Art as social engagement: VALISE brings a new venue to town

Heather Joy, Jiji Saunders, Vic Monchego and Beverly Naidus have who-knows-what tucked away in their valises at the new artists’ collective in town. - Leslie Brown/staff photo
Heather Joy, Jiji Saunders, Vic Monchego and Beverly Naidus have who-knows-what tucked away in their valises at the new artists’ collective in town.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/staff photo

Ramos Zamfir, the shady character who allegedly planned to open a pawn shop in the center of Vashon’s commercial district, has apparently abandoned his business scheme and skipped town, leaving an empty shell where Gallery 070 once stood.

Several Vashon artists, however, have jumped into the breach. In a remarkable turnaround, the group — calling themselves VALISE, or Vashon Artists Linked in Social Engagement — plans to open a new gallery in the space by March 6, the First Friday Gallery Cruise for March.

The first show in the newly conceptualized space will be one that had been planned when 070 was a going concern: West Seattleite Britt Freda will show her work, “Fowl Brood,” acrylic and mixed media pieces that conjure up images — Gustav Klimt-style — of chickens, crows and other birds.

“They’re beautiful images,” said Jiji Saunders, one of the members of VALISE. “I think it’ll be something Islanders will love.”

But in a twist, the new artists’ collective plans to add an element to this show that they hope will engage the public: During the last week of Freda’s four-week show, Saunders said, VALISE will likely host a chicken beauty contest and possibly other chicken-related activities and events.

In fact, the group plans to have unusual, community-related events during every show, calling it “4W” — for the fourth week. Saunders said the last week of a show is usually a very quiet time in a gallery. The group hopes to change that by engaging the public — and possibly teens — in unusual ways. They might, for instance, install a teenager’s bedroom in the gallery during the fourth week, transforming a parental eyesore into a work of art, Saunders said.

“If you see it in a gallery, it takes on a whole new meaning,” said Vic Monchego, one of the artists involved in the project, who owned up to the fact that “Vic Monchego” is not his real name. (He declined to reveal his true identity.)

“We want people from the community to bring us ideas for that fourth week,” Monchego (or whoever he really is) added.

Each artist in the collective will show his or her work for one month, Saunders said.

Others in the collective are Adam Cone, Elizabeth Conner, Terri Fletcher, Heather Joy, Beverly Naidus, Gay Schy, Carol Schwennesen, Heather Timkin and Brian Van Buren.

Friday night, four members of the collective gathered in the empty, bare-walled space, where only a few battered suitcases — or valises — sat on the floor. The valises, Monchego said, are meant as a statement: “It’s time to no longer be afraid of unclaimed luggage,” he said.

Heather Joy, for instance, noted that one of them holds a doll collection. Love letters might be in another.

Naidus, whose career has focused on art that engages the community and inspires civic discussion, said she believes the group can transform the small space into a place where art engenders storytelling, healing and transformation.

“There’s a whole tradition of art that engages people socially, using ready-mades like valises,” she said. “Art is not just about form and color and shape, but about taking real issues and exploring them.”

The community, she added, can explore issues that are polarizing people or difficulties like the current economic recession.

“This can be part of the transformation that has to happen all over the world right now,” she said.

As for Ramos Zamfir, who had planned to open up Zamfir’s, a pawn shop and pay-day loan center, Monchego said he was detained in Germany, presumably for attempting to smuggle luxury tobacco products out of the country.

“But he left a valise behind,” Monchego said, nodding towards one of the suitcases.

On March 6, the group adds, people can take a peek and see what’s inside.

For more information

Visit VALISE’s Web site at Or visit its blog:

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