Center for Art + Environment Blog

January 13, 2012   |   William L. Fox

Seattle Studio Visits: Ellen Sollod and Steve Peters — Part 2 of 3

Seattle Studio Visits

Ellen Sollod, Lake Washington Palimpsest series: Black River, 2008. Archival carbon print from a pinhole photograph.

Ellen Sollod, Lake Washington Palimpsest series: Black River, 2008. Archival carbon print from a pinhole photograph.

Ellen Sollod, Lake Washington Palimpsest series: Black River, 2008. Archival carbon print from a pinhole photograph.

Ellen Sollod has had an artistic career that spans ceramics, photography, writing, and art and design for public places. Along the way she worked at the Visual Arts Program at the NEA, directed the Colorado Arts Commission, and ran the Seattle Arts Commission. I’ve been her colleague during many of those incarnations, and it was a pleasure to call her up about a project she had done locally, Lake Washington Palimpsest. When David Abel and I visited her home and studio in the Capital Hill district of Seattle, we were able to view some of the pinhole photographs from the project, which were based on two years of research, and involved any number of her previously honed bureaucratic skills.

Lake Washington is the second largest body of freshwater in the state, a glacier-carved ribbon lake that in the second decade of the 20th century was severely altered in order to create a ship canal from Puget Sound inland. The lake was lowered nine feet, its shoreline reduced by eight miles, 1,000 acres of wetland destroyed, and the new canal dried up the entirety of the existing outflow, the Black River. Ellen navigated the records of the Seattle Public Library, the Washington Geology Library, and the archives of the United States Geologic Survey–and that was just to find a map showing the changes. The archive of this unique project will be coming to the Museum later this year.

After lunch with Ellen, we drove over to the Chapel Performance Space, where composer/musician Steve Peters runs the experimental Wayward Music Series in the handsome Good Shepherd Center. I’ve known Steve almost since his founding of the Nonsequitur Foundation in Santa Fe in the late 1980s, and have long admired his work, which uses environmental recordings, ambient and found sound, musical instruments, electronics, and the human voice to create understated, subtle, and entirely gorgeous site-specific works.

We listened to several of his Chamber Music pieces that he started in 2005, and which are made by recording empty architectural spaces, often late at night. The empty and supposedly silent spaces–which range from museum galleries to library reading room s to freight elevators–are actually filled with architectural sound, which he minimally filters to find resonant frequencies. These create a background drone which can be overlaid with traces of found sound artifacts (a plane flying overhead, a passing vehicle, etc.). Steve then presents the work in the space where it was originally recorded, feeding back the sound of the architecture to itself.

Both Ellen and Steve in these particular works are activating spaces in time, Ellen through historical research and making apparent environmental and social chance, Steve through the elastic durations of recording and playback. After listening to recordings and checking out the old chapel where Steve runs his music series, we retired to Elemental, a restaurant where you’re not told what you’re being served, nor what the accompanying wines are. the food and dining become an experience where you construct meaning by direct interaction with the materials at hand. Which seemed an appropriate meal for the day!

Steve Peters, Alchemy, 2005, Center on Contemporary Art, Seattle, WA. Spun brass bowls with transducers attached and through which recorded voices are played, creating pure tones that resonate into the space.

Steve Peters, Alchemy, 2005, Center on Contemporary Art, Seattle, WA. Spun brass bowls with transducers attached and through which recorded voices are played, creating pure tones that resonate into the space.


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