Most of us, on receiving a wrong-number telephone message, would erase it and forget it. Seattle artist Buddy Bunting turned it into art, and the obvious place for it was Tacoma’s tiny Telephone Room Gallery. Opening this Friday at the Telephone Room, a closet-sized gallery in a private North End house, is Bunting’s “Montana (erased),” an installation of paintings, photographs and objects that combines nostalgia and sociology with the erroneous voicemail at its center.
Pick up Bunting’s own handset inside the room, and you can hear the message, left on his phone while he was on a Montana road trip. (Bunting tried to reroute the message through the Telephone Room’s own rotary-dial phone, unsuccessfully. That would have been cool.) The message, ironically, details another Montana camping trip, this one by an unknown woman who’s remembering a long-ago time where she and her travel partner felt insecure as the only hippies in town, not to mention the only African-Americans. It’s a dreamy message, more vision than communication and filled with both memory and a sharp sense of not belonging.
Bunting explores both these components in his surrounding installation, which fits the tiny room like a glove. Exquisitely jewel-like oils and watercolors – the wistful, washed-out style that got him entry into TAM’s last Biennial – describe mountains, grass, four-square country buildings in the middle of nowhere. A gas station, lit up against an endless black night, is otherworldly; a pale brown RV floats like a thought. Stacked on shelves are rock collections, piles of old National Geographics, dried poppy stems. Only the baby pictures don’t really work – this is about Montana as a state of mind, not a personal scrapbook. It transforms the Room into a memory, with vaguely regretful feel, of both a place and a sense that whoever lives here is on the very edge of community.
Buddy Bunting’s “Montana (erased)” opens 6-9 p.m. Friday at the Telephone Room Gallery, 3710 N. 7th St., Tacoma, and is on view by appointment through Nov. 30. www.thetelephoneroom.blogspot.com, www.buddybunting.com