Please keep your baggage with you at all times

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In July, VALISE Gallery presents Baggage, an exhibit of VALISE artists that revisits the earliest days of the artist collective. In 2009, the Great Recession hit Vashon’s main street. As restaurants and shops closed, eleven artists fearlessly opened a gallery “dedicated to presenting subjects and media that are daring, unexpected and emergent.” The artists’ blog reported, “A collective of artists have reclaimed the gallery space … The new gallery will be called VALISE. A valise is a traveling bag, a suitcase that hints of mystery and adventure. What’s inside? Where has it been? Where is it going? The bag is curiously anonymous, nostalgic, and worthy of a closer inspection.”

One of the first shows that VALISE hosted was Carry On, an installation inspired by the artist collective’s name and acronym, which stands for Vashon Artists Linked in Social Engagement. Carry On was an interactive installation led by Artist Elizabeth Conner. It welcomed visitors to a space that “might remind you of storage for lost luggage… or playing in your grandmother’s attic… the aftermath of a gentle earthquake…or a collection of secrets waiting to be claimed.”

Twelve years later, during yet another global crisis, the artist collective in considering Baggage. The word baggage often connotes something heavy that weighs you down like emotional burdens from one’s past. In her oil paintings, Rachel LordKenaga presents work with titles like Burdened, Encumbered, Laden, and Weighted. The gallery’s newest member Corinne Lightweaver asks, What’s Your Baggage? in her acrylic painting. And Robert Passig presents a painting of a suitcase filled with rocks called A Weight to Carry.

In 2009, for the exhibit Carry On, Jiji Saunders created an installation of the interiors of three vintage suitcases carefully cut away from the hard shells that bound them. The installation was named for leaders in the women’s movement. The 2009 VALISE blog stated, “The women are Bella Abzug (orange), Clara Fraser (blue) and the still vivacious, Greta Gaard (green) … What hangs on the wall is not lingerie. In fact, they are the aged linings of womanly valises. The faded, silky fabrics have been dissected carefully from three suitcases pre-dating the Nixon administration.”

This time around, Jiji Saunders gathered 11 suitcases with the intension to create another installation. Currently she is in her front yard painting them with a mixture of flat white house paint and plaster. “I want them to look like plaster casts of baggage. In my head, I keep seeing suitcases coming round the conveyor belt at baggage claim and stacking up because there is no one to claim them. I think about all the people we didn’t get to see during the pandemic and those we lost.”

Other artists in the collective are considering the value of functional human objects like suitcases. Sharon Shaver’s acrylic paintings, High Seas Adventure and Wild Blue Yonder, were inspired by years watching animals at play, often using objects of value to us humans for entertainment: Mike the cat who shredded several pages of her daughters’ science text book, Will the cat who stuck his paw in a frying pan of stir fry and pulled out chunks of tofu and ate them, and the resident raven who discovered a jar of paint brushes on the steps Sharon Shaver’s studio and scattered them across the grass.

Visual artists participating in the July show at VALISE include:
Gregory Burnham
Dot Cherch
Bill Jarcho
Jesse Johnson
Pascale Judet
Corinne Lightweaver
Rachel Lordkenaga
Robert Passig
Jiji Saunders
Sharon Shaver
Hita von Mende
George Wright
Lenard Yen

VALISE gallery will be open Fridays and Saturdays from 1 to 5 pm. All safety protocols including limited capacity and masks are required. The opening celebration is First Friday, July 2 from 6 to 8 pm, and the show may be previewed on Friday afternoon. The show runs through July 31. VALISE Artist Collective and Gallery is located in downtown Vashon at 17633 Vashon Highway SW, Vashon Island, Washington.