Suzanne Morlock will transform a dingy alley in Pioneer Square into sacred ground for empathetic truth-telling with “3772: Yellow Brick Road,” an art installation featuring the real-life stories of people who have or are experiencing homelessness in Seattle.
Morlock plans to broadcast versions of seven people’s interviews over speakers in the alley that runs from Washington Street to Yesler Way, between Second and Third avenues, from 11 a.m. to dusk on Aug. 1. The installation runs in conjunction with the Art of the City Street Fest, a Black Lives Matter group exhibition and a gallery-wide performance by approximately 50 dancers and musicians inspired by Native American Seahawk stories.
Morlock attributes her motivation to the city itself, which is much different than her previous home in northwestern Wyoming. “This inaugural piece was inspired by newly being here,” she said, “having come from an environment that’s quite different. [Homelessness] was really the only focus that interested me when I first got here, because it was such a different landscape, such a dramatic human condition.”
The One Night Count, which tallied a discouraging 3,772 people sleeping outdoors across King County last January, greatly influenced her work. The artist plans to line her space with 3,772 paper plates to diagrammatically represent every individual who was sleeping outside during that night, with a narrow path to walk through the center of the alley.
“I learned at some point that Seattle always refers to itself as ‘The Emerald City,’” Morlock said. “That’s the reference in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ the place where these folks, who felt like they were deficient, were headed to get the magic that would make them whole. The idea that [Seattle] kind of views itself as this place … there’s a real disparity between the idea of the Emerald City and all that goes along with that, and having folks who are sleeping on the street.”
Morlock’s interview process is relatively simple: In a small gallery, the artist and the volunteer sit at a table with a recorder between them. Sometimes she asks a question to start, but it’s never complex or manipulative. She is not there to judge or even to document, but to witness. Most sessions end with a hug, a picture for the website and a promise to broadcast the story. Some interviews will not make it into the alley exhibition, but all of them will be uploaded onto Morlock’s website along with a portrait.
The Art of the City Street Fest is timed to coincide with the Seattle Art Fair at the Convention Center, which will feature influential artists from around the world. Though the two events are not linked, Morlock hopes some of the more elite eyes will wander toward the Street Fest for a better taste of local community artwork.
“I wanted to do something that might potentially grow compassion with people who don’t experience this, who previously walked by people sitting on the street, not knowing what to do or not wanting to help or being afraid,” she said. “The project might increase some small bit of understanding [from people] by hearing the stories of people who have lived through being homeless. We’re all just inches from being homeless. All it takes is a couple of missteps and no safety net, and anyone could be there.”
An article in the July 29 issue misidentified the amount of interviewees in Suzanne Morlock’s “3772: Yellow Brick Road.” All 17 people she interviewed were featured in the exhibition. All interviews are available on her website: suzannemorlock.com.