Artist goes behind the scenes to highlight tools and inspirations of Post-Gazette, Bayer employees
September 2, 2012 8:00 AM
Factory Direct: Pittsburgh opening with Ann Hamilton talking to patrons at the Guardian Self-Storage building in the Strip District.
Jenny Fine gestures and waits for input from Ann Hamilton, right, working outside at the Bayer Corp.
By Mary Thomas Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
One of the most buzz-generating exhibitions of recent years, "Factory Direct: Pittsburgh," features artists who worked in residency at local companies, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had a front row seat with internationally acclaimed Ann Hamilton.
She is among 14 artists who were invited by Eric Shiner, director of The Andy Warhol Museum, to create new works that would grow out of their experiences at workplaces as diverse as Alcoa and Boyd & Blair potato vodka.
Her "Factory Direct" installation, "NEWS," made at the Post-Gazette and Bayer MaterialScience, is exhibited with the project's other resultant art at Guardian Self-Storage in the Strip District and at The Warhol on the North Side through next Sunday.
The partnerships and exhibition pay homage to Pittsburgh's heady industrial past, which exhibition text credits with providing the foundation for the region's current build-up in medicine, robotics, environment and technology.
The exhibition also references museum namesake Andy Warhol, whose father, Andrej Warhola, arrived from Slovakia in 1912 in the wave of immigrant laborers drawn by the rapidly expanding manufacturing base. Warhol died a year after U.S. Steel's Homestead Works closed in 1986. A century after Mr. Warhola's arrival, the city is again attracting those in search of opportunity.
Ms. Hamilton, who resides in Columbus, Ohio, exhibited in the 1991 and 1999 Carnegie Internationals, and was a co-creator of Pittsburgh's Allegheny Riverfront Park. Her honors include a Heinz Award and MacArthur, NEA Visual Arts and Guggenheim Memorial fellowships. She represented the U.S. in the 1999 Venice Biennale and 1991 Sao Paulo Bienal, and has been an art professor at Ohio State University since 2001.
She began her "Factory Direct" process by investigating websites of the 75 local factories, companies and businesses Mr. Shiner provided the artists. She chose Bayer when she learned of its MaterialScience division because of her "very keen interest" in materials, she said.
Ms. Hamilton found an ideal material in Bayer's Dureflex, a thermoplastic polyurethane film available in various configurations and thicknesses.
At Bayer and the Post-Gazette, a call was put out to employees to be photographed holding objects related to their work while standing behind a large suspended Dureflex panel. The opaque panel screened out the white-coated participants except for those parts of their hands and objects pressed against its surface, creating somewhat spectral images of presence and work.
Through the project, Ms. Hamilton explored "tactility and body knowledge, and how we know things through our sense of touch and our senses in general," themes she consistently revisits.
She chose to focus on hands because people are less shy about having them photographed than their faces, she said, but also because they are "the first primary extension of the body to the social world. The reciprocity of touch is kind of essential to our being in the world." She's also interested in the way the sense of touch is becoming more removed from processes of production, and what effect that loss has on how we perceive.
After the photo shoots Ms. Hamilton had the imagery she wanted. But she needed a way to translate that into object.
"So much of the process [at MaterialScience] is not visible. They're not making widgets. It's creative work. They're inventing materials. You can't walk in and see it. As an artist I was trying to figure out how to liaison with their process."
That's when she approached exhibition assistant curator Natalie Settles about adding a second collaborator and contacted the Post-Gazette to explore possibilities.
"I wanted to work with the newspaper. It's something that comes into your hands every day."
The Post-Gazette arranged to print 16 of her images, each spread across two pages of newsprint, on the newspaper's presses.
Ms. Hamilton's next challenge was to cull the many images. She selected for objects that "represent the work that goes on at both places [showing] different generations of technology and different tools." They include a reporter's notebook, durometer, twin lens reflex camera, strip of microfilm and Erlenmeyer flask with vacuum adaptor.
Her "Factory Direct" installation comprises three related elements:
One wall is paneled floor to ceiling with 35 flexographic prints on newsprint, some of them whole and others combining halves of two images. A library-style rack holds five newspapers printed between June 26 and July 19. Over the masthead of each day's actual front page is printed "The Warhol edition, Factory Direct: Pittsburgh, Ann Hamilton," and a few image pages are inserted within the edition. Finally, three of the familiar green PG street boxes hold packets of the 16 images, an original artwork that may be purchased for 75 cents, the price of a daily when the show opened.
Ms. Hamilton echoed many of the artists' experiences when she praised the generosity of staff at both locations. "I feel so good and so very pleased with the process."
At the PG, she said she gained "a whole new understanding and respect for what was going on and the dedication to news coverage that is local."
While Bayer "led [her] thinking on a different path," what they do is "a lot more opaque to a visitor than seeing the presses running. It's audio and it's visual and it's tactile."
She expects to continue working with the Dureflex, and has images scanned from the PG archives that will be used in a future project.
"I wanted to make something material, but it wasn't clear what that could be at Bayer given the time frame. I didn't know how to come to form through what I was learning. It was through the paper that we were able to come to form."
Admission to Guardian Self-Storage, 2839 Liberty Ave., is free with donations welcome. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Pick up a coupon there for 20 percent off Warhol museum admission, which is $20; students and children 3-18, $10; half-price 5 to 10 p.m. Friday. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and until 10 p.m. Friday. Information: 412-237-8300 or www.warhol.org.