“Coyote Now: Messing About with Whale”
Artwork by RYAN! Feddersen at Foss Waterway Seaport
June 9-July 30, 2019
These days, as images of submerged coastlines and melting ice caps rattle the nerves of insomniacs, many of us are asking, How did we get here?
For artist RYAN! Feddersen, the evidence points to Coyote, a handsome, bandanna-wearing carnivore who happens to be a major trickster in the pantheon of Native American mythology. Coyote, it turns out, is the figure responsible for global warming – and the poster boy for many other a human foible in Feddersen’s artistic universe.
Her new interactive mural, “Coyote Now: Messing About with Whale” will debut at Ocean Fest – and festival-goers will be the ones to color it in.
For her ongoing series, “Coyote Now”, the Tacoma-based artist pioneered a new medium – interactive murals that resemble sheets torn from a larger-than-life coloring book – as a vehicle for storytelling. Feddersen is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville, and Native American mythology provides the backbone for her large-scale, participatory installations.
“While having roots in traditional stories of the Plateau, the character depictions in ‘Coyote Now’ are my artistic creations,” writes Feddersen in an e-mail. “’Coyote Now’ stories build on established lore to create commentary and criticism of contemporary events.”
The artist spins traditional tales with a new focus on current issues, people and culture. Like the original myths, the narrative artworks are often instructive in nature. She says Coyote is a mirror for human beings, and in his behavior, “a lot like us – he is addicted to technology, and has bad habits with his phone. He got into a big fight with his wife, Mole, and created epic sinkholes by burrowing wildly after her. He was poisoned while trolling around nuclear sites, and has lately been evading the FBI after getting himself in trouble on the internet. Recently, he was demolished while hanging out in national parks like Bears Ears.”
I am eager to visit the artist at her studio in Tacoma, where amongst a few other objects, a waxy 10-year old ham – an early experiment with crayon material – is a cryptic standout. Cloaking environmental and social issues in the well-loved form of the coloring book can make them more approachable, she says.
“I like to provide situations where people are being creative and having fun and engaging. It’s a better mindset to start from” than being purely provocative or confrontational. “I believe everybody wants to be creative and that it is a meditative process that is healthy.”
All ages can find themselves getting hooked on the antics of Coyote and his cohorts, including Fox and Orca (a new character created for Ocean Fest).
“Orca is kind of the hotshot of the ocean. In this particular story, he is a handsome man who is known for his seductive exploits.”
She points to a “Coyote Now” panel where the canine anti-hero is portrayed hiding behind his bandanna as the elusive graffiti artist, Banksy (“Another trickster-”), spraypainting a wall with a salty meme-against-the-system. Endlessly crafty and impulsive, his exploits sometimes lead to his own demise.
Fortunately, says Feddersen, “He can be brought back to life…if any scrap of fur, whisker or bone survives.”
In a symbolic assist, Feddersen’s interactive murals are accompanied by a full set of crayons she casts in the shape of real coyote bones. The panorama is printed on Photo-Tex fabric, a self-adhesive material made for exterior use, such as on billboards. It’s left for visitors to wield the elegant, colorful bones and bring the scene to life.
Feddersen observes that since she began illustrating stories for the ‘Coyote Now’ series, in 2015, the numbers of direct encounters she has had with wild coyotes has increased, including a close one on a road in her hometown of Wenatchee. Maybe she recognizes in the enduring coyote some aspect of herself: a formidable creative force and “a full-on mischievous figure.”
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RYAN! Feddersen has created large-scale interactive installations and site-specific pieces throughout the region, working with Seattle Office of Arts and Culture, Tacoma Art Museum, MoPOP (EMP), The Henry Gallery, Museum of Northwest Art, Spokane Arts, Spaceworks Tacoma, and the Missoula Art Museum. Recently, she was named a 2018 National Fellow in Visual Arts with the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.