In a grand demonstration of its commitment to the arts, the Mattress Factory has offered up its very architecture to the whims of its twelve artists in residence with the exhibition Gestures: Intimate Friction. Curated by Mary-Lou Arscott, a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture, Intimate Friction’s installations playfully rub away the clean museum facade of 1414 Monterey Street. Visitors are invited to contemplate the shift of the building’s role in the Northside neighborhood.
Considering Arscott’s own comments on the unknown history of 1414 Monterey Street – for instance, it was once a general store – the reluctance of most of its artists to reference specific facts concerning the venue might seem odd. This is not problematic, however. Case in point, Jen Gooch’s Home Splice: Basement is proof that this approach does not result in a shallow exhibition. The video, visible only through the crack of a waist-high door left ajar, gives an unflattering over-the-shoulder view of a woman exercising on a treadmill while breathlessly singing. The unintentional voyeurism on the part of the viewer invokes embarrassed but engaged speculation concerning the normally mundane – what kind of lives were lived in this building? Do we really need to know?
Intimate Friction is bursting with clever and surprising utilization of limited space. Some installations forgo importing new material to be constructed within the building; Glory Holes by Nina Marie Barbuto carves into walls and floors, exposing circular cross sections of worn brick and studs, while 3X4608 by Jeremy Ficca lifts floor panels into the air, providing an obtrusive look into the dank basement below. Other works enrich themselves by acknowledging the presence of other installations. For example Gill Wildman’s House says consists of small phrases of vinyl lettering that give a voice to 1414 Monterey Street. Placed on surfaces throughout the building, they often wryly comment on the works of the other artists as well as architectural traits of the space itself. This interplay amusing and fitting, highlighting 1414’s present role as a gallery, a membrane of idea exchange.
Intimate Friction effectively creates awareness of the Mattress Factory as an organic component of its greater surroundings – begotten by the old architecture of the neighborhood, the museum helps transform it in turn. Its wit and slight irreverence give it an accessibility that might normally be lacking in a contemporary art exhibition.