Chronicles of a Reader: the common S E N S E

Today‘s blog is written by Elissa Favero, writer and art enthusiast.


Readers/Scribes reading to clothing artifacts. Photo credit: Jonathan Vanderweit
Readers/Scribes reading to clothing artifacts. Photo credit: Jonathan Vanderweit


“Beauty is vapour from the pit of death.”

For the last six weeks, I’ve been coming to the Henry every Wednesday to read from a book about a hawk season in the fenlands of eastern England. To describe J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine as only that, though, would be to diminish it. Baker’s small book is extraordinary for the fineness of his observation, exquisite for the way his language summons color, temperature, light, movement, and longing. It is made all the more beautiful for the death that haunts its narrative. I had seen praise for it but hadn’t yet read it. Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E was my pretext.

I read Baker’s book out loud to images of specimens from the Burke Museum of Natural History, printed on humble newsprint and bolted to the walls of the North galleries in piles, or to garments made from feathers, fur, or guts and presented in glazed metal carriages in a double-height gallery downstairs. These arranged skins, both the images and the finery, are like Baker’s writing, beautiful. As it was for The Peregrine, death is part of their marrow.

“…[H]e hung motionless, tensing and flexing his swept-back wings, dark anchor mooring white cloud…The wind could not move him, the sun could not lift him. He was fixed and safe in a crevice of sky.”

Mostly, I’ve read in the upstairs galleries, with their gatherings of images suspended against white walls. There, my eyes adjust as light coming through the open skylights weakens and brightens. I hear the drone of the HVAC system, feel its draft, and pull a wool blanket–furnished especially for the exhibition–tighter about my lap. I read, each time, to an image at eye level. I like to feel the thin paper with my fingertips, to connect the trajectory of my voice to the reach of my hand. There isn’t a word of Baker’s that has struck me as false or misplaced, but sometimes I find a passage especially remarkable, and I copy it into a leather-bound notebook I share with other reader/scribes, repeating and slowing my delivery to match the pace of my hand. I’ve been thinking, as I do this, about parallels. The areas of each specimen that were touching the image scanner are in focus, while what was farther away is blurred. Likewise, passages that touch me make their way to the page verbatim, while the other parts of the text are obscured, lost. They linger only as clouds of spoken words, hanging in the air.

“The sky shredded up, was torn by whirling birds.”

The Henry invites museum-goers to take an image from the North galleries home with them. When someone pulls a sheet, the newsprint tears, breaking the hum of air and incantation. I feel a pang of loss. But I think, too, of the tearing sounds the birds in Baker’s book make as they fly and also of the tearing noise the tiercel makes as he pulls apart the bodies of his prey: woodpigeon, gull, lapwing, wigeon, partridge, fieldfare, moorhen, curlew, plover, duck. There are parallels here too, I think.

“Woodpigeons, gluttonous innocents, rise like grey breath from every frozen plough.”

My empathy shifts with what I address, though the images in the North galleries are unlabeled, and I guess at what I’m reading to. I give counsel through Baker’s words. To a predator, I provide as a model the mostly successful hunting behavior of the peregrines. “The short days of winter are lean, and you must eat,” I think. “Here, then, is how you stoop.” And to the woodpigeons and other prey: “This is how you avoid death.”

“I feel compelled to lie down in this numbing density of silence, to companion and comfort the dying…”

Rebecca Solnit writes in her recent book The Faraway Nearby, “A bestiary is buried in our language.” She refers to the great bear, Ursa Major, whose constellation gives name to the far north of the Arctic, to the Hog’s Head of the Cork-Kerry coast in Ireland, to the bashful human behavior we call sheepish, to the beelines we make in our directness, and to the things we crow about in our excitement. Our proximity to animals has fed our observations and fueled our imaginative language. “Language is humankind’s principal creation, a pale shadow of Creation, and one that needs to come back again and again to the nonhuman world to renew itself, to draw strength and color,” Solnit writes elsewhere.

But there is also a gulf that can never be bridged here. The images and objects I address, already long dead, will never understand Baker’s words or even interpret the rise and fall of my voice.

And so I read with no hope of response. But in my reading, I attend and attend to. I give account and am accountable for. These are the bounties and burdens I gain in exchange for my small sacrifice of time.

Elissa Favero has worked in education and public programs at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and at the Seattle Art Museum. You can read her essays about art, architecture, and landscape at Yellow Umbrella and geek out with her about local art and art happenings at Art Nerd Seattle.

The Week Ahead @ Henry

This coming week we address components of the future, the now, and the past as they relate to comtemporary art and culture.

November 20, 7:00 PM to November 22, 3:30 PM
Symposium: Surveillance & Privacy: Art, Law, and Social Practice
Join the Henry and DXARTS for a multi-day discussion on how our ever-changing social practices influence our perceptions and attitudes.

Process image of Sanctum. Screenshot from James Coupe and Juan Pampin: Sanctum.

Marc Rotenberg: Watching the Watchers: Fighting Back in an Age of Ubiquitous Surveillance
November 20, 7:00 – 8:00 PM
Marc Rotenberg, President and Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), presents. If they are watching you, who’s watching them?

Infrared camera image taken from an American drone. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Infrared camera image taken from an American drone. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Edward A. Shanken: Surveillance Art and Critical Social Practice
November 21, 7:00 – 8:00 PM
Ed Shanken speaks on artists who utilize technological media to examine the government’s method of data-gathering.

Surveillance & Privacy: Sessions and panel discussions
November 22, 10:00 AM – 3:30 PM
What do you have to say about the privacy issues that have been raised with corporate and commercial use of surveillance?

Patron looking at an antique fur coat. Photo credit: Chona Kasinger
Patron peering in at an antique fur coat at Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E. Photo credit: Chona Kasinger

Object Narratives: Gut Skin Processing
November 23, 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM
How can a brown bear intestine can be made into a rain coat? Sven Haakanson, Jr. Ph.D., Curator of Native American Anthropology at the Burke Museum, explores the material possibilities of animal intestine in the tradition of northern coast cultures.

November 22, 2:30 PM – 3:00 PM
Explore the relationship between dance and contemporary art with Corrie Befort, choreographer and creator of Salt Horse.

The Week Ahead @ Henry

Our administrative offices will be closed on Tuesday, November 11 in honor of Veteran’s Day (the galleries are not open on Tuesdays). Molly’s Cafe will have reduced hours from 10 am -2 pm.

November 13, 12:30-1:00 PM
Come reduce some stress with art meditation!

November 15, 2:30-3:15 PM
Explore Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E with our Assistant Curator, Nina Bozicnik. Nina played an integral part in mounting this exhibition, so she’ll have some special insights for you.

Hamilton Opening
Patrons at the Ann Hamilton Opening. Photo Credit: Robert Wade.

2014 Creative Time Summit
November 14, 12:00 AM to November 15, 12:00 AM
Join us and the New York-based nonprofit organization for a weekend-long screening of international works that highlight the intersection of art and social justice.

The Week Ahead @ Henry

It’s an eventful week!

INCITE•INSIGHT screening: Althea Thauberger’s Marat Sade Bohnice
Henry Auditorium
November 6, 7:00-9:00PM

INCITE•INSIGHT lecture: Althea Thauberger
Henry Auditorium
November 7, 7:00-9:00PM

Come join us to kick of this year’s INICTE*INSIGHT lecture series with two evenings focusing on Althea Thauberger’s work. Her internationally produced works focus on relationships between individualism, collectivism, and conformity.

ArtBreak in session. Photo courtesy of the Henry
ArtBreak during last winter’s exhibition “Jason Dodge: What we have done.” Photo courtesy of the Henry

November 6, 6:00-6:30PM
Join us for a session in the galleries. Guest facilitator TBA.

November 8, 2:30-3:15PM
Listen to music inspired by Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E  permformed by Beth Kollé, Nordic and Celtic musician.

Photo courtesy: Chona Kasinger
Families at the Henry. Photo courtesy: Chona Kasinger

November 9, 2:00-3:30PM
Bring your family to create a mixed media artwork with artist Alisha Dall’Osto after exploring Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S EFun for all ages!

The Week Ahead @ Henry

It’s going to rain all week. Come to the Henry and take a break with us!

Thursday, October 30, 12:30-1:00PM
Join us this week with Joe Milutis, an experimental media artist and writer, as he demonstrates to us a new way to experience the ideas and materials in Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E.

Saturday, November 1, 2:30-3:15PM
Our weekend ArtBreak will be lead by Rachael Faust, Assistant Curator of Collections and Academic Programs.

Photo credit: Robert Wade
Visitors examining the ABC books and stories. Photo credit: Robert Wade

and be sure to check out our current exhibition:

Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E
Come gain a new understanding of touch through our newest exhibition! We invite you to become part of this exhibition through the role as a reader/scribe. Through participation, you will add a sociable presence to the galleries through reading out loud to the artifacts. If interested, sign up here.

How Should Kids Think About Snowden?

Ryan Calo
Ryan Calo, Assistant Professor UW School of Law & Faculty Director Tech Policy Lab

This blog post was written by Ryan Calo, an Assistant UW Law Professor with expertise in cyber law and privacy. 

If you ask an adult about NSA leaker Edward Snowden, you are just as likely to hear him characterized as a traitor as you are a hero. Generations previous to this one have the benefit of context in making this assessment. Baby Boomers in particular came of age amidst Watergate or the Pentagon Papers. My generation did not – though many of us were made aware of these events by our parents and other sources. We were in our twenties on September 11, 2001, some of us standing so close to the towers that we felt the heat of the second explosion on our faces.

Today’s teenagers were babies when those planes struck. They have grown up in a world of color-coded terror warnings. They have never boarded a plane without taking off their belts, never known a time when the United States did not indefinitely detain suspects. Simultaneously, and while “it’s complicated,” today’s teenagers might be hard-pressed to decide between forgoing food and forgoing Instagram in any given twenty-four-hour period.

So how would kids go about answering the question of whether Snowden is a traitor or a hero? Where can they gain the context to weigh concepts such as privacy and national security? Could you even find a teenager capable of articulating when it may be appropriate to defy authority in order to preserve liberty?

The answer is: you can find thousands. Because thousands of kids read the work of Cory Doctorow. Thousands of kids can quote to you Little Brother or Homeland by heart. Thousands of American children can see a trace of themselves in Snowden. I submit that whatever you think of Snowden and what he did, the protagonists and settings of Doctorow’s award-winning books equip young adults and others to think critically about civil liberty in this dangerous digital age.

If you know Doctorow’s work, chances are you will be excited to hear him speak at the University of Washington this coming Saturday, October 25. I encourage you to come even if you haven’t read his work yet. This is a rare chance to engage a leading public intellectual on among the most salient issues of our age, one whose audience includes the future of our republic. What will you ask?

The Week Ahead @ Henry

Welcome back to the Henry!

“Ann Hamilton: the Common S E N S E” opening day. Courtesy of Robert Wade.

Ann Hamilton: the common SENSE
The artist  writes, “To touch is always to be touched in return.” Ann Hamilton illustrates how touch is not only mere physical contact–when we touch anything, it also touches us back, leaving an imprint. Performances through singing and reading will animate your experience as you wander through the galleries. Participation is encouraged–add your own image to the portraits of visitors along our wall and take home a newsprint image of an animal to remind you of your experience of the common SENSE.

A Reader/Scribe addresses an object. Photo courtesy of Robert Wade.

Call for Reader/Scribes
As you peruse Hamilton’s works, you will notice individuals reading aloud throughout the exhibition. Reader/scribes are volunteers who read from a specially chosen book and transcribe the text into a project log. The reader/scribe becomes the conduit for a physical record of the collective activity. If you are interested in participating in the common SENSE as a reader/scribe, sign up here.

Cory Doctorow. Photo credit: Jonathan Worth.
Cory Doctorow. Photo credit: Jonathan Worth.

Special Lecture: Cory Doctorow
Kane Hall
October 25, 7:00-8:30 PM

This lecture is a preview to Surveillance & Privacy: Art, Law, and Social Practice, a multi-day seminar held November 20-22, discussing issues relating to privacy and surveillance. In a lecture titled, “Alice, Bob and Clapper: What Snowden taught us about privacy,” author and activist Cory Doctorow will address issues on social activism, copyright, surveillance, and privacy.