Archive for March, 2010

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From the Earth to the Fire and Back

March 29, 2010

The nervous awareness we feel around glass, our sensitivity to both its fragility and our potential to break it, is similar to how we should feel about the environment. Visiting the Pittsburgh Glass Center’s exhibit From the Earth to the Fire and Back evokes awe, as well as a bit of vertigo, when you see how artists have dealt with the theme of the environment, all using the delicate medium of glass. The works range from abstract to concrete, and show both fear and hope. They confront issues of consumerism, wastefulness, politics, missed potentials, pollution, and progress.

Some works focus on how our hedonism, thoughtlessness and wastefulness are destroying our world. Precarious, by Edwin King, depicts Atlas standing on a tray of consumer images, holding up a globe out of which an orchid grows. Another work is a four-sided oilrig containing images of war and sprawl. Meanwhile, a tree has been turned into a stump, and from it a variety of non-necessary consumer products have been made. It is reminiscent of the Once-ler’s making Thneeds out of Truffula Trees. (I maintain that The Lorax is the greatest and most accurate economic treatise ever written.)

Pollution is another theme that is represented by many of the 28 artists. Hunter Blackwell’s When I Hold the Earth is a pair of rusted iron hands squeezing black sludge out of the Earth. And there is a lot of sludge. Other works represent air pollution, showing how it collects on our buildings, and how, with time and effort, it can diminish.

When I Hold the Earth

There is a significant element of hopefulness in the show, with artists depicting windmills, forests, and places that have been reclaimed by nature from industrialism. Many of the works are made out of recycled glass and metal, and some contain materials salvaged from landfills.

The theme of environmentalism has a few causes, one being Pittsburgh’s designation as the North American host city for the United Nations World Environment Day, which will be held on June 5th this year. Also, the Pittsburgh Glass Center has always been devoted to the environment. Their building is LEED Gold certified due to its energy efficiency and use of recycled building materials. The Glass Center was built in an old auto dealership, which it reclaimed and made useful, beautiful, and environmentally sound.

Pittsburgh Glass Center

The exhibit runs until June 13th. It is in the Hodge Gallery at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, which is located at 5472 Penn Avenue. The show is open from 10 to 4 on Friday through Sunday, and from 10 to 7 Tuesday through Thursday.

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Parks Are Free Film Series:

March 24, 2010

Who controls public space? Can it change hands by fiat? Can it be used as a canvas for an art instillation? What happens when animals choose it as their territory? Who is trying to protect it?

The ParksArefree Film Series at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts will be showing four films around the theme of public space and the environment.

The first will be The Garden, playing on March 25th at 7:00. It chronicles the story of America’s largest urban garden, which existed in Los Angeles from 1994 until 2006. Members of a primarily immigrant community turned a 14-acre patch of post-industrial wasteland into a community garden and administered it democratically. There they grew vegetables and fruits, as well as plants used in traditional medicines.

Starting in 2003, a legal battle over the land ensued, with a private company, Alameda-Barbara, led by the developer Ralph Horowitz, claiming that the land belonged to it due to loop holes in the eminent domain laws. The case was settled behind closed doors, and the community farm was lost to a corporate entity.

The local community mobilized, protesting the seizure of land, blocking bulldozers, and committing acts of civil disobedience. A private security company was hired to stop locals from tending to their farms. The LAPD got involved. In the end, the land was lost, and Horowitz stated that whatever would be built on the land was to be ‘market driven.’

The film shows a community come together to protect something shared, important, and beautiful from the crass and cruel bureaucracy of real estate development.

South Central Farm

The second film, The Gates, documents Christo’s 14-year struggle to drape orange cloth throughout Central Park.

The film starts in 1979 with the first push by Christo and Jeanne-Claude to decorate Central Park, and chronicles the discussions and debates about public space and art. Christo’s work is not just about the art itself, but about the discussion it generates, and the hidden passions that emerge when art and everyday life collide.

Although the original concept came about in 1979, it was not until 2003 that a contract was signed, and the materials constructed. The processes of creating and setting up the exhibit involved 300 uniformed workers, 5,290 tons of steel, and 116,389 miles of nylon, which were then woven into over a million square feet of fabric. (By way of comparison, the circumference of the Earth at the Equator is 24,902 miles).

The film will be preceded at 6:30 by a tour of the Mellon Park Walled Garden.

The Gates

The third film. Pale Male, will be shown on March 27th. This film tells the story of a red-tailed hawk who settled down on an apartment building on Fifth Avenue in New York to hunt in Central Park.

The hawk has become a local celebrity in New York. He has lost a mate, raised chicks, fought crows to retain his territory, and become the patron of a multi-generation family.

The film will be followed by a presentation by at 4:00 by the National Aviary and Rachel Carson Homestead.

Pale Male

The last film, A Sense of Wonder, depicts the last year in the life of Rachel Carson Homestead, the writer of Silent Spring and the founder of the modern environmental movement.

Rachel Carson Homestead was a naturalist who devoted herself to learning about, and sharing her knowledge of, nature. After World War Two, she began to warn people about the dangers of pesticides and synthetic chemicals.

Her philosophy was that humans are one part of nature, as affected by it as any other species. Humans, however, have developed a tendency to altar and damage nature like no other species, and she wanted to bring to light the dangers of environmental abuse.

She was always fascinated by the beauty of nature, and her prose about the natural world was lyrical and loving. A Sense of Wonder captures her in her last year of life, retaining her sense of poetry and awe despite her illness.

The film will be preceded by a presentation by at 4:00 by the National Aviary and Rachel Carson Homestead.

Rachel Carson Homestead

References:
The Garden

http://newstandardnews.net/content/index.cfm/items/3297
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5160542
The Gates
http://www.mayslesfilms.com/companypages/films/films/gates.htm
http://www.christojeanneclaude.net/tg.shtml
Pale Male
http://www.palemale.com/
A Sense of Wonder
http://www.rachelcarson.org/Biography.aspx

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When Who You Are Is Different From Who You Think You Are

March 19, 2010

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a classic film starring Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, will be playing at the Harris Theatre from March 19th to 25th. The film centers on a young woman in 1960’s New York and her neighbor, a writer who is smitten with her. Holly’s goal in life is to be free from all emotional constraints, an impossible wish that ends up bringing her, and those who love her, much heartache.

Breakfast at Tiffany's poster

Nineteen sixties New York is an alternate reality in which everyone smokes all the time, and smoking is not so much a habit as a social facilitator. People smoke in bed, in taxis, and in pretty much every scene of the movie. The fashion is an elegant art deco, and everything from clothing to telephones has a stylish, classy, arty look to it. Even the language is somewhat foreign and romantic. The characters over-use the word ‘darling’, pronouncing it with a prolonged soft A and a muted R. They use words like ‘plenty’ and ‘powder room,’ and men refer to each other as “Fred baby” and “Paul baby.”

What I love most about this movie are the details. No matter how may times I see it, I always notice something new. For example, Holly keeps perfume and lipstick in her mailbox in order to do quick touch-ups, presumably in case her make-up has degenerated between her apartment and the front door of her building. As for her apartment, I’m pretty sure that her couch is half a bathtub with a couple cushions on it. Also, the movie stars the best-trained cat in the history of showbiz, who, in every scene in Holly’s apartment, is to be found in a different impossible-to-reach location. The cat even jumps off of objects and lands on people’s shoulders. This cat symbolizes Holly, and is in some ways a second manifestation of her character. It is a wild thing ensnared in the trap of Holly’s making.

Audrey hepburn poster

The theme of the film is whether people can belong to each other, and the different types of belonging that exist. Many of the men Holly dates, whom she refers to as ‘rats’ behind their backs, assume that paying for her dinner and giving her petty cash for the powder room give them certain rights. Holly, on the other hand, thinks that no one can belong to anyone, which translates to her breaking off relationships with and turning the cold shoulder on anyone she gets too close to.

Holly is a modern Anna Karenina, a woman aware of her beauty and intrigue. She is so good at playing the role of aloof beautiful woman that she convinces even herself that she is so. Holly goes to great lengths to make her emotional apathy apparent, even refusing to name her cat on account that she intends to set it free whenever the mood strikes her. An important question is asked by one of the characters, and this question defines all of Holly’s character. “Is she or isn’t she a phony?” Her acquaintance who asks has decided on the answer for himself, and I would tend to agree with him. “She’s a real phony. She honestly believes all this phony junk she pretends to believe.” It is much like Kurt Vonnegut’s admonition that “we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” Holly has chosen for the most part wisely; she pretends to be someone wild, stylish, and intriguing. The philosophy she has chosen for herself is an alienating one, but, in a city the size of New York, you can never run out of people to amuse yourself with and then dismiss.

Holly Golightly poster

Despite, or perhaps because of, her naiveté and self-absorption, Holly is a lovable character. She has created a bizarre yet internally consistent world for herself, and the joy of the movie is entering that world. She also gives some great life-advice, which, since seeing the movie for the first time, I have devoutly followed: “Never accept drinks from disapproving gentlemen.”

On Wednesday, March 24th, the film will be preceded by a red-carpet reception at 5:45. Drinks, hors d’ oeuvres, and dessert will be served.

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Heather Joy Puskarich: “My Deviant Muse: Photographic Images in Glass”

March 16, 2010

Come see My Deviant Muse: Photographic Images in Glass at the Melwood Gallery! The opening reception will be on Friday, March 19th from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. The exhibit runs until April 18th. It is free and open to the public.

Glass is an element in many different symbol systems, often carrying different weight for different people. For Heather Joy Puskarich, whose work “My Deviant Muse: Photographic images in Glass” is currently on display at the Melwood Gallery, the medium of glass holds a variety of meanings. “Glass is an amalgamous solid. It changes from solid to liquid, and often doesn’t stay in one form, “ she says. “That is what my personality is like.” Glass is also “inherently beautiful,” and has “historical symbolism,” and can thus represent women.

Puskarich glass

Women are a central theme of My Deviant Muse, as most of the images consist of women, many complete with accessorizing objects such as high heels and make-up. Many of the images are about “costuming, making yourself someone else for others.” “We want everyone to see someone else,” says Heather Joy, “We don’t want them to see what we are about.” One piece in particular shows this theme clearly. Heather Joy has put images of a woman accessorizing onto a series of hand mirrors. As you walk up to the image, you see not only the woman in glass, but also an image of yourself.

The muse for “My deviant Muse” is the artist herself. “Muse is me. Deviant is myself,” she says. All the female images are actually of Heather Joy; she may be in a wig, or putting on make-up, or lying with her back toward the viewer. “It is a schizophrenic show,” she says, referring to the variety of emotions represented, as well as the pieces that are made from smaller cuttings. Avalon, for example, consists of 48 squares, each one made and processed separately. The picture they form is of Heather Joy on a bed in a seedy hotel, lying with her back to the viewer, feet dirty. Of this piece Heather Joy says, “I’m broken. Putting me back together is quite a feat. It’s exhausting.” Yet there is one pink square in the upper left, Heather Joy’s favorite of the 48 squares, that is “hopeful all will come together.”

Avalon

“Blue Girl” was the first piece of the series and inspired the others. It is a toned print, almost entirely blue, done on clear glass, segmented, purposely uneven, depicting a woman’s hips in lace, with a poem inlaid. After making this piece, Heather Joy asked herself, “Why was she significant?” She thought about what Blue Girl meant to her, and began making more images involving women poets. The series progressed from there, with mutations of style, technique and theme.

Blue Girl

A more light-hearted work is entitled “Saucy,” a photographic image of a woman’s legs sporting red high heels, poking out of an antique bathtub. This is the tub from her house, and the red shoes she wears when she wants to feel good. “It’s kind of happy, 40’s looking and ambiguous. The legs remind me of my mom’s legs. It takes me back to her,” says Heather Joy. The piece turned out great in glass, the tub looks three dimensional, and the faucet appears to pop out of the image.

Saucy

One of her pieces, however, is not about costuming, and she feels it is the deepest of the lot, as well as the most personal. “Gypsy” features a woman’s face covered partially by hair, showing signs of anguish. The piece is made with glass and rust, so the piece perpetually degrades, a technique created by, and unique to, Heather Joy.

Gypsy

There are a variety of techniques for getting photographic images onto glass, and many of these techniques she teaches at the Pittsburgh Glass Center. They include sandblasting, decals, high fire paints, Dremel, or using an angle grinder to blast steel onto glass. Many of her pieces utilize as many as four of these methods. The process to create any piece is long; it can take up to two weeks to complete a project. Glass also has a certain drawback: it is fragile. Gypsy took four times to perfect, and many pieces have broken while in the making.

Heather Joy describes her aesthetic as “dreamy.” She likes translucency, light, the combination of steel and glass. Images she enjoys working with include bridges, birds, trees, woman’s faces and figures, and words. She especially loves the aesthetics of handwriting, and has inlaid handwritten poems into some of her works.

Be sure to visit the exhibit at the Melwood Gallery. It is open until April 18th. The opening reception will be on Friday, March 19th from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

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Teen Angst: J. D. Salinger’s Imprint on Film

March 11, 2010

Teenagers are adept at recognizing all that is wrong with the world, all the unfairness, the petty cruelties, the inhumanity of adults and their institutions. However, teenagers are often wanting in the ability to clearly express their disdain and disapproval. Lacking both the language to confront these issues and the power to change them, they resort to rebellious actions. These themes have been captured beautifully in film, and Filmmakers will be showcasing three such films in its series: Teen Angst: J. D. Salinger’s Imprint on Film. These movies explore the area in which teenagers, with all the passion and righteousness of youth, interact with a cold and settled society.

The first of the films will be the iconic Rebel Without a Cause. In my opinion, this film is inaccurately named. James Dean does indeed have a cause; his goal is to live honorably in a society that does not value honor. As the new kid in town, he struggles to understand the hegemony he has been placed into. Realizing that the system is flawed, he becomes a rebel, not because he smokes or cuts class, but rather because he simply doesn’t believe the narrative that society has imposed on everyone in the town.

rebel without a cause poster

The second film in the series is The Last Picture Show, which takes place in a small Texas town in the 1950’s. It’s the sort of place where life ends after high school, and adulthood is a long series of disappointments and compromises. To escape the confines of their social classes, their relationships, and their boredom, teenagers and adults alike attempt to connect to one another sexually, but there is always a sense of sadness and distance in these encounters. The lesson to be learned from this film is that sexuality is only a weapon if you wield it right.

The last picture show poster

The final film, quite different from the other two in its story, message, and aesthetic is A Clockwork Orange. This movie follows the violent, cruel, and meaningless antics of a young man, Alex, in a disturbing future Britain. Alex is apprehended and forcefully reprogrammed to be less violent. Pavlovian methods of association are used to cause him distress and discomfort when he thinks about violence. The film explores the angst teenagers feel when being forced to buy into a banal system. Youth wants to remain righteous, wants to hold onto its emotional clarity and strength. It does not want to subside into adulthood. But adulthood has a way of imposing its harsh reality on youth.

A clockwork orange poster

Go see these films on March 14th, 21st, and 28th at the Regent Square Theater and show your solidarity with the teenager you used to be.

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What Does Pittsburgh Sound Like?

March 1, 2010

T. Foley, a resident artist at Filmmakers, presented her public art project, Locally Toned, on Tuesday, February 16th as part of the Library Conversation Series. The work explores the space where art, technology and society meet. It is a cooperative project in which you can participate!

Locally Toned is an ever-growing work in which T. Foley collects snippets of sounds from Pittsburghers, and turns them into ring tones. The goals of the project are many, one being to empower people to create and share their own media rather than choosing from prepackaged commercial media. Another goal is to gather aural snapshots of Pittsburgh, creating what Foley calls “sonic mementos” as a way to simultaneously document and interact with the city as a vibrant organism.

On her cite, http://www.locallytoned.org , all of these tones can be listened to and downloaded for free. Along with each tone is a story about the person who found or made the tone, complete with pictures. All the tones and stories are stored on an interactive map, allowing you to explore the sonic geography of Pittsburgh.

Because her project is open to all people to participate, it raises questions both general and personal. A general theme that is developed through Locally Toned is how the ambient sounds reflect the character of a city. Pittsburgh is bowling balls, pinballs, bike bells, hip-hop, and horns. She has expanded her work out beyond Pittsburgh, and has made a collection of ringtones from Valencia, Spain, which sounds like birds, running water, hearty three-kiss cheek greetings, and church bells. She will soon head to Berlin, Germany, where I imagine she will record the S-Bahn, the incessant rain, the Döner Kebab sellers, and other fragments of life that emerge from a once fragmented city.

The more complex life becomes, the more we need to refer to it by its pieces and find a symbol that can represent the whole. A homemade ringtone can function as a synecdoche, a compact reminder of the prevailing tone of your life. When presenting her work, Foley repeatedly asks her audience to think of sounds from their lives to use as ringtones, which makes you consider what sound would be your aural avatar.

The project causes you to reflect, then inspires you to create. T. Foley is always looking for new participants and new tones, and can be contacted through her website. If you have any ideas, she would be happy to meet with you, record your sound, and tell your story!

Check out the project at http://www.locallytoned.org . There you can listen to sounds, hear stories of local people and add your sonic footprint to the project.

The Filmmakers Library series meets every third Tuesday of the month. Check http://www.pghfilmmakers.org for updates on future presenters.