This summer, a dozen artists wrapped, cut into and painted five houses on the north end of Bellevue Avenue East, a block before it unravels to become Bellevue Place and Bellevue Court. The artists were invited to do so by MadArt, an organization dedicated to presenting public art in Seattle. (“Mad” is short for Madison Park, the location of the group’s first project in 2009.) The site of the installations, collectively known as Mad Homes, is the location of a Point32 development project—the five structures will be relocated or salvaged and replaced by new Weinstein A|U-designed housing.
Approaching the block from the south on July 16, the day the project opened to the public, visitors encountered four visibly altered structures. (The fifth home, a more recent construction with a phenomenal view, was tucked behind one of the street-side buildings.) Laura Ward’s Skin slumped in front of one residence. Made by applying latex rubber to the exterior of the house and then lifting it off, along with all the building’s accumulated grime, Skin’s surface resembled a rust-stained Victorian undergarment. Navigating the adjacent, crowded front yards, the smell of latex was an occasional breeze-born presence.
The difference between house and home is a well-documented subject of literature, marriage vows and greeting cards. A house is a structure and a home is the site of living, of feeling and doing. By identifying the buildings (post-gingerbread, early 20th-century houses for families of four or five with large, awkward closets tucked under the eaves) as homes, MadArt underscored the challenge it presented the Mad Homes artists: By assigning them well-worn domestic environments, the artwork would compete with voyeurism of the kind that compels a person to peek into lighted windows at night, a rare glimpse of a private space earned through neither trust nor friendship. This was not so much public art as a private exchange unveiled for an audience.
One of the five homes remained occupied and was peppered with signage requesting that due courtesy be paid. Wrapped by artist trio SuttonBeresCuller in red polypropylene ratchet straps and bound by dozens of bright red lines to an adjacent, empty building, it was easy to imagine these holdout residents waving through their windows at the artists as they bobbed up and down in a blue man-lift. How odd to distinguish oneself as a pioneer by being the last in a place, rather than the first.
Several artists took the charge of manufacturing a “mad home” literally, prosaically creating art that behaved like construction or interior materials or selecting construction materials as art supplies. A kitchen and living space, gutted, save an ugly counter and cabinet piece installed sometime in the ‘80s (forgive us this decade, all who follow), was the setting for Luke Haynes’ Wall Clothes, a floor-to-ceiling patchwork of discarded garments. One room featured kaleidoscopic clothing; the other was an allover black. And the construction was beautiful: all clothing on a plane, tidily stitched together. But Haynes’ square of panties - all styles, all colors - installed in a nearby stairwell was more interesting for its untidiness, for having little bits of lace and nylon hanging as garment and gravity dictated. Acts of dislocation, the effects of which hung heavy in the air above this city block, do not a tidy life or place make.
Allan Packer’s installation, The Fulcrum of Prescience, made the most of the domestic environment. Occupying the entire ground level of a home, Fulcrum comprised man sized, flat cutouts of a wolf and bird that moved mechanically between walls and levels through slots cut into the plaster and floorboards—the back-and-forth motion was like the triggering of moveable paper components in a pop-up book. Accompanied by a suspended, twirling and red-lighted jewel shape, the effect of the intervention was both playful and eerie. Packer had the luxury of working in a building that he could cut into the meat of to reorder its bones. From those bones, he conjured an image of what was or will be, giving shape to the hum of a home preparing to be dead before its time.