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'10 Solo Exhibitions': From love and loss to rebirth

| Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012

Currently, the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts is brimming with the creative efforts of 11 artists in the form of 10 completely different exhibits that are sure to engage the visitor in a multitude of ways.

Some contain pieces that deal with love and loss, like Jessica Amarnek's wall-installation "Concealed," which was created following her brother's death.

"Concealed" is a collection of handwritten notes, bound together by molten glass. The notes are full of feelings concerning her brother's death, notions of hope and sorrow. "I have been writing down these personal thoughts for the past two years," Amarnek says. "I then roll them up, dip them in water and then tie them with molten glass from the furnace. This piece grows with each installation, and the burns on the paper spark an overall tone for the work."

Amarnek's work hangs opposite that of her friend and colleague Ashley McFarland, whose haunting cast-glass busts have an eerie presence all their own that complements Amarnek's work nicely.

In the gallery next to their exhibit, Jerstin Crosby takes a light-hearted look at popular culture as seen on the Internet. Here is a rather apropos and equally random mash-up of subject matter, ranging from "Vegan Pizza Party," a sculpture of a slice of day-old vegan pizza with a built-in miniature rave cave and disco ball, to "Fear the Cursor, Not the Curse," which features a defiantly terrified creature hiding under a psychedelic video rug.

In this way, Crosby successfully attempts to replicate the objective randomness we experience on the Web through search algorithms and targeted online advertising.

Also turning to the Web for fodder is Ryan Woodring, whose series "Drying" tackles the 2011 tsunami in Japan, which the artist first learned about through videos on YouTube.

In the series of paintings, he broke down a video of the tsunami into its individual frames (10 frames per second), then made monoprints from each frame by printing it on the smooth surface of a sheet of transparency film, hand-painting the white spaces directly on the film, and finally, burnishing the wet ink and acrylic paint onto a single sheet of acid-free white paper. "On the larger paintings, this process is repeated about 140 times on the same sheet of paper," Woodring says.

"I wanted to methodically layer these prints on paper and resin so that I could slow down my digestion of the videos to the speed of a normal, working day," he says. "In doing so, I was taking part in a paradoxical exercise. I was working diligently towards building an image, and, thus, referencing the rebuilding effort. But I was building towards abstraction, towards darkness, towards, admittedly, a beautification of fatalism."

Looking back while still maintaining a sense of future forward, Christopher McGinnis' installation "Greenhouse 1" symbolizes the potential for creative new growth in blighted local communities. In the gallery, McGinnis has built a greenhouse-like structure made of poplar that features 78 silkscreen prints on Plexiglas, which depict Pittsburgh's industrial past and currently struggling communities like Braddock and Homestead. Inside the greenhouse, live poplar saplings and other plants sprout amidst rusted steel as a symbol of continued growth in the wake of collapse.

While "Greenhouse 1" visualizes the potential for creative new growth, McGinnis says the photographs of urban blight and post-industrial decay, "symbolically give birth through their sacrifice, to the new growth inside."

In the hands of sculptor Blaine Siegel, death takes on a multitude of meanings. The sculptures in his exhibit are made from the detritus of everyday life and influenced by some of Siegel's obsessions: the Pacific Trash Vortex, transmutation, death and superheroes. The materials used range from taxidermy animal parts and plastic shopping bags to body bags.

"In a way, the pieces really began when a nurse that was caring for my wife in the hospital saw my artwork on my website," Siegel says. "She asked some great questions about my work and then offered me access to the supply room on the hospital floor. It was the first time I had held a body bag. Naturally, I decided to connect it to an air blower, then discovered that as a material it can be manipulated beyond its normal function. The act of inflating the bag is what really got the wheels going on this series of sculptures. Everything else fell into place once I got into the studio and continued the exploration."

The body bag piece, "An Otherwise Minor God," commands the room, while the taxidermy buffalo head in " The Last Buffalo" casts a wandering eye that is hard to miss!

Of course, it's impossible to justly survey all of the exhibits on display in the space allotted here. But, it must be said, they are all equally engaging and worthy of one's attention.

Additional Information:

'10 Solo Exhibitions'

What: New works by Jessica Amarnek and Ashley McFarland, and Stephanie Armbruster, Kenneth Batista, Chris Beauregard, Jerstin Crosby, Daniel Harvey, Christopher McGinnis, Blaine Siegel, Elizabeth Seamans, Ryan Woodring

When: Through April 22. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; until 7 p.m. Thursdays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays

Admission: $5 suggested donation

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

Details: 412-361-0873 or website

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