As the first Poet Laureate of the city of Redmond, Shin Yu Pai worked hard to bring poetry out into the civic space. She created a beautiful and elaborate combination of poetry and fabric art in response to a hate crime. She had another poem animated and projected onto the side of a building. She’s demonstrated new ways that poets can interact with the public.
Now Pai’s term as Redmond’s Laureate has come to an end, and one of her final public exhibitions is available for viewing through this week. Until December 21st, you can visit the Redmond Senior Center for an exhibition of a dozen chlorophyll prints that Pai created in collaboration with the artist Megan Bent.
As part of this project, Pai dug deep into the city of Redmond’s archives — “I must have sorted through thousands of images,” she says — to find photographs of city history. She selected images of Redmond woodcarver Dudley Carter, and of a bicycle festival that happened in Redmond annually for years, and of the city’s logging past. Then — using a more sophisticated version of the same technique she employed to grow words on apples in Carkeek Park — Pai then transferred those images onto leaves. The end result looked like this:
This is the second exhibition for the chlorophyll prints. Over the summer, Pai showed the leaves in specially designed light-safe boxes. They installed the boxes over the weekend, she tells me in a phone interview, and “we came back that following Friday for the opening, and it was real interesting — even in that short amount of time we noticed that some of the leaves had begun to shrink.” In fact, the leaves were changing in a multitude of ways: “there was browning, and there was subtle changes in color that were occurring,” Pai tells me.
Pai has worked with organic materials before, so she knows that some change is a part of the process. But she still tried to keep the leaves as lively as she could: “we tried to protect them from the light as much as possible. The degradation didn't happen as quickly as if they were in the sun that entire three-week period that the exhibition was up, but definitely they began to alter and change.” Because the physical leaves have degraded even further, the exhibit at the Senior Center, then, is made up of photographs of the leaves that had photographs burned into them. Pai admits with a laugh that this work represents “lots of layers” now.
It’s a dense project: a poet, recording a history of logging on the leaf of a tree that managed to not be cut down. It’s an attempt to preserve history on one of the most ephemeral objects in all of nature. (One of the easiest ways to mark the change of a season is to look at leaves.) And since the vast majority of all poetry in history has been written and published on wood pulp, you could also view the project as Pai’s attempt to forge a new truce between poets and trees. These poems don’t require the wholesale destruction of trees in order to live. They’re a new kind of collaboration between human and nature.
Redmond Senior Center, 8703 160th Ave NE., 425-556-2314, http://www.redmond.gov/cms/One.aspx?portalId=169&pageId=742, 8:30 am – 9 pm, free.