Genius Loci: Resurrecting the Spirit of a Place

Genius Loci: Resurrecting the Spirit of a Place

Opening Exhibit: Thursday March 15th, 6-9PM
Artist in attendance; Refreshments will be served
Show Duration: March 15 to April 14, 2012
Extended thru May 14th due to popular demand!
Location: Row House Cafe / 1170 Republican St, Seattle, WA 98109
Historic Cascade Neighborhood • South Lake Union • Seattle

As part of this month’s ARTcade, Row House Cafe is pleased to announce Genius Loci: Resurrecting the Spirit of a Place.

With the arrival of and other corporations, South Lake Union’s Cascade neighborhood is emerging as a burgeoning center of industry once again. The neighborhood has an illustrious history of labor and production from the early twentieth century—one of the few remaining vestiges of this past is Row House Cafe.

Built in 1904 as three row houses for immigrant workers, Row House Cafe has undergone many different incarnations. In the course of a century, it has evolved from workforce lodging to student housing to temporary offices for a construction company.

When Row House Cafe partner Erin Maher began work on the derelict space in 2010, it was “lifeless and abandoned.” The architectural integrity of the cottages had been denigrated and the buildings were in near ruin. Maher recalls, “I came to realize that these row houses were some of the last remaining relics of a neighborhood built by and for immigrant workers, and the buildings harbored a connection between the past and the future.” As she removed the rubble, the original structure began presenting itself. Maher says, “These buildings wanted to survive; they were begging to be reclaimed.”

Within a few weeks of Row House Cafe opening, artist Yoona Lee stopped in and was instantly attracted to the space for its visual poetry. Lee explains, “Rather than colonize Row House with preexisting paintings, I wanted to create work about and around the space itself, as a tribute to its genius loci and previous residents.” Using the ambience and dense history of the space as a point of departure, she produced a body of work, which includes tight figurative drawings, neo–Abstract Expressionist paintings, and a text-based installation that takes advantage of a small room of vintage mirrors. Several of Lee’s pieces utilize materials found on the Row House property, including tiles and a vintage folding chair found in the basement. The title of the show, Genius Loci, refers to the rehabilitation of the original spirit of the place.

Lee observes, “At Row House, the present is suffused with the past in a singular way that new development just won’t have.” And this history appears in unexpected ways, as evidenced by the fact that Maher recently moved residence and discovered her new landlord’s parents had been residents of the original row houses during the 1920s.

Row House Cafe partner Maher concludes, “I was meant to release the history within these walls and Yoona was meant to capture it. What I see in this body of work is the toil of life, the respite of home and a glimpse of a passage.”

The work in Genius Loci evokes a sense of familiarity laced with the uncanny, creating a conceptual déjà vu that links a labor-rich past to an industrial present. In all of the show’s pieces, the presence of the building’s original occupants can be experienced in ways that are concrete and beguilingly intangible.

Genius Loci
In this mixed-media show, artist Yoona Lee explores the history of the Row House Cafe, a community space created from early-twentieth-century workforce housing. To investigate ideas of permanency, transience, and placemaking, Lee uses varying modes of representation that include tight figurative drawing, neo–Abstract Expressionist painting, and text-based installation. By incorporating materials found on the housing site, she addresses the physicality and emotional energy of the original space. Through reminders both concrete and intangible, the lingering presence of the row houses’ past inhabitants, as well as a restored genius loci (or spirit of the place), emerges. In this way, Lee’s work evokes a sense of familiarity laced with the uncanny.

Artist bio
Yoona Lee is a Seattle-based visual artist and writer. She received her bachelor’s degree in English, with a minor in Fine Arts, at the University of Pennsylvania. Yoona’s artwork has appeared in The Stranger’s Slog, a Seattle-based blog of news and culture, and in various literary magazines, including Mosaic and Voyage Out. She presented her writing and drawings at a 2010 University of Washington academic conference on “Cultural Work in the Racial Present.” Most recently, Yoona designed a cover illustration for Seattle Journal for Social Justice. Yoona Lee can be reached at 206-225-9768 or

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