Idea, Wisdom, Gather, Labor, Storage, UW, Tacoma. These are the words displayed on the massive signs atop the Garretson Woodruff Pratt building in downtown Tacoma, the messages shifting and transforming depending on the viewer’s angle.
To create Parapet Relay, Buster Simpson applied these words to angled surfaces, installing them on the facades of University of Washington Tacoma's newly rehabilitated academic buildings. Certain words and combinations can only be viewed from different vantage points, creating an interactive poem for passerby. The messages appear in changing colors and typefaces from different eras, adding an additional layer of feeling to each view.
Simpson also installed metal plaques in the surrounding sidewalks, marking the best viewpoints for the pieces.
Buster Simpson references both the historic and contemporary uses of the site in Parapet Relay. He describes his inspiration for the piece this way:
“The Woodruff-Pratt Building, one of University of Washington Tacoma's academic buildings, was originally built as a warehouse and served that purpose for many years. During those years the services provided by the warehouse company were prominently painted on almost every available surface of the building, including the parapet site. The largest of those signs read STORAGE. The project pays homage to both the history of the building and the campus' warehouse neighborhood in addition to the tradition of applied text on university buildings by re-applying a series of words to the parapet, albeit words that are more appropriate to the contemporary use of the old warehouse.”
The piece is in dialogue with several of the ghost signs on many UW Tacoma buildings, which were intentionally preserved by the University during campus development. These signs, alongside the Simpson piece, serve as a reminder of the neighborhood’s history.
Seattle-based American artist Buster Simpson was born in 1942, and is known as a pioneer in urban environmentalism and art in public spaces. Since the late 1960s, Simpson has created numerous site-specific and process-driven artworks, and has become an influential figure in the international discussion surrounding public art practices.