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In a city chock-full of artists, but short on accessible gallery space, the guys behind three-year-old art and design studio, Experience Research Lab, take matters into their own hands.

visitors at an art show viewing art

Guests enjoying the opening night of the new Lab Test 002.

In 2022, the first Lab Test group art show took place in a vacant Starbucks on the busiest corner of Seattle’s lively Capitol Hill neighborhood. On opening night, it was only possible to glimpse the artwork in little spurts within a sea of 20-to-30-something's sipping spiked kombucha and hanging out while a DJ (artist and architect Kelsey Helland) played house music. Stylish Gen Z-ers on their way to actual clubs stopped to see what the deal was.

Inside, the dark room glowed from the work of artist Yale Wolf’s neon light piece, a bisected shopping cart seemingly up in flames. Throughout the space, the shrill buzz of a receipt machine echoed as it produced a never-ending scroll of words from visitor's texts to a displayed phone number (artist Ian Campbell), while people jumped in line to try out Evan Bross’s immersive video and sound installation where viewers slipped into custom Crocs and were taken on a journey of exploration in their newfound “cloud shoes.”

It’s not that the youth of America aren’t interested in art, it's just that it has to be cool. The two friends behind Experience Research Lab (ERL) embody this open-minded and sometimes irreverent sensibility which is bringing the city’s creative industry together in often unexpected places. Ian Campbell and Taylor Reed founded Experience Research lab in 2021 as a business creating visual and experiential design for commercial and corporate clients, but its parallel mission explores interconnections among the built environment, creative technologies, and works of art.

“Everyone’s out there making work for clients, but this is the moment we can say, ‘let’s create a work for the public that allows us all to be creative and make something personal,’” explains ERL’s Taylor Reed.

The duo’s group art show concept, Lab Test, continued this month with its latest iteration in South Lake Union, Seattle’s tech epicenter. The venue, though less gritty than a vacant Starbucks, is the center lobby of mixed-use building 9th & Thomas and its glass-box corner room playfully dubbed “Spacey Space.” What’s on view feels both like a who’s who of contemporary Seattle artists, and also like a living room made up of works by friends that were willing to find any space to show together. And in a way, that’s what it is. Through the commercial and corporate commissions that ERL does, they’ve collaborated with fabricators, makers, architects, and artists—an entire community whose work is not often exposed to the average Seattleite.

“Everyone’s out there making work for clients, but this is the moment we can say, ‘let’s create a work for the public that allows us all to be creative and make something personal,’” explains ERL’s Taylor Reed. “A lot of this started out as asking our collaborators about their ‘desk drawer’ idea that they have been sitting on, and exploring how we can create a public space for those projects.” This eclectic mix includes Lead Pencil Studio, Maja Petric, and Cathy McClure, plus artist collaborations such as Sam Wood Wilson with Dain Sussman, and Ariel Parrow with Sean Hamilton. Artist backgrounds in new media, robotics, neon glass, and architecture, among others, embody the organically curated quality that ERL hopes to achieve with Lab Test shows.

lighted art exhibition Rapids

Rapids, by Ben Chaykin and Ross Monroe, with sound by Chris Sims. Water rushes quickly from top to bottom, carrying various items such as outdated computer disks along with it.

black and white photo of a woman standing between neon lights
The largest installation of the latest show, Lab Test 002, is by a trio of artists who worked together on a new piece called Rapids, a digital, floor-to-ceiling generative media work that mimics a rushing river. Ben Chaykin and Ross Monroe forged the back-end system that produces the visual effect, with a soundscape by Chris Sims layered on top of it. Monroe reveals that they had originally planned to do separate pieces, but the space brought them together. Chaykin explains part of the inspiration came from a video game that had a brand new bleeding-edge technology component. “It stuck with me, and when this [exhibition] opportunity showed up I knew I wanted to do a fluid simulation and tie it to the overall vibe of Lab Test’s technology-maker-laboratory situation.” Part of the magic of three-dimensional installations is that even the artist can’t always predict how people will interact with it. Chaykin noted it was a surprise to see people going so far as to stoop underneath it and even lying on the floor to marvel at it from all angles.

robot dog art on a pedistal

A “Bot” by Cathy McClure, with the process sketches in the background.

Displayed on pedestals next to Rapids are Cathy McClure’s playful “Bots” and “Mutants,” which are discarded, battery-operated plush toys that McClure transforms into small-scale kinetic sculptures that look like cartoon characters from a tinkerers workbench. Her art often explores society’s relationship to technology, consumption, and pop culture. “Today, technology offers so many possibilities, and it takes the artists and innovators to continue to respond to these new technologies, which are here to stay. I don’t always have answers, but I do have a lot of questions,” says McClure, who likens our post-social media world to the ones after the milestone inventions of photography and television.

Artists talking in front of painting and painted surf board

Artist Justin Kane Elder (right) with artist Sean Hamilton (left), in front of Elder’s two pieces, a custom surfboard and a painting depicting a figure dancing in front of a burning car.

painting of a person dancing in front of a car that's on fire
One piece that is decidedly non-tech based, is Justin Kane Elder’s custom painted surfboard, which was a collaboration between Elder and Maui-based board shaper Jeff Timpone, whose 50 year career has made him legendary in surf circles. Proceeds from any sale go to benefit Upcountry Strong, a Maui non-profit. “The painting was created before the Maui fires. It is sunrise in Hana with a figure dancing on the ocean in front of a burning car,” says Elder, who is another artist asking questions. “It is meant to invoke both awe and contemplation. Is the sun rising or setting?
Maybe this is a phoenix metaphor? Or is it a mystery left unknown?”

Viewers can be the ones to decide the answer by visiting the show through December 8, 2023. And yes, there will be a closing celebration with all the cool people, featuring an artist talk and live music by Seattle Indie-Pop band Motrecraft. Because what good is art on the wall if you’re not creating a community to come out and see it? 9th & Thomas is open to the public Mon-Sun.

For more information about Lab Test, visit their website.


Photos by Austin McDonald

GRAY is a proud media sponsor of Lab Test 002.


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