SPORTING "SPAWN till you die" T-shirts and swapping fish stories, Northwesterners cling to the salmon. The symbol of many things in our region, the salmon's plight as a nearly dying breed reflects all that has been trampled and ravished by development, poor management, dams, pollution, and logging. And no matter how bombarded we are by cheesy tourist junk emblazoned with the salmon's image, we still find a place in our heart for the slippery species. We respect them, find them sleek, powerful, and beautiful. That's why the Bumbershoot folks and the Soul Salmon 2001 Public Art Project have merged this summer, hatching "First Spawn," an on-grounds installation of 10 enormous artist-decorated salmon on view at the Seattle Center's Northwest Court.
Bumbershoot has incorporated salmon awareness and salmon art into the festival for many years. It seemed only natural to team up with the Soul Salmon project, which has been spearheaded by the nonprofit organization Tahmanawis. Tahmanawis' mission is to nourish arts, education, and ecological restoration. The whole shebang takes its inspiration from the "Cow Parade," a charity drive that started in Zurich in 1998 and has gone gangbusters there, as well as in Chicago and New York. As if you couldn't guess, the Soul Salmon project substitutes fish for the cows. Eight feet long, these finny creatures are identical fiberglass beauties designed by Tom Jay and manufactured by boat builders Cape George Cutters.
SUSPENDED IN THE AIR, the sculptures appear to swim blissfully overhead. Inherently humorous in their absurd scale, they're decorated according to each artist's fancy. Expect anything from patchwork to plaid, race car wheels to wool sweaters. The artists, with styles all over the map, include: Juan Carlos Castellanos, Richey Kehl, Barbara Thomas, Peggy VanBianchi, Jon Milazzo, Alfredo Arreguin, Eric Krag, Frank Samuelson, Lynn DiNino, and Frank Irlanda.
Samuelson, who's been, as he puts it, "in Salmon Land" for many years, pays tribute to the simple life cycle that salmon represent with a bold, colorful, lifelike portrait. DiNino, known for her wacky chickens and ad-lib assemblage sculptures, takes her fish to the utmost extremes of whimsy and kitsch. VanBianchi, by contrast, stretches hide over the surface of her fish and adheres charts of the inland waters in a cunning collage.
And this is just the beginning. Over the next year, hundreds of these "salmon" will be spawned all over the state. They're cash cows, too: Over 300 "cows" were auctioned for charitable causes in Chicago, raking in millions of dollars.
Yes, that's the plan here. Ultimately, these whopping fish, painted and primped, will punctuate our landscape, finally to be rounded up and sold in November 2001.*
Visual Arts Picks
Bumberbiennale: Painting 2000—A stock-taking survey of the state of painting at the turn of the century finds it alive and thriving. Curated by Matthew Kangas, this exhibit reflects the vitality and diversity of painting in the Puget Sound area. The big names represented among the not-so-well-known include Jacob Lawrence, Alfredo Arreguin, Gaylen Hansen, Dennis Evans, Michael Spafford, and William Cumming. Northwest Rooms, Olympic Room
20 in 2000: a CoCA Retrospective—CoCA celebrates 20 years of presenting cutting-edge and emerging art in Seattle, featuring a graphic timeline that documents the gallery's history; a recreation of one of its most popular installations, "Japan-o-rama"; a mini painting studio with painters working live; and a preview of two upcoming exhibitions, "New Prometheans Fire Arts Festival" and ContemporaryArtProject's "Emotional Rescue," which is displayed next door in the Fidalgo Room. Northwest Rooms, Lopez Room
Emotional Rescue: The ContemporaryArtProject Collection—The ContemporaryArtProject is a Seattle-based group dedicated to building a collection of innovative international contemporary art. The paintings, video works, and photography in this exhibition, curated by Linda Farris, express a freewheeling emotional and often sexual energy. The works are, in many cases, personal, powerful, exuberant, in-your-face statements. Included in this group of emerging international artists are Cecily Brown, Inka Essenhigh, Zhang Huan, and Sue De Beer. Northwest Rooms, Fidalgo Room
The Secrets of Mount Vernon Culture—This spoof on an archaeological dig illustrates four years of local artist Jack Gunter's collecting of fragments, figurines, artifacts, and glass objects retrieved from what he calls a Camano Island "archeological site." The exhibit humorously proves the existence of a surprisingly advanced social group that flourished briefly 29,000 years ago near the city now called Mount Vernon—or just Vernon, if you're a local. Gunter's "findings" include over 30 large ceramic vessels; a huge bronze and iron lounge chair with Mastodon tusk sides; glass objects bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Pilchuck Glass School's Class of 1998 projects; and a very early model of the classic retractable roof stadium. Northwest Rooms, Shaw Room
Triangle of Trees—Installation artist Steve Jensen uses his father's and grandfather's tools to fashion massive wood constructions. For Bumbershoot, he's created a meditative space, a haven from the ruckus of the festival, from 30 naturally fallen cedar trees. All the trees used for this sculpture were salvaged from logger's burn piles or beachcombed. A decoratively carved sanctuary, the installation celebrates our environment and its maintenance. International Fountain lawn