It is as if the earth on the west slope of the Seattle Art Museum’s sculpture park had boiled up and swallowed a house all the way past its eaves. Now only the roof and the attic windows remain above ground, enigmatic, seductive, tragic but somehow hopeful. It’s usefulness at an end, the house’s top is now an invitation to climb, explore and soak in the delicious air of sin born of being somewhere your mother told you never to go. Your mom was right, of course, climbing to a roof peak would in other circumstances be dangerous. With this piece, however, it is child’s play — and it is a child’s vision it excites in the viewer.
Heather Hart’s The Western Oracle: We Will Tear the Roof Off the Mother invites and stimulates the viewer to climb on it, crawl under it, and interact with it. More importantly, her work encourages people to interact with each other. The Western Oracle installation was a welcome return home for Hart, a 1998 graduation of Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, WA. For the last several years, her work has been centered in the East. She holds an MFA from Rutgers University and nowadays works out of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, New York.
“I am interested in how we, as humans, relate to each other,” Hart recently told Brooklyn Magazine. “How we relate to space. Perception. Assumption. Tradition. Nostalgia. Phenomenology. Semantics. And how these contribute to our forming our identity.”
Hart’s search for her own identity is a jumping off point for understanding her oracle series and much of her other work. It is a search caught up in her being biracial and the questions stirred in her about who she is. Her search expands from her family to include all African-American culture. It’s easy to grasp in works like her Build a Brother Workshop and New Numinous Negro. The search starts close to home with her carpenter father. “As with the legends of an oracle,” she writes, “the method of building the Roof was passed to me by my father.”
Hart means her work to start a conversation, not end one. She is adamant that being biracial does not define either her or her work. “I don’t want to be boxed in,” says Hart. “My work is about more than that, it’s not didactic.”