A Submerged House Worthy Of ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ Lands In Seattle

Lamar Anderson Lamar Anderson

“The Western Oracle: We Will Tear the Roof Off the Mother,” a new installation at the Seattle Art Museum. Photo: Robert Wade

Attics are magical places. As neglected crawlspaces, reliable hiding spots, and overheated treasure troves that hint at distant lives, attics hold the secrets—or just the cobwebbed junk—of generations past. For the Brooklyn-based artist Heather Hart, attics also present an opportunity for self-contemplation.

So when Hart began building a series of oracle-themed domiciles in 2010, she skipped over the more frequently inhabited porches and rec rooms and zeroed in on attics. Resembling architectural ruins for contemporary times, her A-frame wood houses begin and end at the roof line. “It looks like a house has fallen from the sky and anchored itself in the park,” Sandra Jackson-Dumont, deputy director for education and public programs at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), says of Hart’s new installation at Olympic Sculpture Park, which opened on Saturday. “It also could look like a roof that’s submerged in water. As people sit on top of it, it may remind people of Katrina or other floods in recent history.”

Hart’s newest installation, “The Western Oracle,” overlooks Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park and Puget Sound. Photo courtesy the Seattle Art Museum

The new structure, “The Western Oracle: We Will Tear the Roof Off the Mother,” is Hart’s third demi-house. Each of her oracle pieces asks viewers to make an offering in exchange for a gander at self-discovery. At the Brooklyn Museum last year, visitors to the Buddhist-themed “Eastern Oracle” offered bits of gold leaf before facing their own reflections in a mirror. “You became the oracle,” recalls Jackson-Dumont.

“The Northern Oracle: We Will Tear the Roof Off the Mother” (2010), at Franconia Sculpture Park in Minnesota. Photo courtesy the artist

On view through October 13, “The Western Oracle” joins sculptures by Alexander Calder and Mark di Suvero on Weiss/Manfredi’s Z-shaped park path overlooking Puget Sound. Visitors are free to clamber on the roof or duck inside to sit between the attic’s exposed trusses. In a nod to the region’s Native American heritage, this attic features a wall made of drums. The hides are stretched to varying tensions to produce an array of sounds. Visitors are encouraged to make impromptu musical offerings, says Jackson-Dumont. “Oracles are about speaking truth,” she adds. “This is meant to be a reflective experience.”

It’s also meant to be a physical one. As Hart explained to ArtSlant when “The Eastern Oracle” opened in Brooklyn, “I love making things, but I also want my conceptual work to be an experience that lasts longer than the viewing process. I believe that involving all the senses and creating a task or physical action of some kind can access people more deeply than through solely visual stimulation.”

Photos: Robert Wade