Category Archives: Andrew Sweet

No Job No Home No Peace No Rest: An Installation by Will Steacy

As you enter the Silver Eye Center for Photography, you are thrust into the belly of The Beast. This 170-foot wallpaper overwhelmingly portrays the modern American story. Featuring newspaper clippings, photographs by the artist, empty cigarette cartons, Monopoly cards, signs, and other assorted items, No Job No Home No Peace No Rest: An Installation by Will Steacy discusses a wide variety of topics: politicians, gun control, terrorism, and economic segregation to name a few. The walls are densely covered with headlines strewn together, creating phrases like “Earnings Soar”, “Rich Get Richer”, “Recession Depression”. Clustered together in one section of the wall is a discussion on gun control in America. Handwritten on a scrap of paper:

“The streets are RED

The chalk lines are WHITE

And the bodies BLUE.

These colors don’t run…”

A pistol has been cut out and placed into the hand of the Statue of Liberty, as she points it into the air.

Many of the items found on the wall are handwritten journal entries. The artist’s voice is that of a poor American. He speaks as if his situation is miserable. The wall next to The Beast tells us that his work is widely collected, featured in a whole litany of publications and news outlets, including CNN, NPR, Time, Newsweek, and The New Yorker. He has three successful books in circulation, and travels between New York and Philadelphia frequently. He may not be wealthy, but he’s better off than his work reflects. This brings to question whether or not these scraps of writings he’s written are legitimate or dramatized. Are these merely invented tales of the average American? His work appears to be more self-referential than it puts on to be.

His portraits, for example feature an individual in a neutral environment. While these individuals may appear to be homeless, battered, or alone in some regard, no contextual information other than a city location and first name (or preferred name) are given. The portraits are too neutral to say anything themselves. But what the viewer casts onto these blank slates of individuals are negative and likely highly inaccurate readings of an entire lifestyle based only upon visible hygiene and wardrobe. One individual, an African American named Jack Rabbit, was photographed in Memphis, wearing an extremely large t-shirt featuring a print of a multitude of diamonds. Since it lacks much other contextual detail other than his physical state of appearance, I personally make the jump to homeless or otherwise very poor. And when I realize that his portraits force the viewer to impose labels upon uncontextualized individuals, it makes me question these assumptions about the subjects of the photographs.

While Steacy’s discussion may suggest the American dream is dead, he’s still clearly living it. His success through pointing out America’s failures is surely unintended and likely undesired, but as it is becoming the case, Steacy’s work will appear to be from outside looking in.

The City & the City

At the Wood Street gallery in Pittsburgh, The City & the City aims to bring about a psychogeographic analysis of the concept of “the city”. The exhibit borrows its title from China Miéville’s novel of the same name, published in 2009, in which Miéville creates two fictional cities that inhabit the same location. That is, an urban environment in which citizens of one “city” must entirely disregard any aspect of the other “city” by legal mandate, though they occupy the same space. Pittsburgh is often cited to be one of the most livable cities in the world, while simultaneously regions within the city are often ordained by the masses as unlivable. This split idealism of Pittsburgh as a city makes it a prime location for a discussion that these London artists hope to bring about.

Middling English by Caroline Bergvall portrays cultural language generation and degeneration through solely English. Borrowing the writing style of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Bergvall mixes modern slang, terminology from Clockwork Orange, and a litany of Cockney verbiage to create an incomprehensible telling of tales. A narrator eloquently recites one tale from headphones upon the wall. His professional tone mentally persuades you to believe that you are capable of understanding what is being said. Above said headphones is a speaker projecting a melodic chant, which utilizes amalgamations of text lingo and street slang to disorient your sense of understanding of the modern English language.

Video artists Chris Petit, Emma Matthews, and Iain Sinclair collaborate to create Flying Down to Rio, which presents a disillusioned version of the fast-paced modern car ride through the city streets of London. By filming forward, backward, and both sides out of a car window with a high-speed camera and dramatically slowing down the footage, the resulting peaceful car ride allows viewers to observe bicyclists unhurriedly pedal down the road as pedestrians move by at a snail’s pace. Projecting the four videos on the four walls of a room which features only a bench for viewers’ comfort successfully reimagines the city space in a slower state of observation and leisure, as opposed the hustle and bustle we know it to demand.

Night Haunts: A Journey in the London Night was perhaps the most poignant of the pieces. Artist Sukhdev Sandhu interviewed a variety of individuals about their life in the nights of London and displays their stories in an interactive format designed to avoid the “TLDR” online culture of skimming text and have viewers absorb the story in bite-size pieces. One collection of tales featured taxi drivers describing the world of the night cab; dehumanizing use of cabbie drivers as confessionals, drunken individuals speaking their mind too freely, muggings and inebriated refusals to pay among other topics.

The individual pieces were successful. And while these London artists may have attempted to discuss the city as a concept, discussing the city of London alone comes across as purely an analysis of London rather than a case study of the conceptual city.

Unblurred: First Friday’s on Penn

It’s the first Friday of the month, which means it’s time for Penn Avenue Arts District to come together and present Unblurred to the people of Pittsburgh. Featuring a wide variety of well-known and up-and-coming artists alike, Unblurred brings the crowd to Garfield in Pittsburgh, PA. While the prime hours were from 7pm to 10, the art crawl ran from 6pm to 2 in the morning, offering a bit of something for everyone. Children and parents ran around in the early evening, while a young distinctly hipster nightlife came around later in the evening. In all, there isn’t a clear definition of what is and what’s not a part of the event, which allows most of Penn Avenue to become a part of the party. While many locales offer discounts to customers, it’s easy to find cheese, crackers, and drinks to satisfy your palette free of charge.
Artisan featured self-taught documentary photographer Linker Caldwell’s photography of the local LGBTQ scene. If the 2,400 dollars of penny-tiled flooring doesn’t make this place unique enough, this tattoo store/art gallery plans to turn the lower floor into a cafe as well. Modern Formations presented The Good Fight, featuring works by Christian Wolfgang Breitkreutz. Using exaggerated and fantastical wartime imagery, Breitkreutz comments on the inner wars we all face in our daily works. Much of his work alternates between Jesus-like imagery of either himself (as he has a very well groomed beard) or George Harrison.
Andrew Karaman’s “Kaleidoscope” was featured at Imagebox. Manipulated images of hot air balloons and more mundane objects created kaleidoscopic geometric shapes that were intended to spark your imagination. The Most Wanted Art Gallery presented “A Year in The Life”, which featured Instagrammed photography of prices around $20 for sale. A table also allowed gallery crawlers to create their own buttons and wear them out.
The most populated exhibit was found at the Irma Freeman Center for Imagination. Viewers were welcomed in the entrance by The Golden Throats, a fiddle/accordion duo that lifted the spirits of the room and brought children and adults alike to their feet, dancing to the distinct sound of his voice accompanied by exciting fiddle and accordion. “Pittsburgh by Pittsburgh Artists II” featured the works of over 40 artists in one small space, ranging from merely locally known to Andy Warhol and the like. The common theme found in the works was Pittsburgh; one piece was hanging from the ceiling and created by combining collected receipts from supermarket Giant Eagle; an action-packed video piece displayed Steeler Nation and the Pittsburghers who it consists of.
While the art may not be as nearly as well curated or as professionally and technically well done as a museum exhibit, Unblurred brings a variety of locals together to enjoy the Pittsburgh art scene. While I’ve enjoyed past exhibits I’ve gone to, the socially lively aspect of this art crawl is the reason I know personally I’ll be bringing my friends to this in the future.

Marcellus Shale Documentary Project

Six artists travel throughout Pennsylvania and become photojournalists, meeting with individuals of a multitude of perspectives on the title topic, attempting to document an honest telling of the effects of the drilling on the communities, as well as debunk myths that surround Marcellus Gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project. The exhibit features photos from the artists alongside placards featuring relevant information presented in an academic and emotionless fashion; the photographs bring life and detail to the statements.

The artists individually take a fair and balanced approach, successfully telling the unfortunate stories of a well-represented subset of community members and representing their opinions on the issue. The overall lack of factual evidence and input from the industry’s side of the topic fails to provide a truly balanced and unbiased discussion of the topic. The overall message trends toward an anti-industry one that appears to victimize all persons located anywhere near drilling sites. Families living in trailers were forced to move; people from a variety of locations claimed to have had their water and air polluted by industry to an unlivable level.

While actual harm may have occurred for some, the artists seem to suggest that many of these “victims” are over-reacting or misinformed. Beside Nina Berman’s photographs are descriptions featuring language that subtly suggest exactly that – prefacing any statement made by those interviewed with words and phrases like “claim”, “they say”, and “allegedly as a consequence of nearby gas drilling.”

One problem with avoiding skew in the discussion is that very little information and research on the topic is not biased in one direction or the other. In The Arithmetic Of Shale Gas, a paper discussing the costs and benefits of Shale gas, Yale economics graduates (many of whom are in the energy industry) calculate all expected costs of the drilling, and concluded that the $250 million a year in damages against the $100 billion in savings makes the “economic benefits… exceed costs to the community by 400-to-1.” While these statistics may be accurate, research conducted in-industry could be just as slanted as the information found in The FACTS about FRACKING, the informational handout found at the beginning of the exhibit, which fails to mention one benefit or positive statement in its entirety.

Noah Addis creates a family centric aesthetic on his wall, placing (in order) an image of an older woman, piping being installed in the wilderness, a young girl wearing a shirt featuring the American flag in a heart, more piping, and an older gentleman on the end. Aesthetic choices like these shift the conversation to one direction. And while it’s artistic expression on the individual level, the collaborators as one entity provided more support to one side of the debate, creating a message that doesn’t match their statement. The deficiency of facts, statistics, and other research-based information makes the exhibit as a whole a means of opening discussion rather than debunking myths and educating on the topic of Shale Drilling.

 

White Cube, Green Maze

“Today a new type of museum is emerging – a hybrid form that fuses architecture, art, and nature” (Carnegie Museum of Art). Providing viewers with aerial photography, sketches, and plans of museums fitting the category, White Cube, Green Maze offers a simultaneously clinical, categorized, and well laid-out informational exhibit of what the future of museums will (and are beginning to) look like. Well-documented current and planned museums from around the world are color-coded in presentation, alongside copious amounts of information. One does not merely walk into this exhibit, glance around, and successfully get the idea of what is presented; only through exploration and investigation can the viewer get why these museums are fundamentally different from yesterday’s museum. Each of these sites is distinct and unique, though presenting a small subset can help shape the bigger picture.

Looking forward, green construction and reusability are more important than usability itself. From Brumadinho, Brazil, the Inhotim section of the gallery presented works from around the world in Nine New Destinations, like the Sonic Pavilion – a circular, glass building in atop a hill surrounded by trees which offers listeners the chance to hear a continuous live feed of sounds captured a few hundred meters below via geological microphones. Another incredible piece is Chris Burden’s Beam Drop, in which over a span of 12 hours, a construction team dropped 71 I-beams from a height of 45 meters into a pit of wet cement. The resulting abstract sculpture is a massive deconstruction of construction of the past. The nine pieces come together as a reminder of the precious natural world. “If successful, there is no clear distinction between where botany ends and art starts” said Jochen Volz, curator.

In Seattle, Washington, the Olympic Sculpture Park transforms a coastal, industrial region of production into a blooming park of grass, flowers, and art. The Z-shaped park spans railroad tracks and road in a bridge like fashion, though the surface of the bridge feels more like a park. Offering an extreme juxtaposition visually from the industry around it, this park acts both as a reminder of what once was here, and through contemporary artwork and construction style what the future of green construction will look like.

The Benesse Art Site Naoshima is a modern art island in Japan. Within the frame of nature and the culture of the area, contemporary and modern artists alike have been allowed to exhibit their work at various locations throughout the island, since it first began in 1989. As it continues to grow, the buildings themselves support a more natural reminder to recycle. As an act of recycling, Seirensho, a previous copper refinery, was restored and preserved as a modern art gallery. “I would like to send out a message to the world, a new view of civilization for the twenty-first century: Use what exists to create what is to be.” Soichiro Fukutake, Director.

The Artists Formerly Known as ‘Feminism’

‘Feminist And…’ at the Mattress Factory brings together six female artists from around the world born in six consecutive decades. Guest curator Hilary Robinson, a professor of art criticism and theory at Carnegie Mellon University, states the artists – Julia Cahill, Ayanah Moor, Parastou Forohar, Carrie Mae Weems, Loraine Leeson, and Betsy Damon – are all informed by feminism, and were brought together for that reason.

Ayanah Moore whose work often discusses the topics of race and women in society has worked with silkscreening texts on newspaper in the past, like ‘Good News’, which transformed the words of a black woman describing how to measure a black man’s worth into a piece about what she’d desire in a woman. Using the same materials, ‘by and about’ presents the words of black musicians, writers, and poets in a burgundy color covering the walls.

Julia Cahill has the most blatantly feminist piece. Borrowing from two of her earlier ideas ‘The Breast Press’, where Cahill presses her paint-covered breasts upon paper after paper in a factory like manner, and ‘Flaunt Your Contraceptives’, in which she transformed a pop song sung by a contemporary female artist who acts as a ‘false beacon of feminism’ into a feminist call to action. In ‘Breasts in the Press’, Cahill rewrites and sings ‘My Humps’ by the Black Eyed Peas into a pro-feminist piece about how the media treats breasts, and projects a video performance on a new interpretation of the Venus de Milo, using her newly found larger breasts as a screen.

Betsy Damon is the eldest exhibiting in ‘Feminist And…’. She’s a self-proclaimed conceptual-humanist artist, who now advocates for more clean-water-conscious communities through her both her art and her organization Keepers of the Waters, founded in 1991. Her visually stunning ‘Water Rules-Life’may be the least feminist of the pieces, interestingly enough, though she was heavily involved in the early women’s movement of the 70s. She has created a room filled end to end with a water formation replicating that of the Pittsburgh area, with stepping-stones through the middle to allow passage from one end of the room to the other.

The contrast between Cahill and Damon exemplifies the point the exhibit expresses. As the youngest, Cahill is the most bluntly feminist. And simply because Damon has worked hard to promote gender equality doesn’t mean that her art must be labeled as feminist. In fact, with the exception of Cahill’s piece, the strongest bits of feminism in the entire space are the preconceived notions of those viewing the exhibit. Simply because Robinson gathered individuals who are educated in and understand the feminist movement doesn’t necessarily mean that these artists are gathered to shove feminism ideals down your throat. The small tie between the artists of the label ‘feminist’ is not nearly enough to make the pieces feel categorically consistent. As evidenced by this lack of cohesion, the title ‘Feminist And…’ suggests that the label of feminism shouldn’t have to stick to these individuals and their work.

Gallery Crawl in the Cultural District

Going through the Gallery Crawl in the Cultural District is fundamentally an entirely different process than going through a normal gallery. This collection of 38 arts venues brought together artists of all shapes and forms into a patchwork quilt of culture. The streets are filled with art aficionados and Pittsburghers alike, as no area of the city has been roped off, maintaining it as an entirely urban environment, and the price can’t be beat, with free admission to all displays. The atmosphere is more similar to that of a carnival than the heart of a city though, as most people walked leisurely and in groups of friends rather than being in a hurry. The Glenn Strother Project performed live music in Katz Plaza, while buskers sat on the sidewalk playing drums and didgeridoos for money. Overall, the ambience was a pleasing and invigorating demonstration of what Pittsburgh can mean to Pittsburghers.

Down the way, a larger alley lined both sides with art and food vendors, a DJ, and a makeshift dance floor, where children were enjoying the music. Two larger Mardi Gras-esque costumed individuals were also roaming the area around the DJ. The crowd amassed the most in this area.

While as a whole I found myself enjoying the experience, I couldn’t help but noticed a few of the weaker galleries. SPACE featured Circles of Commotion and Moving Pauses, which appeared to be a random collection of art types who shoddily threw together their individual pieces and lacked cohesion as a whole. Walking around the space, it was difficult to tell if I was watching performance art or materials that were meant to be interacted with. One child was balling up aluminum foil that sat on the ground (which I presumed to be art) and throwing it, while another child was placing reflective surfaces on an overhead projector. One of the pieces was a camera that was filming a laptop screen with nature footage on it and projected said footage from the camera on the opposing wall. Within such a weird assortment of pieces was one aesthetically pleasing piece: a boat caked with a thick coat of green paint, sitting on a rug in the middle of the room. The way the paint was applied made for a unique weathered look of decay.

One of the galleries that I did find myself thoroughly enjoying was in the 709 Penn Gallery. Derby: Rob Larson it featured the Blitzburgh Bombers Roller Derby team. This photographic series featured individual portraits of players after games, players who must have been instructed not to clean up any injuries. These prints show off the natural beauty of these women who are not made up for some photo shoot, but rather playing a sport, a violent one at that. These women are bruised, battered, and bleeding, but they don’t appear to mind. Not one of these women is wincing or in pain, they are composed and appear to be taking glamour shots.