If houses could talk, what would they say? The answer to that question has rarely been explored as poignantly or as poetically as Ruth Stanford does in her installation "What Remains."
Stanford has filled the windows of a time-worn row house at 516 Sampsonia Way, North Side, with information about its occupants, circa 1900, as recorded in the U.S. census.
That the names are carved tombstone-style on granite drives home the point that these residents have left the planet as well as the house. But in a curious way, at least in part due to the artist's ability to tap into subconscious societal knowledge and belief surrounding graveyards and the dead, it also solidifies their presence.
Inscribed on one rose-embellished stone is "Rhoades Sarepta, widow, aged 37 years; David E., bill passer, age 17; John E., errand boy, age 14," revealing far more than the information contained in the individual spare words. Other slabs speak of English, Polish, German and Italian immigrants. In the basement window is a quote from Italo Calvino's "Invisible Cities" that includes "? arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had."
It is an engaging work, and Pittsburgh is fortunate that the Mattress Factory museum, which owns the building, has granted the installation an extended stay.
Stanford, a resident of Lawrenceville who came to Carnegie Mellon University from Austin, Texas, has also decided upon an extended stay in Pittsburgh, which she says is supportive of young artists. She's found such a wealth of material in the history of Pittsburgh's neighborhoods, she says, that she wants to continue to explore it, and we're the more fortunate for that.
Some may remember her evocative Allegheny Cemetery work, in which she memorialized trees destroyed in a 2002 macroburst by wood-burning their species name and dates of germination and destruction into their severed stumps.
Stanford's North Side installation is part of her CMU master's presentation, and related pieces may be seen at the campus' Regina Gouger Miller Gallery.
Rather than being overtly political, as one might presume from the title "Shock and Awesome," the energized, smart and very contemporary work in the MFA show is more like a stealth critique of contemporary culture.
Highlights include Cassandra C. Jones' "Eventide," a five-minute animated loop of 1,391 photographs of sunsets that explores the way imagery segues to symbol, and a curious amalgam of objects by Fereshteh Toosi inspired by Western interpretations of the "exotic" Middle East. Shana Moulton and Siobhan Rigg leave clues to performances, past and ongoing.
Ruth Stanford's "What Remains," installed in a building near the Mattress Factory on the North Side, gives presence to the variety of people who lived in it in the early part of the last century.
Click photo for larger image.
Granite slabs in the windows give information about the house's occupants.
Click photo for larger image.
Lilith Bailey-Kroll, whose feisty conceptual pieces that address questions of valuation and consumerism are reminiscent of Briton Michael Landy, will perform/auction "three years of her life" during extended gallery hours from 6 to 10 tonight. Proceeds benefit a humanitarian free trade project between the United States and Afghanistan.
Also at CMU today are the annual Spring Carnival and the first Student and Alumni Art Sale, from 6 to 10 p.m. in the University Center (across from the Miller Gallery).
Other times to see the MFA show are 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and tomorrow, and 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday. Free; 412-268-3877.
Philanthropy as art
Former George Gund Foundation executive director David Bergholz will speak on "The Art of Philanthropy" at 4 p.m. today at the Mattress Factory. Also there is his "The Archaeology of Philanthropy," an exploration of the process of philanthropic work. Free with museum admission; 412-231-3169.
Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1925.