Jon Strongbow’s mini-comic from First Peoples around the world interacts with many places in Seattle that have been lost to development.
S.eattle is the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of Chief Seattle’s grandfather. He remembers poppies growing on the boat ramp at Alki Point. You are still there. Seattle is from Ohio, but she moved here three years ago mourning the loss of that coffee shop in the Melrose building. Seattle used to be right there – but then Seattle kicked Seattle out, and now Seattle is here. Actually, you just missed Seattle, she’s been waiting for you here the whole time.
Boomtowns like Seattle regularly plunge their residents into existential crises, and these crises often rage in the beer-soaked air of bars that are about to be demolished.
Rather than let these conversations fly away, Jaimee Garbacik, Josh Powell, and Jon Horn created Ghosts of Seattle Past, a tripartite art machine that produces tons of art based on the memories of mossbacks, transplants, and dispossessed from Seattle.
Over tea in Adas Technical Books (formerly another bookstore, formerly an empty building) Garbacik carefully removed Part I of the project from a plastic grocery sack: a beautiful, overcrowded art object book. The screen-printed birch bark cover illustrated by Horn shows a ghostly clear tree, the rings of which are interwoven with topographical contours of Seattle, reminding us that our past is hidden in the landscape. It reminds me of a line from “Our Valley” by former US poet award winner Philip Levine: “You probably think I’m crazy when I say mountains / don’t have a word for ocean, but when you live / start here you start.” to believe that they know everything. “Garbacik binds the book with two long pieces of thread that serve two functions: they allow her to incorporate works of art and fonts over the course of the project, and they also allow a greater variety of artistic forms of expression.
The collection of photo essays, interviews, vignettes and comics is organized by district and is subject to change. For now, however, the book begins with a fascinating and touching conversation between Ken Workman, Si’ahl’s great-great-great-great-grandson, Chief Seattle, who reminds us that 10,000 years of duwamian life are buried in the ground beneath your beloved cafe are. Eroyn Franklin uses the book’s novel binding, continues to defy the genre expectations of comics and presents a multi-page panoramic panel that two people can read at the same time. A detail from the panorama is below. The full comic shows two groups of friends – one recent transplant, the other less recent transplant – walking in opposite directions down a street on Capitol Hill talking about how much the place has changed. The piece is fun and touching, and it relies on the awkwardness of asking who really “belongs”. As in response and also on the comic tip, Jon Strongbow includes a short comic book titled Gone – But Not Forgotten, which shows the illustration of the first peoples from around the world interacting with many places in Seattle that through development have been lost. One illustration shows a north west coast medicine person surrounded by animals and standing outside Pioneer Square. In the text box, Strongbow quotes the medicine person: “We are all one people, although we have taken many forms to achieve the endless variety we long for in order to sustain our souls.”
There are so many Seattles in Ghosts of Seattle Past, and Garbacik is working to include so many more. She told me that she wanted to make more memories above all, “both from young people and seniors, from immigrants and anyone whose stories about Seattle might be left behind by less enthusiastic or hard-working ethnographers.” She continued, “There is no way we are going to allow Capitol Hill and / or cis straight white voices to fill the bulk of the collection. And we are carefully taking stock of the balance between different sexes, and racial and demographic backgrounds as a whole.”
To this end, Garbacik hopes to not only write the book in mailboxes in several community centers around the city and physically put it in mailboxes, but also to install it in galleries and the like in the next few months to mimic the setup at Short Run Comics Festival, where this project started. In these installations, the book of places becomes a place in itself, an art object surrounded by art objects from older and newer Seattles – for example a chair from the Velvet Elvis Theater and new works by Garbacik himself.
On St. Patrick’s Day, the Ghosts crew is planning an Irish wake party at LoveCityLove’s new location on Pike Street. It’s going to be a big six-hour shindig of readings, musical performances, short films, and art, all inspired by the book and / or memories of places in Seattle that have been lost to development. The event is suitable for all ages, but beer will be purchased from the Fremont Brewing Company. Giant maps of the city will surround the big book, and visitors will be encouraged to stick tacks in the maps and tell stories about what used to be there.
There are many artists to look forward to in the Irish entourage. Readers include the mighty performance poet Elissa Ball, the multi-talented art guide Kibibi Monie (writer, actress, singer, director, the list goes on) and the always surprising and funny poet Sarah Galvin. Alice Wheeler, whose photographs helped define 1990s grunge-era Seattle, will showcase her colorful depictions of vanished gay venues and culture. Mita Mahato will show off her dark and beautiful cut paper comics. Dave Holden – son of local jazz legend Oscar Holden – will play jazz, Queen quartet Halfway Haus will play a wild and fun drag show and Flight of the Condos will deliver the rock jazz.
All of this is only part I of the project.
Part II is the website (seattleghosts.com) which mainly records the steps of the book making process but also has an interactive Google plug-in map. There you can put pins in places you used to frequent and reflect on the good times you had there.
Part III of the project is big news: once Garbacik is satisfied that Ghosts is ready, the art book will be published by local publisher Chin Music Press. If everything goes according to plan, they will be published in autumn / winter 2016–2017. Two versions will be produced: one is an art book that imitates the prototype of the birch bark; The other is a high quality but affordable paperback that you can stick on your shelf.
What I love about the Ghosts project is how much it focuses on doing something rather than just having a “conversation” about development history in Seattle. Politically, the book is not an attack on developers. It’s more of a polyvocal communal auto-ethnography thing, a collection of memories that could help us all see some of the similarities between our many experiences with our many Seattles. And it’s an excuse to make art.