Silent Salinity: after the dig

Art and science meld at 950 Gallery

By Alec Clayton on January 31, 2019

Hanging by the entrance to 950 Gallery is a work of art by Mary Coss that appears to be a jumble of words shaped from bent wire and suspended inside what looks like an old window frame. The words, mostly jumbled and unreadable, hang an inch or so in front of a flat white surface upon with the shadows of the letters are cast. The frame and the letters are encrusted with salt crystals looking somewhat like ice and water and somewhat like barnacles encrusted on a sunken ship.

The poem is unreadable. A few random words or phrases can be deciphered with intense concentration. One can make out the words "coagulate" and phrases such as "runs through clinched (unreadable)." It is mysterious, and the overall feeling is of sadness, loss and timelessness.

On the wall next to it is a printed poem by the artist, Mary Coss. It reads in part:

"Nightfall denies enfolding virgin waters,

tampered statistics drip

Melting rock turns to tears

Shadow sways life force to commodity

Coagulated around greed ..."

The show is Silent Salinity: after the dig. It consists of constructed poetry like the above and common objects such as an old manual typewriter, a rotary phone, a broken suitcase and many another such object, all from an earlier time, probably prior to the 1960s. Everything is encrusted with crystalized salt. The objects purport to be recovered from an archeological dig or perhaps a shipwreck. These are artifacts from lives lost or at least from a way of life that is no longer.

Coss, a Seattle artist who has lived and traveled all over the world, uses sculpture, sound, projection and light to "weave social justice with visual arts," according to a statement on her website. She describes this installation as art and science melded in salt-encrusted artifacts. It is a dystopian landscape.

"I use the language of metaphor to examine contemporary issues," she wrote. "Silent Salinity explores the relationship between water, global warming and culture. Through a two-year partnership with spatial ecologist Roger Fuller, I examined the dangerously increased salinity levels encroaching on local estuaries, and on, consequently, our freshwater resources."

The word "silent" in the show title is apropos, as it evokes the silence one might encounter when exploring the undersea world. There is the feeling one should tip-toe through the gallery. You can almost hear air bubbles rising to the surface as you look at the artifacts of a not-too-distant past and wonder who wrote on this typewriter, did they write love letters to someone across the sea, or poetry or a novel that may have never been published; what did they carry in that battered old suitcase and from where to where to where?

And there are bones, three large bones, possibly a femur or a humerus, each on a small shelf.

SILENT SALINITY: after the dig, 1-5 p.m., Thursday (until 9 p.m. Third Thursday), or by appointment, through Feb. 21, 950 Gallery, 950 Pacific Ave., Suite 205, Tacoma, 253.627.2175, spaceworkstacoma.com/gallery