Installation shot, Talking About the Weather, 2005, image by Larry Rippel
In 2005, The Three Rivers Arts Festival had a visual arts curator who crafted the festival’s annual show and selected artists from around the country for large-scale projects. The annual show was held at the galleries at 937 Liberty Avenue, a beautiful space that had been purchased and renovated (and then sadly lost) by the Associated Artist of Pittsburgh. I was excited to be invited, by curator Katherine Talkcott, to create a storefront installation for the festival in the first floor space. Previous Arts Festival exhibitions were held in outdoor temporary pavilions and had reminded me of school exhibitions at shopping malls. The move to the gallery space gave the show a professional look.
Detail (shoppers) L.R.
I came across these installation images today and thought about how the world has changed over the past nine years. To create Talking About the Weather, I walked around Downtown Pittsburgh listening for conversation. I overheard conversations of all types. I chatted with people at bus stops, street corners and crosswalks. Business people were on their phones during the day. Late at night, a wild and sometimes unsavory crowd roamed the shadowy sidewalks. I often encountered these characters, as I had obtained keys to enter the gallery and work at night.
After recording bits of conversation in my sketchbook, I would then create a cartoon, doodle or puppet character of the person (with speech bubble) to add to the installation in the gallery. The installation consisted of a wooden framework, with moving parts to mimic the movement of the city. As I added more and more characters, people began gathering to see the growing installation.
Since I made this piece, I don’t encounter people (especially strangers) talking in public places as much. People who are waiting alone immediately pull out their portable electronics. Small talk, an art in itself, is becoming a thing of the past.
“If I ever get out of here, I’m going to Kathmandu!”
detail, power plant and puppet
“Who really cares?”
Here are some pics from my annual Halloween drive around the Ohio Valley. My sister Nicole usually drives and I jump out of the car when I see an interesting display. I wanted to go back to get some night shots at the red brick house, but the display mysteriously disappeared several days before Halloween. I’m guessing that neighbors complained, as the arrangement was pretty gruesome. My favorite displays always make use of household items like aluminum foil, old clothes and Heavy Metal posters.
It has been an unusual week. It started with meeting relatives to see a Harry Potter film. I have judged these films to be mindless garbage without even seeing one. (or reading one of the books) Aside from the awkward – two teenage guys…one cute girl – dynamic, I had no idea what was happening, and I didn’t really care. (Oh, I forgot to mention…there is a cool Nick Cave song in the romance scene. I wonder if movie fans even noticed this? Maybe in the UK?)
I’ve been eating a lot of fermented stuff like kimchi and sauerkraut. I like kimchi with rice, beans and a fried egg. I eat sauerkraut plain by the bowlful. I guess the cold weather has me craving strange foods.
On Thursday, I went to the André Kertész: On Reading exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of art. I recommend checking this show out if you are interesting in reading, photography, or both. The show has humorous and poetic moments. It offers a nostalgia that will make you want to burn your Kindle.
On Saturday I went to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s performance (along with the The Mendelssohn Choir and world-renown vocalists) of Verdi’s Requiem. It is pretty impressive that a world-class event like this happens in Pittsburgh. I try to get to the symphony once a year. I’m always amazed at how something as precise and melodic as classical music can be celebrated by the primitive gesture of clapping.
Also this week, I did some reading on the Smithsonian censorship controversy on Modern Art Notes. It seems as though some conservative politicians are bent on promoting prejudice and fear. Public art museums are supposed to be forums for healthy discussion of difficult topics. They should not pander to the biased, ego-charged diatribes that we hear on conservative talk radio, in campaign ads, etc. It is ridiculous for art museums to make decisions based on the words or actions of politicians. (or in reaction to disgruntled visitors) Fortunately for the art world, David Wojnarowicz’s work is part of an international critical dialogue, whether conservative politicians like it or not.
I held a bulldog on a leash. I watched an artist light a painting on fire with gunpowder. I was nearly asphyxiated by the chemicals in his studio. The smell didn’t seem to bother him. I tried to visit galleries in Downtown Pittsburgh but they were closed. I looked into the window of one and saw some random items on a blanket on the floor. Traffic in the city was a nightmare. A bus forced me to make a right turn (instead of a left) directing me toward a roadblock that I did not remember. I sat in the Beehive and drank a couple cups of coffee. A lot of old friends were there. I recognized an actress from some local plays sitting at a table next to me. I wanted to say hello and tell her that I had seen her performances, but that would have been awkward. I walked down East Carson Street and stopped for hot roast beef sandwiches with some friends. I looked around the old Brew House and wondering if the place would ever be filled with activity again. A door was collaged with some old baseball cards from the 1980’s.
“Nosebleeds, rashes, welts, stuttering and shaking.”* (What airborne chemicals from shale gas drilling may cause.) What will the chemicals in our water supplies cause?
*Foes of shale drilling take message…, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Saturday, November 20, 2010
Pittsburgh City Council members deserve a lot of credit. In standing up for the health and future of city residents, they have resisted the temptation of rapid industrialization. (And the cold, hard cash that could accompany it.) In voting to ban gas drilling in the city, they are aiming to protect communities, culture, and the ideals of creative residents that strive to hold the city up to the “most livable city” title. Residents of Pittsburgh take pride in the transformation of the city from the soot, smog and rust image of the past, to a place of environmental and high-tech innovation. Concern for the environment is a common topic in Pittsburgh. It is prevalent in art exhibitions, in eco-friendly small businesses, in outdoor groups, and in almost every educational program that I have been a part of. Kayaking in the river is now a regular pastime. New bicycle and pedestrian paths wrap along the rivers and connect communities. Pittsburgh is also known for restoration of buildings and creative reuse initiatives. Fishing in the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela has also become popular. Two nationally televised fishing tournaments have been held in Pittsburgh within the past ten years. Thirty years ago, fishing in Pittsburgh was abysmal. Even with the positive changes, a lot more can be done. Cancer rates in Western Pennsylvania are high. Sewage still overflows into the rivers with every hard rain. Chemicals from sewage water are entering waterways, causing biological changes in certain fish species. All in all, and despite economic struggle, Pittsburgh is moving in the right direction.
What worries me now is the level of greed exhibited by the gas extraction companies. They want access to every last acre of land in the state and will use every method of deception possible to get it. In the near future, they may buy local news media. (It appears that they have already bought off KDKA) They will employ corporate psychologists and sociologists to figure out ways to turn residents against one another. They will attempt to destroy the reputations of local politicians that are protecting us. They may find ways to purchase political seats. They may even find ways to spin their opposition into communists, anarchists, or threats to homeland security.
The Pittsburghers that I know will not let any of this happen. At least as long as communities stick together. If the land we call Pittsburgh is sold, the people embodying the culture, innovation, and ideals that we call Pittsburgh will pack up and move elsewhere.
City OKs ban on gas drilling, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 17, 2010
I made this doodle ten years ago. I was sick in bed watching TV all day. I think I’m the blob shape on the couch. The blue robot thing must be the cloning machine.