Rajah Bose had been laid off and living in Spokane for just eight months in 2008 when he took part in the first-ever local arts event known as Terrain.
“I didn’t really see myself as an artist 10 years ago,” Bose said. “But Terrain has always been like: ‘No, anybody can do this. Do we even have to call it art?’”
Bose ended up exhibiting a photograph and performing as a musician that first year. He also played the violin with Flying Spiders, the hip-hop orchestra he helped start. Ten years later, Bose has become a successful videographer, photographer, and instructor – with yet another piece in this year’s Terrain 10. He still doesn’t call himself an artist though.
“It’s like what’s great about Terrain,” said Bose, dark-haired and dressed in black, affably tucking into a late lunch at Boots Bakery. “Terrain empowers everybody to make their own thing, and to stop thinking of it as so distant. Like, you think, ‘I’d like to write a song, but first, I got to get a guitar teacher, and an education, and a really nice guitar.’”
“But, you don’t really need that,” added Bose, pausing to hold up three fingers. “You just need three chords, and you can write a song.”
Bose has shown and performed several times at Terrain since its inception a decade ago. He will display his latest creative work for Terrain 10 this Thursday and Friday, at the Jensen-Byrd warehouse downtown starting at 5 p.m. both nights.
Bose’s own journey over the past 10 years has been as evolutionary as Terrain itself. In 2008, Bose was a 29-year-old photojournalist among a wave of pink-slipped employees who did not survive post-recession cuts at The Spokesman-Review. The setback only spurred him on. “I’m glad I got laid off,” he chuckled.
Since then Bose has taken pictures for some of the nation’s most venerable newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. His evocative portraits accompanying national stories set in the Pacific Northwest have made him a go-to stringer in the region. He’s been the freelance photographer for weddings, artists, accountants, farmers, doctors and realtors. He is on Gonzaga University’s staff as the marketing department’s official photographer and videographer, and he teaches photojournalism at the university.
The son of a college professor of engineering who immigrated from India, Bose was born and raised in the U.S. He attended high school in Pullman and graduated from Washington State University with a degree in business and a concentration in marketing and advertising. Together with his partner, muralist and designer Ellen Picken, he co-founded Factory Town, a production company focused on telling compelling stories. His videos range from featuring the city’s craft beer explosion for Downtown Spokane Partnership to highlighting arts programs at an Idaho convent.
His interest in honing his story-telling skills led him to earn his master of fine arts degree in creative writing at Eastern Washington University this year. “I could have gotten a degree in film, but my priority as a filmmaker is to tell stories,” Bose said.
For his Terrain pieces, Bose seems to have gravitated toward the idea of giving art-goers an interactive experience. One year he affixed four partial mannequins on the wall and left pens nearby to encourage patrons to write on the black and Caucasian, female and male, bodies.
“I wasn’t asking for anything in particular, just experimenting with crowd-sourcing,” Bose said. “I called it ‘Black and White,’ but people responded more with feminism, lots of sexual exploitation and objectification, crude stuff, but also positive messages.” The mannequins still hang in his studio today.
Another year, he can’t remember which one, Bose and Picken did a combined installation called “Lifewater,” in which they left a glass bottle on a table with hundreds of written commands along the lines of: “Put the bottle somewhere else without anyone noticing you.” Bose displayed photos of the water bottle and Picken hung paintings of it.
“We were hoping that people would connect the dots between the actual water bottle, the paintings Ellen did of the bottle, and the photographs I took of it,” Bose said.
When they returned hours later, they were disappointed to find the bottle far from its perch, under someone else’s piece, literally on top of some trash. “Then I realized it was awesome,” Bose laughed. “No one had said: ‘Don’t touch the art,’ because it’s all art work. We interact with art work all the time and kick it across the floor.”
For Terrain 10, Bose has created a piece he calls “hashtag.” It’s an original “portable” Macintosh SE from 1987 that will display the modern-day language of hashtags with outdated phrases, such as #bushdukakis, #phonehome, and #newcoke. The idea is that xennials, the micro-generation born between 1977-84, who grew up in tandem with the advent of laptop computers and cell phones, might get the jarring juxtaposition.
With art at Terrain, Bose believes most people are interested in seeing something that is a cool concept or something funny. “Maybe you won’t make the best art, and maybe New York’s not calling you up to put you in the MOMA, but your piece could really resonate with somebody,” he said.
Take, for example, the concept piece submitted by local artist and actor Danny Anderson. The piece is a tribute to the Log Lady character Margaret in “Twin Peaks” who died on the show in recent weeks. The show aired after the actress portraying her, Catherine Coulson, succumbed to cancer. “It was very meta in the show because the actress was dying in real life,” Anderson said. “She calls the detective in the last scene and says ‘Hawk, my log is turning gold. The wind is moaning. I’m dying.’” Anderson was so moved he spray-painted a small log gold, affixed it to a stand and called it “Margaret.”
First-time Terrain artist and bartender Amber Hoit said she finally gathered the confidence after a tough breakup to submit a painting this year. The piece is of a brightly painted, almost garishly colored girl in a circus-like setting. The character has a clown-ish feel, but also broadcasts an uncomfortable demeanor.
“I dropped out of high school and I’m now in the process of getting my diploma and want to try to go on and get my degree in fine arts,” Hoit said. “Getting into Terrain is inspiring.”
“If it weren’t for Terrain, I really think we wouldn’t have a lot of the other amazing stuff we have here in Spokane,” Hoit said.
As an artist who was there at the beginning, Bose echoes Hoit’s point, but clarifies Terrain’s role. “It wasn’t that Terrain was needed to fill up some empty hole that had been missing in the city,” Bose said. “There was already a deep well of creativity that Terrain just made accessible for everyone to enjoy.”
“Terrain was kind of the blueprint, the dream for Spokane,” Bose said. “It was the answer to the question: ‘How are we going to make this city feel like it knows itself artistically?’”