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Open Thread - Blog


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.


May 6th, 2009
Michael McParlane

weleski_photoThere’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.

rveatin_weleski-copyOT: 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:], 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.

May 6th, 2009
Michael McParlane

n4813632_32467187_4050I’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.

emilia2OT: 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 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.  



If you’re into inflammatory comments and scathing professional commentary, then an afternoon spent reading film reviews for the locally produced Gone the Way of Flesh will do your body good. Based on what I can tell, most critics think the film is poorly made, incoherent, and unwatchable schlock (though, in this writer’s eyes a little schlock never hurt anyone), but to get the whole picture of this little movie, we must first take a moment to learn about a band.

The band in question is a Pittsburgh based outfit going by the name of The Jason Martinko Revue (fronted, not surprisingly, by the multi-talented Jason Martinko), a band that takes classic ‘50s drive-in era rock and melds it with a swing/surf-punk sensibility to create a sound equally fresh and nostalgic. Formed in 1999, and performing (according to their website) “in countless seedy bars & roadhouses,” the band achieved a moderate level of success in 2003 when they released a self-titled album that had a modest number of sales. It was also around this time they came up with an extremely innovative way to promote their band: writing a movie.

That movie, of course, became Gone the Way of Flesh, a tale of a killer that was stalking women at rock concerts, kidnapping them, and visiting unspeakable tortures upon the groupies with a maniacal zest usually reserved for screen villains and Fox News correspondents. (Guess who portrayed the band in the film.)

Taken on its own, the film seemingly has plenty of faults, but when viewed as part of an inclusive multimedia experience, Gone the Way of Flesh takes on a truly engaging and fun perspective. (And it certainly has become such an experience: the band recently screened the movie at the Oaks Theatre in Oakmont, Pennsylvania—and immediately played a live set afterwards.)

gone-the-way-of-the-flesh3With the torture-oriented subgenre of horror becoming increasingly popular in recent years (think Saw or Hostel), and its audience growing larger and larger, the fact that Martinko and Co. tapped into this filmic subculture was ingenious, helping to push their music past the bar scene that can trap so many local bands. Not only that, the film itself has become something of a minor cult favorite, going so far as getting a glowing endorsement from the godfather of gore himself, Herschell Gordon Lewis.

“I thought I’d seen gory, irreverent, don’t-give-a-damn movies as far out as they could get. Wrong! That label now belongs to GONE THE WAY OF FLESH” – it’s right there on the DVD box. As far as the horror industry goes, it’s the seal of bloody approval.

Following the film’s 2007 release, the Jason Martinko Revue showed little sign of slowing down, releasing a new album, “Damaged Goods” (which, coincidentally, features a song titled “Gone the Way of Flesh”) and recently announced that their production company, the aptly named Cut’N’Run Productions, is already at work on creating a sequel, tentatively titled Gone the Way of Flesh II: Fresh Bloody Flesh.

martinko1So critics can say what they like, but when considering the innovative route the Jason Martinko Revue has taken in getting their music to the world, I can’t help but applaud their efforts. Whether they are getting screams from fans at their concerts or screams of terror in the theaters, I maintain that they are a bloody good time. 

This spring, Open Thread is holding its first-ever Tri-State Chapbook Contest  in partnership with Encyclopedia Destructica! We’re taking manuscript submissions now until June 1st, so check out our handy guidelines

Once the deadline rolls around, Open Thread will announce a set of finalists for each state – Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia – and send the manuscripts off to our final judges! So start submitting, and tell your regional cohorts! In the meantime, get to know our guest judges.



Ohio: Tyler Meier

Tyler Meier’s poems have appeared in AGNI, Cranky, Forklift, Ohio, Prism Review, and the Seattle Review. Poems are forthcoming from Bat City Review and Washington Square. He works as the managing editor of The Kenyon Review.





Pennsylvania: Claire Donato

Claire Donato grew up in and around Pittsburgh, PA. She is the former poetry editor of The New Yinzer and has studied poetry at The University of Pittsburgh and, most recently, Brown University. She is the author of a chapbook, Someone Else’s Body (Cannibal Books 2009). Her poetry and prose have been published or are forthcoming in journals such as Harp & Altar, Caketrain, Coconut, Fou, Gustaf, Dewclaw, The Open Face Sandwich, and Gray Tape. She currently lives in Providence, RI.



West Virginia: Isaac Pressnell

Isaac Pressnell received his MFA in poetry from West Virginia University. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Tar River Poetry, Ninth Letter, DIAGRAM, Opium, and Bravado. He lives in Keyser, WV where he teaches English at Potomac State College.



Tyler, Claire, Isaac, and all of us at Open Thread can’t wait to read your chapbook manuscripts, so upload yours now!


jazz-creamLittle over an hour south of Cleveland in a small town called New Philadelphia, I stood witness to an awesome funkadelic assault on the senses, a musical melee delivered by mercenaries of sound who call themselves The Jazz Cream Assassins, and admittedly, fell victim to the groove.

Originating in Athens, Ohio, but touring healthily around the eastern Ohio/Youngstown area, the Jazz Cream Assassins are a jazz outfit that harkens back to the era of 70s-era funk fusion. Being a big fan of 70s and 80s exploitation cinema, I could not help but be reminded of some of the very best grooves from some of my favorite blaxploitation film scores when the Assassins got into the midst of their instrumental riffing, and that, in of itself, is perhaps one of the highest compliments I can pay a group of white guys playing within this genre.

Fronted by Zach Quillen (though, with the extreme talent possessed by each and every member of the outfit, it’s hard to imagine just one man out front), the band melds traditional jazz with vocal oriented tracks (that would be Quillen’s smooth voice you hear) to create a soundscape at once familiar to smoky bars and gin joints, but also shockingly fresh and new. The band truly excels when they are playing one of their original tunes, such as the unabashedly direct “Dance Bitch”, which encourages you to do just that, or the band’s ultra funky titular tune, “Jazz Cream”, which I considered to be a great highlight of the evening, as it certainly got the boys and girls alike out on the dance floor to shake it like no one was watching.

The band also showed their innovative skills when playing cover versions of songs such as Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”, turning a straight-forward acoustic folk hit into an extended jazz number, complete with instrumental solos and a rhythmic breakdown that took Stephen Stills & company’s classic protest song and turned it into a sweat inducing jam.

By this point in the review, I think it is clearly obvious that I cannot recommend the Jazz Cream Assassins enough, and if you can get to see them live (and you should, they seem to have dates lined-up from here until the end of the Mayan calendar), you will not be disappointed.


For further information on the band, as well as several full length song samples, check them out on MySpace:


Pecha Kucha Night is a “high-energy showcase that started in Japan in 2003 and now occurs in over 110 locations globally.” Add Pittsburgh to the list and Open Thread to its proud participants!

In short (because that’s the style of Pecha Kucha, which means “chatter” in Japanese), each presenter uses 20 slides in 20 seconds to share her/his project, idea, or musings. Then the presenter must, in the website’s words, “sit the hell down.” The result is a fast-paced taste of what’s creative and exciting in Pittsburgh.

This Friday, April 3rd, AIA and AIGA (No, righteous populace, not AIG.) of Pittsburgh will hold their Pecha Kucha Night at 8pm in the Third Floor Gallery downtown. Tickets are $10 at the door. 

Open Thread co-director Scott Andrew and I will share why we started Open Thread, what it’s done so far, and where we’re taking it in 2009 and 2010. 

Our fellow presenters include Steelerbaby, Teresa Foley, Open Thread featured artist Laura Miller, and representatives from the Pittsburgh Signs Project.



Reading Period for Open Thread’s Tri-State Chapbook Contest Starts Wednesday, April 1st

Open Thread and Encyclopedia Destructica are collaborating on a new project, the first annual Tri-State Chapbook Contest, supported in part by a Seed Award from The Sprout Fund.

Three winning chapbook manuscripts – one from Ohio, one from Pennsylvania, and one from West Virginia – will be selected in June and produced by Encyclopedia Destructica for release in July. Guidelines for submissions can be found here.

The first round of reading begins on April 1st and concludes at midnight on June 1st, 2009 (the latest possible submission date). At that point, Open Thread will announce finalists and send them to guest judges (TBA). We can’t wait to start reading your poetry and prose!

March 29th, 2009
Adam Atkinson



img_05021The Open Thread Regional Review, Vol. 1, long previewed on our website, is finally hitting Pittsburgh this Thursday, April 2nd at INBOX/OUTBOX! It will sell for $15 at the event (way cheaper than online), and Encyclopedia Destructica’s Coatlicue 2 will sell for $10.

The event kicks off at 7pm at Encyclopedia Destructica Studios in Lawrenceville (address below) with readings by Coatlicue 2 contributors Mallory Monroe, Nick Rogers, and Wayne Wise – and Open Thread Regional Review contributor Lizzie Harris.

More Regional Review contributors read at 8pm: Alayna Frankenberry, Tom Laskow, Sally Wen Mao, Ben Pelhan, and Nicola Pioppi.

Throughout the night, selected artists from the Regional Review will display their work, including Danielle Brannigan, Elin Lennox, Michael McParlane, Jack Meade, Michael Pisano, and James Storch. Also, a silent auction featuring local businesses will raise money for the Tri-State Chapbook Contest, Open Thread’s new collaboration with Encyclopedia Destructica.



After the event, SPOILERS will host an after party at New Amsterdam in Lawrenceville, featuring DJs Lauren G and Nikkels, as well as video by Michael Mallis, Tom McConnell, Michael McParlane, and Michael Pisano. Thanks to SPOILERS, 10% of the bar benefits the Tri-State Chapbook Contest.

March 29th, 2009
Paul Cunningham

jan-beattyPittsburgh poet and Prosody radio host, Jan Beatty, will be heading to Slippery Rock University on April 22 for the release of the fourth edition of the literary publication, SLAB. She’ll be making an appearance as the evening’s keynote reader, providing the public with a taste of her ever-reaching craft. The event will begin at 7:30 PM at the University’s Russell Wright Alumni House.

Beatty’s poetry has appeared in Quarterly West, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, and Court Green, as well as anthologies published by Oxford University Press and University of Iowa Press. In 1994, her first book of poetry, Mad River, was honored with the Agnes Lynch Starret Poetry Prize of the University of Pittsburgh Press. 2008 marked the debut of her latest book, Red Sugar, which declared the ignored complications involving the interior and exterior thoughts of a woman’s body.

In addition to the book-launch, student sound/audio projects will also be showcased. The evening itself will contain a variety of odd and thought-provoking highlights, as well as the announcement of the recipients of the annual Elizabeth R. Curry Prize in Poetry.

Editor’s Note: The contributor is the Sound/Audio Editor, as well as a poetry and creative nonfiction reader, for SLAB.


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