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Art exhibit uses embroidered Yelp reviews to highlight lives lived in the margins

An exhibit at Gallery 4Culture in Seattle's Pioneer Square lets you touch and feel Yelp reviews. 

Artist Cicelia Ross-Gotta embroidered reviews written about a down and out motel along a roadside in Kansas onto hand towels she sewed from pieces of frayed towels and sheets. She said she hopes it helps shine a light on the people we don't often think about— those who are just one step up from living on the street.

The exhibit, which consists of the embroidered towels on ordinary towel racks, is called "Feel Just Like Home." The name comes from one of the reviews of the Kansas motel.

Ross-Gotta said she copied each review verbatim, so the embroidered pieces include typos, misspellings and other errors. She said she took great care in her hand embroidery to honor people's words just as they were written. 

Ross-Gotta became interested in this particular motel after finding out an estranged family member, who had been homeless at one point, was living there. Although she hadn't had contact with him in 11 years, she said she still wanted to get some sense of what his life was like. She started reading the online reviews of the place. 

There are plenty of negative reviews of the motel in the exhibit. People staying for a night or two complain about filth, prostitution, drug dealing and more mundane things, such as the lack of towels or the fact that they didn't get a receipt.

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Credit Joe Freeman
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But, Ross-Gotta noticed something else as well. She said at first glance there was the shock value of, "Oh, it's like this dirty motel and even kind of funny." There was one review that just said:"It sucks." 

Then, she filtered the reviews for just the positive ones and there were a number of them. It appeared they were mostly from people who lived at the motel long term. People like her family member who were down on their luck. One reviewer who gave his motel stay three stars wrote: 

"I've lived here for four months and for me it worked well. All bills paid and cable TV as well. The owners are nice people. The laundry room is reasonable. Hoping some day I can help them with the pool, which isn't working." 

Ross-Gotta said it was one of her favorite reviews to sew onto the towels because it speaks to the reality of life for some of the people there. "It's not being on the streets, it's not being homeless," she said. And, she added, it showed his humanity in wanting to reach out and help the owners fix the pool.

She said it just shows how much what you get from a place depends on your perspective. She said even though the people who wrote the reviews won't see the exhibit, it's her way of validating their worth.

The exhibit is up through the end of October. Gallery 4culture, 101 Prefontaine Pl. South in Seattle, is open Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

At first, Ross-Gotta noticed the shock value of the negative reviews of the place. But once she looked closer, she noticed something else. The positive reviews were mostly from people who lived at the motel long term.
Credit Paula Wissel / KNKX
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KNKX
At first, Ross-Gotta noticed the shock value of the negative reviews of the place. But once she looked closer, she noticed something else. The positive reviews were mostly from people who lived at the motel long term.

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.