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Exhibits at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts a collection of viewpoints

| Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Currently at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, five solo exhibits fill the top floor, offering a wide variety of contemporary viewpoints.

In one gallery, Elin Lennox's large, abstract photographs seem simultaneously familiar and disorienting. Shot on film, then printed digitally after minimal color adjustment, the photos are straightforward documents of ephemeral constructions, ones that function in limbo between painting, photography and sculpture.

"Pastoral Deluxe, Exhibit A," for example, is full of familiar-yet-indiscriminate objects, set adrift on a sea of foam. In "Pastoral Deluxe, Exhibit C," Lennox combines similar objects, but with an applied pattern. And in "Pastoral Deluxe, Exhibit B," pattern is lost completely to an organic unfolding of elements. Though each piece is unique, seen together, Lennox's five works on display evoke the traditions of abstract painting, and the aesthetics of microscopic imaging, Hubble space images and landscapes.

Elizabeth Mooney's "Shifting Panoramas" in an adjacent gallery have a similar disorienting effect, conjuring associations with the 20th century abstract art canon, while being grounded in something completely real.

Mooney's six paintings and two kinetic sculptures consider both the effect of optical devices on the perception of nature and the speed at which landscape is experienced.

This is most obvious in the kinetic works, like "Study for an Ecstatic Gazer," which successfully attempts to evoke the feeling of perceiving landscape in a bits-and-pieces manner resulting in a collective whole, as if, in this case, walking by a picket fence and getting passing glimpses of the yard contained within.

The paintings, however, are more static representations, presenting the viewer with an abstracted vantage of place and space in an attempt to reconsider our collective ideas of beauty within landscape.

Memory in the age of digital experience is the focus of Ben Hernstrom and Frank Ferraro's video installation "RECALL." As the artists contend in their statement, rapidly developing digital technologies, such as cell phones, computers and cameras, have not only allowed us to capture our individual experiences, but made it possible to transmit this digital information, thus making it available to anyone with the technology to experience it.

RECALL investigates how these issues influence how we experience and remember our daily lives and the lives of others. A site specific, immersive audio/video installation, it utilizes a multi-video projection system along with pre-recorded sound designed to initiate and investigate interactions between human experience, digital documentation, reproduction and dissemination and how these components relate to or effect memory.

Thus the imagery focuses on themes of intimacy, place, family and time, and range from the everyday occurrences we all experience, such as sleeping, to more intimate events that are at once personal, yet universal, such receiving a kiss.

From the familiar to the imagined, Thea Augustina Eck's installation "Inisiaqpunga and the waking" takes visitors on a Jules Verne-like fantasy expedition, exploring stories surrounding the Arctic and Antarctic.

In preparation for the project, Eck scoured archived documentary, poetic inventions and phantasms of personal imagination to come up with something really creative -- an imagined expedition that seems every bit real, right down to the pseudo-documentary photographs that look to have captured a real event. Add to that a very convincing dog sled filled with biscuits commanding the center of one of the two galleries that contain the exhibit.

As Eck relays it, the installation reflects on a lonesome wandering, high in the Arctic, in search of ghosts left from the famed Sir John Franklin expedition of 1845. Sent as the largest and most technically advanced of its time, the British expedition sought to finalize the Northwest Passage to the Pacific as well as to obtain calculations around the magnetic North Pole. The story pauses on the deathly silence of the entire 133-member crew by 1847, and gathers momentum as search and rescue expeditions spilled into the Arctic seeking clues.

As the statement reads: "Over 150 years seasonal freezing and thawing hid and uncovered objects and tragic histories surrounding the expedition's fate. And as a result, the threaded fingers of a map filled up with intricate coastlines, Inuit populations encountered, and inventions and communication methods appropriated or generated. The western shroud over the Arctic was rent from the globe."

In the Inuktitut language, inisiaqpunga describes the act of following a lone trail left by an occasional traveler. "Inisiaqpunga and the waking" seeks not to retell but rather to pursue the emotional voice, the soliloquy and lament, for a tragic narrative.

Finally, from imagined expeditions to imaginary worlds, James Robert Southard takes viewers into a photographic realm of his own devising with his exhibit, "The Inherent Pull." Here Southard has digitally constructed dour settings from miniature sets manufactured out of a variety of materials, which are based on film noir.

While using film noir lighting, he assembled scenes that address scale, believability and the moment of reveal. These scenes reflect familiar locations and environments that evoke an emotional reaction based on these perceptions, which is produced in such a genre.

For example, in "The Inherent Pull, #2," Southard created a believable cityscape that is not so much real, as it looks like a representation of what one would find in a film noir type scene or even a comic book representing something real. Here, the viewer's perspective is on the street, looking up at massive buildings, enhanced all too well by dark, moody lighting.

The fun in Southard's exhibit comes when one realizes the clouds you think you are seeing are actually "manufactured" by the artist from cotton balls. Manufactured like everything else in these scenes, which most effectively fool the eye and play with perception in the most inventive of ways.

Additional Information:

Pittsburgh Center of the Arts solo exhibits

What: Five solo exhibits -- 'Pastoral Deluxe: Elin Lennox'; 'RECALL: Ben Hernstrom & Frank Ferraro'; 'Shifting Panoramas: Elizabeth Mooney'; 'Inisiaqpunga and the waking: Thea Augustina Eck'; 'The Inherent Pull: James Robert Southard'

When: Through June 13. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Sundays

Admission: $5 suggested donation; free for Pittsburgh Filmmakers and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts members

Where: Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, 6300 Fifth Ave., Shadyside

Details: 412-361-0873 or website

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