Today's episode of "Weird Transit Mall Art" takes us to the corner of SW 5th & Taylor, right outside the escalators to the Pioneer Place food court. As part of the MAX Green Line project, this spot is now home to the peculiar object you see here, inscrutably titled "The Responsibility of Raising a Child" (the full title is the equally inscrutable "From the Mad River to the Little Salmon River - or The Responsibility of Raising a Child"). Whatever the name, it's by Rick Bartow, a local Native America artist. Yes, that's a Wikipedia article. For more about him, along with photos of various other works:
- Froelick Gallery profile
- Art Scatter: "Grace, Falling Like Rain: Rick Bartow, the original story"
- harbinger Northwest profile
- Examiner: "Drawing Myself Straight"
Apparently there are ten copies of this piece out there, and the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian owns one of them. That one appeared at the NMAI's Heye Center branch in New York City in 2006, and the New York Times review of the show singled it out as something they didn't care for:
The only jarring note is a bronze sculpture, a vertical pileup of elements from traditional native stories, made in 2005 by Rick Bartow of the Wiyot tribe in Northern California and titled “From the Mad River to the Little Salmon River, or the Responsibility of Raising a Child.” It stands at the entrance to the new pavilion, but it’s not up to what’s inside.
I'm not really trying to bash the thing here, but "jarring" is a rather apt description. You're walking along, minding your own business, and suddenly here's this mass of faces and skulls and contorted birds and animals and whatnot. I understand it's supposed to be the artist's very personal twist on various Northwest tribal themes. I get that, I really do. But I only know that because I saw it, went "WTF!?", and searched the interwebs to figure out what on earth it was supposed to be. I think it would be fair to assume that most people who see it will just stop at the "WTF!?" part.
If you saw it and then looked at the title, you might reasonably assume it's supposed to be a comment on, well, raising children. And from the look of it, the message would seem to be that having children is really freakin' nightmarish. You might also assume, fairly, that it's located where it is as a stern warning to randy mall-going teens. But I'm reasonably certain that's not what it's supposed to be about. I think. Although I've been wrong before.
The reason it's here on our transit mall becomes apparent when you notice the salmon. Look closer, it's wrapped around the coffee mug on the dog-creature's back. A while back, I drew attention to our fair city's Law of Salmon, whereby the Powers That Be will buy just about anything so long as it comes with a salmon attached. I think the idea here is that salmon show how amazingly special we are because they're a uniquely Northwestern fish, um, except for those on the East Coast and in much of Europe and East Asia. We're also supposed to learn all sorts of important life lessons from salmon, apparently, and put them into practice in our own lives. But I've never been clear on what these lessons are supposed to be. I guess it's something along the lines of "You're forever tied to your stream of origin, and it's better to be pureed by a dam than look for a different stream", or "Your sole goal in life should be to spawn once with an anonymous stranger and then drop dead." So this life lesson thing isn't really working for me, I have to say. In short, the Law of Salmon isn't a very good law. But certain things (like the subject of this post) make a lot more sense once you know the law exists.