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Artist builds works from shreds of the past

Street art, such as Shepard Fairey’s ubiquitous Obama “Hope” poster, has become a popular form of expression during the past decade. But, pasted posters have been a part of American urban culture since the early 1970s, when posters advertising rock shows were slapped on everything from construction barriers to telephone poles. And in Europe, the tradition stretches back even further when theater posters were pasted all over Paris during the Belle Epoque, the “Beautiful Era,” that lasted from about 1880 to 1914.

The poster element over the past century has become more than a mere visual representation. It’s become urban artifact. Rarely taken down after the events they advertise are over, they are usually just pasted over with new posters advertising the latest rock concert or monster-truck show. So much so, in some cases, that when Chilean artist Felipe Garcia-Huidobro, 36, moved to Barcelona to attend graduate school in 2005, he noticed that street posters would grow layer upon layer around poles to the point of, in some cases, falling off in rings like bark from a tree.

“I felt like they were part of the city, because they are like organic bodies growing in the city,” he says. “It’s amazing.”

Noticing that “all of these layers grow in the city like a tree, and they have memory because of all the events and happenings in the city,” Garcia-Huidobro decided the only proper thing to do was to “cut and collect all of the layers from the street that had been growing, layer by layer, for the past 10 years,” and make them into art.

“This is one piece of paper cut from 400 kilograms of paper,” he says, pointing to “Culture Boy,” a massive work made from layers of Culture Club show posters.

The piece is part of “Memory Shredder,” Garcia-Huidobro’s latest solo show at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s 707 Penn Gallery, Downtown.

Garcia-Huidobro was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1975. He received his bachelor’s degree in architecture from the Universidad Finis Terrae, and his master of arts degree from Universidad Politecnica de Catalunya in Barcelona. He lives and works between Santiago and Pittsburgh.

For Garcia-Huidobro, advertising may provide the material for the creation of his art, but it is collage, or rather “decollage,” that is the mode of operation. “I call it decollage, because I take out paper and whatever is behind appears,” Garcia-Huidobro says.

In “Culture Boy,” bits and pieces of other posters can be seen underneath holes Garcia-Huidobro has made in the surface of the outer layers.

The work is reminiscent of the Parisian ”affichistes” Raymond Hain and Jacques de la Villegle, and especially Italian artist Mimmo Rotella, who began to tear posters from public walls in Rome and glue them to canvas in the early 1960s. Rotella alone is sometimes credited with originating the artform of decollage.

With “Column of Babel,” Garcia-Huidobro has taken the notions of decollage and collage into another dimension. Basically a columnar pillar made from the same material as his other works, it has the addition of sensors that trigger a “sound collage” that increases in intensity as the visitor moves around the piece. The sound collage is comprised of the artist’s friends reading some of the posters Garcia-Huidobro has uncovered in his urban excavations. This explains why, in broken English, the visitor will hear such pop-culture names as Boy George and Pink Floyd among Spanish words and locations in Barcelona and Santiago.

“When you trip the sensor, layers of sounds appear, putting more emphasis on the idea of super-imposition or overlapping layers of sound,” Garcia-Huidobro says.

With these works, Garcia-Huidobro attempts to balance abstraction with literal representation, ultimately creating a puzzle comprised of bits and pieces of pop culture. In effect, these decollages develop nonlinear narratives that capture the experience of contemporary life with dark humor and a certain immediacy. What you see is what you get, and, yet, the layers beneath leave you with a sense of mystery.

Paintings elaborate on urban experience

Next door to Felipe Garcia-Huidobro’s exhibit, Stephanie Armbruster’s solo show at 709 Penn Gallery also is visually influenced by street art, along with architecture, design and documentary photography.

Armbruster, 28, says the paintings in “In Search of Something More” represent a “stream of consciousness impression of the city in a state of flux.”

Each of the baker’s dozen of works on display presents an abstracted accumulation of symbols. Pieces of street signs, bits of architecture and building facades, and the occasional chandelier or two, suggest place, rhythm and movement layered together to document the memory of a specific moment or event. Infused in these works is a sense of longing and possibility and the anxious energy of change.

“I recognize that I am at a point of transition in my life, and I see that momentum mirrored all around me,” Armbruster says. “These paintings are caught up in that energy — suggestions of things to come and fragments that have been cast aside. ”

Perhaps, it’s a certain fascination with remnants — what remains behind as time moves on. “Symbolically, these paintings are riddled with images that, for me, represent aspects of memory and urban life,” she says.

For example, the chandeliers featured in two of these paintings — “A Fine Mess of Things” and “The Rapture of the Chandelier” — are symbols of a golden era, suggestions of beauty, glamour and opportunity suspended and waiting, ominous and alluring.

In this way, these fragments and the implications behind them, whether they be a section of a sign that suggests urgency or parts of deconstructed buildings that suggest opulence, they become bits and pieces of a larger picture that can never be fully reassembled and viewed in its entirety. This makes for an exhibit that, like Garcia-Huidobro’s exhibit next door, smacks of the urban experience.

Photo Galleries

Street influences

Street influences

Felipe Garcia-Huidobro builds works from shreds of the past. Stephanie Armbruster’s paintings elaborate on urban experience.

Additional Information:

‘Felipe Garcia-Huidobro: Memory Shredder’

Where : 707 Penn Gallery, Downtown

Admission: Free

When: Through Sept. 11. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday

Details: 412-325-7723

Additional Information:

‘Stephanie Armbruster: In Search of Something More’

Where: 709 Penn Gallery, Downtown

Admission: Free

When: Through Sept. 11. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday

Details: 412-325-7723


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