The Grand Experiment

Alan Chatham's Laboratory is a petri dish for the nascent field of interactive art

Walking two blocks to grab a coffee at Boots is the first thing that Alan Chatham — who prefers you call him by his last name only — suggests when he fails to rouse the artists-in-residence slumbering in their apartment on the second floor of the Richmond Building, the historic red-brick home to venues like The Bartlett and the Richmond Art Collective.

For Chatham and his interactive art program and gallery space known as Laboratory, those snoozing artists and that living space in the Richmond Building are indicative of just how much has happened in the past 26 months. In that time, Chatham has transformed Laboratory from a casual foray to an established and serious-minded undertaking. Last fall, it joined forces with Ginger Ewing and Window Dressing to make inspired use of vacant buildings and otherwise empty retail vitrines. And as of this past January, it began hosting a string of international artists, providing them with spaces to live, create and connect with others. The current pair — Luke Sturgeon, a grad student at London's Royal College of Art, and Minso Kim, a Korean sound artist — put the total number of artists-in-residence to have experimented with Laboratory in the double digits.

"We started as this storefront project wanting to revitalize downtown," says Chatham, a native Spokanite who returned to town after time in the Army, followed by an economics degree from Pomona College and time spent studying human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University.

"The Window Dressing brand has really taken over that goal, and the mission of Laboratory has shifted over to support the development of interactive as a fine arts medium," he says. "We came to the realization that having space to show work is important, but directly supporting artists by offering housing and studio space — especially here in Spokane, where it's cheap — is the most efficient and effective way to do that."

It's an ideal time to be furthering those aims. Interactive art, as Chatham explains, "is a super-nascent field," leaving niches of opportunity and pioneering artists who are looking for collaborators and creative spaces without big expectations in the way of compensation. Spokane's still-coalescing art scene makes it a sweet spot for that kind of activity, to be sure, but the city itself has other qualities that are waiting to be revealed by outsiders' eyes.

"Surprisingly to me, a lot of [the residents'] work has really responded to Spokane as a location, either the history or the geography," Chatham says. For example, Kim's current project involves recording ambient sounds around the city and reinterpreting their purely aural nature as physical motion. She's been particularly taken with Riverfront Park, where the urban and the natural intersect in interesting ways.

Later this month, Sturgeon will show his own mechanized work that interacts with observers through motion, as well as emotion. Chatham likens the idea behind it to a robot bartender. He moves back and forth on a fixed path behind the bar, performing a somewhat limited set of functions, but he also engages with patrons by conversing, sympathizing, assuring and creating an experience that's more than just transactional.

"I personally look at art in terms of communication," says Chatham. "Traditional visual art tends to be this broadcast medium — it's one-way, whereas interactive is something that involves bidirectional informational flow. You play this active part in the entire experience."

Along those same lines, Chatham is encouraging others to play a role in preparing Laboratory (located at 301 West Main Ave.) for its next phase as a fully fledged 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a formal residency program. He hopes to see people making use of the atmosphere that Laboratory offers, meeting and collaborating with the artists it hosts, expanding what's possible in interactive art. ♦


Sept. 15-Oct. 30


A new exhibit at Whitworth University's Lied Center for the Visual Arts showcases the work of Benjamin DeMott, Claire Hedden, Elisabeth Higgins O'Connor, Andy Messerschmidt and Joetta Maue (work pictured). The show is characterized by new perspectives on and approaches to the materials, processes and content used in creating each piece, and not necessarily on the product itself. Curated by associate art professor Katie Creyts, the exhibit is open to both the public and students alike. Lied Center for the Visual Arts, Bryan Oliver Gallery, free admission, gallery hours Mon-Fri, 9 am-6 pm (MAX CARTER)

Sept. 25-Dec. 19


This fall, Gonzaga University continues its ongoing "Jesuits and the Arts" series, showcasing the art of Father Andrew William Vachon, S.J., a Gonzaga graduate, and Father Arturo Araujo, S.J, a Seattle University grad. With 70 paintings and drawings spanning four decades, "Vivid in My Mind: The Visionary and Landscape Images of Father Andrew William Vachon, S.J." invokes thoughts of nature, philosophy and theology through a visually aesthetic approach. "Befriending Sacredness: Works by Father Arturo Araujo, S.J." combines layers of photographs that the artist took in Cienega Grande, Colombia, to create a sense of contemporary spirituality. The exhibit kicks off with a free workshop with Fr. Araujo on Wed, Sept. 23, followed by a free lecture on Fri, Sept. 25. Jundt Art Museum, Free and open to the public, gallery hours Mon-Sat, 10 am-4 pm (MC)

Sept. 30-Dec. 31


The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture once again is opening up its gallery space to the Spokane Watercolor Society this fall. The show, accepting work from all watercolor artists, is juried by guest artist Bev Jozwiak of Vancouver, Wash. In addition to the event, Jozwiak hosts a workshop at Spokane Art Supply called "Painting Life with Life" that focuses on techniques for painting figures of people and animals with boldness and clear composition. Jozwiak is no novice when it comes to watercolors: Her work has been featured in International Artist, American Art Collector and Watercolor Artist. For more information on both the show and workshop, visit Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, $5-$10 museum admission, open Wed-Sun, 10 am-5 pm (MAKAYLA WAMBOLDT)

Oct. 1-Dec. 12


In the spring of 2014, printmaker Jim Dine donated 206 works of art to Washington State University's Museum of Art. This fall, the museum displays this vast collection that spans five decades of Dine's career, during which he established himself as a member of the pop art's "first generation." Now 80, Dine continues to produce prints with vigor, utilizing pop culture references infused with strong romantic and expressionist overtones. Dine's work in printmaking is especially unique, because his prints manage to artistically equal his other works in painting, drawing, sculpture and photography. Museum of Art/WSU, Free and open to the public, gallery hours Mon-Sat, 10 am-4 pm (MC)

Oct. 2


How awesome is it that Terrain is now just two years shy of its decade anniversary, and yet this one-night event continues to outpace itself year after year? Beating out the number of pieces submitted in past years by a long shot, the beloved fall art event is set to showcase nearly 300 pieces of art by more than 140 regional artists — along with 10 live bands and other performances throughout the night — upon the brick walls of the historic Washington Cracker Co. Building, Terrain's home for the second straight year. It's no wonder that everyone who's been to this event says it's can't-miss; prepare for crowds of excited local arts supporters and lines to get inside during the event's peak evening hours. It's definitely worth the wait and all the shoulder rubbing, as you squeeze through the masses to catch a glimpse of all the creativity on display. Washington Cracker Co. Building, 304 W. Pacific, Free, All-ages, 5 pm-2 am (CS)

Throughout October


Last year, the city-subsidized arts nonprofit Spokane Arts announced that it was going to make October — already a bustling time for performances, visual arts, theater and more in Spokane — the month to celebrate the arts in the Inland Northwest. Back again, Create Spokane is set to include even more events under its umbrella, ranging from art shows to big-time events like Terrain. The month culminates on Friday, Oct. 30 with the Spokane Arts Awards costume ball at McKinstry Station (850 E. Spokane Falls Blvd.) where some of the city's biggest movers and shakers will be recognized for their work. The night will also celebrate the unveiling of Spokane's new Poet Laureate. If you go, start working on your costume now, because you're hanging with some of the most creative people in the city, and they know how to put together a get-up. Just something we learned from last year. For a full list of events, visit (MB)

Nov. 14-Feb. 7, 2016


LEGOs, every kid's (and, still, many adults') favorite toy, has grown into so much more than a building set since it launched in the U.S. back in the 1960s. The revered plastic bricks are the building blocks for massive, to-scale replicas of famous landmarks at Legoland theme parks, and even artistic expressions featured in museums and other public spaces. Later this fall, 27 of NYC-based artist Sean Kenney's massive LEGO sculptures, including an 8-foot hummingbird, a 7-foot-tall rose and a 5-foot-tall butterfly, are making their way to Spokane. The award-winning contemporary artist is the first artist to earn the title of LEGO Certified Professional. Through his toy brick art, he challenges audiences to think about combining nature, creativity and play in new ways. Exhibit visitors ages 5 and up can also challenge themselves to create their own LEGO sculptures in a contest hosted by the MAC. Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, $5-$10 museum admission, open Wed-Sun, 10 am-5 pm (CS)

Christmas Faire and City Sidewalks Celebration @ Chewelah

Sat., Dec. 2, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
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About The Author

E.J. Iannelli

E.J. Iannelli is a Spokane-based freelance writer, translator, and editor whose byline occasionally appears here in The Inlander. One of his many shortcomings is his inability to think up pithy, off-the-cuff self-descriptions.