by Kirby Lindsay
Originally published, in a slightly different form, in the North Seattle Herald-Outlook newspaper on February 21, 2008.In a neighborhood with a ferro-concrete Troll, a World War II surplus rocket and five aluminum people standing with a man-faced dog waiting for a streetcar that never arrives, many people think Fremont quite replete with art. Still, some artists obviously disagree.
Art attacks on Fremont occur an average of twice a year. Oversized butterfly wings adorning a telephone pole, Troll prints painted on the sidewalk and an enormous spider suspended over the Outdoor Cinema parking lot have appeared at random times over the years.
This goes beyond reactionary monuments created as comment on current affairs, or decorations on the Interurban or Lenin statues.
One example took place one random weekday in 2007 at the corner of Fremont Avenue North and North 35th Street. Attached to a light pole, a loudspeaker broadcasted a recorded piece of dialogue that looped over and over. The short audio sample included a high-pitched voice screaming, "Dear God! No, no, no!"
These art pieces appear, and usually disappear, and that may be best for many of them. However, one of Fremont's most easily identifiable icons, The Guidepost, began life as an art attack, possibly installed in 1995. As is the nature of these attacks, the artist's identity remained secret…until now.
A 'SENSE OF LUDICROUSNESS'
Maque daVis lives two blocks west of the Fremont border in Ballard, but said, "I consider myself a Fremonster." No one could possibly contradict him.
DaVis founded Trolloween and Cirque du Flambé and has served on the board of directors of Fremonster Theatrical and the Moisture Festival. He has sat on the board of the Fremont Arts Council (FAC), as well, and held the title of "President For Life" for many years until, as he recalled, he asked them to "let me go be an artist again."
As for The Guidepost, "I built it as a spoof on ourselves," daVis explained.
During his FAC presidency in the 1990s, daVis participated in the reinvention of Fremont. "The irony of us declaring ourselves as the 'Center of the Universe,'" daVis explained, "it was tongue-in-cheek. It was fun to have that sense of ludicrousness."
DaVis installed the guidepost where Fremont Place North meets Fremont Avenue. The post originally marked the center of the Center of the Universe and contained directional arrows pointing out various locales - The Troll (two blocks), Wall Drug (1,053 miles) and Noogies (top of head) - and reflects Fremo-centrism, the concept that the universe revolves around Fremont.
DaVis admitted, "I thought it was more of a temporary installation, but I built it out of cedar so it wouldn't rot. It pleases me that it has stayed."(UPDATE: In June 2009, a newly constructed Guidepost appeared, made of pressure treated wood, painted with exterior grade paint and sporting updated directions.)
The neighborhood quickly adopted it. "I assumed it would stay there until a car ran it over." It did get run over and sideswiped, but neighbors have reinstalled and repaired it many, many times.
AN 'APPROPRIATE JAR-NESS'
Occasionally, artists approach daVis with ideas for art attacks, and he offers strong words of advice: "You can't destroy property, you can't do something offensive, and I suggest they make something beautiful for the community."
Art can make people think, but "an appropriate jar-ness," daVis stated, can provoke without causing distress.
DaVis participated in installing Lenin in Fremont. "That was something courageous," he recalled, especially as the statue drew concerns. Considered an art attack by some, daVis believes the statue "doesn't have to represent oppression. To set it up and decorate it...it is something for play."
Art attacks by others haven't always been so successful. An 8-foot-long steel-pig sculpture installed in fall 2001, "was something that was too much for us - too controversial," daVis recalled. "The pig created such a strong reaction."
The piece included a trough that collected trash, and the whole of it had sharp edges. Bolted to the sidewalk, debate raged between art vs. safety hazard, and where to draw the line.
After two months, the night before the FAC planned to move the pig to a more hospitable location, the sculpture disappeared. A few days later, in its place stood a full-size, papier-mâché Holstein cow. Finally, another pig appeared - and the FAC ended up with the expense and effort of relocating it.
In fact, rarely do attack pieces endure although a giant, unclassified bug installed on a telephone pole on North 36th Street near Palatine Avenue North has continued unmolested for about two years, while its artist remains publicly unknown - as does its future.(UPDATE: Throughout recent construction of the Fremont Lofts development around it, ‘The Bug’ remained unmolested and has become a semi-permanent installation.)
For daVis, the "found objects," a Fremont art installation of three bronze pieces (a workman's glove, a newspaper and some books) by Anita Fisk, scattered around the neighborhood served as inspiration for the guidepost.
These pieces adhere to three guiding principles daVis thinks make a successful art attack: "It gets people thinking, it adds something of value or beauty to the community and it enhances the culture here."
If you witness an art attack happening or want to share information on a previously unacknowledged piece, send any information to The Fremocentrist – and keep an eye out here for reports of future attacks!
©2011 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.