I am From Bellevue
July 10 – August 3, 2009
an installation by Greg Lundgren
at Open Satellite
I am from Bellevue is a large-scale installation exploring the concept of suburban identity and the environments in which an artist is raised. Greg Lundgren was born and raised in the idyllic backdrop of suburban Bellevue, Washington. Like many suburban youth reaching adulthood, Greg found a great urgency to enter big city life and leave the sheltered, culturally homogenous landscape of his upbringing. Twenty years later, he returns with a theory and an experiment to construct his modern identity with the artifacts of his suburban tribe.
I am from Bellevue. I was born at Overlake Hospital on December 31st, 1969 and spent my youth in a big old house on Yarrow Point. By all accounts, I had a wonderful childhood. I went to Three Points Elementary School and met friends that I still respect and admire.
I grew up in a Bellevue that had horse farms and apple orchards and even the rich kids got dropped off to school in wood grained station wagons. Bellevue Square was still an outdoor mall, and Lollipop Park, Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor and Skate King were about the best things a kid could hope for. It didn’t mean that we stopped racing wooden go carts down Clyde Hill, or build forts in what is now called Aqua Vista. We played soccer in the rain, snuck out in the middle of the night, chewed tobacco on the roofs of our school, and really, quite regularly, got away with murder.
By the time I reached Bellevue High School, I had a growing suspicion that my childhood, and my life, existed inside a bubble. The great bulk of petty crimes were committed by teenagers like myself, so it was only fair that the Bellevue Police Department considered us public enemy number one. Maybe we were. In the late nineteen-eighties, we drank and smoked and threw very large parties. And most of the time we outsmarted those men in blue. As I reached graduation, I was anxious to get far, far away from Bellevue and moved to Los Angeles that summer.
In 1988, even Seattle wasn’t quite on the map yet. Most southern Californian’s had heard of Seattle, but honestly, I don’t think a lot of them even knew what state it was in. I have the vague suspicion that they thought I was from Canada, or Alaska. Time and time again, people would ask me if there were totem poles and log cabins, grizzly bears and Indians. This is before Microsoft and Starbucks hit the national stage, a time when Nordstroms and REI and Eddie Bauer were still regional brands. If I were to say I was from Bellevue, it would have been met with a blank stare, or worse, “The mental institution in New York?” I became the guy from Seattle.
In 1994 I returned to the Pacific Northwest and rooted on Capitol Hill. The music scene had exploded, Kurt Cobain was dead, and many of the local businesses of my youth had become international brands. People were moving to the northwest in droves, and it almost became quaint to be from here. Again I found myself being asked where I was from, and Seattle was my programmed, knee jerk reaction. In all honesty, I was ashamed of my true origin. For those I met who also grew up in the area, when I said “Seattle” they said “What high school?” At which point I would fumble and squirm and with my eyes pointed to the ground, I would alter my story and admit to being an Eastsider. Yes, I did go to Hot Tub High. Screw off, leave me alone, and yes- actually my dad did drive a BMW. For much longer than I cared to admit, I was a bit ashamed of where I was from, I dodged the question, sheepishly defended it, desperately tried to tell people that it didn’t always used to be “that” way.
And what was “that” way? Money? Privilege? An insulated sheltered life? Sure a part of my shame drew from growing up in a suburb- and it could have been any suburb. I imagine there are thousands of kids who secretly wish they were from the city, somewhere tougher, and more cultured, and grittier, and diverse. I’m sure there are kids in Jersey who profess to be from Manhattan, kids in San Bernardino who claim Los Angeles as their home, kids in Paradise Valley who are just horrified to admit it. Cul-de-sacs and manicured lawns are not cool. Sub-urban; by its very definition it is below urban. To make matters worse, Bellevue had a reputation. It was a haven for rich white spoiled brats. It was superficial and status based. It was the land where you never had to work for your keep, never had to gets your hands dirty. Life was handed to you on a silver platter. And really, who wants to wear the label of a spoiled brat? As much as I knew the difference between the perception and the reality, the past and present of my suburban origin- as much as I could have defended it, I did not.
My mom still lives in the house I grew up in. I don’t visit nearly enough, and with my father dead, I hold great guilt in not crossing the 520 bridge more often to say hi, to take her out to dinner, to share more of my life with her. I drive through Bellevue and see the changes, the homes that have been scrapped away and replaced with as large and encroaching “villas” as their property lines will allow. See the ever-expanding mall and more expensive German and British cars that I ever remembered from my youth. And while I wince as stereotypes are reinforced, I also admire the new parks, museums and high rises that have settled into the landscape. The suburb of my childhood has become a city.
I’m older now and am much more comfortable with my identity; of what I represent and believe in. Having lived in Seattle for the last 15 years, I do see it as my home and where I am from. But I have come to terms with my origin, the suburban tribe I was raised in. And as much as I ran away from Bellevue, as much as I have avoided, or successfully dodged my past- it is very much a part of me. You cannot disown the place where you were raised. Bellevue, for better and worse, is my village. No matter what I do, no matter where I live or what I claim, it is the fabric of which I was crafted from, the landscape that defined my character and the perch I clung to in my most formative years.
I am From Bellevue is my rehabilitation program. It is a statement founded in both shame and acceptance, like an alcoholic sitting in his first AA meeting. I am From Bellevue is also an experiment based upon a suspicion of that social identity. It is returning to my tribe and building a nest from the sticks and leaves of my village. Can I forage and assemble a portrait of myself from the ingredients of my neighborhood? Adopt the role of a suburban archeologist and find the puzzle pieces that collectively represent me.
The horror, and comedy of this project, is that I have chosen to use objects to define and prove my linage to Bellevue. I attempt to construct my own identity through commodities, through things people own. And at once, I recognize the reflections of stereotypes in myself. These must be my people if I am going to prove my connection through stuff. Not through common memories or friendships or shared ideas- but through stuff. What can I say? I am From Bellevue.
From this day forward, I am writing letters and emails, spreading the word about my project, contacting friends and neighbors who I have fallen long out of touch with. My request is simple. I want to hunt through the homes of my childhood in search of things that I identify with. The great thrill of it is I do not know what I will find. It is by all accounts an experiment. This is my self-portrait, drawn from vases and rugs and trinkets on a fireplace mantle. It is not art that I hunt, or objects of great value. I am not treasure hunting. I am building a nest. And through old couches and stereo speakers and Christmas ornaments and American flags, I am going to construct a portrait of myself. This is my art installation at Open Satellite.
These next few months are going to be strange. I’ll be wandering through your house, taking notes and photographs, asking to see the basement, the spare room, the stuff in your garage. I don’t know exactly what it is yet, but I know it is there. I am convinced. It will have a smell, it will glow brighter, make some strange sound that only I can hear. And I will ask if I can borrow it. Put it in a gallery in just the right place. No matter what the object, it will be handled and treated with the greatest care and respect. In 4 weeks this installation will deconstruct and all of the components returned to their rightful owners.
It might be that these ideas about social identity are all an illusion, fools gold- a false hunch. Maybe you won’t let me into your house. Maybe I won’t find that glowing, beeping, magical object. Maybe it won’t make sense and I cannot pin together the bones of this creature. Even more frightening is the prospect that it will make sense, it will work, and the portrait that looks back at me is not what I had anticipated- that this collection of objects reveals more than I care to admit. What is it about Bellevue? What is it about a perfectly healthy childhood? What is it about wealth and privilege? Where exactly am I from?
The month of July will reveal the outcome of this project. You will be invited to walk through this maze of objects, to celebrate, socialize, criticize, and respond accordingly. It will be a spectacle.
But first I need your help. Some of you I know and others are strangers, some of you have lived there your whole life and others are just settling in. It is going to be a long laborious hunt, but given permission, I will methodically scan through the rooms of your home looking for the common thread that links us. It is there- I am convinced. And with your consent, a moving truck will arrive in early July, recruit these objects and deliver them to Open Satellite. And I will build my nest. From friends and strangers, I will construct the skeleton that confirms my connection to you, and yours to mine.
It is my sincere hope that the residents of Bellevue will open their doors and welcome me. That friends, strangers, natives and settlers, will reveal a part of themselves and their homes with an understanding of community, history and a common bond that cannot be erased or denied. This is the power of art.