2018 Curatorial Statement

2018 Projects & Talks

Curatorial Statement by Nato Thompson, Artistic Director

We have always been, loving and fearful, robots

Attach an elongated conical telescope equipped with a convergent objective lens and divergent eyepiece to your face and stare into the sky. Equipped with an extension of the eye, a prosthetic of the human organ, what did Galileo see? Did he know he was now a robot? Did he see the stars coldly staring back? Does he see the emptiness of space or land for colonies to come? Perhaps, but in so doing, he saw, as Trevor Paglen’s non-functioning satellite Orbital Reflector makes evident, a glistening mirror. As author Stanislove Lem writes, “We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors.” As Anishinaabekwe artists Charlene Vickers and Maria Hupfield deploy their 10-foot megaphones, which can be telescopes or hearing aids, they are acutely aware that these prosthetics not only enlarge your senses, but also ask us to hear, see, and speak the voices of not just what is out there, but what is deeply, historically, inside us. They remind us that land, this land of Seattle, the land of the Duwamish tribe, is a land whose future is rooted in its past.
Yes, technology might feel like the future but that future is basically a body conjoined with a land. It is a body that has needs, one that must live together and must act, as bodies do, irrational, wild, hopeful, and chaotic. This robot body we have has always been wild at heart. Yes, we like to think of technology as antiseptic but in fact, it is greasy, gear-laden, hydraulic fueled, and loud as hell. The artist, tinkerer, designer, engineer Mark Pauline, a pioneer of industrial performance art in the late 1970s, brings forth a vision, by way of robots, that is ear splitting, ecstatic, and riddled with destructive human passion. Trevor Paglen puts on display his Orbital Reflector, a model for a satellite soon to be in outer space that acts as both a non-functional orbiting device, and as an aesthetic mirror that reminds us how vast space is out there. And the robots of the 21st century are not just in binary code, but also in biological code. Chris Burden, in 1983, made Scale Model of the Solar System, which is just that: an earthbound model which allows us to walk into outer space and also reminds us of the here-ness of the out-there-ness. Artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg, has rendered DNA produced masks that could be U.S. intelligence whistle blower Chelsea Manning. A vast array of possibilities emerge as the legibility of DNA finds its resolution in a land of surveillance, and ultimately, bodies.
This technological future, and past, are also rooted in the land. Artist Wayne White, with the aid of puppets, digs into the historical pioneer women Mary Ann and Louisa Boren, who toughed it out and carved a space for future inhabitants at the edge of the Pacific. Artist Jennifer Levonian takes a contemporary look at a gentrifying landscape in Philadelphia where a single mother raises her child, goes to yoga, and steals a goat. And Seattle artist C. Davida Ingram looks at the Seattle urban landscape through a post-1999 anti-WTO lens. Searching the tealeaves of local history, her research-based work explores the shifting political economy of Seattle by way of indigenous, black, and displaced voices.