Archive for April, 2010


North Face at the Harris

April 29, 2010

North Face, playing at the Harris Theater through May 6, is the story of an attempt by two young friends to climb Mt. Eiger’s North Face, the most dangerous portion of the Alps. The North Face poses certain dangers not present on the other faces of the mountain. Being vertical and almost perpetually in shadow, it is colder and icier than the other parts. It is also prone to falling rocks. The first attempt was made in 1934, but was not successful. The first group to get significantly high on the mountain was Max Sedlmayer and Karl Mehringer in 1935.  Their bodies were found a few weeks after they had started their ascent.  All told, over 50 people have died trying to climb Mt. Eiger’s North Face.

Eiger Eiger movie

In North Face, climbing the mountain is not just about the ambitions of two young men; it is about how other people attempt to profit off them. With the ascent’s taking place shortly before the Olympics, the Nazi Party is keen to tell the tale of German super-athletes climbing a heretofore-unconquerable mountain.  The climbers themselves have no interest in Nazi theatrics, but become central to a propaganda campaign. An old friend of the climbers, a young woman who wants to be a successful journalist, intends to profit off of telling their story, whether the story ended happily or not.

The movie is about an adventure, but also about personal ambitions getting co-opted by people who seek to profit off of others’ glory and/or demise.



Student Thesis Screening

April 26, 2010

On Saturday, April 24th, 6 student films were presented at the Melwood Screening Room. Each film was made and produced by a student of Filmmakers. The films represent two years worth of work planning, writing, casting, filming, and editing.

The first film shown was Joe Standley’s A Plumber’s Delight, a humorous vignette about a young man who attempts to impress women with his plumbing prowess, and succeeds in an unexpected way.

Justin DouglasAll the Young Dudes played next, was a story of the friendship of two senior citizens and one young man who go on an absurd quest. In the film, plot points are slowly revealed, and the purposes of the characters’ actions, as well as the depth of their relationship, fall into place.

Greg Neiser‘s Untitled is a music video in which a light shined into center stage. In front of it, a woman dances and a man raps. Depending on the position of the subject in relation o the light, the image changes fluidly between silhouette, image, and flashes of light.

Fish Story, by Pat Francart, is a story of art, love, and pescaphilic friendship. The film has no words, but character development and plot are all portrayed with actions, facial expressions, and slightly surreal images.

Bray Road, by Chris Nicholson, is the best kind of horror story: the kind where your allegiance flips, your sense of bad guy and good guy are skewed, and where you have just enough information to figure out for yourself how all the pieces connect. It is subtle and dark. Chris Nicholson clearly respects the intelligence of his audience and has made a film that frightens you , amuses you, and makes you think.

Michelle Nelson‘s film The Great Switch-a-roo is the story of a crazy plot two married men hatch in order to make their lives more exciting. Like all great plans, this one requires months of preparation, and though it doesn’t backfire, it has unintended consequences. In this film you find yourself identifying with the main character, yet slightly disliking him. This is a funny film about sexuality and ennui, and about marriage as something other than a unique bond between two people.

Each of the six filmmakers wove together a story with originality, with a unique aesthetic, and with emotional impact. Keep an eye out for these six filmmakers. They are bound to go far.

Be sure to come to the Melwood Gallery between April 30th and May 23rd to see the Senior Thesis Photography exhibit.


Pastoral Deluxe by Elin Lennox

April 23, 2010

Elin Lennox’s works, which are currently on display at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, consist of photographs of constructions she builds, with slight color adjustment. The theme is biological, and she states that her work stems from “a perverse biophilia.”


Each piece has the feeling of an ecosystem with many small bubbles, beads and bobbers, some medium-sized bulbs, and a few larger ones. Each element interacts with the others, creating an abstract scene that is altogether lifelike.

Her pictures contain recognizable objects as well as mysterious ones. There are egg yolks, whipped cream , glass bottles, and soap foam. There are objects that might or might not be blueberries, shells, fish eggs.

Her photo entitled Exhibit B has the feeling of a birth from ooze. The background imagery is somewhere between melting plastic film and a seafood dish, all with the aesthetic of a German kitchen circa 1982.

Exhibit G has clearly definable glass bottles and soap foam, as well as warm, glowing green and yellow circles. There is a background color that is a soft pink, over which objects are positioned that appear to be the outer skins of seashells . There are fractal lines in the soap and in the sand which look a bit like finger-painting, but are wholly organic.

Each piece is biological, and contains both the notion that we are looking at foods we eat, and that we are looking at biomes in all their activity, color, and life.

Pastoral Deluxe will be on display in Gallery 5 of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts until June 13th.


Fiberart at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts

April 20, 2010

The purpose of Fiberart exhibition at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts is to display innovative works of art using a variety of fabrics. The exhibition is “rooted in traditional fiber materials, structure, processes and history,” but has taken the craft in many directions.

As life complexifies, we create more metaphors to describe it. A common metaphor that has arisen is that of fabric. We talk about the social fabric of a city or nation, or the fabric of space-time. Fabric is never something of note in-and-of itself; It is what you do with the fabric, how you cut and reshape it, that is noteworthy. Each thread in our metaphorical fabric is an idea, a synecdoche for something larger, and the fabric itself, once finished, is the totality thus created. And with a little cutting and sewing, a new element can emerge.

In Fiberart, Leisa Rich‘s No Sense Crying Over Spilled Milk is interactive; there are pieces of embroidered vinyl that can be Velcroed onto a larger backdrop. Each image is iconic of modern society, so you can create your own social fabric out of the images you select.

There are a variety of works that look like paintings from afar, but when approached, are clearly made of fabric and thread. They have not just the illusion of depth, but actual depth. Indeed, Jayne GaskinsAs You Find It, Leave It, is a a pair of legs walking out of the canvas, and popping a few inches out of the wall.

As you fond it leave it

One work that particularly caught my attention was Hannah Streefkerk‘s fixing the landscape, a series of photographs of rocks in which apparent crevices are sewn together. It gives the rocks a patchwork feel, making them look fragile and old.

Ayelet Linderstrauss Larson, in Embroidered Scribbles on a Page in my Notebook, took a page filled with some serious group theory and embroidered the inevitable margin art into the page.

Craft and fine art have been merging in recent years, due in part to a do-it-yourself ethos and a commitment by many artists to use found objects and environmentally sustainable mediums. The medium of fiber is broad, and contains not only thread and fabric, but also teabags. In Garden Variations, Ruth Tabancay fused hundreds of dyed teabags to make a tapestry. Other artists used nylon, wool, recycled plastic, pine needles and coffee straws.

A fabric can be made of anything, so long as, once made, it can be reformed or re-purposed.

The Fiberart exhibition, presented by the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, will be on display until August 22nd.


Sheep Ranching and Belly Dancing

April 14, 2010

Among the many projects of Will Zavala, full-time instructor at Filmmakers, are two documentary films strikingly different in subject matter and aesthetic, but similar in theme.

The films are San Francisco Beledi, which documents the Bay Area based American tribal belly dance troupe FatChanceBellyDance, and Today I Baled Some Hay to Feed the Sheep the Coyotes Eat, which is about the lives of sheep ranchers in Montana. San Francisco Beledi focuses on the collision of cultures and the tension between the art and its reputation. The theme of Today I Baled Some Hay to Feed the Sheep the Coyotes Eat is to “bring people in touch with something they’ve become divorced from.”

Fat Chance Belly Dance

Although belly dancers and sheep ranchers represent different sides of the spectrum of American livelihoods, Zavala found that they have certain similarities. Both are down-to-earth people who are in touch with tradition. The dancers find inspiration for their work in the dances of nomadic peoples of the Middle East, and have created a hybrid of ancient and modern styles. The ranchers are also grounded in a nomadic tradition, following and tending their flocks.

The films have an opposite aesthetic impact. San Francisco Beledi is filled with the bright and intense colors of costumes and tattooed urban dancers. The light is strong, and in some scenes theatrical lighting was used, which intensified both color and shadow. The end result is a vibrant, kinetic film. Today I Baled Some Hay to Feed the Sheep the Coyotes Eat, on the other hand, has a muted tone. It takes place on the treeless hills of Montana in cloudy weather. Will Zavala explains that the sheep aren’t ever washed and thus “the sheep themselves get a little dirty.”

Dirty Sheep

In a documentary, certain scenes are salient, summarizing the theme in a few images and words. In the case of San Francisco Beledi, one such scene takes place in a restaurant where the women are dancing. They are on a stage that is in front of a window that faces out onto the street. As the women dance, two men are to be seen outside, pointing at the dancers and joking around. As this image is played, it is overlaid with an interview in which a dancer discusses the bad reputation of belly dancers, and her desire to rehabilitate the art. This scene represents the tension between the art and its image, as well as the dancers’ place as both artists and agents of social change. In Today I Baled Some Hay to Feed the Sheep the Coyotes Eat, the ranchers do not call a veterinarian or try to save ailing sheep, yet they help a sheep give birth. It shows how the ranchers “do not form bonds with the animals, yet are intimately involved with them.”

Both films are currently available for viewing. For more information on these films, go to Will Zavala’s website at


The Bicycle Thief

April 9, 2010

One question arises during a recession: With so much material wealth, and with so many able individuals willing to work, why is it that so many people are poor and unemployed? The answer doesn’t lie within the nature of the people, but within failures of the system at large. A movie that captures this state of affairs is The Bicycle Thief, which will be running at the Melwood Screening Room from April 9th to April 11th.

Lardi di Biciclette

The Bicycle Thief, Lardi di Bicilette in Italian, takes place in postwar Italy. It starts with a scene of young men lined up in front of the unemployment office demanding work. The officer only has four jobs to dole out, and he has already chosen who will get the jobs. Antonio Ricci, played by Lamberto Maggiorani, is given a job hanging posters around the city. The only hitch is that he needs a bicycle to do the job. However, he had previously pawned his bicycle, so his wife sells all their sheets to raise enough money to get his bicycle back.

The most striking scene in the film happens in the pawnshop. The pawnbroker collects her sheets, and then goes into a giant backroom filled floor-to-ceiling with laundry. He has to climb up over ten feet to find room to put hers. This scene shows the absurdity of a system that allows so much poverty in the midst of plenty.


Ricci then gets in a different line at the same pawnshop and retrieves his bicycle: one bicycle among many at the shop. For a moment he and his family are joyful. They can rebuild their lives, earn some money, eat well.

But on Friday, Ricci’s first day of work, his bicycle is stolen. He spends the weekend with his young son, searching for the thief, for the bicycle, for his chance at a livelihood and dignity.

Bicycle Black Market

The rest of the movie is his search. Everyone, including Ricci, perpetrate indignities. The police brush him off after he registers that his bike was stolen. Hucksters sell stolen bicycles at an open black market, and the police turn their backs on such a flagrant violation of the law. An old man who spoke with the thief claims not to know the boy. Ricci becomes aggressive with him, even to the point of bullying.

If you have ever been unemployed, if you have ever felt that the world was cold, unjust and uncaring, if you have ever been robbed, if you have ever had to beg for work, or had to compromise your morals for self preservation, then this movie will resonate. It shows how the system we’ve created harbors small cruelties, forcing us to turn into people we despise.


The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower

April 5, 2010

An interview with Connie Cantor, a Pittsburgh-based artist whose work appeared in Cluster, and is currently on display at the Rock Paper Scissors exhibit.

Connie Cantor

When I saw Connie Cantor’s painting, it spoke to me. I understood it on an intuitive level and had no logical reason, nor even words, to describe the feeling. I am not accustomed to this experience because I generally rationalize my intuition. I like to see things from a mathematical perspective; I deduce, infer, derive. Wanting to understand why I had this reaction, I set out to find answers through a logical process. My first step was to see Cantor speak at the Cluster panel discussion.

At Cluster she said, “I give myself permission to make art.” She spoke about how her art was not pre-conceived, and was based on intuition. Her explanation suited her art, but it did not explain why I felt a connection to her painting. In order to get a better understanding, I sought her out for an interview. I wanted to find out how our two different outlooks could have found a point of convergence in her painting.

I have come to the conclusion that the answer lies in our similar views of what consciousness is, but our divergent ways of handling our own consciousness. I see consciousness an illusion, a thin veil over the unconscious mind. It is often the traffic guard of the unconscious, directing attention. But it is also the policeman, judging the ideas that are fed to it, censoring. It is this action of the conscious mind that Cantor wants to circumvent. She says, “Your conscious self is your worst enemy. It is programmed with things that have nothing to do with you. The more you depend on your consciousness to define you, the further you get from truth.” She wants the full self to express itself without the intervening judgment and censorship of the conscious mind. This means that art isn’t preplanned consciously, yet what emerges is an authentic representation of the artist, and of an aspect of reality that needs to be expressed.

Being aware that I suffer under self-imposed limitations, I was drawn to Cantor at the Cluster discussion when she said that she gave herself permission to make the art that she makes. I ask her to describe this phenomenon to me. “It is the nut of the whole process. How do artists deny they are creative? How do people deny they are creative?” she asks. “They don’t give themselves permission to fail, to look like an idiot, to stumble around. What I am doing is stumbling. Stumbling is the only way to find something authentic.” To make art, you need to have a certain faith. It is a “faith in the core of yourself, a faith that something will emerge.”

Intuition is the driving force behind Cantor’s art, and she feels that art is made when the creator stops judging herself and allows the art to emerge. At this point, “the false self peels away,” and the artist is an integrated whole. When making art, she is not in control. “I surrender to some deeper wisdom that I have to trust won’t let me down.” She refers to this as “spiritual physics,” the law of which is “if you approach your work without judgment and fear, and with trust and faith, what you need is in you, even if buried under a million layers.”

In Cantor’s paintings, a variety of symbols tend to emerge. There are little houses, big forks, bones, chairs. When asked what these objects symbolize to her she says, “nothing. It is not my job to ask what they mean. When meaning is in your conscious brain, you stop. It is not helpful to deliver a conscious meaning. Don’t codify, solidify, freeze information or shape.” She likes what the recognizable objects do visually, “what they allow me to do.” They give her “the freedom to juxtapose and to transplant. I like them for the sheer fact that they are weird and out of place.”

Cantor does not plan her work, but rather allows the images and information to emerge. “For me, when something is planned, it falls flat.” She has a dialogue with the work and makes decisions, but tries to minimize that dialogue to allow what needs to come. She quotes Leonard Cohen, “’I write until something better than myself emerges.’ He doesn’t mean better than who he is, but better than he could have created consciously,” she explains.

Ceasing to judge yourself, having faith that there is something great in you that will emerge, and giving yourself permission to explore and grope until that light emerges are the underpinnings of her artistic philosophy. It is this approach, this freedom from the negative aspects of consciousness, that spoke to me through her painting.

For Cantor, making art is an all-encompassing process. Physicality and movement are important aspects of her work. She enjoys “accessing from the body as opposed to the mind.” The work becomes an extension of her body. If she feels separated, she stops, and gets back into the flow. She asks herself, “What do I need to do in this moment? Whatever the answer is, don’t censor that.” Judgment is a form of self-sabotage. It limits the artist. To make art, one must let go of judgment. One needs to grope. Here she quotes Dylan Thomas: “’The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.’ That is what art is to me,” she says. It is that vital force.

Connie Cantor’s work is currently on display at Artist Image Resource as part of the Rock paper Scissors exhibition. This exhibit is open until May 23rd.

Her work is also on display in a duo exhibit with artist Janise Hexon called Inside Glance at the Christine Frechard Gallery in Squirrel Hill. This exhibit ends on April 8th.

She will also be chairing the Interplay exhibit at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. This exhibit runs from June 25 to August 22, 2010 with the opening reception on June 25, 2010 from 5:30 – 8:00 pm.This is a major collaborative event with the PCA, AAP and the 8 guilds. It will be juried by Eric Shiner of the Warhol Museum.