheep pattern marching across. Blown up, they’re gorgeous but also seem wrong, suggestive but absent. It’s an examination of “a micro layer of worth,” her artist’s statement explains. As a 15-year server and bartender, she’s part of “an eternity of unwanted advances and sexual harassment.” But in the industry, “sometimes making rent comes down to me looking desirable and getting higher tips.” (The movement toward eliminating tipping is meant, in part, to address that.)
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Jon Garaizar’s drawing “Spectral Fryer” turns the machine that makes your French fries into a demonic, charcoal-y cloud of what looks a lot like fear. “And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee,” reads a quote from his wall text — it’s from Nietzsche, and the beginning of it is “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster.” Nearby, a delicate watercolor by Ursula Rose depicts a nude female form on hands and knees, serving as the base of a table — the laborer physically indivisible from the labor, with more than a few shades of gray. “I Drink From Your Cup,” reads its title.
The sense of humor essential for dealing with the general public is everywhere in “Oh, You STILL Work There?” A sound installation by Darren Dewse, “Water,” is his own voice: “Mmmmm, I don’t know what I want… but can I get a water?… OMG, thank you for this water… water… water… water… water…” Dewse, whose non-service-industry work includes the avant-garde performance group Saint Genet, makes his living at the bar The Bait Shop — if you get the mesmerized feeling that you could listen to the words over and over, you may rest assured that he has heard them ad infinitum. (At The Factory, “Water” may be heard over headphones or, appropriately, in the bathroom.) Alex Llapitan’s careful cross-stitch of the logo of his one-time employer, Trader Joe’s, is surprisingly stark (have you ever really looked at the Trader Joe’s logo?). The wittiness, again tinged with endless echoes of repetition (and all those stitches), comes with the title: “Let Me Check in The Back.”
Emily Nokes, of the band Tacocat, pays homage to her time as a barista with several text-based pieces, including one lettered “I WANTED THIS ICED” in sparkly silver all-caps, surrounded by glittering crystals (title: “Ice Queen”). Her bandmate Lelah Maupin executed portraits in different styles of her former employer, restaurateur Linda Derschang — but one is left unfinished, as an artist/service-worker’s work often is.
Moments of surprising beauty are all over the place in “Oh, You STILL Work There?” Witness David Chatt’s elegant, almost armor-like necklace of painstakingly beaded ice-cream-taste spoons (“Free Samples?”), or the gossamer, geometric overlapping of Taco Bell wrappers by Victor Devlin (“Register”). Your next Molly Moon’s visit or late-night dollar-menu spoils may not feel quite the same — and probably shouldn’t.
“Oh, You STILL Work There?” at The Factory