Just as it takes many trees to make a forest, it takes many artists, organizers, sponsors and visionaries to transform a seven-story, 130-year-old warehouse in Pioneer Square into an expansive art event in just a few months. Forest For The Trees is the name of this homemade art festival that will feature immersive art installations, group exhibitions, murals and on-site performances as well as activities in the alley behind the building.
It is basically a four-day block party 21.-24. July – involving more than 100 artists from Seattle and elsewhere – strategically timed to coincide with the Seattle Art Fair, which brings thousands of local and out-of-town art lovers to the Lumen Field Event Center, just a short walk away from Forest For The Trees.
“This is huge,” said Amanda Manitach, a Seattle artist who co-curated one of the Forest For The Trees exhibitions. “It’s a massive move that shows how Seattle artists will come together to accomplish these really great things.”
Forest For The Trees is also the name of one of the event’s key organizers, a nonprofit led by Seattle artist Gage Hamilton, who facilitates public art projects in the Northwest Pacific and elsewhere, and often finds opportunities in newly developed properties or empty spaces that are in between tenants.
About a year ago, Hamilton began brainstorming with Henry Watson, the property manager for RailSpur, a new three-story redevelopment project on Pioneer Square from Denver-based company Urban Villages, which specializes in the environmentally conscious transformation of historic properties. While Hamilton and Watson have a personal connection (Watson is a cousin of Hamilton’s sister-in-law) who promoted the foundation of this project, Watson states that this kind of “lively and authentic programming” is in line with Urban Village’s “dynamic approach” to cultivate vibrant neighborhoods.
At first, the idea was just to use the ground floor of one of the buildings: 419 Occidental Ave. S., a renewed old warehouse that will contain office and shop premises. The old brick and timber building has been beautifully restored, but the tenants have yet to move in.
Hamilton quickly struck into longtime collaborator Dominic Nieri, an art documentary filmmaker, creative producer and founder of Seattle-based ARTXIV (pronounced archive), which now produces the entire festival. They initially landed on a plan to use the ground floor as a kind of studio for local and visiting artists to create murals in murals.
So, just two months ago, Watson gave them permission to take over almost the entire building – 77,000 square feet spread over seven floors – plus the roof and alley. According to Hamilton, even though the timing was very tight and there was no initial funding, they did not think twice because “opportunities like this do not happen all the time. And that was important to us as the world around us grows and changes, “Finding places for creative people and art. That’s what makes a city thrive.”
Hamilton and Nieri reached out to other artists, curators, and groups – people who Hamilton said “would bring a good mix of experiences. We could trust their process and their point of view.” He added smiling: “We also just asked artists because we love their work and felt they could fill thousands of square feet quite easily.”
And then the entire building will be “activated”, with each floor filled with contemporary art, on-site performances and interactive events such as poster gifts and immersive installations.
In keeping with Hamilton and Nieri’s original vision, the ground floor will feature 16 artists who will use the space to create murals and large-scale canvases in the week leading up to the opening.
The top two floors will house a group exhibition featuring over 60 new and established artists – all local, in line with the vision of XO Seattle, the team that puts together this show. XO Seattle is a self-described “wandering curatorial practice,” with a history of taking over space in transition. Co-curators Julianne Johnson, Austin Bellamy Hicks, Erik Molano and Moses Sun have put together a long and impressive list of artists for this exhibition, which they describe as a “love letter to the creative community of the Pacific Northwest.”
XO Seattle is also holding its grand opening party on July 22 with Hrvst House, a Black-owned, Seattle-based production company. Music and art performances continue every Friday night until August 19th.
The other floors will be programmed by curators and artists, including Axel Void, a Miami-based, Haitian-Spanish artist who has named his show “12,143”, the square footage of the space he states will be transformed without “no other agenda” than the beauty and absurdity of this happening in itself. ”
Christopher Martin, a tattoo and textile artist based in Oakland, California, will install his traveling exhibition “Ancient as Time”, which combines fabric hanging and sculpture and graphic design with his personal experiences of life in the South and the history of the African diaspora.
Coming up from Portland, the collaborating team of ruben garcia marrufoa self-described “frontier artist” and maximiliana multimedia conceptual artist, will continue their ongoing work, which according to their artist statement “is inspired by Gaspar Yanga, a enslaved African in Mexico who fled to form a reddish brown community at the Gulf of Mexico Coastand draws from the mixed cultures of the artists, who physically and metaphorically push boundaries in the wake of the empire. ”
The fifth floor will house “HOWL,” a group exhibition of large-scale works by women-identifying and non-binary artists who use their artistic voices for urgent and timely expression on topics such as collective healing, bodily autonomy, and survival. According to co-curators Manitach and Lele Barnett – key members of Seattle’s art scene – “HOWL” was created as a call. Great works by regional and national artists will include a balloon-give-away tribute to Félix González-Torres (an artist known for his intimate, interactive art) by Amanda James Parker (Seattle), a community-created installation of wrapped thread by Megan Prince (Seattle), and viral images from the national organization Shout Your Abort.
Consistent with this festival’s expansive, out-of-the-box approach, the art will not just be limited to a floor-to-floor plan. Even the eight-story staircase will be transformed into art through Christopher Derek Bruno’s color, light and sound installation.
The alley outside the building will also be enlivened with art, including an augmented reality experience by Brooklyn, New York-based Iranian artist Marjan Moghaddam, an internationally recognized pioneer in digital art. Future Arts, the Seattle-based new media art collective that curates this multisite installation from Moghaddam, says in a statement that visitors to the RailSpur alley can scan a QR code to “trigger an animated #GLITCHGODDESS that struts and shifts forms. ”
Clearly, a lot will happen inside, around and on top of this old warehouse. But Forest For The Trees organizer Hamilton points to the bigger picture: “It’s all part of a larger ecosystem that we’re trying to create – an ecosystem of support, like a forest. We want artists to have room to grow. ”