The rusting, monolithic machinery of Carrie Furnace, rising over the faded neighborhoods of Rankin and Braddock like some kind of post-apocalyptic city of ruins, seems to be coming back to life.
In recent years, it has hosted everything from a major motion picture (“Out of the Furnace”), a Wiz Khalifa music video, an “American Ninja Warrior” taping and many photo safaris, festivals, dinners — even wedding parties.
Now, it has a panoply of site-specific art installations, under the banner of Alloy Pittsburgh. On Oct. 17, there will be tours of the installations hosted by the artists and led by local celebrities Rick Sebak, John and Gisele Fetterman and former Steeler Baron Batch. Food will be offered from Homestead’s Iron Oven, and drinks from Braddock’s Brew Gentlemen brewpub.
When the sun goes down, expect a screening of the Charlie Chaplin silent comedy classic “Modern Times,” which captures the spirit of the early industrial age.
“We’re partnering with Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp.,” says Pittsburgh-based artist Sean Derry, co-organizer of Alloy Pittsburgh. “They gained control of the site to offer interpretive programming. There’s been a spike in interest in the community.
“We’re building a comprehensive arts program, including metal-based arts that use iron-casting, as well as photo and graffiti programs.”
Carrie Furnace has always seemed to draw artists. The giant deer-head sculpture that was built there by local metal artists, using materials scavenged from the site, has passed into local legend.
It is a place that speaks to a lot of people, regardless of their connections with industry or Pittsburgh.
“I have lived in Pittsburgh for eight years now and was lucky enough to go to the furnaces on one of the first formal Rivers of Steel tours and was totally blown away,” says Derry, an assistant professor of sculpture at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “It kind of helped me establish a foundation and understanding of Pittsburgh, which has become our home now. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the city that gives you that glimpse of what the city was in that industrial heyday.
“I’d done a bunch of installations in abandoned spaces, and that intrigued me. How this ever-expanding creative talent that’s coming to the city, how we could engage them and offer an opportunity to directly engage this place and offer artwork that furthers our interpretation of the city’s history and this fantastic architectural marvel that’s still standing.”
The 15 artists selected for the Alloy project, which began in September, had extremely different approaches to the site. “There are serious projects and whimsical, playful projects,” says Chris McGinnis, an Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor and artist who’s helping organize Alloy Pittsburgh.
“We take the artist onto the site and undertake our research lab,” Derry says. “We bring in workers who used to work at the mill, and historians who did some work preserving it, and others who touched on it in a creative fashion.
“(Artist) Ricardo Robinson was influenced by the workers who talked about the different populations at the mill. He was interested in African-American workers and their invisibility in the history of industrial production. He created this musical group of faux steelworkers called the Steelfonics and created this room that was kind of their practice space, with sound compositions that you can hear on recording devices, record sleeves.”
Another artistic response came from Dan Ivec and Nick Liadis, “an architecture and creative-writing duo,” McGinnis says.
“They created their works, in part through ‘exquisite corpse’ drawing, using the historical archives,” he says. “First, you draw a little bit on a section of paper and hide all but a tiny edge. Another person takes off and draws another tiny section, and so on — for a total composite drawing by four different people who had no idea what each other person was doing.”
Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected] or 412-320-7901.