Art Gallery Gets ‘Violent’ at Vermillion

nicole+schlaeppi+%E2%80%A2+The+Spectator

nicole schlaeppi • The Spectator

Strolling about a gallery filled with art that is meant to be physically touched inspires some odd feelings, especially when the touching feels like defacing. Hipster overtones aside, those feelings seem comparable to giddy excitement, or awkward amusement.

This past Thursday, “Touch Me: I Am Violent,” a new show that asks viewers to touch artwork on display, opened at Vermillion Gallery on Capitol Hill. The “Touch Me” artists were tasked with creating a gallery in which all the art was meant to be interactive. To quote the press release for the group show, the idea was to create a show where “the unifying theme [is] that you can (and should) touch all the art with your grubby little fingers!”

nicole schlaeppi • The Spectator
nicole schlaeppi • The Spectator

A visitor to Vermillion Gallery interacts with a piece of art at the new “Touch Me: I Am Violent” exihibit, a group show that encourages visitors to touch the featured artwork. The exhibit will be open to the public through March 8.

According to the gallery’s website, “the show explores… artists’ work through touch. It asks what is possible when the work is created with touch in mind.” It turns out that when tasked with creating pieces with touch in mind, artists tend to come up with some interesting ideas.

Some of the artwork explored touch by crafting pieces with curious textures. One piece in particular was a large, white three-dimensional object, located near the back of the gallery that had been painted with a rubber of some sort, making it odd to touch.

Even more curious was a piece that required physical interaction with one of the female artists. Patrons were asked to sit at a small wooden table with the artist, take a bit of her hair (still attached to her head, mind you), dip the hair in some black ink that sat in a small bowl, and proceed to paint something on a notecard, also provided.

The most interesting pieces, however, involved defacement of the art itself. Artist Crystal Barbre, a fixture in the Seattle art scene, had painted a large 80-inch by 70-inch canvas with human figures lounging about, smoking… and having the heads of animals. However, the subject matter of the painting was far less interesting than its purpose. Patrons of the show were encouraged to cut the painting apart, and take home pieces of the work. Thus, as the night went on, the painting was sliced into pieces, and wound up hanging from nails in a raggedy mess from the wall.

Barbre emphasized that the purpose of her artwork was not about the deconstruction of a painting, but rather about “the pain of an artist, whose job requires creating something original and personal, and then letting that thing go home with another person… You don’t get to decide what people will be taking home.”

Hence, Barbre’s piece was a statement about what it’s like to be powerless over what people take from you, particularly as an artist. It was quite the statement, and the installation drew a crowd throughout the night, with some visitors obviously excited about the opportunity. Others however, seemed reticent to take a pair of scissors to the piece.

Another seemingly self-destructive installation was a self-portrait by Megumi Arai. The piece, a black-and-white photograph of the stoic artist’s face, was meant to be defaced throughout the course of the night as audience members were encouraged to use black ink to cover the artist’s face one stroke at a time.

Finally, after the piece had been adequately defaced, Arai revealed a second self-portrait. This one was in color, and seemed somehow fresher than its predecessor. Her face was more relaxed, and her hair was slightly damp—as if towel-dried after a shower.

“It’s a representation of cycles,” said Arai. “It’s about renewal as a biracial woman… it’s about the process of seeing myself as I am.”

Indeed, the show appeared to be a great success, with an involved audience that milled about the small venue for the three-hour opening, bumping into one another and excitedly fondling the pieces.

Eventually the show grew a bit too alternative for my taste. I found myself eyeing the hair-ink piece when a man entered through the door at the front of the gallery. He was dressed entirely in pink velvet, topped with a fedora with a peacock feather tucked into it. He had a large beard, dyed hot pink and teal. This is when I took my leave.

Still, I do not regret attending the event, given that the theme and pieces took on a life of their own in the course of the night and surely inspired thoughts concerning touch, violence and the place of the artist in his or her work.

“Touch Me: I Am Violent” will be showcased at Vermillion Gallery through March 8; admission is free.