Photo by Steve Shay
Performance artist Stokley Towles performs his latest piece, "Stormwater: Life in the Gutter" to SPU employees before launching his citywide tour, including two stops in West Seattle. Here, he instructs audience member Vanessa Villalobos to "practice your sewer yoga", a technique of descending through the 18-inch cap and into Seattle's wastewater system. The piece is gross, fun, and informative, all in one.

"Stormwater: Life in the Gutter", a one-man show, comes to West Seattle

Performance artist Stokley Towles makes sewage "fun"

Tall, lean, and laid-back in his delivery, performance artist Stokley Towles resembles Jimmy Stewart. But this Mr. Smith isn't going to Washington. He's landing in the Seattle sewers. And that's just fine with him, as he goes with the flow, and makes Seattle's scatological scheme fun, accessible, and somehow elegant, too.

Towles’ nearly one-hour piece, which he wrote, called "Stormwater: Life in the Gutter", explores the dark underbelly of Seattle’s sewers. He did his homework by interviewing Seattle Public Utilities’ (SPU) employees who guide, monitor and maintain stormwater flow in the city. In 2009, he traced the flow of the city’s water supply in his piece "Waterlines", and in 2010 returned with " Trash Talk", a close look at our municipal garbage collection.

The public is invited, at no charge, to see "Stormwater: Life in the Gutter" Sat., Oct. 29, noon at High Point Branch, The Seattle Public Library, 3411 S.W. Raymond St., also Thurs., Nov. 3, 6:30 p.m. at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, 4408 Delridge Way S.W.

This is a piece about SPU and its work and is funded through the One Percent for Art (Ordinance)," said Lori Patrick, Public Relations Manager, Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, and a West Seattle resident. "It's entertaining and informative. He interviews countless employees about work that we don't think about. We flush our toilet, step in the shower, turn on our faucet. We don't think about where it goes."

Patrick said this is a public art project commissioned by the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs and supported by Art 4Culture or King County.

"The Seattle sewer system is a living thing," Towles said in his piece, aided by PowerPoint images. "Parts of it are more than 100 years old and weren't designed to last that long. I wanted to know who provides the life support for this system, this living beast.

"Two hundred years ago we were covered in forest," he said of the city. "The rain would fall from the sky, on the trees and stay. Now, when it rains the water picks up used motor oil, gasoline, cigarette butts, pet waste, and takes it to the nearest drain (...) with baby wipes tennis balls, and human waste where it all mixes down the pipes below. By the time it gets to Lake Union, Lake Washington, and Puget Sound, you have nice fresh storm water.

"Add to that (dead) goldfish and the occasional hamster as the toilet is the conventional ceremonial place to say goodbye to pets."

When Towles ventured down through an 18-inch diameter sewer cap on a "field trip", he said what people seem to find gross is that it is not their own waste they are stepping in.

He explained, "If it was your raw sewage you could understand it better. So when I was in the sewer I thought, "Maybe there's a little bit of me in there."

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