A gaggle of six-year-old kiddos rushed past my legs as I walked into the Push Play exhibition at Hedreen Gallery last Thursday. I watched them huddle around a controller, looking up at a wall of textured contemporary art with a video game projected onto it.
Two ping pong paddles labeled “the social services” and “your parents”, along with four balls labeled “you” and “your wee sister”
I later learned, while chatting with Amanda Donnan, curator of the art galleries at Seattle University, that this piece was specially made by Cable Griffith and Brent Wantanabe just for the Seattle U showing of Push/ Play. As I made my way through the room, I laughed to myself. The variety of ages being represented in the space appeared to range from seven months to 70 years old.
Push Play is a contemporary art exhibition that seems more like a reimagined playroom (Imagine family game night from Wonderland; omewhat dark, somewhat political, and all kinds of fun). Melissa Feldman, curator of Push Play, echoed the same feeling when I spoke to her, saying,
“One of my funny stories of the show is that it’s the eight-year-olds who are not daunted by the all-white chess set, and it’s the senior citizens who want a try at the giant seesaw.”
That’s right, the exhibition includes an all-white chess set and a giant seesaw. Included in the mix is a ping pong set, with one large paddle that reads “the social services” and a smaller paddle that reads “your parents” and balls that are labeled “you” and “your wee sister.” Donnan said that the ping pong table was one of her favorites, “It’s really dark but it’s really funny. It’s a twist.”
Community member Brian Buchanan and Seattle University staff member Josephine Archibald seemed to take a liking to the reimagined blackjack game. Archibald grinned, “It’s better than normal blackjack.” None seemed shy to disturb the carefully set up activities, instead all took to the playground with zeal. Donnan explained that Push Play is an introductory tool, “It sort of breaks down the boundaries people feel with art. It’s a good way to make them feel comfortable and make them realize that they can understand the ways that art means in a fun way.”
There is not a single piece in this show that is not meant to be handled and played with. Feldman talked about Push Play as a part of a greater movement in contemporary art, “As a curator, I think it kind of points out a trend that’s been going on for a long time that has to do with the audience participating in art. [It] has been really gaining speed in the last decade or so and so it relates to work that’s being made and also how curating is being approached. This is work that [an audience] can relate to, and maybe by playing some of the games start to understand how contemporary artists think, because it’s different from the way Jackson Pollock and Michelangelo thought.”
Indeed, the exhibition seemed to recall recent trends I had noticed even while perusing other galleries in the Seattle area. For example, at the Museum of Pop Culture World of Wearable Art exhibition, while the wild costumes on display were still off-limits to grabbing hands, swatches of the costume materials were provided for the audience to touch and engage with. This trend could be observed again at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in the Tabaimo Utsutsushi Utsushi exhibition which encourages audiences to walk up into platforms to sit among Tabaimo’s wild animations.
It seems that contemporary artists are developing new mediums and techniques to touch audiences, or rather, let audiences touch them. Feldman, who curated the exhibit, will speak in the Wyckoff Auditorium on Saturday Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. about the history of games in art. She promises her talk will be “Funny and historical. I’ll be going back to surrealism from Picasso’s interest in surrealism up to the present.”
For all those interested in visiting Seattle U’s newest “rec room”, Push Play will be open to the public on every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. until March 4. Donnan is encouraging all students to come and hang out in the space, “It’s a fun place to bring your friends and hang out for a while during the gloomy Seattle winter, and we built this seesaw so please come use it.”
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