Category Archives: Austin L. Moyer

Silver Eye Photography

Gang violence leaves seven dead. Foreclosures rise. Little help from the government. Banks request a bailout, receive one, and subsequently reward their top-executives with exorbitant bonuses. Iraq witnesses its deadliest month since the war began, a record surpassed the following month. Conservatives demand a return to traditional American values. Politicians snuggle in a bit closer with their primary donors, representing interest groups at the expense of the American people. Iraq death toll rises. Afghanistan nudges its way into the spotlight. Grim. Grim. And grimmer still.

Absolutely covering the surface of nearly 40 feet of drywall, the collage that forms of centerpiece of Will Steacy’s no job no home no peace no rest leaves little room for sunlight. Comprised of “thousands of newspapers collected over many years, his own photographs and writings, and found objects,” the giant mural consciously overwhelms the viewer with its bleak catalogue of all the problems facing America. Steacy organizes his collage around vague thematic “nodes,” with specific parcels of the piece devoted to different subjects – one section, for example, focuses on gang violence, while another centers on the bank-bailouts. After a time, the collage becomes a constellation of despair, imbuing the reader with the sense that these problems are insurmountable. Not a single of ray hope emanates from the piece – the artist seems to believe that a cutting humor is enough to provide the collage with lightheartedness. One small section, for example, juxtaposes cards featuring naked women, overlaid with hands cupped and ready to receive the Eucharist, all beneath a newspaper clipping relating congress’ renewed search for donors. Such portions make one chuckle, but it’s the kind of laugh that aches more than it lifts.

The rest of the show seems like an attempt to complement the collage with a more human dimension, as well as a more visceral “impact.” Several portraits adorn the back walls of the gallery, featuring solitary men and women set against backgrounds stereotypically emblematic of economic hardship. One man sits on a stone staircase leading to a cellar, while another leans against a streetlamp. The idea is clear: the difficulty of life in America as a result of all those rather dry, abstract realities described by the collage in the previous room. However, the portraits lack enough distinct information, so much so that, much like the centerpiece, the photographs begin to meld together, nullifying the humanizing aspects of these pictures that seem to be purpose in the first.

The last section of the show, on the other hand, works very well. The remaining photographs feature inanimate objects, often ironically juxtaposed with their environment, and make vividly clear the effects of the Great Recession. Condos, Chicago – the show’s most impactful piece – portrays a sign advertising the future site of condos behind a chain-link fence, beneath a bright moon. Eerie as an old-horror movie, this piece succinctly summarizes the theme of the show: the gradual inaccessibility of the American dream, and the possible phantasmal nature of that dream.

Works Cited

“Silver Eye.” Silver Eye. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://www.silvereye.org/exhibitions.htm&gt;.

Wood Street Galleries

Guest Curated by Justin Hopper, The City and the City: Artwork by London Writers explores “new ways to combine art and literature in an examination of the modern city.” Wood Street Galleries, with its location at the heart of Pittsburgh’s cultural district, is the ideal location for such an exploration. The exhibition itself, spread out over two-floors, features work in a variety of mediums, from wall to wall video displays to row-upon-row of newspapers and other textual media. Unsurprisingly, given that the artists are also primarily writers, a great deal of reading is required. However, the exhibits themselves incorporate varying degrees of text, from Greenwich Degree Zero, which is largely language based, to Flying Down to Rio, which is almost entirely visual. (Several street signs appear in the video.) This textual asymmetry does a great service to the exhibition as a whole, preventing the viewer from getting bogged down within the sheer deluge of information. Overall, the show is very successful at conjuring the experience of urban life, especially on the second floor, where the three exhibits meld together to form a startlingly affective portrait of modern London.

But any guest for the show will first be dumped on the third floor, as the elevator which ferries people throughout Wood Street Galleries appears incapable of initially stopping at the second floor. At any rate, upon exiting the elevator, one encounters a rather dimly-lit environment – reminiscent of an area in which one would not linger long in an actual city – split into two exhibits: Greenwich Degree Zero and Sight Unseen. The former offers a enormous amount of textual data, organized around a failed bombing attempt of the Royal Observatory in London’s Greenwich Park in 1894. The latter features a series of physical materials related to London’s diamond and jewelry quarter, a “site-specific installation that coincides with the launch or Lichtenstein’s new non-fiction book”.  Taken together, the two exhibits seem positioned to play off one another – with Greenwich functioning as a manifestation of those different voices that inhabit London and Sight subbing in for a physical environ. However, the sheer volume of text in the first and the relative “calmness” of the second ensures that the two exhibits do not play off one another, but instead drain each other of whatever vitality they might otherwise have possessed.

The show fully recovers from this slow start on the second floor, however, where three different exhibits collude in conjuring a effectively spectral London. Middling English and Flying Down to Rio serve to add texture, in the form of audio and visual information, to the true star of the show, Night Haunts: A Journey through the London. Incorporating the writings of Sukhdev Sandhu into partially-interactive audio-visual display, the exhibit casts an enthralling spell, drawing the viewer into numerous distinct realms of the London night, from the experiences of cab drivers to that of custodians. Coupled with the other two exhibits, Night Haunts manages to enchant the viewer, giving him or her access to a once off-limits world.

Works Cited

“The City & The City: Artwork by London Writers – Wood Street Galleries.” Wood Street Galleries. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. <http://woodstreetgalleries.org/portfolio-view/the-city-the-city-artwork-by-london-writers/&gt;.

Unblurred

On the evening of November 2nd, several blustery blocks of Penn Ave. became home to migratory bands of hooded hipsters, tattooed punks, and middle-aged art patrons, all bustling from gallery to gallery in the hopes of experiencing some phenomenal art, or at least a decent 15 dollar wine.  The first Friday of every month, Unblurred gives guests a chance to “experience new art and meet the most eclectic array of art makers, old and young, modern and classical, famous and amateur, emerging and veteran, all within walking distance of each other.” Featuring everything from creepy videos of Asian children singing to photographs of cross-dressers, the crawl certainly contains something for everyone. Beyond the actual art, however, another layer of enjoyment is possible – one can expand the scope of his or her experience to include the other gallery crawlers. Certain galleries seem to attract certain people, and it is quite interesting to consider what draws these guests to their exhibition of choice. Taking in Unblurred as an event in its entirety – instead of simply a series of individual exhibits – enhances the experience, and makes for a fascinating evening.

Penn Avenue positively bursts with galleries, which it makes it difficult to begin. Wherever one chooses to start, chances are you’ll eventually stumble upon “Artisan Galleries.” The unassuming structure showcases the work of Caldwell Linker, a documentary filmmaker who focuses on the concerns of the Gay and Trans communities. Scattered across one wall like a haphazard mosaic, his photographs feature men in drag and various stages of undress. Alternatively vulnerable and sneering, these men are quite captivating – however, one gets very little sense of who these men are as individuals. They eventually blur together, until the viewer no longer sees them as individuals, but as representatives of the Gay and Trans communities. This may be intentional on Linker’s part, an attempt to capture the community’s “essence.” By doing so, however, the photographer removes some of his subjects’ humanity, dulling his work’s impact. The other gallery patrons – who sported a great deal of tattoos and piercings – added another dimension to the exhibit, and in some ways provided the humanity that Linker’s photographs lacked.

On the other end of the spectrum from punk-rockers in leather jackets, the crawl also included, among all things, antique shops. However, these establishments – which include galleries like “ARTica” – are not run by some holdover from the Great War, but instead feature youthful proprietors. This almost quizzical state of affairs may indicate a larger cultural obsession, with nostalgia and a hunger for some bygone era revealing an anxiety peculiar to our own age. The “art” of the individual galleries then becomes a part of the crawl as a whole, and an entirely new experience emerges. Nostalgia ties a narrative between several disparate galleries, which casts Linker’s photographs in a new light, and so on. Unblurred is therefore not so much a simple series of art exhibits, but a brisk, near-comprehensive tour of those topics occupying Pittsburgh artists, from the tattooed to the 1920s obsessed.

Works Cited

“Friendship.” Unblurred: First Fridays on Penn ». N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2012. http://friendship-pgh.org/paai/unblurred/.

“Passports: The Art Diversity Project/ Artica Gallery.” Passports: The Art Diversity Project/ Artica Gallery. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2012. http://passportsart.blogspot.com/.

The Marcellus Shale Documentary Project

The Marcellus Shale Documentary Project, occupying several rooms of Pittsburgh Filmmakers, explores “fracking” – a type of gas drilling that can be especially damaging to the environment – in Pennsylvania through the lens of those affected by the process. Farmers, trailer park residents, gas company employees and their neighbors all make an appearance in the form of photographs and testimonials. Featuring the work of several photographers – including Martha Rial, Brian Cohen, and Noah Addis – the show returns to several images again and again: close-ups of those adversely affected by the drilling, industrial equipment bunched up against farmhouses, and drilling towers marring some idyllic Pennsylvania landscape. That Laura Domencic, the curator of the show, claims “arguments can be made on both sides of this debate and this project is not about taking one of them” does the exhibition as a whole a great disservice. If there are two sides to this debate, it’s never quite clear what arguments the gas companies could possibly make other than the usual MONEYMONEYMONEY. (One of the exhibit’s placards relates how fracking brought nearly four hundred million dollars into Pennsylvania last year.) The fact that the show claims, however, a dispassionate distance when it so clearly assumes a position makes the viewer uncertain as to how to approach the exhibit. If the exhibition was disingenuous once, it can be disingenuous again, encouraging the viewer the approach the show’s photographs and information with a good deal of incredulity.

Upon passing the concession stand, one encounters a series of photographs displaying individuals dealing with the side effects of fracking. One woman cups a mug of grimy water, while another picture features a man at the edge of a lake – its accompanying placard relates the difficulty this man finds in securing drinkable water. Conspicuously absent from these early photos is any evidence of the actual gas-drilling. When the viewer does get a glimpse of the drilling equipment, it appears as a supernatural glow through the forest, like some type of X-Files alien encounter. The unnatural gleam of bronze and steel, coupled with insect leg-like piping, imbues the fracking equipment with menacing qualities, especially when viewed next to photographs and descriptions of the machinery’s devastating effects on the residents of the surrounding area. After a time, a certain dichotomy becomes clear, with the fracking equipment acquiring an abstract, terrorizing abstract and the individual portraits assuming a noble, almost tragic air. These farmers and trailer-park retirees have lived in the area for generations, and will be there long after the gas companies have left. And while certain gas company executives can drink a glass full of the chemicals used in fracking, it is the residents of Pennsylvania who have to drink such contaminated water every day, an idea summed up quite nicely in a photograph of a woman speaking with a gas company worker. A caption beside the photo describes how, while relations between Pennsylvania natives and workers have been cordial, the workers don’t stick around long enough for a real relationship to develop.

Word Count: 501

Works Cited

“Bottoms Up: Energy Exec Drinks Fracking Fluid.” NBC 6 South Florida. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2012. http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/business/Bottoms-Up-Energy-Exec-Drinks-Fracking-Fluid-128234633.html.

“Marcellus Shale Documentary Project.” Pittsburgh Filmmakers. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2012. http://pittsburgharts.org/marcellus-shale-documentary-project.

White Cube, Green Maze

Nestled on the second floor of the Carnegie Museum of Art, White Cube, Green Maze showcases a variety of installation and site-specific art. The pieces on display meld architectural design and conceptual art into a completely unique spacial experience. As the pamphlet provided by the museum describes it, the exhibition “presents six such sites from around the globe: The Olympic Sculpture Park (USA); Stiftung Insel Hombroich (Germany); Benesse Art Site Naoshima (Japan); Instituto Inhotim (Brazil); Jardín Botánico de Culiacán (Mexico); and Grand Traiano Art Complex (Italy).” Each piece either has a room devoted to it, or shares a larger space with another. The sites themselves are evoked via a wide range of mediums, including photographs, diagrams, 3D models, and sketches. The sheer volume and complexity of the materials on display can easily overwhelm the viewer. Even when taken one at a time, the sites must still be “put together” into a coherent whole out of their myriad sources. The viewer plays an integral role in the construction of their experience of the show – a mentally demanding, and exhausting, experience. Nevertheless, the exhibition offers the determined a satisfying introduction to the burgeoning field of site-specific architectural installations.

One will most likely spend several minutes wandering through the gallery, dazed by the sheer profusion of information on display, before finally settling on an area. Situated within a long hallway along one side of the show, “The Olympic Sculpture Park” may be the first area the viewer lingers for any amount of time. Located in Seattle, Washington, and finally opened to the public on January 30th, 2007, the Sculpture Park features several dozen separate pieces spread out over nine acres. The site of a former industrial park, this unique installation incorporates work from artists like Louise Nevelson to Mark di Suvero. What’s present in the Carnegie Museum of Art, however, is not just a mere collection of photographs, relating how the Sculpture Park may visually appear. On the contrary, the exhibit comprises many different mediums, from video displays to three-dimensional models, all which work together to provide the viewer with an impression of the Sculpture Park itself, and not a mere physical regurgitation of what the Park may contain. In other words, the viewer moves through different “aspects” of the installation, from blueprints of the entire park to photographs of a single piece. Work like simple sketches of the sculpture Father & Son, alongside a photograph of the piece itself – which features a father and son nestled within twin water founts – indicates that the curators are interested in emphasizing certain elements that may make an impression on an actual visitor to the Sculpture Park. The exhibit is not so much a representation of the installation as it is an expression of someone’s experience of that installation. All of this forces the viewer to rapidly shift between many different “layers” of the sculpture park – an exhausting experience to be sure, but one that propels the viewer into engaging with the entire exhibit, even if it does take more than one visit.

Works Cited

“Carnegie Museum of Art.” White Cube, Green Maze Catalogue. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2012. <http://web.cmoa.org/?p=6922&gt;.

“Olympic Sculpture Park.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Oct. 2012. Web. 22 Oct. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympic_Sculpture_Park&gt;.

 

Feminist and . . .

Feminist and . . .

Spread out over three levels of the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh’s North Side, Feminist and . . . features “work by six women artists from throughout the world whose artistic practice shows that feminism is not a single-issue set of politics,” all curated by Guest Curator Hilary Robinson, Ph.D. Each piece functions as a compelling work well enough on its own, but, taken together as a whole, the show fails to weave a coherent thread through these disparate artists. This may be intentional, a demonstration that feminism itself cannot be contained beneath a single umbrella/theoretical framework. However, such an interpretation still requires an underlying understanding to bind the word “Feminism” to its meaning, to distinguish it from every other descriptor. In other words, if the word “Feminism” can apply to everything, it ceases to mean anything. Nevertheless, the exhibition succeeds in spurring the viewer to reconsider his or her own idea of what it means to be a “Feminist,” and while the show offers no clear-cut designation, the viewer leaves with his or her preconceptions shaken up, which is never a bad thing.

The first place one is likely to start is the top floor, and if one does, Parastou Forouhar’s Written Room, just across from the elevator, will most certainly ensnare one. Comprising Farsi and crisp scribblings that glide along the floor and up the walls like missiles of incoherence just on the verge of some transcendent revelation, the show envelops the viewer in an aura of awe and quiet suspense. As the exhibit spans several rooms, the viewer must constantly shift his or her gaze, consumed with the hope that if he or she own only follows these letters to their ultimate culmination this vexing, jumbled mess will suddenly reveal its meaning. The artist’s status as an immigrant – Parastou hales from Iran – may inform this striving for o-so-close and yet o-so-elusive comprehension. The piece also includes Ping-Pong balls scattered about, scribbled with vague letters, as if a beer-pong/frat-party massacre had occurred just moments before. Free to roll around, the Ping-Pong-balls further support the diasporic-evocations of the exhibit.

The show features several other respectable works – Carrie Mae Weems’ Lincoln, Lonnie and Me – A Story in 5 Parts in particular leaves a strong impression – the most enthralling work comes from Betsy Damon, whose exhibit, Water Rules-Life, resides in the basement and resembles a Zen-garden. Water dribbles softly from pipes into a large, placid “pond,” with rocks arranged throughout like stepping stones. Along one side, sandbags lie piled up, as if in preparation of a flood. Around the corner, by the entrance, speakers thrum. A mirrored diagram of the Zen-garden – both function as vague “maps” of the Pittsburgh’s three rivers – with marbles subbing in for “water” compels the viewer to reconsider his or her understanding of water. This “reconsideration” of something so essential to life may also mirror the message of the exhibit itself; that is, women are so essential to life that it is impossible to consider one without the other. An understanding of feminism, then, is essential to understanding our reality.

Gallery Crawl

Spanning several blocks of the cultural district, Pittsburgh’s gallery crawl features two-dozen plus exhibits, running the gamut from one person shows to elaborate installations, from performances to street art. The entire experience can be quite daunting, especially considering that the crawl only lasts from 5:30 to 9:00, a scant three and a half hours to take in what could easily be a week’s worth of exhibits. Nevertheless, the short time frame adds a sense of urgency to each, and heightens one’s engagement with the experience. With so many locations to hit, there is little time to waste dilly-dallying, and yet one never feels overwhelmed. The promise of another show – perhaps more enticing than one’s current engagement – keeps the evening from approaching any sort of boredom. In the end, the event is quite exhilarating.

With so many exhibits, it can be difficult to begin. Liberty Avenue seems like a logical first choice, as most of the shows are clustered around this thoroughfare. If one does choose to start here, the SPACE exhibition – with its large, inviting glass storefront – may very well become one’s first stop. Upon entering the show itself, one is immediately confronted with an extraordinarily low-frequency  “thrumming,” which the exhibit describes as music by DJ Edgar Um, but which seems more akin to whale songs. The long, drawn out chords reverberate through the body, imbue one with a sense of unease. Complementing this sense of disquiet is a large shipwreck, placed right inside the entrance. The overall impression becomes one of dislocation, with the shipwreck serving as the idea of being lost at sea and the music functioning as white noise. Together, the two meld into a quite successful sense of confusion, further supplemented by the rest of the exhibit, which features a series of audio-visual displays arranged in a way that suggests different layers of reality. The exhibit challenges the viewer to derive some meaning from these dizzying planes of reality – an audacious and successful example of “installation art.”

The crawl also includes several less successful and more conservative shows. The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s exhibit, Art on the Walls, with work by Gwyn Rohrer, is one such example. Located on Penn Avenue, on the second floor of a building that smells suspiciously like a doctor’s office, the gallery features work celebrating the working class roots of Pittsburgh, all arranged in neat and tidy rows. And while the pieces themselves stand on their own well enough, it is difficult to reconcile the purported purpose of the show with the fact that, in my half hour at the exhibit, I failed to see any indication that a member of the actual working class visited the show. To the Council’s credit, the Public Arts Expedition, a tour of the district’s public art, does show a willingness and desire to connect with those outside the art world.

The three and a half hours allotted for the gallery crawl is not nearly enough time to see everything Pittsburgh’s cultural district has to offer. It is enough, however, to whet one’s appetite for future visits.

Works Cited

“Gallery Crawl in the Cultural District.” Pittsburgh Throughout the Cultural District September 28, 2012. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Oct. 2012. <http://trustarts.culturaldistrict.org/event/2522/gallery-crawl-in-the-cultural-district&gt;.