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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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