Sunday, August 5, 2012

Watt’s Lodge

Marie Watt installation at Tacoma Art Museum

Engine, 2009. Felted wool, wood, audio/visual presentation, 108 x 240 x 162 inches. In collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

by Alec Clayton

The Weekly Volcano, Aug. 2, 2012

Marie Watt brings blankets, stories and communities to Tacoma Art Museum
The announcements for Marie Watt’s installation “Lodge” at Tacoma Art Museum did not paint a clear enough picture to make me want to see the show, but I went nevertheless. I will try to state it a little more clearly:

Go. See this show. Now.

Does that clarify it?

Watt, who grew up in Redmond, is a Seneca Indian. Her art grows out of Native traditions with influences from conceptual artist Joseph Beuys. The focal point of her installation is a piece called “engine,” which is a two-room, cave-like lodge made of felted wool stretched over frames of bent wood — her artistic interpretation of the lodges in which the Seneca traditionally gathered in small groups to listen to story tellers. 

Visitors to the museum can go into the lodge. The walls of the front room are covered with colorful hand prints representing the hands of the community members who helped build the lodge. The second room is a warm and inviting cave-like structure with felt-covered seating areas and felt-covered stalactites and stalagmites. An opening on top lets light in and there is an audio/visual projection on the inner walls of a story teller. Sitting inside is like sitting around a campfire with a few of your closest of friends. It is an otherworldly, moving and welcoming experience.

Watt recalls that when she was in kindergarten she told her classmates, “I was part cowboy and part Indian.” Her mother was Seneca and grew up on the Cattaraugus Reservation in upstate New York.

“We traditionally call ourselves Haudenosaunee, which is often summarized as ‘people of the long house, Watt says. “My collective work is about house building not literally constructing architecture, but instead the bits and pieces, the component parts, and a foundation of stories and objects that recall skins and the ways in which we know comfort, shelter, home.”

In addition to the lodge, Watt has filled the gallery with sculptural works made primarily of blankets stacked high (and bronze and resin sculptures based on stacks of blankets). The blankets tell stories, and in some of the works the stories are handwritten on tags attached to the blankets. A museum docent pointed out to me a particular blanket layered within a stack of old blankets piled eight-feet high. It was a blanket issued to a holocaust survivor when he was first sent to the concentration camp. The handwritten tags tell the tale of how he carried that blanket with him throughout his ordeal of imprisonment.

The gallery walls are lined with prints and woven or quilted wall hangings, some of which tell personal and historic stories and some of which abstractly interpret history and traditions. Many of the minimalist abstract prints are particularly beautiful. And the more narrative works pay homage to historical figures ranging from the Native American athlete Jim Thorpe to labor leaders like Ira Hayes to feminist pioneers such as Susan B. Anthony and Mary Cady Stanton.

Visitors should take the time to carefully read all of the informative wall texts.
To once more make myself clear: Go. See this show. Now.

[Tacoma Art Museum, Wed.–Sun. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., through Oct. 7, admission $10, student/senior/military $8, children 5 and younger free, Third Thursdays free from 5-8 p.m.,1701 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma]

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