Thinking in Public

A collaborative installation created by Ellen Sollod, Buster Simpson, Don Fels, and Jack Mackie, exploring the process of creating work in the public realm.

Gallery 4Culture, Seattle, 2003

Four artists, who often create art in public places, decided to “come inside” to provide the public a glimpse at the thinking process behind creating site-specific artwork. They focused on Seattle’s historically significant Smith Tower as the subject of investigation.

The central feature was A Tower of Smiths, a portrait of sorts, of L.C. Smith, the original developer of Smith Tower. Referencing Smith’s fortune, made through the manufacture of guns and typewriters, the sculpture’s framework played off the pyramidal shape of the building and was composed of crude wooden shotguns with broom handle barrels and typewriter key strikers and triggers. Its glass lower floors were filled with antique typewriters, while the top floor held a laptop displaying a video of relentlessly typing hands. Perched at the very top was the poor man’s crystal ball — a fish bowl with a gold fish swimming endlessly. Other parts of the exhibition demonstrated the evolution of the building’s occupants, from small businesses and entrepreneurs to the Disney Corporation and high tech corporations, over a century’s span.

The exhibition included a soundscape created by Ellen Sollod.  She recorded noises emanating from the building’s stairwells, pipes and elevator mechanisms and combined these aural expressions with other sounds of typing, muffled murmurings in the hallways and the human heart beat. The tower’s inner life was amplified through speakers tucked inside the HVAC ducts of the gallery. There was also a typewriter on which visitors were invited to contribute to an exquisite corpse. Opening night video projections on the exterior windows reminded the viewer of the many symbols this building has come to represent.

As permanent artifacts of the exhibit, the soundscape became the basis of a compact disc that included a compilation audio interview by writer Anna Fahey and a limited edition, artist-designed catalogue. ARCADE magazine published a special supplement on the making of the project.