Category Archives: Anna Shepperson

Silvereye Center for Photography: No Job No Home No Peace No Rest: An Installation by Will Steacy

At the Silvereye Center for Photography on East Carson Street, No Job No Home No Peace No Rest, an installation byWill Steacy, showcases an interpretation of modern America through wall-sized collages of newspaper clippings, his own journal entries and photos, and remnants of what is presumed to be his own consumption.  Current and past events are depicted in the personage of the dashed, the beaten, and the hopeless state of mind that has become that of the American in the modern world.  This is a portrait of the thoughts of a downtrodden American dreamer.

In the corner of the room, the collage starts with the words “Down These Mean Streets. Will Steacy.” What follows are the declarations of his reasoning.  Newspaper clippings advertise tragedy in the woes of the modern American. His proposal of the today retorts that the everyday reality is a product of what is given to us through the sensationalized media.  By pairing media portrayal with pages torn from his own diary and photographs he has taken, his view on the rupture of the ruggedly individualistic American is revealed in his emotionally wrought musings. Complete with arrows depicting his thought process, he diagrams how he might conceptualize certain historical events or the way America’s economy works.  These musings are placed purposely next to articles about fiscal deficit or war.  Three packs of Newman cigarettes are pinned underneath a ripped section of a tax return form.

In the back room, photographs, some incorporated into this collage, are shown in a more traditional manner.   Scenes of derelict USA become serene through the framing of a shot, his portraits of people across the nation attempt to capture a gritty side to the land of the beautiful.

One most striking photograph is a portrait of a woman, Valerie, in Atlantic City.  It is the only portrait in the exhibition that is not perfectly in focus; the left side of her face is somewhat blurred, and she is squinting one eye against something coming at her from the left: wind, or light.  Her hair is pulled tightly back, and her lips are just beginning to open.  The expression on her face is hard to pinpoint. She seems to be looking at the photographer, perhaps questioning what on earth he might be doing, or his character.   She is blurry, yet out of all the portraits she seems the most real. It is as if she had somehow managed to just barely escape with safeguarding her identity and her emotions.  What is left is an imprint of her color, her blurry, windswept expression, and her blank stare.

One can easily sink into Down These Mean Streets at any point.  There is no beginning and no end to the events portrayed in the exhibition. It is rather circular and unreadable chronologically. After a while of looking at the photographs in particular, it becomes questionable what it is that can and should be aestheticized.  Through photographing the derelict inner city nighttime neighborhoods of the USA, Steacy is capturing a night world usually left alone and purposely avoided.

Review: The City & The City at Wood St. Galleries

At the Wood Street Galleries in downtown Pittsburgh, The City & The City, an exhibition curated by Justin Hopper, displays works by authors based in the London area and making work about the city.  The presentation of fact and artifact to create truth and the relation of narrative as a way of capturing place and time connect the works that claim “London” as their central theme.

On the second floor, you become a child in a Mercedes Benz in Chris Petit, Emma Matthews, and Iain Sinclair’s piece Flying Down to Rio. Four wall-sized projections show the view out the windows of the vehicle as you are driven in slow motion, London drifting by as if you were on a boat. Suddenly, the projections change to an almost purely white, silent body of water, and you are left to float on an endless and beginningless sea for eight minutes.

In Night Haunts, an interactive installation by Sukhdev Sandu, you make your way through the stories of London’s night dwellers. Projected onto a wall, the narratives wind to create the violent and tragic candidly relayed tales of London’s night walkers without glorifying the darkness.

Caroline Bergvall’s Middling English explores the evolution of language and its usage through recordings of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales coupled with those of street vendors shouting and modern day slang.  Each recording is printed and pinned to a wall repeatedly, as if a crowded noticeboard were advertising the same narratives one hundred times each.

On the third floor the recontextualization of object and happening in museum display create new histories that present the past in a curated environment.  While Rod Dickenson and Tom McCarthy completely rewrite history and falsify the evidence in their piece Greenwich Degree Zero, Rachel Lichtenstein uses words and stories as grounds to create a fabricated reality of artifacts and small objects presumed to be made by the artisans of Hatton Garden in her piece Sight Unseen. What used to be commonplace goods are collected and arranged in jewelry cases: a little circular box full of watch gears, a cracked watch face delicately sleeping on a velvet cushion. They are dimly lit and displayed as precious relics, telling a story of their own falsified past.  Placed together, the question arises of if it matters whether or not these objects are “true,” or whether the object is simply the stories portrayed. In a corner of the room, a recording of stories detailing the lives of the artisans in Hatton Garden and interactions with them acts as an origin for the work. A small diorama serves as a conclusion to the rest of the small display cases in its inclusion of the human presence through the small table and tools left out, remaking a scene with an absence left by the lack of human presence.

The City & the City questions the viewer’s perception of reality and truth in history.  Although London is used as a significant point of congruence, the exhibition is ultimately held together through the artists’ mention of the malleable nature of the past.

Pittsburgh Glass Center: John Moran: American Idol

The presidents sit smiling with stubs for arms, placed on white pedestals and looking vacant for whoever decides to walk down the red carpet dividing them.  In “American Idols,” an exhibition of John Moran’s presidential busts at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, all 43 of the United States presidents are sculpted from glass and adorned with gleaned clothing coated with resin.  The result is a somewhat uncanny, doll-like, and baby faced version of each of these United States leaders.

At the end of the runway a droopy-eyed Barack Obama is hanging out with his pal Bill Clinton.  They look down at you from underneath a sign from the American popular reality TV show, American Idol. The presidents all sport casual wear; plaid shirts, sweatshirts, or t-shirts, and look at you with open, glazed, blank stares. FDR’s pink face peers up, his sweatshirt reads “keep it in the family.”

Although the presidents here are labeled as ‘idols,’ the viewer walks looking down at most of them. This exhibition makes these unattainable TV figures into accessible, everyday folk.  Moran labeled each president with a charming pet name that alludes to an event or personality trait of the man so as to hint at his identity. Instead of being arranged in chronologically or alphabetically, Moran categorized these men into groups such as those that were KKK members, those that are featured on US currency, and those who did not have to be elected into office.

With all of these presidential figures in one room one becomes uncomfortably aware of how very male and how very white (or in this case, more rosy cheeked and pink) this group of leaders has been. Moran acknowledges this in his grouping of ‘black presidents,’ which consists of Barak Obama and Bill Clinton, who drew a lot of support from the black community in his election. Toni Morrison is quoted as saying that he was the ‘first black president,’ as he ‘displays almost every trope of blackness.’

At the entrance of the exhibition is a ‘vote for your favorite president’ box, in which visitors can slip in a piece of paper with the name of their favorite man into the crude voting tool.  Looking around at the busts, a feeling of some hopelessness, but also a sense of confusion and disconcertedness becomes overwhelming.  These figures, with thick eyelids and glazed eyes, are United States figureheads. By placing at shoulder height, one feels slightly nervous about the commanders in chief being so childlike and bleary-eyed.

What is at first a satirical and comical show speaks to issues of representation in the media and public perception of events.  In a culture in which the presidential debates are shown in the same style as reality television shows such as American Idol, the importance and graspable reality of the presidential elections is dubious.  To the American TV viewer there is little difference between watching girls compete to be the next top model and two men fight for the next presidency.

Marcellus Shale Documentary Project

In Marcellus Shale Documentary Project, currently on view at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, six documentary photographers put faces to the “no” (as well as the “yes”) to shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania.  By capturing it as a hazard to American values such as the home and family, curator Laura Domencic exposes drilling as a threat to Pennsylvanians livelihoods through the emblematic display of Americans fighting for their values in a world in which the meaning of patriotism is questionable.

Throughout the exhibit, many people are photographed with their cats or dogs: ‘man’s best friend’ and a symbol of home and loyalty; yet in the photographs pets are seen exploring lands contaminated by the results of drilling near family homes. Nina Berman’s photographs show protesters waiting outside the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission.  Their hands are pressed against the glass, Pittsburgh pride apparent in the black and yellow of a woman’s shirt, while red white and blue signs crowd most of the photo.  Noah Addis addresses the American dream most directly with his much larger than life portraits. Jeannie, Skylar, and Fred look solemnly at the viewer, eyes following you around the gallery. They have been forced to leave home, can no longer drink once potable water, and their families are plagued by illness. “I’ve been through hell” Jeannie is quoted as saying. All three are dressed in blue. The small girl sports a t-shirt with a white and red striped heart in the middle of her chest, while Jeannie and Fred on either side are dressed in navy collared shirts.  These photographs are undeniably speaking to the average American: the blue collar worker with the want to succeed through rugged individualism.

Images of farmland, once viewed as sublime when depicted in artworks, are now tainted by the presence of a rig or a commentary telling of the contamination of the should be pure and perfect land you are gazing at. While traditionally landscapes of the countryside are images of tranquility and retreat, these are polluted with underlying stories of fear, denial, and helplessness.

Most consistent among all of the photographers work is the issue of water contamination.

Nina Berman illustrates this most literally in her photographs outside of the main gallery space.  A mug of fizzing, white water in a mug, bubbling its acidic greeting to the viewer in a large format photograph, is clutched between bright purple fingernails, adding to the ‘poisoned’ effect of the picture.  Another photograph zooms in on the face of a small boy as he peers at something out of view of the camera; his closeness to the lense reveals a rash spread across his face caused by using contaminated water.

This exhibition is the local.  It is the small town, the family farm, the all-american family.  In a way, it outlines the quintessential nightmare.  If home and sustenance are contaminated by government endorsed projects, who will hear your protests? When nature and home turn foreign, dangerous, and harm you and your children, this is the point of pure fear and desperate hopelessness.

White Cube Green Maze: New Art Landscapes

White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes, presented by the Heinz Architectural Center of Carnegie Museum of Art proposes that we begin to put the interior into the exterior, and ask the art gallery to liberate its art from what has traditionally been a place of exclusion.  Through museum fees or the inherently problematic architecture of a ‘white cube’ gallery, whitewashed and exclusionary, contemporary art has been quite largely confined to rooms reserved for the intellectually rigorous or financially able.  Curator Raymund Ryan presents a factual display of architectures that are integrative, sustainable, and that shatter our tendency to equate the culturally superior with the human-made cleanliness of a whitewashed room.  Through case studies of six new art sites that are either inspired by, incorporate, or elaborate upon natural settings, the locations in this exhibit demonstrate how art can be more organically incorporated into nature.

Focusing on the common conception of the art institution as an exclusionary enterprise, the exhibit gives a refreshing glimpse into alternatives being implemented worldwide. The exhibition urges the viewer to question what role the art institution plays in a community; and if it actively betters the environment it inhabits. Some of the spaces on exhibit highlight biologically inspired landscapes/ design, while projects such as Seirensho on the Island of Inujima are focused on the repurposing of previously misused or abandoned sites that were a potential hazard to the community. Seirensho had been a copper refinery, but has since been converted into a museum.  Previously a contaminated brownfield on the edge of Seattle’s landscape, the Olympic Sculpture Park is now a sculpture park, free and open to the public and managed by the Seattle Art Museum.

The exhibition itself is organized into a maze of displays each dedicated to a different art institution and that provide information about the work that went into planning each site, as well as the work currently or to be displayed at each location. The exhibition is highlighted by commissioned photographs by Iwan Baan, a newly famed architecture photographer known for his departure of the pristine, uninhabited nature of architectural photography[1] for a more people oriented and natural view of buildings and landscape: one that includes real people and displays buildings within a habitat instead of as isolated objects.

The ‘white cube’ is the separation of art from common dialogue; by clearly defining a space that is to be used for art, most commonly, this ‘white cube,’ a separation of culture and nature is enforced. Art becomes fetishized, an ideal separate from the human’s natural environment and viewed a culturally superior. This exhibition is showcasing examples of how to break this boundary.

The institutions included in the exhibit are Raketenstation Insel Hombroich near Neuss, Germany, Benesse Art Site Naoshima in Japan, Inhotim near Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Jardín Botánico in Culiacán, Mexico, Grand Traiano Art Complex in Grottaferrata, Italy, and the Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle, USA.


Feminist And…

Feminist And…

“Feminist And…” now on view at the Mattress Factory, maintains that feminism is multifaceted, relevant, and that many aspects of life are influenced by feminist thought.  Curator Hilary Robinson discharges the idea that ‘Feminism’ is an art movement, asserting that it should not be constrained to feminist theory of the seventies[1].  This exhibition highlights why feminism is not simply the efforts of the notorious Margaret Sanger of the early 20th century or the liberation movement of the 60s.  Feminism, like every other school of thought, evolves. It can be applied to or by the current times, and will be implemented by each era as is deemed appropriate.  Fittingly, “Feminist And…” includes six artists, each from a different generation, Julia Cahill being the youngest in her 20s, and Carrie Mae Weems the oldest, in her 70s.

Lincoln, Lonnie and Me- A Story in 5 Parts, an 18 minute video projection by the artist Carrie Mae Weems, addresses the generational significance of feminist and racist thought, how it changes, and the characters necessary to understand its evolution. Through ‘acts’ characters perform for the audience, projected as holograms in front of a theater whose seated capacity is six.

In a pitch black room, Jackie Kennedy, a classic icon of the American woman, scrambles over the backseat of the car in her Chanel suit, her newly dead husband’s head lolling on the seat.  The black and white footage, slowed to about half it’s normal speed, focuses on Jackie, her struggle and panic that ensues as she tries to escape an unseen threat.  Red velvet curtains drape down to a black stage, over which the holographic jackie is repeatedly trying to get away.

A naked woman lies down, posing for the camera or an unknown viewer.  A modern Olympia. What separates her from Manet’s masterpiece is her lack of surroundings.  Instead she lies in blackness and holds up a light.  She was preceded by a woman decked in playboy leotard and bunny ears standing and looking over her shoulder at the camera, shifting her weight heavily from foot to foot as Neil Diamond’s voice hung down over the audience; “Don’t you know/ Girl, you’ll be a woman soon/ Please, come take my hand / Girl, you’ll be a woman soon/ Soon you’ll need a man.”

The title of the exhibition is succinct, the ellipse holding a place for everything that is “and.”  Feminism is not confined. Although there are certainly defined forms of feminist thought, these are not limited to the common perception of feminism as the fight for political and reproductive rights for women.  Now, when ‘the personal is the political’[2], when there is a long and treacherous history of feminist thought and fight, now more than ever is understanding feminism and its multifaceted applications necessary.

GESTURES: Intimate Fricton

1414 Monterey Street in the North Side is a building typical for it’s street.  Its brick exterior does not give anything away, as it could easily be a house or shop, though it is now used as a gallery by the Mattress Factory Museum. Before entering, you are confronted by lipstick red pipes, clinging to the rusty red bricks of the building. This installation by Dee Briggs charms the viewer, probing you to look inside them, daring you to take a peek or put your ear up to them to hear what might be happening inside the building.

This piece is representative of the conversation between the building and viewer that is consistent throughout the exhibit.  In this instance, the artist acts almost as a mediator between building and art-viewer. Intimate Friction plays with the idea of the building as an item with a history, an item that can see and remember. Instead of presenting works separate from the walls they are exhibited on, this exhibition serves as an old family photo album belonging to the building, showing you the history it has lived through.

Inside the building, a section of floorboards seems to have jumped off of the floor. The dangling floor is now bending and arching, suspended above the hole where it used to reside. This piece deals quite literally with the history of the building as a material object, the beams suddenly exposed where the floorboards had been, leaving the viewer to peer into the darkness of a room down below. On the third floor, Nina Marie Barbuto similarly challenges the convention of white walls in the gallery by cutting away circular layers of drywalled exterior to reveal an interior of wooden board and whitewashed wall.

Because of Jen Gooch’s Home Splice series, walking through the building is somewhat like walking along on a dark street at night and seeing moving images of people’s private lives through curtainless windows. Glimpses of a girl moving around the bathroom, or later singing and exercising in a garage, provide a peek into the private lives of a stranger.  These video projections lend themselves to the house-like nature of the building, and let the viewer question what it might have been like when used as a home instead of a gallery.

Through composed surveillance and neatly repurposed or rearranged materials, the works in this year’s Gestureseries poetically compose a collection of fragments of the buildings history.