T-shirt installation has story to tell at Arts Festival

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A Butler Auto Auction T-shirt worn bare and covered with paint splatters is among 3,000 unique T-shirts used in Edith Abeyta's public art piece for the Three Rivers Arts Festival.

"Someone worked in that shirt," Ms. Abeyta, of North Braddock, said.

The artist put in 50 hours of work at Point State Park assembling her piece, "People's Clothing Archive and Library Initiative No. 1: o:ne:ka'," the week before the festival began last Friday. She and several workers stapled the overlapping T-shirts on wooden frameworks. Each framework shaped a letter that spelled the Seneca word for water, o:ne:ka'. The sculpture was placed in the reflecting pool at the center of the park so passers-by on the bridge could read the word from above.

She said she typically does her fabrication work on site.

"Typically, the works are very large so that the practical and logistical aspects are easier to negotiate on location," she said.

Besides logistics, she works on site in order to interact with people.

"Each new work can be likened to a handshake. It is an introduction to initiate a conversation, which could then lead to a long, lasting exchange. Participants and viewers enhance the meaning of the work, bringing insights and knowledge that enrich my experience and future work."

Ms. Abeyta said she put up fliers for two months seeking T-shirt donations. She chose T-shirts as her medium because they are such unique articles of clothing. Each one reflects a different person and part of the community. Joe's Crab Shack and the Pittsburgh Pirates are represented as well as "I love naps" shirts. One of the artist's favorites reads: "I skip school to go hunting," which not only reflects location but also a personality, she said.

But Ms. Abeyta also chose T-shirts because they are the most popular article of clothing. In reflection of the festival's theme of sustainability, at the end of the 10-day festival, rather than throwing the garments out, she will give them all away.

As of the fourth day of the festival some T-shirts were already being removed and laid out to dry. Ms. Abeyta said in the course of constructing the piece, people became more and more interested in her work.

"I gave away T-shirts, met a chef who offered to help with the take down in exchange for some of the lumber, learned about a local cache of Juki sewing machines available from an auctioneer, and met many people from out of town, one of whom was in Pittsburgh for a medical convention because she had a rare disease," she said.

Most of Ms. Abeyta's art involves themes of labor and reused materials, according to her Pittsburgh Artist's Registry biography.

"Interaction and participation are crucial to the success of each piece, from the gathering of materials, fabrication of the piece, activation of the work by participants to the re-distribution of the materials at the end of the installation cycle," the biography states.

Sarah Schneider: sschneider@post-gazette.com.


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