‘Biennial’ shifts to CMU with large-scale installations |

‘Biennial’ shifts to CMU with large-scale installations

When experiencing the works on display at the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University’s leg of the “2011 Pittsburgh Biennial,” it’s important to understand that collaboration was key to their creation. That’s because each of the gallery’s three floors in the Purnell Center of the Arts are filled with large-scale installations that are the result of several artists working together.

For example, on the third floor, Sarah Ross and Ryan Griffis, both of Chicago, and Lize Mogel, of New York City, created “Global Cities, Model Worlds,” a project about mega-events, which are large-scale cultural and sporting events on a global scale.

“The installation specifically looks at the Olympic Games and world’s fairs, which we’ve been researching for more than 10 years,” Mogel says.

As Mogel puts it, these “mega-events” promise to transform cities by revitalizing urban centers, adding infrastructure like transportation or sports arenas and putting the cities on the global map.

Like the world’s fairs of a century ago, these “Global Cities” and “Model Worlds” look at the reality of this promise, and what happens “on the ground” before, during and after a mega-event.

“We document how, in cities as geographically, politically, and culturally different as Shanghai and Atlanta, history repeats itself,” Mogel says.

“For example, working-class people that find themselves in the way of the mega-event’s construction are evicted or otherwise displaced,” Mogel says. “In Shanghai, 18,000 families living on the large site that the government chose to locate Expo2010 on were evicted, some of them forcibly. In Atlanta, for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, 30,000 mostly low-income people citywide lost their homes either because housing was knocked down to put up a stadium; or because of rapid gentrification around the Olympics.”

The installation’s modular forms, made of interlocking equilateral triangles, is inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s Biodome (built for Expo 67 in Montreal) and his Dymaxion map projection. “This form has roots in the utopian design and ideals of mid-century thinkers and architects like Fuller and international events like World’s Fairs,” Mogel says.

More than just a series of interlocking table-maps, the installation features:

• 45 aerial photographs of Olympic stadiums and world-fair sites.

• A timeline of the 2010 mega-events in Vancouver and Shanghai, which highlights how short the event actually is in relation to the decades-long impacts before and after.

• A “photo spot” where people can take their photo against a backdrop of iconic structures left over from mega-events, like the Eiffel Tower and Seattle’s Space Needle.

• Scale models of moments of resistance to mega-events in Vancouver and Beijing

• A map (using Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion projection of the globe) showing where mega-events have happened and who has bid on them.

• A wall panel that asks what would happen if Pittsburgh hosted a mega-event, with questions like how would you transport people, where would you house them, where would you carve out the enormous amount of space to put world’s fair pavilions or Olympics sports arenas• Who would benefit from a mega-event• And conversely, who would suffer?

As complex as this project and installation is, it’s not the only one of such large-scale and scope in this exhibit.

On the second floor, Justseeds, a Pittsburgh-based cooperative of 26 printmakers in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, created a massive installation comprised of printed billboards posting new slogans that address longstanding social and political injustices. And Transformazium, a collaborative-artist team comprised of Ruthie Stringer, Dana Bishop-Root, Leslie Stem and Caledonia Curry, created an evolving installation out of bricks they gathered from a condemned building near a home they share in North Braddock.

Some of the bricks simply are piled on the floor of the gallery, while others have been stacked into block formation. Visitors are asked to partake in the continual alteration of the installation by cleaning the bricks and stacking them. In essence, symbolically transforming a demolition site into something more sustainable.

Finally, on the first floor, a group of three artists — Marc Fischer of Chicago, Salem Collo-Julin of Philadelphia and Brett Bloom in Copenhagen — calling themselves “Temporary Services” present two projects that address a variety of reuse and sustainability issues. One, titled “Self-Reliance Library,” is a portable library containing a collection of publications the artists hope will “provoke the reader, solve creative problems, or suggest imaginative directions for a range of creative practices.” With topics such as visionary architecture, nomadic living, self-publishing, do-it-yourself repair solutions and survival skills, this library makes for some thought-provoking reading. As does their other project, “Personal Plastic,” in which the group made banners from recycled plastic bags that feature quotes drawn from books in the accompanying library, which hang all around the library.

The remaining works on view are just as complex, combining the talents of several artists in unique and interesting ways that provoke the visitor into engaging with the work rather than simply explaining the subjects they have tackled. But this makes for a fun and multi-layered exhibit that visitors will definitely want to make time for.

Additional Information:

‘2011 Pittsburgh Biennial’

When: Through Dec. 11. Hours: Noon-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays

Admission: Free

Where: Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University, Purnell Center of the Arts, 5000 Forbes Ave., Oakland

Details: 412 268-3618 or website

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