posted February 19, 2016
posted by Trevor Doak, September 17, 2015
Susan Gans and David Traylor spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 months trekking down Union St., beginning at Elliott Bay and ending at Lake Washington. This journey became a documentary in a sense, equal parts visual, conceptual and oral.
Gans takes photos along Union. Except she doesn’t just take photos on Union. The photos are, in actuality, a visual representation of the conversations she initiated with the individuals living and working along Union. Conversations and stories that, I presume, shaped Union into a culture or cultures, worthy of preservation via documentation. At first glance, that Unfolding relies almost entirely on the visual, seems a weakness. Can these photographs stand on their own to define an urban sub-culture, or at the very least argue for its existence?
No, they cannot.
But I don’t believe they are intended to. In fact, on further consideration, I believe this to be their strength, rather than a weakness. One could argue that the “placeness” of Union lies in its diversity (racial, economic, architectural, etc.). In conversations with Susan Gans about her experiences on this project, she admitted a discomfort in sharing some of the narratives she heard along Union, articulating an unwritten contract of privacy between her and some of the individuals with whom she spoke. These stories were never meant to inform the art, they are the art, at least in part. For me, the photographs call attention to the mere fact of their existence, by which I mean the narratives, as personal, individual and private. They are, each, conversations we simply are not, and will never be privy to.
While Gans’ work sets up the parameters for a conversation on “place,” Traylor’s drawing serve opposite these, re-conceptualizing the subjects of the photographs. They take the photos, stripped of any kind of monolithic narrative or character, and infect them with a hint of subjectivity, and then a dash of personality. One juxtaposition in particular illustrates this for me quite well. A bus, with a marquee labeling its route as Union St., passes by a street sign, perfectly identifying this as the cross street of Union and Broadway.
One can just make out the driver, who seems a part of the bus. He drives along Union (or perhaps Unions, given its plurality?) day in and day out. The accompanying drawing, arguably the most organized and visually interpretive of the group, highlights the driver’s employer, Union Street, setting it apart from Broadway and the rest of Capitol Hill. Beneath, sketched in pencil, sits a basic architectural structure built from blocks, along with text reading “Libraries, Schools, Museums, Theaters, Institutions.” I can only imagine that if anyone represents the acknowledgement of a multiplicity of Union’s varying “places” of differing heritages, subcultures, and identities, it would be this man who transports passengers, many of whom are citizens of Union Street, from one Union to another.
Following these musings, the works move from place to place, simultaneously connecting and isolating themselves to and from one another. I think this is, maybe, what Unfolding amounts to, a call to recognize Union Street as not simply a street, but a setting that succeeds in uniting several different “places” into a single “place” in Seattle.