Archive for May, 2009
Printwork-friendly Pittsburgh facility, AIR (Artists Image Resource), a non-profit artist-run organization, provides the necessary tools for personal, professional, traditional, and contemporary printmaking projects. AIR resources primarily include a Digital Imaging Lab, Lithography Shop, Intaglio Shop (etching), and additional workshops for papermaking and letterpress. Silk screening is a very popular component of AIR.
It has been home to more than 50 professional artists since its launch in 1996, and many of the past artists’ prints can be seen in room after room of the building—some can still be purchased. Local artist Ayanah Moor, is currently an Associate Professor of Art at Carnegie Mellon University who completed Alphabet A-Z in 2001, printwork which was completed at AIR. Each of the 26 screenprints (22”x30”) contained a definition exploring African-American slang. In 2000, John Thomas Pusateri, an Associate Printmaker at CMU, worked with AIR to complete a project that required relief, intaglio, litho, and screen.
Other records include prints from Patricia Villalobos-Echeverría, a transcultural artist who grew up in Nicaragua and addresses many of conflicts and natural disasters that Nicaraguans have faced. Villalobos uses personal texts and imagery to illustrate her themes of humanity and oppression.
But one need not be an established print artist to benefit from AIR. The facility provides public access to an Open Studio on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 7-11 PM, which, for a nominal fee, grants guests the use of work space and printing materials for whatever the task at hand. Many regulars spend time at AIR completing flyer/poster projects, book-binding ventures and the occasional line of clothing. If you have the time—and the ink—anything’s possible. Silk screen sizes are available from 8”x10” to 40”x60”. Don’t fret if you forget any supplies: inks (acrylic & textile) and paper materials are available for a small price. Also, the managing artists at AIR are always willing to lend a hand to those new to the silk screening process. It’s also a pretty appealing sanctuary for local artists interested in shop rentals or a place to plan their next exhibition. Once you’re inside, there’s a good chance you’ll feel right at home.
In addition to its studio availability, AIR offers services ranging from Contract Printing to Project Consultation, which includes assistance with print-related academic projects within local schools and universities. AIR has worked with the Andy Warhol Museum on programs for Schenley High School on several occasions.
Artists Image Resource is located at 518 Foreland Street, on the North Side of Pittsburgh.
There’s a good chance you’ve already experienced native Pittsburgher Dawn Weleski’s work in and around the city. Whether you’ve read her newspaper in the South Side, chatted with her over a tasty meal served out of an RV, or stumbled upon an opera while waiting for the bus to arrive, Dawn’s work forces you to rethink everyday experience. Her public works can be seen as social and political stress tests that cause witnesses to question their typical social behaviors, as they disrupt the familiarity and comfort of the everyday experience.
I asked Dawn to speak about her current projects, as well as a little about the experience she has had living here in the Pittsburgh area. To learn more about Dawn and her art, you can check out the Bus Stop Opera homepage. In the meantime, be on the lookout, because you just might be surprised to one day yourself a participant in her work.
OT Blog: You grew up just outside of Pittsburgh, I believe in Tarentum, before you became a student at Carnegie Mellon University, where you tried out several majors prior to landing in the School of Art. Since graduating this past December, you’ve decided to stay in the area, living in Regent Square. What is it about the city that keeps you here? What makes you a proud Pittsburgher?
Dawn Weleski: Yes, I’m from a town northeast of Tarentum called Natrona Heights. Tarentum was the first town in the mainland United States that struck oil, and Natrona was named from “Natrium,” the Latin word for salt. There is a huge salt mine near the mills that supplied the compound for the defense department’s creation of the first atomic bombs. The mills, mines, and industry in Natrona and Brackenridge employed all of my grandparents—and their parents—when they arrived from Poland. The women were employed in PPG (Pittsburgh Plate Glass) and ALCOA (Aluminum Company of America) factories. Even my dad paid his way through art school by working in night shifts in the mill after class. Living near this industry, hearing the stories of so many industry families, and being raised on the fruits of my ancestors’ labor with these materials makes me proud to be a Pittsburgher. It’s the positive, steady values of industry, though not the industry itself, that have sustained Pittsburgh and its people, especially in these tough economic times. Therefore, as a young professional, I can enjoy a low cost of living, burgeoning creative high and sub-cultures, decent employment opportunities, support for small for-profit and not-for-profit enterprises, and down-to-earth neighbors. Chicago, New York, and DC are only a drive away, as is some of the nation’s best hiking and camping.
OT: This past year you were awarded a grant to fund the Bus Stop Opera, an interdisciplinary, public performance work. You managed to successfully coordinate a group of mostly student actors, musicians, singers, and writers to perform songs from the point of view of everyday bus riders at stops across the city. Can you explain a little about the process leading up to these performances as well as the objectives behind the project?
DW: Bus Stop Opera places investigations of the everyday within the realm of the extraordinary and sublime. The operas agitate the routine private space within one’s public transportation ride through conversation and transform the everyday public space of bus stops around Pittsburgh through operatic performance of the same conversations. Basically, we have conversations with folks on buses and at bus stops, which are then, almost verbatim, transcribed into libretto. A composer then scores for the libretto, and, after a week of rehearsals, the songs are performed at Pittsburgh area bus stops with a full musical ensemble, including violin, cello, trombone, and bass. Once the 20 minute “operetta” is done, we hop on the next bus and re-perform the same songs at bus stops down the line, all throughout Pittsburgh. The operas accumulate mementos of the lives of Pittsburghers who utilize public transportation and frame the mundane as high art. The project is most successful when the public, engaged in conversation with our actors, are implicated as participants when the conversation begins to be sung. The public becomes part of the performance by meeting the gaze of the singers, and bus riders realize that they are on the “stage” and more readily relate and empathize with the narratives presented.
The project has several objectives: (1) to allow creative people from different disciplines to collaborate and, hopefully, create a richer product due to that collaboration; (2) to remind the public and art audiences alike that “Art” sometimes finds inspiration outside of one’s self, and, maybe, the product of that inspiration can be more relevant and successful if it’s placed back into the context from whence it came; (3) to question the notion of public and private, personal and general, at spaces, such as bus stops, that can be defined and are utilized as either. I’ve overheard so many cell phone conversations on the bus that maybe should have been kept private! Overall, we’ve performed along twenty different bus routes, written ten songs about ten distinct Pittsburghers, and engaged in hundreds of conversations with strangers. I’m most surprised when strangers, who normally wouldn’t speak to each other, bond over this odd experience happening within their space. We’ve had folks miss their buses to see the whole performance and nod or shout out in agreement upon hearing the song lyrics. Every part of the process is valuable, including the performance. When strangers become a part of a collective experience, the effect of the work is amplified.
OT: Recent works like the Bus Stop Opera and RV Eatin’ [link to RV Eatin’ in PG] (a collaboration with Laura Miller [link to Laura’s blog post] and Claire Hoch, in which the three of you served homegrown, home-cooked meals out of an RV at various events and locations in Pittsburgh in the hopes of generating good conversation) rely immensely on the element of public interaction. With both of these works, the public plays a large role in their completion, and because of it, there is a natural evolution that occurs. Can you speak about this angle of change and randomness within the work, as well what it’s like to cede so much control to the public?
DW: I’m interested in creating artwork that lends agency to its audience. When I implicate my audience as a participant in the creation of the work, I’m lending them agency on the most basic level. Firstly, the can choose to participate. Secondly, based on initial boundaries that I create, my audience lends life to the format I present to them, whether through a community newspaper (”Regular”), family meals, or conversations on public transportation. Thirdly, because the audience becomes part creator/owner of the work, the art tends to have greater longevity, scope, and relevance to a greater whole. In some instances, the art can live beyond the artist. I find work that exists within the context which inspires it, exists for the most appropriate time and audience, whether for a split second or generations. I don’t create all of my work under this auspice, as different messages and subjects require different methods and media. However, even ancient media, such as fresco and egg tempera, were created to convey messages to their audience that would educate and prescribe meaning. Historically, religious icons and altar pieces, as well as public murals depicting social controversy and historical events, qualified objects and images as conduits of dramaturgical and ritualistic metanoia. My work reasserts the necessity for the public to devise its own social penance and cultural transformations.
OT: What can OT Blog readers expect to see from you in the future?
DW: Starting May 8, Claire Hoch and I will have a piece in the Mattress Factory “Gestures” show. We’re building a 12 foot silo that will sit outside of the annex space that acts as a vending machine for capsulated native seeds and discusses the communal agricultural history of the area. The silo, accessible during non-gallery hours, encourages the public to reclaim the “Commons” of the North Side by planting in sidewalk areas zoned by the city for trees. Additionally, the public that enters the gallery space will have a chance to drop the capsules into the silo via a long pipe. The public will fill, and the public will vend. Later that month, Bus Stop Opera is traveling to New York City to perform as part of HomeBase [link: www.homebaseproject.com], a residency and exhibition exploring the notion of home. Hopefully, New York City’s bus riders are just as engaging as Pittsburgh’s. We’re excited to see what will come of the performances in a different city and are considering touring to cities around America.
I’ve known Emilia Edwards for a while now, having spent long hours in the studio alongside her during our time at Carnegie Mellon University as art students. I’ve watched her work develop exponentially over the years and I’m always excited to see what she has been up to. She will so often have something new and nasty to show, whether it be the baby octopi she is using to print with or the latest issue of a muscle magazine she’s chopping up into a collage.
In addition to being a great artist, she’s also a fan of America’s Next Top Model, which only makes her more appealing (at least to me). I asked her a few questions about her work and how Pittsburgh has been treating her.
Here’s what she had to say:
OT Blog: You came to Pittsburgh in the summer of 2004 to begin an undergraduate degree in Fine Art at Carnegie Mellon University. Since graduating in May of last year, you decided to stick around. What about the city made you want to stay? What makes is an ideal place for young artists?
Emilia Edwards: I just like it here. It’s a nice place to live. There’s always something going on, and everybody is welcome everywhere.
I moved to Pittsburgh when I was 18 from Albuquerque, New Mexico. I knew next to nothing about the city, or even the state of Pennsylvania. I hated Pittsburgh when I first moved here. I was used to sunny weather and a grid. Pittsburgh was, at first, dreary and confusing but after living here for a while I began to learn more about the city and discover its charms.
Pittsburgh is an interesting place to be a young artist because there are opportunities available to everyone here that would be hard to come by in a larger city. After living here for five years I have far more experience showing my work than I would if I lived in a place where exhibition space is more exclusive. Also, it is entirely possible to make something creative happen from scratch here.
OT: Your work often deals with the grotesque, be it depictions of rotting meat, bulging bodybuilders, ugly babies, or serpentine cryptids. Where do you think the inspiration for much of this imagery comes from?
EE: I’ve always been fascinated by twisted and shocking images. My interest in horror movies and comic books began at a young age and continues to influence my art. Sea creatures are a recurring theme in my work. I like drawing ocean life because the result is usually part dinosaur, part alien, and part monster. Many of the images in my work are sourced from the pictures in medical journals, bodybuilding magazines, food magazines, Discovery Health shows about plastic surgery, the meat section in supermarkets, aquariums, and my own photography. I collage together ideas from photos and diagrams. I’m usually striving for a kind of ugly elegance in my work.
OT: Has anything in Pittsburgh particularly piqued your interest in the putrid and gross?
EE: I actually think Pittsburgh has contributed a certain beauty to my work that I wouldn’t find elsewhere. I have used drawings of Pittsburgh and several other industrial cities (Detroit, Bilbao and Frankfurt to name a few) as backdrops for my comics. The dramatic cityscape is an ideal setting for a fantastical narrative to take place.
OT: You were recently chosen by the arts organization Creative Time for their web project Creative Time Comics, where artists are invited to create a one-page web comic meant to address the issues facing our world. How did you get involved with them and what can we expect to see?
EE: I became involved with Creative Time through a former visiting professor at Carnegie Mellon. Christopher Sperandio was asked to contribute a page to the project and thought my work would fit well with the web format and content. From there CT contacted me and asked if I would contribute a page about something relating to “here and now”.
My page goes up June 1st at http://creativetime.org/comics. I am currently drawing a segment of a narrative about a deformed frog that lives in black water. It’s about the environment but the tone is not moral-driven. It’s a story about a toxic place and its inhabitants.
OT: What else can we look forward to from Emilia Edwards?
EE: I’m moving to Providence in July to start a graduate degree at Rhode Island School of Design. Until then I have a few projects lined up. I currently have a drawing on view in A Beckoning Country: Art and Objects of the Champlain Valley at the University of Vermont’s Fleming Museum. The piece is a preparatory drawing for Champy, a wall painting featuring Lake Champlain’s resident monster. My contribution to the Creative Time Comics project will go up in June. I am also working on some new ideas for giant wall art.
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