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TURN A CRANK, and taxidermied animals strung onto wire skeletons move in a simulacrum of life. Press a lever, and metallic flowers and vines writhe and bloom. A spirit of growth and decay infuses Seattle native Casey Curran’s engrossing multimedia works, in which viewer participation plays a vitalizing role. The 34-year-old’s kinetic oddities have gained him laurels such as the 2014 Artist Trust GAP Award and residencies and solo exhibitions coast to coast. “Asking viewers to interact with my work adds a new layer to the art,” Curran says. “People walk through a gallery and just inspect the artworks—but their eyes really light up once they realize they can interact with the pieces and bring life to their elements.” Alexander Calder’s mobiles are a primary inspiration, but perhaps the deepest—and most gothic— cauldron of Curran’s imagination is his wild and woolly Seattle childhood, with a sibling who hauled home snakes and caimans and a family home in nonstop iterations of repair. “Dissolution and reconstruction are my themes,” Curran says. Case in point: his Piaculum series, whose central motif is a brass bird re-created from an actual duck. He hand-plucked and categorized its pelt feather by feather, then duplicated the thousand-plus plumes in brass and assembled the metal bird inside a honeycombed panel suggestive of ancient bone. “It’s a sculpture of a body dissolving into its individual pieces,” he explains. As befits his Pacific Northwest roots, Curran’s profoundly organic works are predicated on complex technology. In Fissure, a recent installation in the Stone34 building in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, a panel of Cor-ten steel is riven by a laser-cut crack that “grows” regional flora exquisitely rendered in brass. The project’s a natural fit for the site: it’s the pilot building in Seattle’s Deep Green Pilot Program, which requires participating businesses to reduce their water and energy usage by 75 percent. Linked to floor-by-floor computers hooked to the building’s power grid, Curran’s metal flowers wilt when energy use spikes and bloom when it subsides. Curran’s works respond to their physical settings— but he’s breaking new ground with pieces that also react to emotional settings. His newest commission, which he terms a “Rorschach chandelier,” will be installed by fall 2016 in Seattle’s new Kinetic condo tower. Pieced together from semitransparent acrylic panels, its elements—programmed in tandem with collaborating technology artists—will shift and sway according to residents’ moods. People can communicate their current moods via an initial survey and later update them directly into the sculpture. The new undertaking exemplifies why Curran finds Seattle ideal for his nonconforming works. “A great thing about the tech boom? It enables local artists to engage with developers who are open to experimental work and with tenants who really enjoy it.” And it permits him to reach the viewers whose hands-on curiosity is the final step in his creative process. »

An assemblage of silk flowers, two pheasant pelts, and an intricate metal dragonfly seems to come alive when a viewer turns the crank on Unification, a 2010 piece by artist Casey Curran.

graymag . com


GRAY No. 27  

The DESIGN Magazine for the Pacific Northwest

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