Installations reference Pittsburgh from past to ever present
Just when it seems that the mourning of the loss of Pittsburgh’s steel industry is over, along comes a definitive dinosaur to remind us all of our region’s industrial epoch.
At the jaw-dropping height of 22 feet and more than 40 feet long, “Walking Stick Rocket” – a larger-than-life sculptural installation that resembles a giant walking stick bug – has taken up residence in the oversized garage of the Brew House on the South Side.
Taking nearly two years to complete, the piece was assembled from more than 100 wooden steel-making patterns salvaged from the former Blawnox Steel Mill in Lawrenceville.
It was built by the Industrial Arts Co-op, a loosely knit group of local artists headed by George Davis and Tim Kaulen that is responsible for a variety of memorable projects that push art to imaginative extremes. Those include the Black Sheep Puppet Festival and its largest project to date, a 45-foot-tall antlered deer head created on site at a former US Steel plant in Rankin between 1997 and ’98 from the scrap steel pipe and rubber hose found there.
Although the Industrial Arts Co-op is known for those kinds of art squatting tactics, Davis says for this latest piece, “We wanted to put it there at the Brew House to set an example of the kinds of things that could happen there.”
The red carpet to the work is a smaller installation in the SPACE 101 gallery of the machinery and materials used to create “Walking Stick Rocket” that viewers must pass through before getting to the large room where it is housed. But once inside that space, viewers will be amazed at the dominating presence of the large, industrial-born beast.
With its arched neck and curved tail, it conjures up images of dinosaurs and Trojan horses, but, its creators say, it is far from being a specific zoomorphism.
“We had a few different personalities and identities that went into the project, but we never really adopted one character or character trait to fit that project,” Kaulen says. “We sort of wanted it to have its own identity.”
Much like the previous works of the Industrial Arts Co-op, which often sheaths more serious undertones in playful appearances, this piece wryly combines a materialist poetry with a metaphorical politic.
Although the former mill site from which the raw materials for the piece were found would have been a more than appropriate terrarium for this industrial animal, it is art after all, and the Brew House location affords it a proper audience. What it doesn’t allow for is a permanent home. So, one can only hope that a suitable one is found after the show ends.
“We’re really hoping that it has a permanent home in Pittsburgh, and we are working to find a company or institution that would house it,” Kaulen says.
Even though references to Pittsburgh’s past are inevitable in that project, across town, another installation references an ever-present element – the rivers.
At the Pittsburgh Glass Center in Friendship, the center’s first artist-in-residence, Robin Stanaway, from Lebanon, Pa., has created an installation out of nearly 200 hand-blown glass discs that she has hung throughout the center’s 77-foot-long Hodge Gallery.
When Stanaway began her 14-week residency in mid-January – courtesy of a Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Artist as Catalyst grant – she intended to create a piece that referenced Pittsburgh’s bridges, but she says the piece took on a life of its own as she and her assistants, Theresa Cress and Heather McElwee, were working on it.
“After spending about five or six weeks there, it seemed like flow and movement were more important, so the bridges disappeared completely,” Stanaway says.
The result is an installation comprising interlinked mobiles made from the glass discs, bronze rods and stainless-steel cables that have been arranged in such a way that they mimic the flow of the head of the Ohio River.
To heighten the effect of water, the gallery is shrouded in darkness, save for a few well-placed spotlights that allow for projected light to bounce off of several of the discs like stones skipping across the surface of a stream.
Add to that cool currents of air from the gallery’s air conditioning and a couple of hidden fans that allow many of the discs to subtly spin, as well as reflect patterns of light onto the walls, and the whole experience is similar to that of being under a bridge, next to a mild stream.
Though the piece, which was finished in May, is due to come down soon, it is worth stopping by to see even if only to check on the progress of the new Pittsburgh Glass Center, which is moving along quite nicely.
|‘Walking Stick Rocket’|