Gestures Exhibition Series turns art inside out

Kurt Shaw
| Friday, April 13, 2012, 3:07 p.m.

Three years ago, when sculptor Dee Briggs of Wilkinsburg was asked by a curator friend to attend an opening reception for the 13th installment of Gestures, one of an ongoing series of installation art exhibits at the Mattress Factory's annex building, she experienced a bit of sticker shock.

Briggs had two children in tow, which meant that, with a cost of $10 each to attend the reception, she would have to shell out $30 for all three to enter.

Now three years later, Briggs is one of the artists included in "Intimate Friction," the 16th installment of the Gestures Exhibition Series, which opened two weeks ago. And when asked to be a part of the exhibit, she knew exactly what she wanted to create — a network of bright-red periscopes that allow people to see inside the building for free.

"To pay $30 to attend an opening with two 9-year-olds was a bit shocking," she says. "So, when I was invited to be in this exhibition in the same building, I wanted to create something that would allow people to see inside, understand what's going on inside, even if they didn't have the $12 — now it's $12 to get in — so they could engage with the space and the exhibit in some way."

The piece is titled "Art You Can Get Into... if you have $12," which is a play on the museum's motto. "It's really meant to engage passers-by so that they see something and are maybe encouraged to come in," Brigges says, "or to be able to just see some of the things that are going on in the building."

With the ability to pierce the building at different points and offer different views all at once, Briggs' piece is not alone on being an obvious assault on the structure itself. Once inside the one-time row house, visitors are privy to all sorts of bifurcations of the building by several other artists included.

For example, on the first floor, architect Jeremy Ficca took to tearing up the floor, quite literally, to create his piece "3 X 4608." Ficca removed the plywood floor in one section, then hung similar sized sections of plywood above that hover over the hole he made. Having cut slits in the plywood sheets making them more pliable so they could be bent, they float like giant birds above the floor beams.

Enclosing a whole room was the self-assigned task of another architect-turned-artist, Matt Huber. To create his installation piece "[11• x 7• x 38?]" housed in the next room, Huber drywalled over the room's doorway, making it impossible to enter. He cut small, square holes in the walls opposite each other to create visual portals into the room. Inside, he built an enclosed environment out of pieces of newspaper hung on string, creating a matrix. Pieces of newspaper cover the walls in collage-like fashion. Well-lighted, the piece looks like a jewel box inside -- an overwhelmingly beautiful result considering he started with rather-humble materials.

Upstairs, on the building's second floor, the Braddock-based art collective known as Transformazium has transformed one of the rooms into an installation based on a whole other house altogether. Their piece -- "Inside, Outside, Inside: walls are built" -- was made from materials collected from a "deconstructed" parish house on the corner of Jones and Hawkins Streets in North Braddock.

Here, floor joists, lathe board, wall beams, knotweed, soil and slag make up various constructed elements that come together to make a collective whole. Complete with a hammock positioned in the middle of the room for relaxing and soaking it all in, the work is slightly reminiscent of the kind of childhood invention that has led to the creation of many a magnificent shack in the woods.

Then there is the work of Nina Marie Barbuto, whose "Glory Holes" on the third floor are the result of literally cutting giant holes in the walls. Some are so large, that the night of the opening reception, several people climbed into them, placing their whole bodies between the joists!

Despite the title, Barbuto's piece is quite a success, not only in the way she managed to affect her allotted space, but in the way she has been able to invite the viewer to interact with it. The holes practically beg the viewer into a whole new way of experiencing the building altogether.

Additional Information:

'Gestures: Intimate Friction'

When: Through Nov. 30. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 1-5 p.m. Sundays

Admission: $12; $10 for senior citizens; $9 for students; free for age 5 and younger

Where: Mattress Factory, 500 Sampsonia Way, North Side

Details: 412-231-3169 or

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