To Scale (10,000 things for Mark Tobey)
To Scale (10,000 things for Mark Tobey) is a new large scale sound installation created by Pete Bjordahl (founder of Seattle's Parallel Public Works) and the Berlin-based artist Andy Graydon with funding and support from the Metropolitan Improvement District and Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture. This public art work uses voices and tones that flow up and down the stairway of the busy Pike Place Market Hill Climb. The Hill Climb links Seattle's iconic waterfront with the Pike Place Market and is located between Alaskan Way and Western Ave directly across from the Seattle Aquarium. To Scale will be installed for 1 year and can be viewed by the public at any time.
To Scale takes its inspiration from Seattle artist Mark Tobey's "white writing" paintings that Graydon and Bjordahl viewed at Seattle Art Museum’s recent exhibition, "Modernism in the Pacific Northwest: The Mystic and the Mythical." Tobey began his career painting the teeming aspects of the material world, and slowly moved to a gestural language of white marks that were the traces of those objects. "He was a keen observer", says Graydon of Tobey, "so keen that he began to see the sense with which an object engages the world far beyond its physical boundaries. And that is one thing we want listeners to feel with our work, a sense of their city as an active force that emanates from the basic things surrounding them, using sound a medium and a utility."
Bjordahl and Graydon use voice to beckon passersby along the stairs, with sounds emitting from elements of the stairway's own public infrastructure. The whispers inspire walkers to stop, look, and listen, and when they do they begin to hear a litany of some of the objects that populate their daily lives, from the precious to the ordinary: "A folded paper boat. A hologram of Dolly the sheep. A Peruvian pottery figure. A Vivienne Westwood corset. A child’s rattle in the shape of a pig. A pyramid of tin beer cans, labels illegible...”
The sense of the words fades to a woven harmony made up of the various voices themselves. What was an endless stream of details is brought to a point of stillness, as the entire stairway takes on one continuous shape in sound. "We’re creating a form of sound", says Graydon about the movement of the work, "the voices are naming the myriad details of the world of objects, and what we are pulling from their voices is more like the energies that float like a halo around all those things as Tobey did. Something akin to the eternal aspect which is also the most ephemeral."
Bjordahl and Graydon and are long time collaborators whose connection reaches back to a common environment. Raised on the island of Maui in Hawaii, among centipedes and banyan trees, the pair became friends only after meeting again in Seattle while both attended the University of Washington.
A longstanding interest in creating and changing architectural space through sound is a backbone of their partnership and To Scale: (10,000 Things for Mark Tobey) is the latest realization of this concept. “We’re especially excited to be working in this critical, existing site on the Seattle Waterfront”, says Bjordahl. “Our work addresses public space in all forms and states. Whereas public art is often added to new, larger development projects, we are exploring how the addition of work to preexisting and in some cases forgotten spaces can fundamentally change their character.”