Art Review: 'Pittsburgh Biennial 2014' at Carnegie Mellon University's Miller Gallery
The Pittsburgh Biennial exhibit at Carnegie Mellon University's Miller Gallery — the sixth of seven exhibits associated with the biennial — features the work of nine artists who all have connections to Pittsburgh in one way or another.
For example, the three artists whose work is featured on the first floor — Jerstin Crosby, Ben Kinsley and Jessica Langley — all have lived in Pittsburgh at some point, although they reside in New York City now.
Their piece, the Janks Archive, is a video compilation of jokes and one-liners being told on the streets of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and several cities in Mexico and Ireland. It builds upon an ongoing collection of put-down jokes from people all over the world.
In the gallery, two looped videos play on walls opposite each other and feature folks slinging one-liners back and forth, such as “You're so skinny that you have to run around in the shower just to get wet.”
“Their goal is to document how this (aspect of) culture exists all around the world, because it really is insidious, this need to insult each other, but in a fun way. And it's interesting to see how that shifts between different countries,” says Casey Droege, an artist and independent curator who organized this exhibit.
On the second floor, another video work, Alexis Gideon's “Video Musics III: Floating Oceans,” commands attention. Describing the piece as a “stop-motion animated video opera,” Gideon says the piece is based on the short stories of Lord Dunsany and the dream experiments of John William Dunne.
Featuring a cast of puppets handmade by the artist, the piece oscillates between the dream world and the mundane world and investigates what happens when the lines between these two worlds start to blur.
“The piece also focuses on modern culture's loss of the spiritual and mystical,” says Gideon, who will perform the audio portion of the piece Oct. 23 at the gallery.
Gideon's piece is flanked by pieces by David Bernabo and Celeste Neuhaus. The former makes narrative videos with storylines that override what the subjects depicted are saying, and the latter uses party supplies, sand and bubble wrap to create elaborate collages that are made of intricately intertwined designs.
On the third floor, works by Gavin Benjamin, Drew Droege, Ulric Joseph, Edith Abeyta and Michael Lewis Miller fill the space, with a special side gallery dedicated to an installation by Jessica Langley titled “Flat Screen I-III.”
In it, instead of looking up (like you would at a sky), Langley forces the visitor to peer down into three separate seasonal wreaths or “portals” that depict nature reanimated in stop-motion, as if blown by a breeze, projected onto poured glass puddles.
“I have shown these animations in a few different ways, but this is the first time I have ever used glass, or projected onto an object of any type,” Langley says. “What is interesting about glass is that it is never quite a solid. I wanted to project this highly manipulated imagery onto a natural material that exists in a state of non-equilibrium.”
Being that it dominates the back wall of the main exhibition space, Ulric Joseph's work is worth particular mention, especially the painting “Predator,” which he made when, he says, “I was struggling to deal with being a black male in the U.S. and all the negativity it brings on a daily basis.”
Joseph had been living in Trinidad before returning to the United States in 2011 when he was offered a job as a full-time art professor at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.
“I started this painting in 2012,” he says. “I really struggled with it, completing it a couple of years later.”
Joseph lives on the North Side and commutes to Baltimore for work, where he teaches three days a week.
“A couple of weeks ago, when I was walking down one of the streets in a predominantly white Federal Hill ... two young ladies saw me walking their way and took off running the other direction,” he says. “I am not sure what to think about their reaction, but it really affected me. The problem is, this type of stuff happens to me all the time in the form of clutched purses, locking of car doors when I walk by and people crossing the road when they see me approaching. My students do it all the time. If we cross paths outside of class most of them never look up to see my face. They duck their heads down and hurry along.”
Joseph says of his self-portrait: “This painting is me attempting to create the image behind the fear. A dark-skinned individual whose sole purpose in life is obtaining money and bling. I am nothing like the person represented in this painting, but unfortunately this is the person some people see when they notice my color.
“When they see a black person approaching, it does not matter that I am a college professor and have never been in any trouble with the law. It is a helpless feeling when you are on the receiving end of this type of profiling, so this painting is my way of saying something about it, my way of raising the issue.”
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.