International artists install a surreal show at the Mattress Factory
May 16, 2012 3:32 PM
Tom Little/Mattress Factory
Brazilian artist Mariana Manhaes' refers to her "Thesethose" installation as "organic machines."
Sales of pieces of Than Htay Maung's "My Offering" will benefit Northside Common Ministries food pantry.
Tom Little/Matress Factory
Tom Little/Matress Factory
A detail of European artist Nika Kupyrova's "Roadkill" installation.
By Mary Thomas Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A slumped form resembling a small animal -- shorn, leg amputated to a metallic bone-like spur, with ambiguous protrusions where a head would normally attach -- lies at the entry of an installation at the Mattress Factory. The space, with its fluorescent lighting and glossy white tile floor, is glaringly stark, like an operating room or an airline terminal late at night. Beyond are scattered sculptures, Daliesque in their skewed familiarity.
"Roadkill" by Ukraine native Nika Kupyrova is a contemporary game board that the visitor interprets as he or she moves through it. Banal found objects become enigmatic when reconfigured. Low drifts of white candles sprouting from the tiles suggest ritual. The experience is indeterminably playful, absurd or profound; perhaps all three. The sculptures are the detritus of contemporary alienation, physically and metaphorically. We are all roadkill.
Where: Matress Factory, 500 Sampsonia Way, North Side (free parking, 505 Jacksonia).
When: Through May 27. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays.
Tickets: Admission is $12, seniors $10, students $9, kids under 6 and members free. Information, 412-231-3169 or www.mattress.org.
Ms. Kupyrova, who now resides in Prague and Vienna, is among six international artists of "Factory Installed" selected from nearly 600 submissions by independent curator Katherine Talcott and museum co-directors Barbara Luderowski and Michael Olijnyk. The artists created new site-specific works in residence last fall.
While the resultant works were independently conceived and stand well on their own, they complement one another, some musing on the human condition while others make aesthetic observations on light and perspective.
Most explicitly humanitarian is "My Offering" by Than Htay Maung, a native of Burma who resides here with his wife, Khet Mhar, writer-in-residence at City of Asylum/Pittsburgh.
Approximately 300 cast plaster hands -- Mr. Maung's, his wife's, and others' -- reach out from the gallery walls, each holding a round loaf of golden-crusted bread. The gesture is peaceful, even altruistic, a distilled dialogue on sharing and nurturing, the symbolism both bodily and spiritually imbued. The numbers of hands are unsettling reminders of the vastness of need.
"I have not escaped the memories of the victims' hands asking for food and help in the aftermath of the Nagis cyclone that hit Burma's delta in 2008," Mr. Maung wrote in an artist statement. "When my wife and I were doing relief work with other friends, I saw the many hands of people who were hungry for food, for safety, for kindness and for others. We continue to see countless hands like these all over the world today."
The artist is employed by Breadworks (the bread donors) and writes "When I bake, peace becomes an ingredient.... I believe that everybody, especially those who have known hunger, will be happy to view this expanse of bread. I mentally combined the hungry hands that I cannot forget and the bread that I have enjoyed baking over the years to make this artwork because I want to bring a little bit of happiness to people."
Individual installation components are being sold for $100, and all proceeds will be given to the Northside Common Ministries food pantry, located near the bakery.
Another form of devastation inspired Veronica Ryan, who was born on Montserrat, West Indies, where an active volcano buried much of the island in 1997 and periodically continues to erupt. The New York-based artist's "The Weather Inside" suggests an archaeological excavation, with objects strewn on the floor and others revealed in niches cut into the wall. A cast form and its negative suggest a world turned inside out; others are reduced to puddled remains. A stack of paper plates, a small wrapped cube and less recognizable items on the shelves are as mysterious as remnants of an ancient civilization, their import known only to the owner. Still, they are emblematic of the things we all gather that gradually, sometimes explosively, drift into the stillness of memory.
Brazilian artist Mariana Manhaes' "Thesethose" is, by contrast, futuristic. Huge, elongated clear plastic bags stretch across the gallery like science fiction termite queens, quiver, and begin to expand. The sounds of inhaling and exhaling coincide with an image on an LCD screen of white shutters (of her Rio de Janeiro studio) opening and closing. The sculptures animate independently and unpredictably, encouraging the perception of them as living rather than static. Ms. Manhaes refers to them as "organic machines."
The conceptual base for her work is an interest in movement and language, and she has devised a complicated process that begins with an everyday visual image, which she videos to record its movements. She then transforms those movements into gestures (read about creating "Thesethose" at the artist's blog, http://marianaatthefactory.wordpress.com). Besides the whimsical or threatening aspect of the installation, dependent upon whether you see fanciful life forms or entrapped souls, Ms. Manhaes raises questions about the morphing of biological and technological entities that has been taking place for decades and seems perched at the edge of proceeding at warp speed.
Spaniard Pablo Valbuena and Bolivian Natalia González address, ultimately, perception through the manipulation of light, he virtually and she through immersion.
Mr. Valbuena's elegant video installation, "Para-Site [mattress factory]," transforms a darkened room into an illusory theater, drawing with light to explore the architecture of the space. The two-dimensional patterns take on a third dimension and, ultimately, draw viewers along an overhead pipe into a room and toward a corridor.
Ms. González constructed "Light Recordings" (accompanied by the video "Untitled (light recordings)") in the museum's atmospheric stone-walled, concrete-floored lower gallery. Automated lights shift areas of spotlight and shadow accented by propped or suspended steel bars, plumb bob, wire and mirror, challenging the visitor's ability to read and predict the space he or she moves within.
The six installations give welcome opportunity to step across thresholds into mental and physical spaces where we may contemplate what we perceive and believe -- as luxurious an indulgence as we are likely to have in our speeded-up, overextended 21st-century existence.