Artists seek inspiration on King County’s trails

September 28, 2010

By Kirsten Johnson

Paul Rucker performs an outdoor concert at Rattlesnake Lake, the southernmost point of the Snoqualmie Valley trail. By Heather Dwyer

As Seattle artists Stokely Towles, Susan Robb and Paul Rucker learned this summer, beauty and uniqueness can be found right in one’s very own backyard.

Since April, the three local, interdisciplinary artists have been exploring the King County trail system as inspiration for their art. Along the way, they have been learning and creating a series of artworks on the trails.

Each of them first responded to an invitation put out last December by 4Culture. The invitation called for artists who were interested in working with the parks department in creating work on the regional trail system.

“Our mission was to explore the King County trail system,” Towles said. “Each of us has different ways of doing that.”

Towles explored the system by interviewing people and using their unique reasons and stories as his inspiration.

“People have all kinds of different reasons,” he said. “One man was bipolar and his mind was always on fire. Even just walking a few hundred yards helped to calm his mind.”

In some of his past work, Towles has interviewed people at the police department, explored the library system and even worked on a project about garbage.

“I’m interested in exploring different systems,” Towles said. “Unlike the police, the trail is a physical system. It’s different in that it has been a ton of walking. I’ve never walked 17 miles in one day.”

Yet even more interesting, Towles noticed a difference in the way people on the trail responded to him when he approached them.

“With this trail project, I was literally walking up to people,” he said. “There was a real immediacy to the engagement. I was struck that no one said no. It makes me wonder what other kinds of situations I could make in the moment.”

Robb has been creating audio, visual and video work inspired by her way of seeing the trails as an entrance to nature and various environments.

“The regional trail system is an amazing amenity that King County residents have,” Robb said. “The trails themselves were an inspiration. All my work comes from taking a trip somewhere else, but with this project, I wanted to show how the things right in front of our eyes are actually beautiful, transportive and unusual.”

Rucker, a composer, cellist and bassist, created music compositions inspired by the people on the trails, as well as characteristics of the trail system itself.

The artists led two public walks; one in May and one at the end of July.

But over the course of the summer, they have personally explored an extensive list of local trails, including the Burke-Gilman Trail, the Soos Creek Trail, the Sammamish River Trail and the East Lake Sammamish Trail.

Their walk in July was 40 miles, from Seattle to Snoqualmie. It attracted more than 40 members of the public.

“It brought people together, from Lake City Way, that is all about strip malls, and then into Renton, which is much more suburban and onto the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, which is rural,” Robb said. “When you walk through it, you have a different experience of the landscape changing. It lets you connect with the landscape on a deeper level.”

The artists encourage anyone with an interest to take on the trail system individually.

“There’s something nice about exploring the world on a different avenue,” Towles said. “You have a very different relationship to the terrain. It makes me think about moving differently through these spaces.”

“The interesting thing about the project is that we were asking people on the trails to think about being on the trail itself as art,” Robb said. “It’s conceptual art that you keep in your head.”

On the Web

Learn more about the trail arts project here.

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