Crouching and sweating together over a stack of painted canvases on the floor, Ellen Picken stops Rajah Bose from punching ribbons onto the backs of her painted pieces with a staple gun.
“Wait! Wait! Is it going the right way?” Picken asked. “That guy’s head needs to match up, so when it flips, it goes like this. We need to turn that around.”
“No, no, that head matches with this guy here,” Bose said, flipping one of the canvases up as proof.
The Jacob’s Ladder effect, the conceit on which the two artists of Factory Town have conceptualized their first collaborative show together, is like a puzzle for grown-ups.
All seven pieces of the show, “Things Change,” are designed to spark old memories and new explorations of that mysterious “Jacob’s Ladder” toy from childhood. The artists’ painted canvases and distressed photographs cascade down walls and from the ceiling, transforming the gallery space into a giant’s playroom.
Large black chains suspended from metal pulleys beckon passersby to interact with the massive works and get them moving. One wall is dedicated to a long line of automatically cascading Jacob’s Ladders titled “Oh Baby (Every 3 Minutes, 750 Babies Are Born).”
On cue, every three minutes, row after row of colorful blocks flip to reveal photos of 750 babies gleaned from Bose and Picken’s friends. This reporter confessed to not understanding how Jacob’s Ladders work. “Neither do we,” Picken said, laughing.
Bose is an established local photographer and videographer, and Picken is a painter and muralist whose work is in public spaces across the country. The pair founded the creative agency Factory Town specializing in design and storytelling, from producing music videos for bands to branding for corporate clients.
Bose dreamed up doing an art show with Picken after becoming inspired during a trip they made together last year to India, where they attended the Kochi-Muziris Biennale international art exhibition.
“One whole building had a pool full of water that was up to your knees. It was so immersive.” Bose said. “You would be in a space, and these unexpected experiences would change your entire perspective.”
In the past, Bose and Picken have done collaborative and interactive pieces together for the annual juried show Terrain. But now with an entire gallery at their disposal, they decided to think bigger.
“We both work independently as artists, but, with Factory Town, we can encourage each other to try weird things and to figure out how it’s going to work,” Picken said. “My whole ego is removed from it because I can’t acknowledge the results by myself as my own.”
“Like any relationship with anybody, when you are making something together, you have to forego the individual wants for doing what is going to be best for this thing,” Bose said. “We build on the best ideas together that way.”
There will be more collaborations and submerging of the ego for Factory Town in the very near future. Bose and Picken are getting married with 300 guests in attendance this month at the Spokane Public Library.
Bose has photographed weddings at nearly every venue in town, so the pair wanted to find a place never used by couples before. As for the timing, Bose and Picken requested holding their art show during the same month as their nuptials so that out-of-town family and friends could see their work.
Is it busy throwing a wedding on the heels of an art opening? “It just makes you work that much harder,” Bose said. “We’ll be working and I’ll start telling Raj the reasons why I love him, and I’ll just start crying,” Picken chuckled.
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