Undertaking what's underwater: Bainbridge artist mounts multimedia ferry installation
August 14, 2009 · Updated 11:21 AM
Passengers traversing the Bainbridge ferry terminal walkway often have a lot on their minds. Will we make the first pitch? Why can’t that person move faster? Will my kid catch that thing that’s going around at day care, and is that going to make me miss my presentation tomorrow?
These workaday questions have little to do with the immediate environment in which they find themselves, namely, the walkway and the water they’re about to cross.
In contrast, here’s the question Bainbridge artist Gregory Glynn is asking:
“What is going on from Bainbridge to Seattle that we don’t see?”
In the vein of the Island Portrait poetry banners mounted on the walkway several years ago, the Bainbridge Island Public Art Program solicited proposals from three island artists, Glynn included, for a new installation to inhabit it for roughly two years.
When Glynn first examined the space, he thought both about what would be thematically appropriate, and what would work, logistically, with the walkway’s built-in challenges.
For starters, it’s noisy, with a collective audience that is almost always in motion and has somewhere else to be. Additionally, commuters make the trip twice a day, five days a week. Glynn had to design something that “isn’t going to drive people nuts” in perpetuity.
He titled the project, which was accepted by the Public Art Program and which makes its debut on Aug. 22, “Tracing the Depths.” And rather than demand stillness from its audience, the installation will work with passengers’ natural flow as it tracks marine and ferry life from one shore to the other, and into the depths of Puget Sound between.
“It’s an investigation of marine life, and of this environment that’s out of our daily thought as we go across,” Glynn said. “It was a point that I could depart from and expand upon.”
The installation, which Glynn and a group of helpers will mount during the quiet later hours next week, includes 50 blown-out photographic crops of marine life placed at regular intervals. Sized to fit the slim panels between each window pane – roughly a yard tall by 5 ½ inches wide – the images can be glimpsed and absorbed, or not, as passengers traverse the walkway.
Speakers will be mounted to the ceiling along the length of the walkway, piping out three different soundtracks. In them, Glynn has captured the natural music that occurs at each stage of the journey including birds, frogs, Orca whales and sounds he recorded using an underwater microphone, or hydrophone. As passengers move, they’ll be exposed to an auditory transition that parallels the journey from one shore to the 700-foot depths and up to the other shore.
“They’re all overlapping, and all three tracks are looping. So they’ll hear an infinite combination of sounds,” Glynn said.
The final component is the text Glynn will stencil onto the railings in an industrial font reminiscent of shipyards. The content will include depth markings in both fathoms and feet; the names of marine species placed according to the depth at which they might be found; and evocative words and phrases that at first glimpse might not seem to relate to each other but, like the photos and audio recordings, are intended to form an impressionistic whole of the journey.
“Harvest Impact,” “Decorated Warbonnet,” “Intolerants,” “Blood Star Arm,” “Diminishing Resources.”
“There are some pretty potent titles here,” he said.
Glynn, who won the 2007 Amy Award for emerging Bainbridge artists, is accustomed to large-scale projects and is becoming known for his environmental sculpture installations in wood and other natural material.
“Tracing the Depths,” however, is the first multimedia presentation he’s undertaken on this scale. And he said one of the most satisfying aspects is that it’s turned him into a student; in order to grasp the subject matter in a way that would enable him to internalize and produce art from it, he had to explore.
That was exciting, and also an experience he wanted to share.
“The idea for this is that it would spark curiosity, or (a wish to) investigate further and ultimately become more actively involved in preserving the marine life of Puget Sound,” he said.
He’s also enjoyed the project management and collaborative aspects of “Tracing the Depths.” In addition to getting information from the University of Washington, the Seattle Aquarium and the island’s own Shoreline Stewardship Program, Glynn commissioned photographers John Gross and Art Grice for the taking and printing of the photos, respectively. He acquired Orca sounds from the Center for Whale Research.
Ferry Captain John Tullis offered information related to navigation and ferry terminology, and islander Mark Powell, who did a months-long, 38-leg swim around Bainbridge, offered his perspective on being in the water.
Teacher and diver Bruce Claiborne also gave Glynn invaluable data about what lives right around Bainbridge. For instance, there’s a kelp forest at Wing Point; some of the largest octopuses in Puget Sound in the vicinity of Blakely Rock; and sixgill shark living in the depths between shores.
Glynn collected so much information that he has started a Tracing the Depths blog to accompany the project. In addition to background on the installation itself, it provides links to all of the organizations he worked with along the way.
“Tracing the Depths” isn’t something Glynn expects ferry travelers to digest fully all at once. Instead, it’s to be taken in by bits and pieces, with the hope that over time, visitors and commuters absorb a little something new with each trip, even if they don’t know it.
That, arguably, is a lot of what public art is all about. Glynn said a friend expressed the sentiment to him perfectly one day as they were discussing the project.
“You were given the award to do this. And you need to give it away,” Glynn said. “I feel that if I do that, and it’s received by the community, then it’s a success.”
The community is invited to attend the opening of “Tracing the Depths” from 4:30-5:30 p.m. Aug. 22 at the Bainbridge Island ferry terminal. See www.tracingthedepths.com.