Boxes of Death, an artistic celebration of the coffin, celebrates its fifth year with four pop-up gallery shows.
by Frank Forte
Boxes of Death is an art exhibition where 50 artists are each given their own coffin to do with what they want. Boxes of Death is an annual show created by Duffy De Armas and Matthew Vanatta for their event space, The Piranha Shop. The idea spawned from Kane Kwei (1922-1992), a famous coffin maker from Africa. His philosophy was that a coffin should not just be a pine box, but something that represents the person inside and their life. Each artist in the show uses the same coffin canvas format to create their own artistic statement surrounding the preconceived notions and ideas of the coffin shape. The people in the show have a chance to step out of their comfort zone and faced with the idea of death, react to it.
The result is a visually compelling installation contrasting repetition and individuality. Boxes of Death showcases artists from the farthest reaches of the continental US as well as some international artists and highlights an incredibly diverse range of creative backgrounds.
Sponsored by Rudy’s and Juxtapoz, co-curated by Roq La Rue, the 2014 Boxes of Death tour show has grown to include 50 artists and has evolved into a four stop tour. The artist roster includes world renowned painters, illustrators, graphic designers, motorcycle builders, tattoo artists, assemblage masters and print makers.
Boxes of Death begins a four city tour on the west coast beginning Friday, October 3rd, 2014 at The Antler Gallery in Portland, OR
I recently caught up with Duffy De Armas of The Piranha Shop to get the lowdown on the show.
HM- Boxes of Death is an exhibition where 50 artists get to interpret coffins and death. But the idea originated decades ago in Africa (Teshie, Ghana to be exact) by a carpenter/artist named Kane Kwei. Kane created The Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop and out if it came these design coffins that became symbolic of African artistic creativity. When did you first become aware of these coffins?
Duffy-I was studying West African art in college and we did a whole segment on Kane Kwei. I had seen his Mercedes coffin here in the SAM (Seattle Art Museum), however I was unaware of its origins and story until taking that class.
HM-These original Kane Kwei coffins were actually used for burials? Or were they art pieces? I know some art collectors got a hold of them in the 1970's. Is that when interest in them as art began?
Duffy-They were used for burials. People believed they were vessels for the deceased into the next realm and they wanted to represent who that person was in life so they could continue that life eternally. As most things cool not from Western civilization, eventually the wealthy gravitate to culture and start to purchase and hoard it for private collections. However we have been lucky enough that some of them have ended up in museums and Kane can be celebrated for the artist and sculptor that he was.
Official Kane Kwei Carpentry workshop site
HM-I understand Kane's son and grandson took over the Carpentry workshop since his death in 1992. Are any coffins of African origin going to be in this show or have been in past shows?
Duffy-I have never reached out to those guys. I don't know if they would be interested. No, we have never had a coffin of african origin in the show. Its really been more of a contemporary twist on his concept within genres of art that I gravitate towards. It was more about taking something from the academia world and pressing it through my filters and other artists like myself. There are so many amazing concepts people have addressed through out history within art, its interesting to take something from another place and another time and see how artists today react to it. The show really is a classic format, everyone starts from the same platform and you get variations reflecting each artists personality contrasted with the repetition of shape throughout out the show. I think having the coffin shape and notion of morality makes it a little more intense than what the artists originally signed up for.
HM-Most people have a genuine fear of death, yet are oddly attracted to macabre imagery like skulls, tombstones and coffins. Has curating the Boxes of Death Show changed your feelings about death.
Duffy-No, I am still scared to death of dying… Does anyone really ever come to terms with it?
HM-The fear never goes away. This may be a morbid question, and most people ask, "what will be on your tombstone?", so I will rephrase; what will your coffin look like?
Duffy-I am not sure. I feel like I am more into the viking burial style. Just have a party, celebrate the good times, then burn it all.
HM -Sounds like fun. Put me on the list.
HM -Boxes of Death is in it's fifth year. Congratulations. Can you tell me how the first show at The Piranha Shop was received?
Duffy-The first show was actually before we had the Piranha Shop, it was only 20 artists and was in our tiny studio in the basement of the OK Hotel, here in Seattle. It was a school project and it was hell getting artists to paint the coffins. But, once they did and once people saw the show everyone was intrigued. The second year we decided to do 50 artists, all local, and we had the Piranha Shop, and it took off. People I think originally think its dark or goth or "cool" because its coffins, but once they see the show and all the coffins hung, its a whole other experience. Its a really fun show, its more about celebrating life than anything.
HM-This year was co-curated by The Piranha Shop and Roq la Rue Gallery (Seattle , WA), How did that collaboration come about?
Duffy-We have been big fans of Kirsten and Roq la Rue for years. Last year when Roq la Rue moved down the street from us, we made a point to say hi and invite Kirsten to come see the show. Over the year we have been discussing projects and collaborating locally. Boxes of Death came up one day, and we both agreed it would a great project to work together on and grow the show.
HM-Have you had any interest by art museums to show the works on a larger scale? Maybe in conjunction with some original coffins from the Kane workshop? I'm thinking LACMA or MOMA!
Duffy-No, but if you know somebody! Ironically enough some people think we hand out full size coffins, but that would be a lot work! But seriously, do you know someone, lets make it happen
HM-I'll get on it. Can you tell us a little about The Piranha Shop.
Duffy-The Piranha Shop is a magical place. We support art and culture here in Seattle. We have creatives who work out of our space to pursue their endeavors, we host art shows, live music, video premieres, pop up shops, work with brands within our lifestyle to curate events and do what we can to preserve and encourage culture in the Northwest. We opened about 4 years ago, we have a few annual shows (Boxes of Death being the largest), and pride ourselves on being a cultural hub for our generation. We love art, music, video, photography, skateboarding, motorcycles, cars, surfing, snowboarding, furniture, and the people who are pushing those mediums into new and bigger realms. We don't keep normal hours, don't have an office phone, keep connected through word of mouth and social media… but doing our best to keep bringing the best events possible to Seattle.
HM-So all of the 2014 dates are Pop-Up dates--it's one night only in each city?
Duffy-The 4 dates are one night openings, so folks aren't going to want to miss out!
HM-Any plans in the future to have the exhibits last for longer periods in their respective cities?
Duffy-If we can figure out the logistics and find partners in each city who are willing to hang the show that long, we would love that. Last year we hung at Portland and Laguna for a month, it was great!
HM- You have a great list of artists on the roster. How do you decide who gets to be a creator. I assume artists are banging down your door to be part of the exhibit.
Duffy-We have people inquire all the time, and we love that! There are some really talented folks out there and it is great that they are so enthusiastic, we also assemble our wish list or dream team and by combining all of that, shaking it in a jar and pulling out names, we get a show! Its becoming a harder process, I don't like excluding people and if I could have everyone who wants to be in the show I would, but due to budgets and reality, we have to stick to a stringent 50.
HM-Will any of the artists be at the openings?
Duffy-They better be! Just Kidding, but that is what is so great about having the show travel is it allows us to invite artists from all over and have the chance to bring the show to their community. One of my favorite parts about the show is showing up in a town I am not from, hanging the show, and meeting the artists from that city and their friends and fans. Some of the folks from Seattle who have been in the show all five years are starting to fly to other cities for openings, just so they can meet new people! It really is rad how the show brings people together and creates relationships.
HM-For people wanting to attend. Do they RSVP? or just show up? Do you expect long lines?
Duffy-Just show up! The show is 6-10 (in each spot) Roll on by! I don't expect lines… maybe, shouldn't be though.
HM-We can always hope. Thanks for your time and good luck with the show.
Duffy-Thank you! See you at the opening!
<iframe src="//player.vimeo.com/video/105624589" width="500" height="281" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe> <p><a href="http://vimeo.com/105624589">Boxes of Death 5</a> from <a href="http://vimeo.com/user30884912">Piranha Shop</a> on <a href="https://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>
BOXES OF DEATH WHEN AND WHERE
Friday October 3rd, 2014 - 6pm-10pm
2728 NE Alberta St,
Portland, OR 97211
Wed. October 8th, 2014 - 6pm-10pm
1040 Larkin St,
San Francisco, CA 94109
Saturday October 11th, 2014 - 6pm-10pm
1258 w 2nd street LA CA
90026 Los Angeles
(There is no website…The Chun is under the radar, an unmarked door with a small logo…CREEPY!)
Friday October 17th, 2014 - 6pm-10pm
The Piranha Shop
1022 1st Ave.
South Seattle, WA 98134
Below are some images from past Boxes of Death Shows
Boxes of Death is Sponsored by
The Piranha Shop
Roq La Rue Gallery
Purveyors of Fine Pop Surrealism and Fine Contemporary Art since 1998
Ninkasi Brewing Company