Archive for June, 2010



June 30, 2010

Interplay, a collaborative exhibition of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Filmmakers, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and eight affiliated guilds, is open to the public at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts until August 22nd.  It contains 49 works by 45 artists working in a variety of media, from paint, to film, to metal, to found objects. The central theme of the exhibit, interplay, has been interpreted by the artists in a variety of ways. Some explore the interplay of societal elements, some the intersection of opposite ideas, some the visual interplay between colors, words, objects, and images, and some strive to uncover cognitive dissonance.


Artists have a certain ability to expose unexpected dualities. There are the bright hues of domestic banality, seen through the door and window of a house at nighttime in a video by Lizzy De Vita. In Alan Byrne’s “Crime and Punishment,” there is the glamour of crime set opposite the electric chair, that most brutal, grimy, and barbaric object of correction.  Interplay juror Eric Shiner refers to these as “binarisms and juxtapositions.” They are thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, combing nature and urbanity, wealth and poverty, sentimentality and scientific profundity, and even the crushing sadness of homelessness with the Barbie-dream life gaiety.

wormhole schematicSome artists focused on a visual interplay. Daniel Brickman’s ”Wormhole Schematic” is made of straight lines of thread which yield the illusion of curved space. The crossing of angles and lines creates a sense of roundness.

Christina Zaris, in her video Kaleyedoscope, looks backwards through a kaleidoscope at an eye,  turning it into an element of an ever-changing pattern. It is a creepily fascinating mosaic, in which eyelashes, veins, and the iris and pupil rise and subside, form stars, ovals, and cross hatches, and occasionally flash out of view for a moment due to a blink.

Nature vs. NurtureHisham Youssef’s “Nature vs. Nurture” consists of barbed wire around a tree, as well as some pesticide and fungicide. It creates a radically different interpretation of the word versus in that eternal psychological debate. It does not ask which one is more prominent, but rather which one is capable of destroying the other.

Continental DriftWendy Osher’s  “Continental Drift” is a map of the world made of clothing labels. Each nation is the size of the labels that make it up, causing Hong Kong to be the size of China, Mexico to be larger than the USA, and altogether causing a general bulge around the equator, that part of the Earth where hot climates and industrial slavery intersect.

James Maszle’s  “Perfect Night” is a mixed media piece with glow in the dark, disassembled mannequins, a small glowing Jesus standing prayerful next to a severed plastic hand, owls, flowers, a fence, and various other staples of suburban society. It reminds me of a summer night in the suburbs, when, in an attempt to stave off ennui, we would vacillate between staying in our black-light lit basements filled with our parents’ old broken objects and our glow-in-the-dark posters, and being outside on the vast lawns that passed for nature.

Each of the 49 pieces exposes a different contradiction, explores a different dichotomy, or rightly fractures what is often considered a unity.


Ag Works Artist Collective at Melwood Gallery

June 24, 2010

The purpose of the Ag Works artist collective is to provide a cooperative environment in which artists can share work, learn from one another, and ultimately grow as artists. They started as a group of Filmmakers photography alumni, but now also include artists working in a variety of media. They are currently exhibiting works in a show called Interstitial at the Melwood Gallery.

Each artist has his own vision, and there are a great variety of styles, messages and moods to be seen in the exhibit. Many of the works focus on the phenomenon and manipulation of memory or on identity. The show starts out with the works of Matt Robison, whose untitled works depict the contrast between rustic and industrial symbols, and which accentuate the shapes of everyday objects.

Julia BoduraOpposite Matt’s photos are the works of Julia Bodura, personal pieces about transformation. They are entitled Photosynthesis: Seeing the Light, and consist of pictures of people superimposed on autumn leaves. They range from the roots, the dream, the conflict, and the epiphany to the awakening, each growing more personal and each showing a subsequent stage in the transformation of the artist.

Laura Jean Kahl’s piece, The Onerous Nature of Oneself, is deeply personal, and it shows the artist’s process of trying to discover how she is perceived by other people. Each picture shows Laura, at first clothed and wearing a mask that was originally intended to be a self-portrait, but proved to be unrecognizable as such to viewers. In subsequent photos, she undresses and removes the mask. At the end she is in her basement, naked, cutting her hair, and thus greatly altering her physical identity.

Bryan ConleyBryan Conley’s works are psychological in nature. They explore how memories are manipulated by the brain, which warps, blends, and often loses information. His photos represent this phenomenon in their use of lines, shadows, blurred faces, almost unrecognizable forms, ambiguous shapes, and shadows.

mandy kendallMandy Kendall explores what she calls our “collective childhood,” that orange hued vision of odd and remarkable plastic creatures to be found at carnivals and theme parks. She used a tricolor gum bichromate process to produce dreamy, colorful, sepia-ish images of a clown, a lion fountain, a jack-in-the-box, a chicken, and the shoe of old-lady-who-lived-in-a-shoe fame. It is reminiscent of Zippy the Pinhead and his living in a state of perpetual nostalgia.

Magali Duzant also focuses on nostalgia, but in her case it is “a nostalgia that is not the artist’s own.” Our memory is often superseded by the images others have put before us, especially in film. She refers to this process as “appropriation of memory.” Her photos pose people as if they were in movies, and there is a moody and purposeful placement of objects.

Interstitial will be at the Melwood gallery through August 1st.


Survival of the Dead

June 17, 2010

Most monsters are essentially predators. They aren’t necessarily evil, just hungry, and humans have the bad luck of being their food. This type of monster resonated with humanity’s sense of cruelty and evil for much if its existence, when predation was a viable threat. However, in our wacky modern world, we need a new type of monster. A lion, a dragon, a Grendal just won’t cut it. We need a monster that represents the greatest threat to humanity, namely, mass stupidity. We need zombies.

survival of the deadWhy are zombies so awesome?  They aren’t just plain evil for the sake of evil; they’re mindless evil. They are the creatures whose unreflective bloodlust poisons and destroys everything. They are monsters whose creepiness comes from their incessantly continuing in the same direction, slowly plodding down a path of destruction. They are the shell of humanity around a rotting core. They are acting as they’re programmed to, without thought or reflection.

They are monsters that go to the mall.

survival of the deadNo one has explored these themes better than Pittsburgh’s local filmmaker George Romero, whose Survival of the Dead will be playing at the Harris Theatre. His films explore two aspects of zombies, first, what the zombies themselves represent, and second, what happens to the human survivors during zombie outbreaks. His films comment on phenomena from social class (the zombie outbreak beginning in a slum, but only being reported on by the press once it had reached the middle class), to social cohesion (people forming factions, suffering from internecine warfare when they could otherwise team together to deal with larger problems, such as zombies).

And there is something satisfying about watching a zombie take a heavy hit to the body, lose a limb or two, stutter a little to regain his footing, then continue blundering along.

Survival of the Dead will be playing at the Harris Theater from June 18 to June 24.


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

June 14, 2010

Note: The following post is intended for a female audience. It is explicit and graphic.

According to a 1998 Department of Justice Report, 1 out of 6 women are the victim of rape or attempted rape. The National Victim Center found that 83.8 percent of women who were raped were under the age of 25, 61.6 % were under 18, and 30% were under 10. One thing that the statistics do not show is how many women were repeatedly raped by the same person. Quite often, a woman is the target of abuse on a daily basis for weeks, months, or years.

Although The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a murder mystery, it is really about rape. There are many ways to deal with victimization, but, no matter what you do in reality, you will most likely have violent revenge fantasies. Years later, you have a family, children, you feel safe and happy. But then at night, you’re lying there imaging that you had gouged out his eyes, had cut his stomach open, filled it with rocks, and pushed him off a cliff. You wish you could have tattooed ‘sadist’ on his chest. Mostly you imagine stabbing him repeatedly. There are certain places where no one may ever touch you, not even your husband or wife. When they ask why, you just say, ‘because.’

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is therapeutic because, in it, the characters enact revenge. They kill, beat, and tattoo their tormentors. Jhonen Vasquez once said that our violent fantasies prevent us from committing violence. They are our healthy escape. Yet we never feel quite right telling people, ‘I spent an hour today imagining new ways to tear a trachea.’ So we just don’t talk about our violent fantasies; we let them stew.

For many women this film will be a relief. And there is enough going on in the film that, after it’s over and you go to the local pub to discuss it, you can talk about the clues, the suspense, the main character’s clothing, and not have to mention that what you saw is aligned with the world of dark, paranoid fantasies that we all silently share.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will be playing at the Harris Theater June 14th through June 17th.


Faculty Profile: Sue Abramson

June 9, 2010

As part of the Library talk series at Filmmakers, professor Sue Abramson showed her portfolio and described her adventures in having a portfolio critique. She also shared her new website,

Sue Abramson, professor of photography here at filmmakers, has focused for many years on photographic images that grow organically from her garden.  The first part of her portfolio consists of large black and white images of elephant ears, the leaves of a plant with bulbous veins.  These are not traditional photographs, but rather toned gelatin silver and lumen photograms, which can take between five hours and three days to produce. “Gardeners have rituals,” Sue says of her artistic process. She grows, harvests, and then images the leaves at various stages of decay. When first picked, these leaves have a featherlike quality; they have a strong central axis and radial lines with further fractal radials splitting off. As time progresses, the leaves decay, first by darkening and developing holes, then by fracturing and curling. The axis and radials that were once a striking white are now black, the darkest part of the picture. These images have a visceral quality; they look like hearts and lungs and diseased organs.  Sue likes the juxtaposition in her portfolio of the “fresh leaf, clean and pure, next to one that’s decomposing already.” These photographs can be found on her new website,

elephant ear

At her talk, Sue gave advice to other photographers who were interested in having portfolio reviews, or who were interested in getting into the business of selling their work. Her advice was to meet with a variety of critics, and to choose one’s critics wisely. On a recent trip to the Houston Fotofest, she met with eight critics over the course of a week. Most gave helpful critiques, but a few seemed either disinterested or had radically different notions of where she should go with her work. She occasionally got conflicting advice. One reviewer suggested she get an abandoned house, hang up her photos in every room, and call it ‘The Greenhouse.’ What was important, though, was to know how others perceived her work. When you show a piece of art to a friend, he will say, “that’s great!” If you show it to a critic, he will say, “consider using a slightly different filter. Also, what will your edition size be?”

Sue also recommended that your portfolio be technically perfect. If there is a physical flaw, a reviewer may be tempted to focus on the flaw, rather than the overall design. It is important to force the critic to address the content and aesthetics of the picture. Bring a portfolio of approximately 20 prints. You can bring additional works that are not part of the portfolio, and politely ask the reviewer if he would like to see them after he has reviewed your main body of work.  Be sure to have a leave-behind of some sort; anything from a business card to a CD of jpegs, to a gimmicky matchbox will do.

One major advantage of going to a portfolio critique event like the one held in Texas is meeting other photographers. You can see the work of amateurs, professionals, and even famous artists. You can get each other’s opinions, and above all, you can network with one another.

First and foremost in selling or showing your work is to network. The art world is not an organized entity with a central bureaucracy, but rather a disorganized club in which every member has a different version of the secret handshake. Your best bet is to meet as many people as possible, no matter how tangentially they are connected to your field of work. If you make an impression on them, they may choose to exhibit your work a few years down the line when their focus has changed. They might introduce you to someone who would be interested in showing or buying your work. Or they might simply buy you a beer.


Exit through the Gift Shop at the Harris

June 3, 2010

If the streets belong to us, why can’t we make them in our own image? Graffiti is the practice of making public art at personal expense.  At its best it is social commentary, and fittingly so.

As part of the Three Rivers Film festival, the Harris Theater will be showing the film Exit through the Gift Shop, a film about graffiti and street art directed by Banksy, one of the most notorious and elusive graffiti artists.

Banksy’s art comments on society, politics, nature, art and even other graffiti. He incorporates pieces of the urban landscape into his works, which tend to show a nostalgia for nature and preurbanization. Many convey the sense of imprisonment, showing people locked up or immobilized. His art is often sarcastic, poking fun at politicians, businessmen, and the masses.


The film itself is a documentary about a man who attempted to make a documentary about Banksy. Thierry Guetta happened to start filming his cousin, known also as Space Invader, a man who created images of space invaders and plastered them around Paris. Through his cousin, he became acquainted with other makers of street art, such as Shephard Fairey, and, over the years, collected hundreds of hours of footage of their lives and works. Guetta met with a variety of artists, but would not be satisfied until he met Banksy, the most famous one. He eventually found him, and was even permitted to film him. Banksy appears in the film hooded and in shadow, his voice modified.

However, Banksy found Guetta to be himself an interesting subject matter and thus turned the film into a study of his work, and the history of the street art movement. Guetta becomes the central figure of the film. He is wacky and energetic, perpetually moving and filming, even when there is nothing of note to be filmed.

Some moviegoers see the film as sincere, while others are certain the whole thing is a stunt perpetrated by Banksy at the expense of the masses.


Free Courses at Filmmakers in June

June 2, 2010

Here is a common phenomenon in our modern times of endless possibility. Every day we have a different dream about who we are and who we want to become. We create elaborate plans in our heads about how to become organic farmers, or portraiture artists, or famous photographers, or zoologists, but back out of these plans because we realize that going down any one path would limit us from choosing the infinitely many other, equally awesome potential life paths.

These notes are tangentially related to the topic at hand, namely, that Filmmakers is offering free introductory courses in a variety of artistic media throughout the month of June. These courses are for people who have never taken a class at Filmmakers before.

These are ways to see if the path of the artist is one you want to take, or to dabble in, or even just to visit for a few hours.

To sign up, call Filmmakers at 412-681-5449.

Basics of Photoshop:                                  Wed, June 9, 6–8:00
Portraiture:                                               Wed, June 16, 6–8:00
Posting on the Web (stills and video)           Wed, June 23, 6–8:00

Digital Still Camera:                                   Tues, Jun 8, 6:00–9:30