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Art Review: 'Some Begins' and 'Monotype Prints' at Penn Galleries

| Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, 9:09 p.m.
Variety of objects, wood platform 
Meg Shevenock and Jamie Boyle
Some Begins
707 Penn Gallery
Andrew Russell | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Variety of objects, wood platform Meg Shevenock and Jamie Boyle Some Begins 707 Penn Gallery
Jo-Anne Bates
Monotype Prints: An Exploration of Color
707 Penn Gallery
Andrew Russell | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Soweto Jo-Anne Bates Monotype Prints: An Exploration of Color 707 Penn Gallery

The connection of seemingly disparate objects is the focal point behind “Some Begins,” an exhibit that explores and evaluates the lives of everyday objects, at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's 707 Penn Gallery, Downtown.

The brainchild of Meg Shevenock and Jamie Boyle, the exhibit is an installation of sorts that makes the most of everything from pencil erasers to coffee mugs, lovingly crafting each into tiny artworks or incorporating large groupings of found objects into compelling tableau.

Take, for example, the piece “Some Begins, 22.” It contains dozens of objects — such as a dollhouse chair, an eyeglass lens and a key tag — arranged neatly on a low, wooden platform, and the pieces tell a story unto themselves.

“We are attempting to re-create the experience of the encounter, the discovery, the miracle of finding,” says Boyle, who describes finding many of the objects that make up the piece as a “heart-palpitating rush” of discovery.

For example, on a busy Saturday afternoon in the Strip District, Shevenock and Boyle were not able to contain their thrill at finding a tiny corner of a $10 bill. “Though the people in our immediate vicinity laughed at us as if to say, ‘That's not viable currency,'” Boyle says, “we couldn't say, at that moment, why this piece of paper was so resonant. Was it a story of a too-hard tug from a wallet? Was it that it would ‘make sense' in the context of the fake foliage we had already collected? Not money, but it had currency, maybe.

“It is our hope that this field of accumulated objects, fragments and remnants can draw one into a similar rush of discovery, of tracing a narrative, noticing a through-line threading the past lives and present states of the material. Not always nameable, but felt.”

Shevenock says the sculpture also represents the importance of “not second-guessing one's attraction to some object.”

“Sometimes, it is hard to realize the value or import of why we notice what we notice. And later, as with the objects on the platform, patterns of belief and value begin to emerge through the association of one found object to another,” Shevenock says.

In this way, Shevenock says, the platform of objects is like a “conversation through time — the time of their individual findings and walks home, through different geographies, in the jacket pockets or backpacks of our bodies in their different emotional states — now coexisting on a single plane.”

“I like that a narrative can unfold through the choices of ‘random' debris a person slowly fills her pockets with; time and attention reveals that it is not random at all, really. In this case, obviously, separately, but together, we are writing a narrative together,” Shevenock says. “It is up to the viewer then, to find or read the stories inside these objects and their arrangement.

“Finally, we also believe the energy of each object's initial encounter as well as its ‘former life' remains present, and that, too, adds something to the whole.”

Another installation in a corner of the gallery contains more than two dozen pairs of eyeglasses.

“I am continually struck by the physical connection to another's body,” Boyle says, “encountering eyeglasses, broken and stranded on the street.”

Shevenock, who lives in Los Angeles, and Boyle, who lives in Brooklyn, met in 2006 at Ohio State University, where they both received masters of fine art in sculpture. For the past seven years, they have only briefly lived in the same city simultaneously. They have maintained a collaborative practice, making videos, performances and sculpture — often times relying on distance and, in particular, the concept of being together despite substantial physical distance to form the basis of their work. For them, it's not about making something new. It's about mining the details of what is already here, already radiating.

Next door, at 709 Penn Gallery, Jo-Anne Bates displays 13 multilayered, abstract monotype prints.

With titles like “Soweto,” “Pretoria,” “Johannesburg,” “Kirstenbosch” and “Cape of Good Hope,” Bates says, “the titles of the prints in this exhibit reflect the places I visited while in South Africa.”

For example, “Soweto” is based on a shantytown that was established to house black South African coal miners many years ago. “The housing was constructed of corrugated metal pieces, often rusted,” Bates says. “When the sun would hit, you would see a variety of colors, especially red, along with clothing hanging on lines.” Thus, the variety of reddish color seen in the piece has direct correlation to the title.

The prints also include ribbons of paper that are shredded receipts from her travels. “I was so inspired by the incredible beauty of the country and its people, especially the colors and texture that was everywhere,” Bates says. “This was my inspiration for creating these abstract monotype prints with texture.

“It is an amazing country, and I hope I have the opportunity to visit again,” she says. “This body of work reflects the profound impact of color, texture and pattern of the landscape as I traveled throughout this extraordinarily beautiful country.”

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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