Artist Chauney Peck, whose installation is housed at 409 Maynard in the Chinatown-International District, recently had the chance to tell Storefronts a little about her work, philosophies, and her experience with the program and neighborhood.
How would you describe your Storefronts Seattle installation?
My untitled installation at 409 Maynard is a response to some of the storefronts found in and around the Chinatown-International District that house everyday items or become a kind of default space. In one of these windows you might find dusty sleeves of to-go boxes, next to stacks of metal tea boxes and a forgotten hand written menu on a faded fluorescent tag board. I prefer a nonchalant, naturalist approach to the additively flashy and calculated window display often found in more developed neighborhoods, having the sole purpose to move products out the door. It may be out of necessity or invention, but I am attracted to the simple and unobtrusive approach to putting something in a storefront window.
What do you hope to communicate to visitors and people in the neighborhood through your installation?
It’s my hope that the installation might cause viewers to start looking for artistic experiences in new places. A storefront window, particularly in this neighborhood is a great location to test out this idea. It’s my intention that people walking down the street won’t know exactly what they are looking at. Is it a store that has closed? Is it opening soon? Is it a food bank? It’s within that process of curiosity and not knowing that we can learn something new about artistic experiences.
What is the best reaction you can imagine from someone who sees your artwork?
The best reaction I could imagine happened when I was installing. A woman wandered in and asked if she could buy a blanket and when “my store” was going to open. She mentioned a couple of times how beautiful the pile of blankets were and that that was what had attracted her to stop in. I told her I’d give her a blanket and that it was actually an art project. Then she asked for a second blanket and I tried telling her again about the art project thing but she didn’t seem to care. Her response made me super happy because she was attracted to something visually and she engaged with it in her own way. She had no expectations or desire to hear about the art. She had an authentic experience that was sparked visually and occurred somewhere between real life and art. This is a great example of how one can independently find an art experience and in a multitude of places. The woman and I chatted about how her grand kids were coming into town (that’s why she need the blankets), that her daughter was headed off to war and how she was very nervous about the prospect. She wished me well with my store.
What are your thoughts on working in the space/neighborhood?
The Storefronts Seattle project provided a really unique circumstance, a non-traditional art venue that is right in the middle of everyday normal life. The Chinatown-International District is ideal because the neighborhood is so diverse, with a strong sense of community and still has plenty of room for the unexpected. This installation would not have functioned the same way in a different neighborhood. I also believe the Storefronts Seattle project as a whole can be positive for the neighborhood itself on a very basic level, in the sense that the community knows other people are putting energy into creating something special in their neighborhood.
How have you come to notice everyday materials the way you do in your art?
I think I’ve come to notice everyday things as part of being raised very simply and practically. My mom is an art teacher and my dad was a boat builder and a professional sailboat racer. He was always minimizing the clutter and weight on boats, even when we’d go sailing in the summer during family vacations. He would saw out extra parts on the boat to reduce weight and we usually didn’t have any creature comforts like seat cushions. This may be why I have come to love function and utility of everyday objects as ultimately very beautiful.
As part of my art practice I have always enjoyed observing visual elements and situations inside and outside of galleries. I am a believer in crossing these two worlds and fraying their boundaries. Sometimes I like to imagine gallery art as if it were sitting in an alley, and conversely pretend that an old mattress on the side of the freeway is resting against a clean white museum wall, and seeing what changes occur. Shifting theses contexts can be a fun game, but may also reveal new possibilities in both worlds.
How does the Storefronts Seattle opportunity change the way you see your own artwork or process?
This project has helped to shape my work and a new direction. It has provided a transition piece into working on-site or in the real world rather than making things in my studio and plunking them into an exhibition space. I hope to build off of this installation by using photography to document activities and projects with practicality and the everyday in mind.
Chauney’s installation will be at 409 Maynard through the end of November, at which point she will be donating the food and blankets she has used for this piece. You can see more of her work by visiting her website or at SOIL Gallery where she is a member.