Lynn Di Nino’s “Flashbacks”

10 Oct

La Traviata, Tacoma-style: opera singers take to the streets on Tacoma's First Night, Dec. 31, 2004. Photo: Duncan James Livingston

(Our Flashback series is celebrating a decade of Tacoma arts and culture, in honor of the 10th anniversary of Art at Work Month, this November.)

Lynn Di Nino is a Tacoma artist, provocateur, civic rabble rouser and firm believer in the importance of a good breakfast. She moved from Seattle to the South Sound 10 years ago, and since then has masterminded numerous memorable events that have mobilized local artists, engaged the public imagination and enriched the city landscape. In addition to founding the ongoing 100th Monkey series of art parties, she has organized the following:

First Night revelers play with shredded government documents. Photo: Duncan James Livingston

Figure Head Roll: A Kinetic Opera in Three Minutes, 2004

Tacoma’s First Night organization commissioned this unforgettable New Year’s Eve extravaganza for its outdoor mainstage event to ring in 2005. Three thousand revelers gathered to watch as three opera singers in Marie Antoinette and Queen of Hearts costumes trilled Brindisi from La Traviata while 1001 white plastic, vacuum-formed heads – hollow forms replicated from the faces of 40 local personalities, including politicians – were launched down a downtown city block. A large bonfire, jesters, shredded government documents and monks prevailed!

Red Door Project, 2004

Live plants fill the base of Lynn Di Nino's own feng shui portal to the city. Photo: John Carlton

Inspired by the Chinese philosophy of feng shui, Di Nino organized and curated the Red Door Project to bring commerce and goodwill into Tacoma’s neighborhoods. Fifteen artists participated in the event sponsored by the local non-profit organization, Tacoma Neighborhoods Together. Putting their conceptual minds to work, each artist created an original, red feng shui “door” to guide prosperity into the city through strategic locations. Lynn’s own full-scale door sculpture was exhibited along with 14 others during the summer of 2004.

Suitcase Sightings, 2005-2006

Suitcase Sightings was another Di Nino mega-project, an “all-over-Tacoma arts happening” involving 125 artists who each designed a one-of-a-kind, decorated suitcase sponsored by a local business. The Museum of Flight, in Seattle, selected 20 for viewing during the winter of 2006. The citywide project received heavy rotation in the publicity department, thanks to support from the News Tribune, Pierce Transit, Tacoma Neighborhoods Together, the Tacoma Arts Commission, Sands Costner & Assoc., and the Marriott Hotel.

Suitcase artwork by Sue Pivetta. Photo: Hap Newsom

Tacoma Arts: Hi Lynn. You spend a lot of time on the road these days. What do you always pack in your suitcase?
Lynn Di Nino:
I always travel with thrift store clothes so I can leave them behind in order to have room in my suitcase for souvenirs. Also, I never go anywhere without a Scrabble game.
TA: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
I never miss breakfast. What I like is bacon, fried potatoes and eggs with a rich pastry – but since I can’t have that, I sauté vegetables in water with a little piece of spicy meat and that carries me through lunch.
TA: That sounds like a painting, maybe what they were eating in Edward Hopper’s diner in Nighthawks. Do you ever fall asleep and wake up thinking about work – that is, art?
LDN: Of course, I do. At times, I’ve said I’m quitting in order to get into a more profitable career and then I have to sneak to put a piece in a show or my friends ridicule me. I wake up sharply thinking of projects and how I am going to hammer them out in one day. At night, every night, I gleefully go over the possible engineering approaches. If I’ve heard a word or phrase that inspires, I’m madly thinking up the work that will go with that.
TA: You don’t sound like a procrastinator since you sleep well…
Yes indeed.

Suitcase Sightings featured 125 artist-designed suitcases sponsored by local businesses. Photo: Chip Van Gilder

TA: You moved to Tacoma from Seattle in 2001. First impressions?
Ten years ago when I moved here you could park in front of any business. You could find only one “artist” event and that was Luke Smiraldo’s Poetry Slams at Shakabrah, and regular music at the Swiss. I knew there was a lot going on under the surface because everyone coveted the Beautiful Angle posters plastered around town. I swear there were no artist hangouts in 2001.
TA: We have a pretty respectable number of hangouts per capita now, many of which exhibit art or stage events.
We’re in the era now of having three events on any given night, and two of them will be FREE!
TA: How did you start staging participatory events and art happenings?
I was raised in San Francisco City Housing (along with OJ Simpson) and for entertainment we hung blankets into a square on the clothesline and invited the project kids in to hear drumming on the pots and pans we smuggled out of my mother’s kitchen. I am most happy thinking up participatory events and began in earnest during the Friends of the Rag [wearable art group from the early ’70s] heyday in Seattle. That was an anything-goes era. One thing we did was pose two very attractive naked individuals (man and woman) on a table and heap the appetizers on them. That seemed pretty normal – now we could never do anything like that!
TA: What do you think makes T-town fertile ground for guerilla art activity…and enables you to organize such fantastic events as the Red Door Project, Suitcase Sightings and Figure Head Roll?

I hate bringing up ancient dates, but in 1969 when I moved to Seattle from Chicago, it felt exactly like Tacoma in 2001: A sleepy town where everyone recognizes the politicians and agrees on what its problems are. It’s easy to make a difference in a small down. Easier to be a big fish, and dare I say, easier to lead a crowd of people who want to express their passions.
TA: That’s so true. How would you say Tacoma’s art scene differs from Seattle’s?
If Tacoma now has 20 art scenes, Seattle has 300. I don’t know how one can possibly get recognized in Seattle nowadays. The competition is stiff. Even too many galleries to visually absorb all the work that’s being done. Be glad you live in a tiny town where you can do something only mildly outrageous and get a little press! Be thankful for the Tacoma Arts Commission listserv which communicates all our wants and needs. Be grateful that Tacoma is still so small that many, many businesses will let the 100th Monkey host a party and not charge rent! We’ve really got it good!
TA: Who do you think is the most creative person in Tacoma?
Boy, that’s tough. Lisa Fruichante? Doug Mackey? Luke Smiraldo? These three I mention are somewhat quietly chugging along without much recognition, but the recognition comes in one-step-at-a-time fashion. I’d say Neal Harris is doing a lot to build the art community, too, with interesting events.
TA: There are a lot of spokes making the wheel turn. What’s your next event here?

A blizzard of shredded government documents fills the air on First Night, December 2004. Photo: John Carlton

LDN: My next event is my current monthly event – TRIPOD Slide Shows. These short photo presentations by three artists [held at the Madera Gallery] are well-attended and put the spotlight on talents [the artists] didn’t even know they had.
TA: What would be your ultimate fantasy project in Tacoma?
The Murray Morgan Bridge is screaming for a colossal opening event: costumes, a theme, some history, projected images, music, something outrageous and/or big. And audience participation. And, oh, opera…
TA: No kidding. Also, too bad we can’t have our own version of New York’s High Line trestle – a place where people could sit and talk, read a book, do a performance, watch the occasional hawk pick off a pigeon in mid-air…
Isn’t the High Line wonderful! Have you ever seen John Carlton’s Tacoma postcard of the Murray Morgan Bridge where he’s added all the grass and flowers to the roadway? Just yesterday I was saying they should use John’s idea…
TA: Where do you think a “red door” is most needed in the city to give it good feng shui?
Absolutely no doubt about it: A red door needs to face the Tacoma City Council chambers. We need more decisions like their wonderful vote for a moratorium on billboards. A red door would help them keep a clear vision for what’s best for our town.
TA: Thank you, Lynn.


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