Monthly Archives: October 2010

Life in the Big Cities

1999 – Twelve years ago in Pittsburgh.  I was as knowledgeable about puppetry as I as was about mechanical engineering.  For the first Black Sheep Puppet Festival, I built life-sized puppets out of inch-thick plywood.  Music was a mix of Sonic Youth, Pixies, Talking Heads and contemporary jazz samples that I captured with a tape recorder.  The only smart move was making the giant snake out of foam core.  The plot was ridiculous.  (Most likely comparable to an episode of Beverly Hills 90210)  The following year, I found help in recording original music.  Puppets evolved into lightweight creatures with movable parts.  The plots became more complex.

I recently converted my documentation of the show. (from VHS!)  Above are a few stills.


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Halloween Pittsburgh

I drove around the Ohio River Valley this morning with my sister looking for Halloween weirdness.  Most people nowadays buy cheap, generic decorations at the big box store.  Here are a few of the better arrangements.

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Queloides at Mattress Factory

Review of Queloides, Part 1

It’s exciting to see a new Cuban show at the MF, especially one that explores race and racism.  Cuba is a country with a complex set of issues.  Cuban Americans that I have spoken to have been reluctant to talk about their experiences.  In a land where family members are often torn apart by politics, I can’t imagine the magnitude of racism on the island.  My immediate thoughts before visiting the show revolved around the opportunity the MF has with this exhibition to address race and racism in their neighborhood.  Having lived on the North Side of Pittsburgh for a couple years, I saw firsthand the tensions caused by the rapid gentrification of the community.

The exhibition spans both of the museum buildings including some work outside.  My favorite two pieces are the car (Armando Mariño) in the parking lot* – a near mint condition antique Plymouth with ceramic legs of twelve or so Afro-Cubans holding up, and potentially powering the car – and the shrine in the basement of the main building.  The later, a shrine of roughly sixty statues of La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, patron saint of Cuba stand in a variety that ranges from cheap knickknack to finely crafted folk art.  The statues have an iconography specific to Cuban legend, (Involving two men and a slave boy finding the original Virgin statue while in a boat at sea.)  Around an island-like platform supporting the sculptures, A quote from nineteenth century Cuban hero José Martí reads, “Either the Republic is based upon the full character of each and every one of its sons and daughters (….) or the republic is not worth a teardrop from our women or a single drop of blood by our brave fighters.” Martí fought for Cuban independence from Spain.  I believe his quote in the context of the installation alludes to a national solidarity perpetuated by the belief in a power greater than the ruling regime.  The installation, by Meira Marrero and José Toirac, demands reverence as it perfectly occupies the grotto-like basement of the building.

Upstairs, the next piece that I encountered is Alexis Esquivel’s Automatic Vehicle to Collect Religious Offerings.  I was expecting a bit more edge in the show, not whimsical sarcasm, so I didn’t care for this one.  It was supposed to be an interactive piece, allowing the visitor to operate a remote controlled model street sweeper of sorts.  (Or perhaps its dysfunction is part of the commentary.)  Esquivel’s strength is in painting.  Several large works comment on the “whiteness” of American politics as well as the supremacy of America in the Western Hemisphere. His content ranges from obvious to mysteriously symbolic.  His style is a collage of political and personal imagery.

The work of Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons reminds me of the Cuban art that I have seen, especially the work of Tania Bruguera.  (Who does some amazing work and is strangely accepted by the Castro regime.) Like Bruguera, Capos-Pons utilizes symbolic elements of the earth (sugar blocks) to create rich, sensory experiences.  The piece, two walls of raw sugar bricks narrowing with a pile of refined sugar at the end, immediately reads as feminist art. An accompanying video features communication between a white woman and a black woman.  I wasn’t too interested in this piece, but the thought of licking the sugar blocks when nobody was looking was tempting.

I spent a lot of time looking at the mural sized painting of Douglas Pérez.  I wasn’t that excited about it at first, but it grew on me.  Pérez has his own style.  He layers allegorical imagery, arranging characters in a cycle of power and oppression.  The piece addresses poverty, the struggle of the worker, corporate influence, greed and death in a grotesque, highly detailed manner.  (Bosch meets Darger) A skeletal snake creature devours a giant centipede. (Or vice versa)  Each creature is made up of people involved in the struggle.  The work is titled, Ecosistema.

There is a lot to see – and a lot to write about – at Queloides.  I’ll continue this review another day.  It’s too nice outside.  I want to take pictures of Halloween zombies on Pittsburgh front porches.

*I just found out from MF staff that the title of the car piece by Armando Mariño is Raft.  The car was procured by the museum for the installation and restored from a “chipped grey matte finish.”  (This is good example of how dedicated the museum is to obtaining the materials that resident artists need for installations.)

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Another look at Snakebird

Planet of Slums ended last weekend at Mason Gross Galleries.  Here are a couple additional shots of my piece, Snakebird.

Darwin’s Nightmare, a documentary film written and directed by Hubert Sauper, was screened as part of the exhibition.  The film paints a clear and disturbing picture of the effects of globalization on Third World communities.  It’s been a few years since I saw the film (at the Three Rivers Film Festival) and I’m still haunted by it.

(see September 29th post)

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big painting

I made this painting in February of this year.  Sometimes I need to make big atmospheric abstractions like this in between conceptual projects.  Thinking in a different way helps me to clear my head.  The decisions in this type of work happen through looking at the work as it evolves.  It is more about color and the properties of paint than making a great philosophical statement or addressing a social issue.  The applications of paint and layers in a work like this can be quite complex.  While I was making it, a couple curators stopped by my studio and looked at me like I was crazy.  Why are you painting?  I guess just needed to at the time.

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Puppets / found materials, papier-mâché, paint, wood / October, 2010

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Will Black Sheep Return?

Video from 2nd Black Sheep Puppet Festival, 2000

The Black Sheep Puppet Festival took place from 1999 through 2008 at the Brew House, Pittsburgh.  Puppeteers from across the country converged on the South Side during the month of October for performances, workshops, and impromptu happenings.  Black Sheep introduced Pittsburgh to puppetry with an activist edge.  The collaborative nature of the event made it difficult to compare with anything else in town.  Black Sheep offered a critical view of society, without the pretentious layers of the art world.  It operated as far as it could be directed from the corporate, commercial world.  It was driven by the hard work of organizers, who volunteered hundreds of hours to see it through.

Perhaps the festival will return on a small scale and gradually build up to a city-wide event.

Black Sheep Website

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