Visual Sounds (Part II), MATTRESS FACTORY | MARCH 4 - NOVEMBER 8, 2001
Pittsburgh is a city blessed with a physical and historical foundation for a commitment to the arts. Large affordable abandoned architectural relics of an industrial age inevitable draw an arts community. The native Heinz family (the condiment magnates) believed that development of the arts and culture of the city would lead to economic growth; this has served as the city’s modus operandi. The Carnegie Institute and Museum, Heinz Center for Performing Arts, the Regional History Center, and the Warhol Museum can be visited on a weekend trip to this picturesque city of bridges, dotted with public art by Louise Bourgeois, Aleksandr Brodsky, and Ann Hamilton. All this born of the symbiosis of art and ecnomy underlying this city’s recurrent renaissance.
On Pittsburgh’s North Side, The Mattress Factory's global perspective is ambitious, its scope far-reaching. Despite the world-class sophistication, it is also live with groups of local kids and Midwestern visitors. Temporary shows and a growing archive of permanent exhibits address contemporary issues and trends,
Visual Sound (Part II) consists of nine sculpture/aural works. Three of the artists live and work in Berlin, a city with a tradition of support for sound installations. In his poetic installation Why Pink, Why Yellow? Rolf Julius asks, “What sounds would the color red make?” Christina Kubisch’s catacomb-like basement installation invites us to listen with earphones to a chorus of sounds that depend on our movement around the damp cave-like room. A sense of experiment and play in the laboratory/studio characterizes these works and those of Terry Fox, Hans Peter Kuhn, Qin Yufen, Akio Suzuke, Takehisa Kosugi, and Robin Minard. In all, the nine artists represent seven nationalities.
The exhibit, running though July, is housed in the main building, which was converted 25 years ago from an abandoned mattress factory. It continues in an annex around the corner, where Patrice Carre has installed Igor Wagner’s Has Gone to the Races. It gives the appearance of actual size and is raised above ground level to look like a an upper room with a small ladder reaching down to the gravel bed surrounding the house. The house itself is an image completed in the imagination, the cues provided. In the interiors—a piano, classical sheet music, and a framed portrait of the artist in armor; the “paintings” and other objects in the room are imbued with the poetic significance in keeping with the simple message of the installation. Like the protagonist of one of Seamus Heaney’s poems in his collection Electric Light, the young musician in this installation is “Privileged and unenvied, left alone/ In four bare walls to face the exercise,/ Eyes shut, shoulders straight/ back, cold hands out/ Above the keys.” Outside, a bicycle leans against a wall as evidence of the escaped pupil. The embarrassingly loud sound of the gravel as we walk away from the installation defies the regularity of the recorded piano scales heard by climbing the short ladder to better view the interior of the room. The sounds of “high art”; they are weighed in the viewer’s mind. Not only do we leave with this task, but we have also unwittingly enacted the scene according to the artist’s directions.
Two permanent installations by artists in residence Yayoi Kusama and James Turrell are valuable Pitt-stops for art lovers. In Kusama’s Repetitive Vision (on long term loan) a mirrored room reflects large polka dots on the mannequins, reminiscent of the dressing room at Loehmans. This low-tech spectacle is strangely welcoming and conducive to some kind of shared experience among viewers milling around both the mannequins and their own mirrored images. The feeling of Kusama’s 60s installations makes a home in this unlikely spot, a piece of contemporary history which ties into the proximity of the Warhol Museum and brings to mind their parallel contributions to the beginnings of installation art. Indeed, Repetitive Vision is a 1996 work completed in-situ by this artist who makes her life and work in a cloistered psychiatric institution in Japan.
Two new permanent works by James Turrell, Roden Crater Project and Gasworks, will be installed over a total of 10,000 square feet in the two buildings, and are to be completed in 2002. At present there are several installations that, in Turrell’s characteristically reductive language, affirm the presence of the transformative spirit in art. Turrell’s Catso, Red in one corner, and Danae, a blue square at the far wall of another room, face the viewer in a dialogue which is part interrogation and part visual gift. This confrontation is with a visual image that is finite but without mass. They are not object’s d’art. The panel is created with blacklight and incandescent room light balanced to create an illusion of a different sort than that traditionally deployed in painting. In fact, the exploration of two and three dimensional space is augmented with intimations of the space created by electronic devices; either projected or reflected on a digital or video screen—without the object housing the created image. The perception of the depth of Danae changes with our distance from it. Upon facing it squarely it is flat, but with distance it can read as a recess. Catso can be read as a panel jutting across a corner. It confounds the actual architectural space and function of the room. Turrell seems to succeed in evoking the transformative experience that is the modernist aim, while at the same time addressing issues of space, dimension, and illusion in the technological age.