1978 | Re-installed in 2013 for the 35th Anniversary in conjunction with the Frye Art Museum • Post Alley, Seattle, WA

Clothes and clothesline. 50' x 30' x 18’.

Post Alley served as my studio entrance at five different locations and became the basis of some early projects. I will describe one of them here because it distills the intent of this discussion towards the re-socialization of a neighborhood. In 1978, when I was living and working in a space on Post Alley below a fixed income residence, a new condominium had just been completed across the alley, creating a potential economic mix that makes cities interesting. I conceived and installed a working series of clotheslines between these two buildings connecting four floors and their inhabitants with their neighbors across the alley: the fixed income renters with the new condominium owners. I called this piece Shared Clothesline: Banners of Human Reoccupation. The installation proclaimed sustainability as well as social issues, as a dramatic agit prop of utility —what I later called “poetic utility”. The clothesline was introduced on Solar Day in 1978 with an entire load of wash dyed yellow. This functional urban amenity served as an alternative to electric dryers as well as a response to the proliferation of the decorative “identity package” banners marketing a lifestyle rather than providing an authentic urban experience. Furthermore, many of the new condominiums had covenants against hanging clothes out to dry on individual balconies, which was considered “unsightly.” The clotheslines could be used by neighbors on either side of the alley to dry clothing, or, I mused, a cup of sugar could traverse the gap. When the line was bare and wind gusted through the alley, the line functioned as an Aeolian harp providing acoustical resonance.

Most residents and pedestrians walking through Post Alley appreciated the clothesline. One gentleman from the fixed income residence took offense to what he considered a reminder of his unpleasant past of being forced to hang his laundry out to dry. Eventually, he cut down all the lines. I learned from this the humility of working in shared space, and the patience such work requires. The piece remains a memory awaiting a paradigm shift.

© 1978-2013 Buster Simpson

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