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In rare form

Tali Edut, Cory Verellen, Erin Momany, and Justin Mata stand near the entrance of Rare Medium, which is entering its sixth month of business. Photo by Alisa Reznick

On one side of the room, the once-white wall is covered from floor to ceiling in crooked, black-inked prose. On the other side, several polished Polaroid cameras are aligned and shelved for display.

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This is just the front half of the building. A narrow opening in the back wall reveals what could be someone’s living room, complete with a pale-pink couch and half-full French press. Like the inner workings of a clock, the back room is the raw mechanics of the store’s presented face, a mirror image of the polished front half. The left side reveals what looks like another gallery. Unlike its front-of-store counterpart, this one is unfinished, lined wall-to-wall with artwork in velvet, paper, canvas, and just about every other material one might consider.

On the right side, a small desk lamp illuminates a pile of tiny parts and deconstructed camera bodies, while the shelf behind is lined with endless rows of Polaroids. Above the busy desk hangs a colorful portrait of Edwin Land, the Polaroid’s inventor. In the farthest corner of the store, Tali Edut, an astrologer, taps quietly on the desktop’s keyboard.

Located in the heart of Capitol Hill, Rare Medium is truly reminiscent of its name: It’s part gallery, part retail store, and part studio, but most importantly, it’s one large community. In a unique collaboration between a photographer, a fine artist, and an astrologist, Rare Medium’s creators are as diverse as its contents.

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Verellen outfits his Polaroid cameras with modern mechanisms such as rechargeable batteries. He says that by providing exclusive film and cameras, he hopes to keep the "tangibility" of photography alive.

Husband-and-wife team Cory Verellen and Tali Edut have equal but different uses for Rare Medium. Engineer and photographer Verellen uses the space to collect, rebuild, and sell Polaroid cameras. Edut, whose background lies in graphic design and writing, is in the midst of what she calls “an accidental career as an astrologer.” She uses the space to conduct astrological readings and write horoscopes. The third owner is Justin Mata, a mixed-medium artist who runs the gallery side of Rare Medium. Verellen and Edut met at Burning Man several years back and were married the following year at the same Nevada festival. Now, together with Mata, they are beginning the sixth month of Rare Medium ­— but this story began in Pioneer Square, where Mata, Verellen, and Edut used to share another space.

When they realized their studio space in Pioneer Square’s historic 619 Western Building was in jeopardy more than a year ago, they began to look for other options. The building’s six floors had been used almost exclusively as local artists’ lofts for 30 years, and it had become an unmistakable staple in Pioneer Square’s weekly art walk. As Verellen explained, the building’s demolition was the breaking up of a deeply rooted and long-standing community of artists. The 619 had history.

“There were people that had been [in 619] the whole 30 years,” Verellen said. “There was nothing [else] that could really house that many people and artists and small businesses in one place for that reasonable price.”

Mata, Edut, and Verellen shared the sixth floor of the 619 Building. Although the three worked from entirely separate places on the floor, Verellen on his cameras, Mata on various works, and Edut on writing, they built a community rapport that was not easily replaceable.

So when it came time to leave, Verellen explained, it was important to keep the artist community alive.

“Sometimes we’d just sit there and chat,” Verellen said. “We all lived up on Capitol Hill and we thought, how do we create that community in Capitol Hill?”

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In the studio portion of Rare Medium, Mata discusses a piece of his own with a viewer. As Mata explained, the gallery, store, and studio often work in collaboration, as patrons who have become regulars will often come to the studio side just to talk with the artists.

With vastly different fields and backgrounds, the three decided to pool their moving compensations and purchase a new studio location together. The larger space could serve as a physical location for Verellen’s camera business — which had previously only been online — as a workplace for Edut to conduct her astrology business, and as the gallery that Mata had always wanted.

A workspace, a retail front, and a gallery — it was the best of their three worlds. Not only would there be room for all three to function independently, but, as Mata explained, the three hoped the space would serve as a place for creative, progressive collaboration.

“I was excited about the idea of a place where we could make the work, where things could be sold to make the work, a place where you could also exhibit the work and then have a dialogue about it,” Mata said.

So, from the ashes of their sixth-floor community at 619, Rare Medium was born the day after Thanksgiving last year.

On the retail side, Verellen provides film and cameras that are not available anywhere else. In fact, the store is the only Polaroid-exclusive store in the United States. On the gallery side, Mata brings an eclectic mix of artists to the forefront with installations like the one currently being shown. And finally, for each, the space functions as the personal workplace they all need.

Much like the Polaroid itself, the space feels spontaneous and dynamic, but also ever-changing, as if everything within it is moveable. From the scribbled stories on the gallery wall to the polished Polaroids that line the opposite wall, Rare Medium seems to function successfully within creation, collaboration, and community, and that truly is in rare form.

Reach reporter Alisa Reznick at arts@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @AlisaReznick

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