State of Denny’s by Akira Ohiso

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The lumber yard fire that happened Saturday night smolders on Veteran’s Day.  A low gossamer halo surround the site, a plume of light smoke rises in a line towards the halo and blends in.  Queen Anne and ghostly blue Mt. Rainier are in the offing.   Sea planes follow the ship canal to land in Lake Union.  

Yesterday, I walked one mile round-trip west along Market Street towards the Puget.  The corner construction site is now a 5-story box that will house The Polyclinic, Target and Equal Exchange Coffee.  When I moved to Seattle  2-years ago, it was a closed gas station, Burger King and small office building.  When businesses close slowly in a specific location developers are waiting out leases.

Windows are being installed in a rush to beat the rainy winter.  There is the strong smell of tar being pumped from a gurgling spasmodic truck in a pipe towards the truck.  The old truck looks as antiquated as the carcinogenic materials it stores.  Tar smells old. I cover my mouth with my shirt as I pass the site.   

Across 15th, is a large apartment building called Urbana with retail space on the ground floor. Locals lament the tearing down of the 24-hour Denny’s that holds so many memories.  When the landmarks of our youth are replaced we often feel replaced.  Denver Omelettes are not just in Denver.

I hear stories about Denny’s, but not Manning’s, a restaurant that held memories before Denny’s. Giorgio Agamben, an Italian philosopher theorized in his book State of Exception that government use the “state of exception” concept as a totalitarian tool to advance political agendas in the name of the public good.  In such a state, normal law and order goes out the window in favor of policy that discriminates, oppresses and even kills in “exceptional” times.  He said, “Remembrance restores possibility to the past, making what happened incomplete and completing what never was. Remembrance is neither what happened nor what did not happen but, rather, their potentialization, their becoming possible once again.”

 

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The “once again” is illusory.  As Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.”  Restoration and landmark status require ongoing financial resources and the investment of a public that wants that remembrance.  It costs money to remember.  It also costs money to “never forget.”  Who we want to remember and who we want to forget is the question and moral imperative.  

Giorgio Agamben said, “To believe that will has power over potentiality, that the passage to actuality is the result of a decision that puts an end to the ambiguity of potentiality (which is always potentiality to do and not to do) — this is the perpetual illusion of morality.“

I often remember my childhood in a suburban town on Long Island.  It’s comforting to remember a simpler time, but, in hindsight, the landmarks of remembrance often remembered events, histories and cultures that did not include me.  I looked in and was educated about history that assimilated me.    

Mitch Landrieu who is the Mayor of New Orleans made the controversial decision to confront our country’s past and remove confederate statues from the public sphere.  In his book In the Shadow of Statueshe says, "There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence for it."  

Is it more important to spend energy and resources on “remembrance” or “contemporariness?”  As my frail mother lives her remaining days in an adult family home, it is easier for me to remember the past.  My will will not stop her inevitable death.  The ambiguity of now is a defense to forget then.

Lower Case d by Akira Ohiso

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Saturday on 14th Ave NW is filled with weekend activities; families going to Gilman Park, dog walkers with coffee in hand and young people hopping from brewery to brewery.  The smell of food truck fare wafts amid the chemical smell of plastic and engine oil.  The industrial area has remnants of its past. Defunct railroad tracks cross 14th to the Bardahl loading docks.  Patina warehouses and factories, corrugated sheds, rusty barbed wire boundaries protect empty lots from the homeless and taggers.  IBEAM, SELD, SEAGUL, CHOICE.  Slowly zoning changes and townhouses, 5-story office space and eateries with 20 taps open.  Still, the quiet corporate redlining cannot hide used hypodermic needles, corroded campers, tents and human suffering.  Meth and “Heron” destroys mostly white kids around Seattle.  Pock-marked desperation, picking up used needles to use, packs of dusty kids with backpacks roam buses terminals, congregate meal programs, tent cities and the streets, doorways and alleys of Seattle.  Cocoon-like lumps sleep in midday sun, some die found days or weeks later in an REI sarcophagus.  

When I reach Leary I turn right towards the Ballard Bridge.  Java John’s, car dealers, Volvo garage, Quest Church.  Church sign: “Act Justly, Love Kindness. Walk Humbly.”

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The Ballard Bridge is overshadowed by UW Medicine, a storage facility and Ballard Blocks.  It once harmonized with population and car demand.  The draw bridge creates traffic as more cars use 15th to commute downtown.  The future light rail will either cross the bridge or go through a tunnel yet to be built, but either way massive change is coming to the area in the next 20 years.  Along 15th, office space, apartments, townhouses, Amazon, Target are getting in early for an artery that will create convenience and mobility.  There is money to be had.

Under the bridge fencing has been installed to deter people from setting up tents.  I walk up an incline that merges back onto 15th Ave.  Couch cushions are thrown in the bushes for later.    Stash tactics give people on the street a modicum of predictability.  They can return to a familiar area for the night. 

The Ship Canal is timeless.  Fishing boats and bobbling masts can be seen from the bridge. Seagulls squawk and mew above opportunistic prey or food.  There are many names for a group of seagulls; a colony, squabble, flotilla, scavenging, gullery, wreck.  The circling gulls sound like “a squabble” to me, maybe “a wreck” above a jettisoned boat.  Michel Foucault said, “In civilizations without boats dreams dry up.”  Seattle still has dreams, they are just not the dreams of the locals anymore.

On NW 50th, I turn right past Les Schwab Tires.  A Craftsman with a ramp looks out of place next to a tire center.  The tire center once looked out of place next to the Craftsman.  I imagine an old woman who has lived in the house since World War II.  She refuses to leave to fend off dependence and real estate developers.  Around the corner, a giant shopping center changed its footprint to accommodate Edith Macefield’s defiance.  Her house still stands and,  while there were plans to tear it down, recent plans suggest that the house may be saved and repurposed.  The architectural indent that accommodates that small house is a symbol of hope whether the house remains or not.  

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Marathon by Ellie Ohiso

I am experimenting with a new visual language that clusters memory.  My recent trip to New Orleans has helped me move forward in my work.  Brice Marden has used the term “glyph” to describe a symbolic language.  I am thinking about my work in the same way.

In New Orleans, I visited the New Orleans Museum of Art and had the pleasure to see the work of local and regional artists.   One artist truly inspired me and I decided to email him and thank him.  As an emerging artist, his response has helped me:

Thank you Akira Ohiso for sharing your work. I hope at some time to see the real pieces. Anyway, keep in touch and in mind, being an artist is like running a marathon. Slow and steady. Like good wine, it takes time in developing an authentic voice.

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