November 4

Creative Connections

Public Arts Build Strong Community in SLU

As South Lake Union continues to thrive and develop, public art is connecting residents, employees, and visitors through conversation and community. Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc. commissions artwork for all new buildings. Since 2003, 16 original artworks, ranging from window pieces to freestanding installations, have enlivened the neighborhood.

“The art really adds to the architecture and friendliness of the area,” says Greg Bell, Vulcan’s senior curator. “By putting art into public spaces, it naturally encourages dialogue, brings out questions, interests and associations. It gives you a ticket to go somewhere else in your mind.”

SLU is home to three new pieces in 2015—an international installation on indefinite loan from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection and two originals pieces by Northwest artists.

“These pieces make every day a little different. They help set the mood and bring people together in amazing ways,” Bell says.

“The art really adds to the architecture and friendliness of the area. By putting art into public spaces, it naturally encourages dialogue, brings out questions, interests and associations. It gives you a ticket to go somewhere else in your mind.”

-Greg Bell, Vulcan’s senior curator

Meeting of Minds: Mirall
9th and Mercer Street

As cars drive Mercer Street, two large figures sit face-to-face in silent reflection. The meditative nature of Mirall, by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, is appropriate given its location outside the Allen Institute for Brain Science. The seated forms are an open-weave patchwork of letters and symbols representing seven alphabets. In Plensa’s native language of Catalan, mirall means mirror.

“Plensa talks about the idea of creating a dialogue with yourself,” Bell says. “You can actually walk inside the shells and see the other figure through the language and skin of both forms. It creates these wonderful, complicated relationships.”

Installed in October 2015, the two forms are over 12 feet tall and constructed from laser-cut stainless steel. Light filters through the connecting alphabets and creates a network of shadows that shifts with the light and seasons. It is painted a brilliant white reminiscent of Plensa’s other Seattle public art piece, Echo—the ivory head of a Greek nymph visible at the Olympic Sculpture Park.

Head in the Clouds: Nebulous
9th and Harrison Street

Pedestrians accustomed to rushing about with heads down find their eyes pulled upward by two floating, flickering forms overhead. Northwest artist Dan Corson’s Nebulous is comprised of over 350 circular glass panels that form cloud-like shapes and evoke elements of Mother Nature and modern technology.

“There is so much information floating around us that we don’t see. Computers now send things into ‘The Cloud.’ I wanted to celebrate how that influences our day-to-day experiences,” says Dan Corson, Seattle artist commissioned to create Nebulous. “It’s also in concert with the overcast weather. In Seattle, we’re surrounded by actual clouds and digital clouds.”

The inspiration particularly suits the location since it is adjacent to an Amazon building. The billowy forms are suspended 15 feet above an open plaza where workers and passersby congregate. The installation appears weightless despite weighing over a ton.

The overhead glass panels are a spectrum of blues and whites. During the day, they reflect a skyscape onto the ground below. At night, it morphs into a digital cloud in the dark. The panels are illuminated by LED lights and programmed to pulse in varying rhythms. Small, solar-powered lights embedded in the plaza shine upwards like inverted stars.

“The piece has a transformative quality. You see different things during day and night, on bright sunny days or overcast. Every day you walk by, it’s going to be different and special,” Corson says.

Building Blocks: Re-Stack
9th and Thomas Street

A mesh-wire wall frames the edge of an open-air plaza. It towers 20 feet high using the illusion of see-through mesh boxes stacked on top of one another. People pass through the piece, crossing an artistic threshold, to visit the courtyard. The sculpture is the creation of artists Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo of Seattle’s Lead Pencil Studio.

“The primary concept was to sort of reintroduce those crisp urban edges from the earlier SLU neighborhood,” Mihalyo says.

The stacking inspiration is an act of visual storytelling. It is a reference to SLU’s historical buildings, which used stacked stones to create impressive facades. It is also a nod to SLU’s current incarnation as a hub of online commerce.

“We looked at some photographs of an Amazon warehouse and saw enormous piles of boxes on pallets,” Mihalyo says. “The front of the piece is stacked so it’s flat and flush while the rear side has those uneven edges.”

Han and Mihalyo traveled to Wisconsin to tour Banker Wire, a company that custom-made a stainless steel wire fabric featuring 10 different weaving patterns for the project. While mostly hues of copper, some patches were colored in subtle shades of blues and greens that play with natural light.

“It’s important when developing a massive area in the city to do something unique for the greater good,” says Han. “This is a new development with no history, so we wanted to introduce something that people can identify with and will become meaningful on its own.”

Story by Deanna Duff

At The Center

SLU is the geographical center of Seattle