Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Form/Space Atelier Program For October 2009
Form/Space Atelier Program For October 2009
Show Title: From Industry to Information
Show Duration: October 9- November 8, 2009
Show Description: Seattle Photographer Dan Hawkins exhibits photographs of the abandoned Fisher Flour Mill on Harbor Island, Seattle. This exhibit marks the fourth exhibit of Hawkins photographs curated by Paul Pauper, his second consecutive solo exhibit (his first was December 2008) at Form/Space Atelier. Hawkins also exhibited a show curated by Paul Pauper at Angle Gallery 312 South Washington, Seattle in the Spring of 2008, and participated in a group show at Form/Space Atelier in April 2008. From Industry to Information combines sound installation in a site-specific intercession installed at great expense and technical deployment.
Curator's notes compiled by Emily J. Hoch, Assistant Curator Emeritus, Form/Space Atelier:
Walking with Dan Hawkins: Exploring and Photographing an Abandoned Mill
In the early afternoon of August 22nd, our car pulled up along the cracked sidewalk of an industrial district of Seattle. Photographer Dan Hawkins, sound artist Paul, and I hop out of the car. As our eyes move across the landscape taking in the graffiti-covered train yards and deserted cracked sidewalks, Dan quickly outlines our route to the mill, “Okay, so, we’re going to go down to the beach. If we see anyone, keep walking. If anyone talks to us, let me do the talking. We have to establish ourselves as people with a legitimate purpose in the area before we go any farther.” Dan’s tone is casual but matter of fact. He’s done this before. He knows where we’re going, how to get there and how to handle the various situations which may interfere with our mission.
As our small party walks towards the beach, I can’t help but notice the alien nature of the industrial landscape. Along the sidewalk to our left looms a tall cement wall topped with curls of barbed wire, and to our right train cars stand idly on their tracks, waiting patiently for use as rust grows on their bellies. I glance behind me at the high rise buildings of downtown Seattle that decorate the landscape with their glistening windows in the afternoon sun as if to remind us that we really are still in Seattle.
According to Dan, the best way to “establish ourselves” and avoid awkward questions is to change plans depending on the immediate situation. In other words, though our ultimate plan is to get to the abandoned mill, at the moment we played the role of beach combers. To solidify this impression, we sit on a log along the shoreline and pretend to collect shells.
Across the water from us is an enormous shipping barge. We hear steel clanging against steel and the whining of machines as they echo across the water providing a soundtrack for the urban wasteland around us. “You know,” Dan pipes up, “most people think Seattle runs on big companies like Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon. Big and corporate. But it doesn’t. It runs on blue collar jobs like this.” He gestures towards the ship. “Steel cutting, logistics, shipping… industry. But people don’t know that. People don’t see the industry of raw materials that keeps our economy running. These raw materials are our nature, and I want to reintroduce people to that.”
After satisfactorily establishing ourselves on the beach, Dan deems it safe for us to continue our trek to the mill. We have to keep close to the water to remain out of sight of people who may question our purpose. We scramble over sharp rocks laden with brown and green seaweeds piled against a vacant lot of cracked concrete until we arrive under the cover of a forgotten loading dock. Beneath the dock we climb through a shadowy gloom, over more rocks and around half-rotted pillars along the blue-green water.
At the edge of the loading dock Paul, and I pause as Dan goes ahead to scout our route and entry point into the mill. As we sit and wait for Dan to return with further instruction, I can’t help but feel like a refugee sneaking past border guards. The experience is both exhilarating and unwelcoming.
Dan returns and escorts us to a small cave-like entrance in the foundation through which we can enter the mill. As we enter the foundation we see evidence of scrappers in the form of multi-colored wires littering the dirt ground. Dan shakes his head. He is unhappy about how much the scrappers have destroyed the historic mill.
We enter the mill by contorting our bodies through a small man lift that brings us up to the first floor of the building. In the dark of the interior, we are disoriented and must wait for our eyes to adjust before continuing.
Dan strides ahead into the next room as Paul and I, having never been to the mill, stumble through the darkness, relying on the light of Dan’s cell phone to guide us to him. “We have to be quiet in this part of the building,” Dan tells knowledgeably. “We don’t know who else is here.” With that he leads us deftly through the building’s maze of stairs and rooms until we emerge quite suddenly onto a sunny rooftop between the mill’s two great rows of silos.
“Basically,” Dan summarizes as we pause on the roof, “there are four types of people who come into these buildings and photographers are the least of your problems. There are graffiti artists, who I don’t really mind –I just see that as another form of decay, but there are also scrappers and arsonists. Scrappers are just as bad as arsonists, because they destroy these old buildings. They take so much that the building can’t support itself anymore and it collapses. Abandoned buildings hold a lot of history about the city, and this mill is a part of Seattle’s story as much as it is a part of its landscape. To destroy it is to destroy a little of Seattle. That should be prevented.”
Dan decides to give us the “grand tour” of the mill and stops first in a room just off the landing, which houses a large old-fashioned boiler, browned with age. Dan pulls out his camera and positions it carefully to one side of the object. The light from the windows streams in and reflects off the few still-shiny surfaces left on the great metal machine. As he adjusts his camera for each picture, Dan explains his relationship to this industrial object: “You know, I’ve photographed this object many times, and each time it changes. It’s like having a conversation. It shows me how I’ve changed. …It shows me how we’ve changed.”
Excitedly, Dan shows us a new room that he found only recently. The room is situated on top of one of the rows of silos and can only be accessed by crossing the land bridge which connects the two silo rows about forty stories off the ground. As we crossed the bridge, sounds of clanging metal, beeping trucks and whining machinery from the outside world enter through the windows and reverberate through the hall like a ghostly reminder of the mill’s former use. At the end of the bridge I am disturbed to find what would be one of many birds to fly into the mill and then die after being unable to escape. The presence of the bird’s carcass in that lonely hall stimulates unavoidable associations with the mill’s own death after abandonment and its slow decay as the world outside forgot it and moved on.
Down a flight of stairs we come to a long room filled with curved yellow pipes which point toward the building’s exterior. A vibrant mixture of yellow, blue and once white walls, the room functioned as a grain distributor by pushing grain through the over-head ducts and funneling it though the pipes into the silos below. Today the room stands bare, having been stripped of its ability to function by scrappers who have taken the pipes and electrical power as they scavenged for copper and other sellable materials. Though now deprived of industrial purpose, the room’s long narrow shape, bright, simple colors and repetition in the piping still provide an aesthetically pleasing setting, which Dan notes as he carefully photographs the space.
Leaving the room of pipes we re-cross the land bridge and enter a dusty-gray space, which had the same function as the previous room, but is positioned over the opposite row of silos and houses different machinery. Though their tasks are the same as the pipes and ducts in the previous room, the machines of this room consist of rows of low-sitting conveyer belts which stretch the length of the room, visually extending its length through their horizontality. With conveyer belt next to conveyer belt pulling my eye along the length of the room, I understand Dan’s nickname for the space as “The Long Room.” Accented by the presence of thick, wooden pillars, which break up the space’s horizontality and provide a vertical balance, the former factory space suddenly transcends its original function and becomes an art space.
Desiring a view from the peak of the mill, our party sets out on the slow climb of flight after flight of stairs to reach the highest floor. When we become tired of walking inside, Dan leads us outside where we scurry up flights of steep, narrow, metal steps which scale the side of the mill. As the rest of us bustle upwards, enthused by the sense of adventure, Dan walks casually behind us, cell phone to his ear, nonchalantly flicking his hand at us to communicate directions. Dan’s familiarity with the abandoned mill and his ease within the environment could not be more obvious.
When, finally, the steps end, we crawl through an open window into a narrow hallway. Following the hallway we enter a room where we see evidence of scrappers: the piles of discarded metal parts littering the floor. A Snickers wrapper, caught in the scrapped metal shards, gives the room, now stripped of functionality, the atmosphere of a garbage dump. Dan taps with the side of his foot a mechanical part, which has been ripped from the metal lockers along the wall. “See,” he says, “this is what they do. Scrappers come into these old buildings and take whatever they want, but destroy the space in the process.” The space really had been destroyed. Not only has its functionality been taken away, but its clean, mechanical lines and structural shapes, so aesthetically pleasing in the mill’s other rooms, have been reworked into a series of crooked angles and inconsistencies. Stepping over nuts and bolts which scatter the floor, we move through the room and continue our ascent to the top of the mill.
After one more flight of stairs and a small metal ladder, we emerge into the bright light of day on the mill’s highest roof. The view is incredible. We see every ingredient of Seattle’s character spread beneath our feet: the high-rise buildings of downtown sparkling in the afternoon sun, homes neatly spread across the hills as well as the machines and cranes of the industrial districts. Strangely, however, despite our ability to observe the city sprawl across the hills, the people of Seattle didn’t seem to be able to see us. Instead we are oddly invisible as we stand on this industrial peak of the Seattle skyline observing the day as it unfolds below us.
As we begin our long climb back down those many flights of stairs, Dan makes a brief but humorous comment about reentry being like a descent into hell. I don’t really get his comment until we’ve gone done at least eight flights of stairs. Just above the lowest floors, an inky blackness hovers over the stairwell, cloaking all things, the stairs, our hands in front of our faces, in a rich, creamy, but utterly terrifying darkness. Suddenly, I understand Dan’s comment perfectly.
We descend down two flights of stairs. Since no one thought to bring a flashlight, we rely on Dan to lead the way. We step gently, out fingers tracing the wall or gripping the handrail while our feet tap ahead of us, feeling the ground for the possibility of more stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, light oozes in from some unseen window, and our eyes, previously starved of light, take in a vast, vaulted space with concrete pillars holding up cavernous ceilings. As Dan explains, the great vaulted spaces in the room’s ceiling were originally the homes of some large machine. He points one out to us explaining that he’s not sure how whoever takes these large machines gets them out of the building nor is he certain what happens to them, but every once in a while, another one disappears.
Dan tries to find us an alternative exit route out of the mill instead of taking us through the man lift hole we entered through. We move through the first level of the mill rattling windows and pulling on doors only to learn that our only promising method of escape was indeed our entrance route. As we walk to the man lift we pass the former women’s dressing room. A light is on in the room, inspiring an eerie sensation that this room within the vacant mill is inhabited. Inside, mirrors still hang on the women’s lockers and the toilets still flush. Large tables and a stove are set up in the room making it seem inhabitable. As I look at the broken pottery and scattered debris covering the floor, I can’t help but feel as though we are standing in a ghostly time warp, or a space trapped between the back then and the right now, of daily use and of its current state of abandonment.
Our exit via our entry route into the building allows us a quick and deft escape from the building. Our plan had been to retrace our steps along the shoreline and under the loading dock, but to our dismay the tide has come in too high for us to successfully continue on this route. Changing our tactics, Dan leads us on a on a winding maze that zigzags around parked semi trucks and through bushes. Suddenly we can go no farther following this route –the brush grows too thickly against the side of the semi to allow us to pass. Quickly changing our plan again we assume the role of lost beach combers and march smartly across the workers’ lot to “ask for directions.” Though at first confused and upset by our presence in an industrial workspace, the manager of the worksite eventually leads us through the field of semis and along the rusted railroad tracks to the edge of the vast concrete field we had originally crossed to get to the water’s edge. There, waiting for us, is the car. We all pile in and drive across the cracked concrete, lined with crumbling walls and rippled chain link fences –back to the city and away from the urban decay with only our impressions, Paul’s sounds and Dan’s photos to remind us of the mill’s ghostly presence along the Seattle skyline.
Walking with Dan:
A Chronological Description of an Afternoon with Dan Hawkins
At 1:40 P.M. on August 22nd, 2009, Dan, Paul and I begin walking towards the mill from the North. Our intent is to move towards the beach and pretend to be beach combers in order to establish ourselves.
1:55 P.M.: We pause on the beach in order to establish our presence before moving on.
2:15 P.M.: To avoid being seen as we continue toward the mill, we creep along the shore towards the cover of an abandoned loading dock.
2:25 P.M.: We reach the end of the loading dock that stands closest to the mill. Paul and I pause while Dan moves ahead to scout the best point of entry into the mill.
2:30 P.M.: We enter the mill on its Northeast side through a small hole in its foundation. To enter the mill’s interior we climb up through a man lift.
2:40 P.M.: We move through the dusty silence of the mill. We walk through the old manufacturing rooms and climb a flight of stairs along the far wall.
2:45 P.M.: On the landing, we step through a door and emerge into the bright sunlight of one of the lower rooftops.
2:50 P.M.: We reenter the building and move into another room, which houses a large old-fashioned boiler. Dan pauses to photograph the boiler, and comments that it is one of his favorite objects in the mill to photograph.
2:55 P.M.: To access the next room of our tour, we cross the land bridge which connects the two rows of silos.
3:00 P.M.: Along the top of the silo at the end of the land bridge, lies a long, narrow room, which once functioned as a grain distributor for the silos.
3:15 P.M.: After taking a few photos, Dan leads us back across the land bridge to the room which holds the same function as the previous one though along the opposite set of silos.
3:25 P.M.: Desiring a view from the mill’s highest point, our party sets out on the slow climb up flight after flight of stairs to reach the highest floor.
3:35 P.M.: On the mill’s highest landing, we scurry up a small metal ladder, which leads us to the highest rooftop. Standing on the mill’s peak we can see all parts which make up Seattle: the industrial stock yards, the business-focused sky-scrapers of downtown, and the residential areas.
3:40 P.M.: We reenter the mill and begin the long descent down to its base. Towards the bottom we encounter an inky blackness and Paul and I must rely on the light of Dan’s cell phone to guide us through the darkness.
3:45 P.M.: At the base of the stairs lies a gloomy, concrete space with tall cavernous ceilings, which, according to Dan, originally housed huge, oval machines.
3:55 P.M.: As we search for an alternative exit route out of the mill, we stumble into the old women’s locker room. The light in the room was on, casting an eerie glow through the rest of the dark interior.
4:05 P.M.: We exit the same way we entered, though the man lift. We retrace our steps under the loading dock and along the shoreline only to find that the tide had come in and the water is too high to allow us to pass.
4:10 P.M.: Adjusting our purpose and our route, we march into the workers’ yard pretending to be lost beach combers asking for directions.
4:15 P.M.: The manager of the worksite leads us back to our car, which we climb into to drive back to the city.
Posted by Paul Kuniholm Pauper at 10:31 AM