You don’t often see people sitting inside the Woolworth Windows making tiny little objects.
But at the First Night celebrations on New Year’s Eve that’s exactly what made up one of the window art installations: artists Adam and Rosalynn Rothstein, wearing factory masks at a little table inside the display window and patiently making vaguely industrial-looking objects.
As performance art, it was about as interesting as watching the clock tick round to midnight. Luckily, the other windows were full of multimedia sculpture that offered a lot more depth.
So what, exactly, were the Rothsteins making? Disks about the size and shape of a restaurant buzzer with symmetrical cogs. They created a statement about our relationship to daily objects that took a smartphone scan to their website (5ooo.org) to find out. At that point, you get treated to a waffling blurb about how much work is needed to justify artists’ work as “work.” Instead of pondering how design, marketing and functionality interact, you begin to wonder why the city of Tacoma – which runs the Spaceworks program that includes the Woolworth Windows art – can’t find artists who have a bit more to say both verbally and visually. After the Rothsteins leave the window for the night, all that’s left are a few boring posters “marketing” their objects and the phone bar code. Hardly worth standing out in the bitter cold for.
But the next two windows along Broadway definitely are. In the longest middle window is a light sculpture by RSVR Visual Research that’s a kind of riff on Dan Flavin with some Home Depot thrown in. Six yellow fluorescent tubes march diagonally across the window space, their golden light blotted with white-painted 2-by-4 boards hung edge-on to the window like a huge slat blind turned sideways. During the day, this is just puzzling, but the drama increases at night, particularly from a distance. However, the whole thing doesn’t begin to match the beauty of RSVR’s sweeping purple-emerald Woolworth installation last year.
The pick of the Broadway bunch is Adele Eustis. In a fascinating process, the artist has created what looks like cocoons made of wax paper. In reality, these are pages of a 1930s Webster’s dictionary, outmoded words over which she has painted wax and sumi ink, heating until the words blur into each other front to back and the whole thing becomes a translucent, organic white. The thin pages are then fused to rice paper and sculpted into 4-foot-high shapes, lit from within by bulbs diffused by more dictionary pages and gently wrapped around with strappings of twigs. Suspended from the ceiling and backed by loosely woven rope nets, these five cocoons fill the window with soft, delicate light, speaking of Japanese fishing villages and esoteric lantern rituals and swaying, organic things. Day and night, it’s a marvel to look at.
Down on the Commerce Street window, Jennifer Robbins has filled her space with a leafless forest of bare trunks, mossy tangles and branches. They’re treated with paraffin, wax and papier-mché. The look is quite natural, with the same oddly sanitized homage to nature that Mark Dion achieves with his nurse log at the Olympic Sculpture Park – though much less detailed. It’s a little bit of winter forest tucked inside a barren city corner like a memory or a hope.
Woolworth Windows installations
When: Viewable 24/7 through Feb. 28
Where: Broadway and 11th streets, Tacoma
Information: spaceworkstacoma. wordpress.comRosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/arts