(Images: Seattle Demo Project)
When the people behind the Seattle Demo Project come into an old house before its demolition, they aren’t there to make a statement about urbanization or gentrification. They just want to explore the structure before it goes away.
“We’re memorializing the house, but not being nostalgic about it,” said Max Bemberg, one of the seven members of the group.
Their next project will involve a 20th Ave S house in the Central District. “We are the Ghosts” will feature creations by Earth House Studio and Jessica Hoffman. You can visit the project for an open house on Thursday, July 16th.
The Seattle Demo project consists largely of artists, designers and architects at local firms. When their company’s work involves tearing down an old building before putting up a new one, sometimes the group gets access to the house for a time to explore and create.
Kim and Bemberg aren’t newcomers to the idea. They were both part of the project that turned Chutney’s on 15th Ave East into an art installation before it was demolished.
The Seattle Demo Project now typically tackles the interiors of spaces. In some cases, the group only has time to take photos of those spaces. The images are peculiar, sometimes haunting reminders that people once lived there: A roll of unused toilet paper sitting on a window ledge, racks of shelves, now empty, that once held someone’s belongings.
“Every time we walk into a house, we feel how weird it is that the house had been lived in,” said Tony Kim, another member of the group.
“A lot of pride went into the house.”
In every single house, they said they find carved into a wall or door jamb tick marks showing how tall the children were at different points in their life, but they never touch those markings.
“It’s too precious,” Bemberg said. “It stays with the house until the house dies.”
Sometimes, however, they have a chance to take over the space and re-work it, giving the house one last hurrah before the wrecking ball comes in.
“I don’t see this as an activist mission,” said Kim. “We present people with another interpretation of the house.”
One recent work called “We Are the Ghosts” involved a house near Pratt Park in the Central District. The original owners had built the house and lived in it since the 1940’s, Bemberg said. The owner, he believes had been a contractor.
“A lot of pride went into the house,” Bemberg said.
The house, 2,200 square feet according to King County property records, had been carved up into a lot of tiny rooms. Bemberg and Kim said they found ways to cut slashes into the (non-structural) existing walls, allowing people to see through the house in ways they couldn’t before. They’ve also made some holes in the ceilings and floors, allowing people to see up and down in addition to sideways.
Before they did their work, Bemberg and Kim said, it was possible to tell that someone else was in the house, but not where. You would notice a trembling in the floor, or hear a creak, but all of the walls made it impossible to tell where the disturbance originated. This observation spawned the ghost-inspired name for the installation.
Once they had opened it up, people could see the others and better interact with the people and the space.
“There’s all these beautiful avenues to look through the house,” Kim said. “You can hear and see each other in a way you couldn’t before.”