After visitors climb the curved staircase to the second floor of Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (BIMA), they are met with a bronze number four, a peep hole and a mail slot. The components displayed on the outer wall of the Rachel Feferman gallery are a part of Steve Parmelee’s “Doors Are Illusions.” The mixed-media assemblage signals the exterior of a house.
“Home” is a group exhibition showcasing artwork from 25 Puget Sound artists. Birdhouses, nests made of hand-sewn nickel and melted glass repurposed into wearable jewelry are among the works in the exhibition. Alfred Currier’s oil paintings of Skagit Valley’s vibrant flower fields with migrant workers among its rows are beautiful landscapes.
Artist Karen Hackenberg is also presenting the allure of the Pacific Northwest. “Have an Ice Day” depicts a scene perfect for meditation: a solid blue sky and calm azure waters. But a floating plastic bag emblazoned with a polar bear interrupts the serenity. The bag is from an ice company out of Lynden, Washington. Hackenberg came across it while walking on the beach near her Discovery Bay home. She held the bag up to the sun and snapped dozens of photographs, which became the starting point for the painting. Hackenberg said she likes to make stunning work with a dark underbelly.
“The imagery on it just really struck me in the context of what’s going on with climate change and species extinction,” said Hackenberg. “It really grabbed my sense of irony, which is a lot of where my work comes from.”
Similarly, in “Toss Up” plastic toys are suspended against an evening sunset. Both oil-on-canvas paintings are part of the “Floating World” series. Hackenberg isn’t trying to be heavy-handed in addressing her environmental concerns. The message is seamlessly integrated within impeccably rendered paintings. Hackenberg points to the alarming fact that plastics are in the food chain now. Given the depiction of the clear plastic bag in “Have an Ice Day,” it’s understandable why a sea turtle might mistake it for a jellyfish drifting in the water.
Hackenberg’s work touches on an issue with harmful implications. A floating pile of trash in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), is made up of fishing nets and plastic. A recently published study by the Ocean Cleanup Foundation found that “ocean plastic pollution within the GPGP is increasing exponentially and at a faster rate than in surrounding waters.” It is now said to be twice the size of Texas. An increased amount of recyclables from Seattleites is now ending up in a landfill because China is tightening the standards of what they’ll accept.
Hackenberg can see the beauty in these durable objects that offer convenience. Inserting detritus among picturesque landscapes mirrors what she sees on daily walks. The unfortunate reality is both go hand in hand.
“I walk this line between acceptance and wanting change,” said Hackenberg. “I want people to see their place in the whole context of this, not necessarily in a punitive way, although that’s part of it. We need to stop consuming so much.”
Artist Preston Wadley is inviting visitors to read his hand-crafted books. In “Nine Kings,” a sepia-toned photograph of Black servicemen who are seemingly fresh from a successful battle, pose with guns. The men are juxtaposed with chess pieces. The two elements are placed within pages of blackened bronze that’s been patinaed. Wadley has a number of pieces that revolve around the complexity of what it means to serve a country that treats them like second-class citizens.
“They’re kings in the respect that they are doing an honorable service and they keep the homeland intact for us to enjoy,” said Wadley. “But the politicians that play are just moving them around like chess pieces and they’re pawns in the game.”
Wadley considers his work to be instrumental and wants people to spend more than just a few seconds interpreting its meaning. His mixed-media piece titled “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” is loaded with symbolism. From a distance it appears to be a standard birdbath. Upon closer examination, the bowl upon which the birds are perched has bars across it and underneath is a woman’s mugshot.
“His work is both very specific and also ambiguous, and that’s what I love about it,” said BIMA Chief Curator Greg Robinson. “It’s meticulous and beautiful, but it also can be very heavy with the topics he addresses.”
“Home” also highlights those whose homes are missing sturdy walls, windows and running water. Steve Wilson photographed people experiencing homelessness in Seattle and Portland. In “Charles Sweeping the Freeway,” Charles is clearing the curb as a blurry car speeds by. In another photograph, Charles is at home under a freeway while he sits on a sleeping bag. Photographs from Portland’s Dignity Village, a self-governed community billed as a radical experiment to end homelessness, are also featured.
Wilson turned his lens toward homelessness after a career working for National Geographic and other national magazines capturing large social mammals such as caribou. The award-winning photographer spent hours talking with people like Charles and refers to those he’s met as street philosophers with insightful thoughts on humanity. He recalled a man who told him “Frustration gives me the opportunity to find a solution.”
“The total secret of my photographs is that I spent the time to listen, and I listened thoughtfully and meaningfully,” said Wilson. “Because of that I find that that’s what they’re really, really, really desperate for is does somebody care.”
Wilson has compiled a book of the photographs he’s taken of those experiencing homelessness. He put in a lot of effort to show their humanity, not stereotypes. Despite his connections in the publishing world, he still hasn’t found a publisher who wants to print it. He said part of the issue is that the subject matter isn’t deemed sellable. BIMA visitors can peruse a mockup of the book.
Robinson cocurated “Home” with artist Bill Baran-Mickle and Marie Weichman, artist and art professor. The exhibition is an expanded version of an earlier show at Olympic College. BIMA’s fifth anniversary is approaching so the show also harkens back to the museum building a home.
From textile art to furniture to ceramics, “Home” covers a wide array of perspectives on what one’s sacred space is and can be. The exhibition also centers challenging aspects of home and its fragility.
WHAT: “Home: Group Show”
WHEN: Runs until June 3
WHERE: Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, 550 Winslow Way E.
'Guardian' at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art showcases striking sculptures by George Rodriguez
‘Figuring History’ at SAM showcases the works of Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall and Mickalene Thomas
Melanin Poppin': ‘Everyday Black’ at NAAM celebrates and exalts Blackness
Wait, there's more. Check out the full April 18 - April 24 issue.