The Mattress Factory: “Gestures: Intimate Friction” March 30, 2012 – January 6, 2013

Gestures: Intimate Friction in the Mattress Factory

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.

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Intimate Friction

Periscopic invasions of privacy, voyeuristic shower footage, and Glory Holes, a fine addition to any art museum’s collection. It’s no surprise that the Mattress Factory would be host to such avant-garde pieces, as evidenced by the shirts sold on location, stating, “The only rule is there are no rules.” Due to the nature of this unique gallery, most works are site specific. Immediately making a presence throughout, the text on the walls highlight the architecture of the Annex itself, while simultaneously poking fun at the viewer and attempting to create a small narrative. The space itself is shared with some permanent exhibits, larger structures that aren’t likely to be removed any time soon.

With the room given to them, the artists transformed this residential space into a peeping Tom’s dream house. Periscopes made of drains and gutters line the outside of the building, allowing passing viewers to peer into different rooms of the house in Dee Briggs’ Art You Can Get Into… if you have $12. The piece playfully attempts to allow people who haven’t paid to get the tiniest glimpse or sound of the inside gallery. The view itself tends to be less than overwhelming, pointed at small portions of blank white walls. Jenn Gooch’s video pieces feature a view into rooms and spaces that aren’t normally accepted as spaces to peer into, transforming a shower space by projecting a colorful curtain onto the regular one, and playing sounds of a woman showering and singing to herself loudly; running on the treadmill while singing with the same country twang; a cracked door allowing the view of a woman drying off after a shower; and a projection of dogs running down stairs across from the stairs in the building. These pieces provide an atmosphere that makes the space feel currently lived in, and observers feel more like intruders than guests. While the text posted about points out the architecture, so does Nina Marie Barbuto’s Glory Holes. Nina takes circular slices of varied size out of the drywall, allowing views of the support framework that makes up this space that is both private and public. All of these pieces show the duality of this space that manages to host such a large public audience while still keeping it private and intimate. This collection of mixed media in the Annex that make up Intimate Friction remain here until January 6th.

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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.

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The Mattress Factory

An old house in Pittsburgh’s North Side serves as the site of one of the Mattress Factory’s newest exhibitions, Gestures: Intimate Friction. Running until September 16th, the exhibit features artwork by a variety of artists. It’s curated by Mary-Lou Ascot, who describes the experience as a show that “opens up the building and then reaches in. The process of creating the installations will be collapsing, constructive and collaborative.” The show certainly “opens up the building.”  In fact, the first installation an exhibit-goer is likely to encounter –Art You Can Get Into . . . if you have $12 – actually runs down along the outside of the structure in the form of long steel tubes reminiscent of aluminum gutters. Except these objects do not divert rain water away from the foundation. Quite the opposite in fact. They serve instead to entice pedestrians into (hopefully) exploring the gallery, via either a series of mirrors offering a fragmented glimpse of the interior, or faint, alluring music. How successfully this installation attracts exhibit-goers is debatable. What is not debatable, however, is that this particular piece serves as very fine introduction to the show as whole.

Upon actually entering the show itself, one encounters an assemblage of broad geometric shapes, reminiscent of a cityscape. In the center of the room 3X4608hangs, consisting of three separate suspended plywood sheets, arranged in a gentle slope, as if arising out of the floor in manner evocative of a sudden flight of pigeons or geese. Along the wall, shadow – a series of wire-mesh shapes overlapping one another – frames 3X4608 like a distant metropolis. The overall effect is one of zooming in, as if the exhibit-goer were being led into a deeper and deeper examination of the space itself – a feeling further reinforced as one proceeds farther and farther into the exhibit. Home Splice: Doorway, for example, features video of another home superimposed onto the existing space, while Space of Sound/Sound of Space, comprises three light bulbs framed by dozens of braided ropes and overlaid with eerie music, all of which, it seems, is meant to force the exhibit-goer to confront the space he or she inhabits. This final point is driven home quite poignantly with the last piece of the show, Glory Holes, which features holes and other shapes cut-out of the architecture of the home, an effect which causes the exhibit-goer to quite suddenly ask, “Where am I? And how did I get here?”

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Looking Inward: Intimate Friction at The Mattress Factory

When I entered Mattress Factory, the floor seemed to fly out from under my feet.  “3×4608” by Jeremy Ficca suspended a section of floor midair as though it were flying away, exposing the underlying structure of the house.  This work embodied the most successful aspect of the Intimate Friction show: the ability of the artists to infuse life, action, and emotion into otherwise quotidian elements of architecture.

The Mattress Factory has been a staple of Pittsburgh’s contemporary art scene for the past five years.  Intimate Friction is an installment in the Gestures series, which was created in 2001 as an initiative to feature works that are site-specific to the museum.  The exhibit runs from March to September 16th 2012 and is curated by Mary Lou Arscott, a British architect and professor at the CMU school of Architecture.  In a press release, Arscott described the dual relationship that the show investigates: “The show opens up the building and then reaches in.”  The exhibition thoroughly explored this relationship between the inside of the building and the outside environment, starting with Dee Brigg’s “Art You Can Get Into…if you have $12” piece.  Briggs directly addressed the house’s role as a museum, and the issues of accessibility that this role creates.  Her bright red drainpipes acted as periscopes into the museum, granting passerby the power to ‘enter’ the house voyeuristically.

The house was also given a ‘voice’ in an intimate way through Gill Wildman’s ‘House says’.  This piece featured cut vinyl words, which were positioned on walls throughout the entire exhibition.  The text’s impact was enhanced when it interacted with the other works, such as Spike Wolff’s ‘Shadow’ piece, which mapped the passage of shadows with aluminum mesh. “Tell me about shadows”, the house eerily requests.  A very precise sense of this fear that a house can inspire was enacted by Nick Durrant’s ‘Incident’, in which a small machine scratches at a foot of the stairs with a wire, creating one of those tiny, commonplace household noises that can lead to a fear of something hiding ‘under the stairs’, although the effect was diminished by the visitor’s ability to see the machine itself.

Intimate Friction turns the viewer’s gaze from the art inside the building to the building itself, opening outward and ‘reaching inward’ in both a physical and emotional sense, through the artists’ reinvention of common architectural elements and the emotions this inspired.

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Gestures: Intimate Friction at The Mattress Factory

The Mattress Factory has had its floors, walls, and ceilings ripped up for its exhibition Gestures: Intimate Friction. Curator Mary-Lou Arscott, a professor of architecture at CMU, has invited 12 artists, activists, and architects to transform the three floors of the museum’s Monterey Building. The site-specific works emerge from the artists’ varied understandings of the building, ranging from striking physical reconstructions to more subtle commentaries on its form and function. From the outset it’s clear that the artists share a certain conceptualization of the exhibition space—one that originates in architectural thought but expands far beyond. “The show opens up the building and then reaches in,” explains Arscott in the press release.  The artists of Intimate Frictions truly deconstruct 1414 Monterey Street, fleshing out the interplay between its physical structure and practical functions.

The design of the exhibition comes across as intentional. The installations are specific to their individual rooms, but also feel highly connected because of their shared context: a wall, a room, a building. Each artist transforms a homogenous section of the building into a novel expression of the space. From these individual acts of interpretation emerges a collaborative, multifaceted understanding of the building. Some artists, however, are more successful than others in using this context to elevate their installations.

Activist Gill Wildman’s contribution, cut-and-pasted vinyl text, appears on the surfaces of every gallery yet remains unassuming. At one spot, the words “inhale” and “exhale” appear on two floor vents. Here Wildman playfully attributes a biological function to an architectural element of the building. In other places Wildman’s text intervenes subtly with the other artists’ works, encroaching upon their allotted spaces.  His work offers something unusual: a running commentary on the exhibition from the perspective of the exhibition space—the building. His words effectively personify the building, giving it a voice and an attitude.

Pablo Garcia’s work is well intentioned but less successful. Garcia has outlined in black the edges of a window that has been covered with white paint. On the adjacent wall, he has painted an identical outline next to the first, in a perspective such that the second “window” appears to be extending in line with the first. This trompe l’oeil effect works best when standing at the entrance to the room. Although the illusion is effective in expanding the room along an otherwise obstructed axis, it evokes little else beyond its initial novelty.

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Gestures: Intimate Friction

Using the words “intimate friction” in conversation hardly conjures mental images of an art gallery. The silence and passivity that a gallery space typically eludes is neither intimate nor jarring. Yet anyone who has visited 1414 Monterey Street, the site of the Mattress Factory’s Gestures: Intimate Frictionexhibition, will have encountered the efforts of twelve artists to bring some metaphorical sandpaper to the smooth white walls of a contemporary gallery.

For anyone who might have been concerned about how this building could be distinguished from the other houses of the North Side neighborhood, Dee Brigg’s alarmingly red downpipe structures are a dead giveaway that there is something peculiar about this house. Art You Can Get Into…if you have $12 offers a unique perspective. Literally. Red ductwork snakes around the building’s façade, opening small, voyeuristic windows into the gallery space to any passerby. Briggs draws on a personal experience dealing with the exclusivity of the Mattress Factory. While it is a unique institution that focuses on installation and avant guard work, its integration into the surrounding community is lacking. Briggs is frank about her qualms, offering this piece as a way of ‘hacking’ the gallery space to offer it to the neighborhood that houses it.

The idea of unveiling the physical and psychological structure of the architecture occurred more than once in this exhibition. Mary-Lou Arscott, the curator of the show, takes her background as an architect and carpenter, and uses to frame the work of these young regional artists to question the physicality of gallery space. What results is a show with multiple commentaries about the history that has become embedded within the neutral color palate of the gallery walls. Gill Wildman’s House Says takes a literal approach by attempting to give voice to a constructed personality for the building. Aside from that work, the interrogation of this post-domestic space is subtly critical.

It is in Jenn Gooch’s Home Splice that I think the real body of this commentary lies. In a spliced doorway, we peer at a woman stuck in an endless loop of toweling off after a shower. The domesticity that we are privy to is clearly constructed: one can pinpoint the moment when the video is reversed and played back. In seeking to connect with the architecture and its history, it becomes apparent that these efforts will never escape their own fictitious reality.

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GESTURES: Intimate Friction

Keeping ahead of the avant-garde scene and maintaining a high standard has helped the Mattress Factory evolve into the institution it is now, world renown for their artist residency program and site-specific installations. Artists are central to the process from the project’s proposal to its completion, so the MF tries their best to cater to their needs to implement their ideas. For Gesture, the annex building becomes a playground for artists to do what they will, with guest curator Mary-Lou Arscott as playtime supervisor.

As you approach you see steel red pipes coiling around the building; a closer look tells you they are actually periscopes. This is Art You Can Get Into… if you have $12 by Dee Briggs, a keyhole for passersby to peek into the gallery, though it’s difficult to understand what has been heard or seen. For some, this limited view will have to satisfy because it’s the closest you can get, an exaggeration to show how closed off important institutions and galleries can seem.

All the pieces of the exhibition elucidate the history and architecture of the building, differentiating them from pieces in the permanent collection. Art and building are inseparable.  What used to be Beck’s Supermarket with living quarters upstairs now hold immersive room-sized environments, like Nick Liadis’ Space of Sound/Sound of Space. The room is filled with a mix of music; you are faced with dangling ropes as you enter, as if it’s raining – you are naturally drawn to clearings where plastic hemispheres (the sound source) umbrella over you. Immediately, the music is crisp. The ropes, like the music, overlap, move, and fill the room.

Some artists deconstructed the architecture, stripping it to its skeleton, like Jeremy Ficca with 3×4608. A rectangle of the floor is cut and suspended at eye-level in three pieces, creating a strange landscape, revealing old floorboards and a messy basement that was hidden by the veneer. The layers, usually hidden within a building’s walls, are revealed for all to see. Others, like Jenn Hooch, created work redolent of the house’s past. The nature of projections makes the videos ghostly. Visitors are intruders trespassing on people’s alone time while they dry their hair, shower, exercise or walk downstairs. What if they turn around and see us? Should we feel guilty for catching them in these vulnerable, intimate moments? Or for using their home to exhibit these contemporary installations?

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Intimate friction

On 1414 Monterey, stands a house that whispers. Wrapped by red periscope tubes, the black façade opens a venue for a glimpse into the interior. Failing to see anything through those peeping holes, the passerby is lured to intrude into the building and explore its essence. Housing the 16th installation of Mattress Factory’s Gesture series Intimate Friction, the gallery is fabricated by the architect-curator Mary-Lou Arscott and twelve Pittsburgh architects, artists, and activists into a kind of self-referential structure whose purpose is to remind us of its own physicality, and to evoke consideration of architecture beyond its spatial and temporal surface.

Most strikingly, Eremy Ficca, Matt Huber, and Ina Marie Barbuto’s “destructive” installation peeled, striped, scraped, and remolded the interior surface, giving a visual reference to the material history of the house. Ficca lifted the thin plywood sheet over the floor; Huber carved squares out of walls; Barbuto made holes that reveal layers of raw materials beneath. In Huber’s [11° x 7° x 38°], nine equally distanced 15 x 15 inch squares are carved out of two opposing walls. The edges of the squares are rough and unfinished as if they had been scratched violently by unskilled hands. Through those squares, one can get a view of strings of heedlessly painted newspapers hanging down from the ceiling, dangling helplessly like some trivial documents being saved from a flood, waiting to be dried in an archive’s storage room. The view, however, is only partial even if one were put one’s head right in the square. There is a kind of voyeuristic sentiment to the piece, which involves eagerly looking in but being rejected due to the physical confinement. Also imbued with a voyeuristic feel, Jenn Gooch’s home video series, played at unexpected corners of the house, aims to evoke the lives of previous residents, which presses the viewers to see themselves as unwelcome intruders. Home Splice: Doorway, projected on the entire wall at the narrow dead end of the corridor right next to Huber’s squares, confronts one with a half-opened bathroom door leading to a view of a woman getting herself ready after a shower. Her rounded body wrapped in a pink towel is in strong contrast with the door that sharply divides the visual field into the accessible and the forbidden. Together with Huber’s piece, this seemingly harmless home video creates a sense of suspense, teases and vexes the viewer into a state of uneasiness and repression that he or she will carry throughout the entire show.

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