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Mike's adventures in art: 'Utopian Garden,' Wa Na Wari, Children's Book Day

caption: Utopian Garden at Tacoma Arts Live
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Utopian Garden at Tacoma Arts Live
Mike Davis

If you're looking for tips on how to experience art in the Seattle area, you're in the right place. In this weekly post, KUOW arts reporter Mike Davis has suggestions for what to do around Seattle over the weekend so you can have your own adventures in arts and culture.

Visual Art

"Utopian Garden," at Tacoma Arts Live is my pick of the week. This fully immersive experience is hard to describe in words. Walking in was like entering a portal to another world. We entered a dark room with the tall walls that are alive with floral patterns. Light is projected throughout the space and on the floors so that every surface, including the audience, is part of the display.

The incredible design team at flora&faunavisions brought this exhibit to life. I remember going to the WNDR Museum and being blown away by “Insideout,” an exhibit there by Leigh Sachwitz, who founded flora&faunavisions in 1999, that put audiences in a small transparent house during a thunderstorm. Using sound, lights, projections, and pieces within the structure, audiences took part in a shared experience with Sachowitz, who crafted the exhibit from one of her childhood memories.

"Utopian Garden" is a bigger, bolder exhibit that not only brings audiences into the artwork, but also allows spectators to become creators. The 45-minute presentation constantly shifts from audiences being surrounded by graphics, to the walls signaling for participation. As people interact with sensors in the walls, new art is created. From games where you catch seeds in bubbles that grow flowers, to your touch manipulating graphic designs, the audience ricochets from watching to participating and your overall experience will be different each visit depending on who is there to create.

The music and the floral designs create a psychedelic experience. There is an underlying message of science and art combining to save nature. I remember, at points during the experience, hearing about creatives having the ability to push climate change. There were voices of children and teenagers sprinkled in. But what really stands out is the head trip. The swirling colors, the optical illusions, the way that images were projected on all the surfaces while bass from surround-sound penetrated my core. It was a rush.

Then, it was over. Except, instead of being sent on our way, we found ourselves in an activity room. And this is where the true message took hold. We made leaf rubbings using leaves and crayons. We made button-pins using recycled materials. There is a connection between art, science, and nature. A connection between people and Earth and the knowledge that we must make changes to save our planet. This exhibit is all of those things. It was beautiful. It was a head-rush. I can’t wait to go again.

caption: "Utopian Garden" an immersive exhibit at Tacoma Arts Live.
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"Utopian Garden" an immersive exhibit at Tacoma Arts Live.
Mike Davis

"Utopian Garden" is showing May 19 to June 30 at Tacoma Arts Live

Wa Na Wari, has new exhibits throughout their galleries. I admit, I made the trip because I had to see Theda Sandiford’s emotional baggage carts. And I’m glad I did. The carts, made from recycled materials, represent the heavy burden of baggage carried, especially by women of color. In a world of racial inequity and microaggressions, these carts are a place where people can write down the baggage they are carrying, and put them into the carts to be whisked away. That symbolism is powerful, but I don’t want to downplay the artistry. The recycled textiles and zip ties, the weaving of rope, the earth-tone color palette — these carts may be crafted to carry away trauma but they are still beautiful works of art.

caption: Theda Sandiford emotional baggage cart at Wa Na Wari
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Theda Sandiford emotional baggage cart at Wa Na Wari
Mike Davis

Xavier Kelly has work in this gallery that I encourage people to see. His Afrofuturist paintings blend abstraction, color, and symbolism into works that tell stories. There are hints of graffiti and the sprinkling of words and phrases. Each piece has an underlying narrative, and standing in front of this work, allowing it to speak to you, is a cathartic experience.

Current exhibits at Wa Na Wari are showing from April 22

Community Event

Children’s Book Day at Town Hall Seattle is happening this Saturday, May 27. Presented in partnership with Seattle Urban Book Expo, this event is fun for all but great for kids. Over a dozen BIPOC children’s book authors, including youth authors, will be tabling the event for meet-and-greets and book signings. There will be face painting and Double-Dutch Divas will be jumping rope with kids. This event will get kids excited about reading and writing, and will include free giveaways of books and school supplies.

Children’s Book Day 12 p.m. May 27 at Town Hall Seattle

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