When Summer Robinson's Pilot Books closed back in 2011, members of the literary community got real sad. They'd lost a gathering place and a shop to show their wares. But from its ashes grew Stranger Genius Award–nominated APRIL Festival, which kept alive the cause of promoting and supporting independent publishing. When that festival beautifully burned out, I wondered if something new would phoenix. INCA Seattle had been doing some cool stuff, the folks who run Common Area Maintenance had been hosting some readings, but the local offbeat literary scene seemed fragmented.
Then here comes X Y Z, a collection of four artist-run organizations opening up this week in the underbelly of the Tashiro Kaplan Artists Lofts (300 S Washington St).
The name of the place is derived from the three suites that the developers built inside G. Gibson's old white-wall gallery. Each space is about the size of a big living room, and each corresponds with a different letter of the alphabet—X, Y, and Z.
A collective of visual artists called Specialist will run X, but the rest of the shops will devote themselves to the literary arts. Mount Analogue, a wild small press publishing company owned and operated by Colleen Louise Barry, will open an indie bookstore/art gallery in the Y suite, and Gramma Press and Cold Cube Press will split suite Z, which they're calling ZZZ.
ZZZ sports a big bookshelf that will display books of poetry and comics, a tattered couch for reading, a risograph machine for printing stuff, a mini-fridge for LaCroix, a custom Roy McMakin table for constructing books and comics, and a dark storage room that's really just a walled-in staircase to nowhere.
Gramma editor Drew Swenhaugen told me plans are fuzzy for what he and Cold Cube founders Aidan Fitzgerald and Michael Heck want to do with the space, but Swenhaugen said they'll send out a survey. In general, he imagines a safe space open in the afternoon, probably from Thursday through Saturday, where you can write, work on a chapbook, or spend your lunch hour reading in good light.
"I'm new, and I don't claim to know a lot about the visual-art world here, but I'm interested to see how the publishing world can interact with it in a productive way," he said.
For its part, Mount Analogue will give me what I have always wanted: an independent bookstore covered in glitter and stocked with porn.
Like any personable bookseller worth her shop, Barry started handing me stuff the moment I walked in. Before I could even properly comment on the floor, which is plastered with silver glitter and coated with resin, I was marveling at a gorgeous Sophie Calle book with an embroidered cover that was going for $75, rifling through a rare copy of The Case of the Ascetic Satyr that was marked at $225, and laughing at porny risograph-printed "Tijuana bibles" that were selling for $4.
The place will be wall-to-wall art books, books made of art that are meant to be read, locally produced zines, and art criticism. Barry said she's already slated art installations and readings for the year, which will include a BDSM opera and a full-scale sleazy motel installation.
"The space is going to look different every single month," Barry said. "And if artists want to do stuff here, bring it on," she added, mentioning collectives such as TUF and Women.Weed.WiFi as dream collaborators.
"This is a big risk. It's one of the scariest things I've ever done," Barry admitted, as she listed off the "fuckton" of grants she was applying for and development meetings she was trying to schedule. "But it's also not that scary. I'm surrounded by my friends, and I just feel deep down that it's going to work out—but that doesn't mean it's not going to be hard," she added.
Both Barry and Swenhaugen said they loved the energy and tension that characterize Pioneer Square and that they've already been talking about ways they can be conscientious members of the community. "It's important that we know who our neighbors are and develop a relationship with everyone we see," Barry said.
Mount Analogue will present Mary Anne Carter's Women in the Style of Taco Bell, a show that playfully troubles and explores the line between personal identity and corporate branding.
Porcelain hands holding tacos stuffed with fur will fill one wall, abstract cinnamon twists will block out the window, glittery portraits of Seattle women will hang from the ceiling, and women dressed as tacos will walk around with silver serving platters "topped with various things," she told me. With any luck, Carter will also sell graphic tank tops featuring nacho cheese dripping down a severed hand. Sold.
Specialist's show is called It's me and it's you and it's yes. It features some whimsical watercolors by Alexi Brown-Schmidt and some prehistoric-looking benches by William E. Shields.
Gramma's book covers serve as a pretty solid collection of contemporary art in and of themselves, so they'll be showing the original artworks from the collection of William and Ruth True, next to their respective titles.
To keep the party going long into the evening, Bellingham artist "Future Man" (cartoonist Cullen Beckhorn's alter ego) will read from a comic he made with Drew Miller. Barry told me the performance contains "a musical element," which will transform into a DJ set.
"The first time I met [Future Man], he was wearing a green neon leotard and performing the sound of his birth for 45 minutes," Barry said while laughing. "I don't think it's going to be like that this time, but it should be pretty wild."