Saturday marked the third iteration of the NEPO 5K Don't Run, the city’s only art-themed 5K where you're really, truly not supposed to run. Instead, participants slow down to take in the buffet of poetry readings, installations and happenings nested along a route that begins at Hing Hay Park, winds its way through the International District, over the Jose Rizal Bridge and finishes at NEPO House on Beacon Hill.
The event has something for everyone, with over 90 visual artists, performers and musicians contributing site-specific work this year. Want to shoot slingshots? OK. See synchronized dancing on Segways? Sure. Pile into a parked Prius and go on a trip to nowhere while the driver tells you a story? You can do that.
You start out registering, just like any other 5K, but rather than get a number, you get to pick a noun of your choice to pin on your person, compliments of Vis-a-Vis Society. VIPER, FEVER, POTATO, VULCAN MIND: already Vis-a-Vis has turned contestants into peripatetic word games. You stretch. (Always important before an art walk.) Ready, set, go!
Thankfully, the weather was fine. The first segment of the walk was peppered with a poetry reading I wasn’t in time for, a video peepshow in a triangular plywood box under an overpass (Kat Larson’s ethereal images of star-spangled sky and water in Memory Place). Brandon Aleson and Jesse Montini-Vose’s Digits was one of the weirdest sculptures along the route, and one of the first encountered. A wall of rubber fingers attached to a mechanized armature responded to the presence of viewers as they came close. The fingers jerked left and right, violently gesticulating in the direction of whoever was near.
Further down the path, congested clumps of walkers fanned out and took their time examining individual works tucked discreetly in corners and on walls, like No Touching Ground’s Ghost, a faint vinyl and spray paint piece on the side of an industrial building on the cusp of the ID. A halo of dripping paint traced the edges of the faintest figure.
Not far from Ghost, Klara Glosova, mistress of NEPO House herself, had tucked one of her trademark trompe l'oeil ceramic pieces among a sprawl of untamed foliage growing between a sidewalk and a brick wall. Wilted was nested so seamlessly amid a spray of yellowing stems and dessicated leaves that you couldn’t tell it apart from the real. I plunged my fingers into the leaves, trying to locate the feel of unyielding ceramic. “Don’t touch the art!” one of my companions said, aghast. But I couldn’t find the ceramic. Had it been stolen?
Other art blended into the urban environment seamlessly but was too good to be true, like Nathaniel Russell’s photocopied posters tacked up on light poles everywhere, greeting walkers with mysterious, urgent announcements about snake poems, good vibes and the opening of Conceptual Taco People’s Restaurant (worker owned)—mere feet from an actual taco truck.
While crossing the Jose Rizal Bridge, we came across an installation by none other than Buster Simpson. Bivouac, a bright blue tarp far, far beneath us, was pinned in a grove of trees, shimmering and crinkling like liquid sapphire. We marveled that even Simpson, a longstanding Seattle landscape artist with an impressive exhibition currently hanging at the Frye, was participating in the NEPO 5K this year!
Across the bridge, Julia Freeman and Ben von Wildenhaus’s Ve-uws: A Peepshow brought a surreal carnival to town. A tent in the round, it offered four peepshows, each one a miniature theater in which strange burlesques involving fruit, thread and needles were taking place. In one theater, the star was an oversize red beet stuffed thick as a pin cushion with dozens of long. pearl-head pins. Disembodied hands crept out of an opening and operated on the vegetable, extracting the pins fastidiously from the hard purple flesh, depositing them in a tangled pile in a glass bowl.
But I was distracted from the peepshow by Erin Pike and Flatchestedmama’s brilliant and indescribable Segway Patrol Dance and, just around the corner, the bizarro German Soothsayers on Vacation installation where bilingual fortunes were being computed and dispensed out of a magical, hand-cranked sausage machine.
Above: Adam Boehmer's YES VESSEL and Lindsay Apodaca's SEATTLE SUPERSPIRITUALS
Max Kraushaar’s Occupational Health Psychology (OHP) sprawled on the lawn of Dajeon Park, where Kraushaar invited passersby to break two by fours over his back. The beams (made of foam) burst into pieces, slapstick as Charlie Chaplin. Kraushaar, who has been working as a contractor for the past two years, made the piece to grapple with the thing that's taken up so much of his life (his time in construction clocks in at approximately 4,000 hours to date). For OHP, he constructed more than 100 hand-sanded and painted Styrofaom two by fours, then built a house frame out of them. Imitating Akido demonstrations found on YouTube, he threw himself through the structure, breaking it to pieces.
“I’m just working through some personal stuff with intention and inviting people to watch," he says. "Which is art.”
Much further down the path, past sculptures, fortune telling and a Holy BBQ, where sirens dressed in white offered boozy horchata and sparkling water to the thirsty amid a brambly overgrown lot, performance artist and choreographer Alice Gosti’s I will follow you - deep sea baby was taking place in an open garage. I’d seen this before. The setup for the performance includes two chairs, half a dozen rolls of industrial toilet paper and a sign that says Tell me a story. At the start, the performer strips to her underwear and begins methodically wrapping herself in toilet paper, loosely binding limbs, throat, ankle and head till she’s mummified. A small cardboard tube around the mouth area is all that allows for the passage of air. The process takes three or four hours. By that time, the human figure is transformed. In its place: a deformed, helpless rag doll monster that can barely hold her head up. When the timer goes off hours later, she stands up and begins tearing at her face. She gasps for air. When she peels off the suit, she’s dripping in sweat, makeup running. It comes off around her in an explosion of paper plumes. It falls around her like a gown.
Previously, only Gosti has performed this piece. This time it was artist Ryan Law wrapping himself inside a cocoon of toilet paper. By the time I arrived, he was only about an hour into the process, but already his senses were dulled and he groped the chair next to him as if in search of a person who might be whispering sweet nothings in his ear.
It was hard, if not impossible, to catch every performance and installation along the way. A few pieces, like Serrah Russell’s Whispering Signs—architectural prints of PNW nature scenes taken during summer hikes and “collaged” into environments along the walk—had disappeared before the event started.
It was around this point, along 18th Avenue, that I came across my own piece, titled Cleavage. It consisted of two large, trimmed hedges in shape of twinned globes rising up from the earth. These were separated neatly by a concrete sidewalk leading up to a single story house with a screen door. Except, of course, it wasn’t my piece, and I had nothing to do with it. It was the handiwork of PDL (trio Jason Puccinelli, Jed Dunkerley and Greg Lundgren) who’d been lampooning local artists along the length of the route. No Touching Ground, Glosova, Simpson, an Untitled tree sculpture by Dan Webb (actually just a tree), a blob of green paint on an electrical box by Dylan Neuwirth. All of it a prank.
At the finish line there was a beer garden in front of NEPO House. Sculptures dotted the lawn. After the sun went down, people danced in the street while the band Pollens played. The night ended too soon.
Compared to past NEPO 5K DON’T RUNs, this one felt the most lighthearted, peppered with silliness and inside jokes and punches of the surreal and unexpected. Like its founder Klara Glosova, NEPO 5K never feels like it takes itself too seriously, and over the years it continues to evolve and temporarily transform the pedestrian into a wonderland. It invites a second look at sidewalks, turns dusty garages into theaters, opens up the shuttered. NEPO is backwards for OPEN, and that’s what NEPO does best: opens the house, opens the neighborhood, always with warmth.
Photo credits: Alice Gosti’s I will follow you - deep sea baby and German Soothsayers on Vacationcourtesy of Bruce Clayton Tom. Animated gifs of Max Kraushaar courtesy of the artist.