April 22, 2015

Is That All There Is?

“Let’s meet at The Boom.”  I can’t count how many times I’ve said that to someone, and they knew exactly what I was talking about. You know it, too.  It’s become a landmark, a well-known and beloved backdrop to Cal Anderson Park, a cultural icon.

You can’t set out to make art into an icon. I’m sure there are some marketing whizzes out there that could school me on the science of taking criteria and filtering through an algorithm to turn out a crowd-pleasing widget.  (I’m pretty sure this is how one-hit-wonders are born.)  But a true icon worth its salt can’t be forced – people just feel and embrace it, and it becomes so. It’s a blend of the right energy at the right time, met with a little bit of magic.  And I boldly say that yes, Boom! is, or was, a cultural icon.  How do I know this? Do a quick Google Images search of “boom! Capitol hill Seattle wall” and just see what you find: it’s a topic on several Flickr collections;  it has filled many a Facebook feed with photos of people covering their ears, running for their lives, jumping, etc;  it’s been used as a backdrop for a number of couples’ engagement portraits - though I wonder about their photographers, who carefully copyright their own photos, but don’t consider any copyright or attribution of the artwork itself (I digress); it has even figured in a couple of homegrown music videos and a Riz Rollins love-letter to Seattle.

Even I couldn't resist interacting with the art, along with a few of my Sound Transit cohorts. Photo © 2010 Reb Roush

This artwork has always been a favorite for me as well.  It’s real title is “Is That All There is?” which was inspired by the Peggy Lee song of the same name.  In the song, Ms. Lee expresses how greatly underwhelmed she is over seemingly big milestones of life – a tragic event, first love, and ultimately, death.  Artist Tim Marsden takes that idea and applies it to his 3-dimensional cartoon style, imagining how one might feel after witnessing an explosion.  Five years after it was installed, it still makes me laugh – especially because he took planks of wood, covered them in paint, and made them look like planks of wood.  So. Very. Meta.



A few weeks back, Boom! was scheduled for demolition.  I was anxious to see how it would come down – would it be in a blaze of glory, or would it be a slow, sad dismembering befitting its name? Personally, I was hoping to find they’d fashioned a cartoon batch of TNT connected to a cartoon detonator.

On the appointed day, I had my preschool son with me, and like all preschoolers, he has a special sixth sense for knowing when I’m in a rush and therefore dragged his feet every step of the way.  However, knowing how the construction world works, I figured I would arrive just in time for the show, even though I was 20 minutes late.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

As I pulled up to Cal Anderson Park, I was immediately disoriented.  I couldn’t find the familiar bends of the wall, and stymied for a moment as I tried to get my bearings.  Suddenly it dawned on me that there was an excavator at work, quietly munching  on the last of the vertical beams that held the section of wall where Boom! resided.

Removal of the section of wall containing "Is That All There Is?" took less than 20 minutes. Photo © 2015 J. Babuca 

The artwork on the wall was always intended to be temporary, and as such, was created inexpensively, with materials that weren’t built to stand many years out in the elements.  Still, there are some pieces that I secretly fantasized could find a new home after construction was done.  Though I knew it was time for Boom! to come down, I was caught off guard at how its removal seemed to happen in a fast and rather anti-climatic manner, shrouded in blue tarp and cyclone fencing.  Nondescript, and no fanfare: Is That All There Is?


The Red Wall quickly became part of our everyday lives on Capitol Hill, and now it is quickly going away.

A clandestine peek over the curtain and through a fence, reveals a scene that will repeat until the last of the wall is removed. Photo: © 2015 J.Babuca 
-Jennifer Babuca

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