The public helped shape works now on display at SPACE
Independent curator and fine art photographer Robert Raczka is no stranger to getting people together in the name of art. And for the latest group exhibit, “Crowdsourced,” which he organized for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's SPACE gallery, Downtown, he not only assembled the 13 artists involved in making installation pieces, but he got the audience to participate in the creative process as well.
On July 12, the gallery was open for the public as each of the artists created a new work. The audience participated by working directly on the project or by providing information, ideas or imagery.
“Everything was done on that day, in the gallery,” Raczka says.
Raczka says the idea of adding audience participation was a new twist on a series of 13 exhibits he has organized since 1999, in which the artists make work live in the gallery in one day, while the venue is open to the public. The first 11 were at Allegheny College, where he was gallery director, and he did another, “Drawn in a Day,” at SPACE in 2011.
“This time I sought to include artists who had worked to involve audiences more directly as well as artists who were open to the idea,” Raczka says.
“Things have been changing in the art world, with many artists developing new ways of working that are referred to as ‘performative,' involving doing something in a gallery rather than presenting finished products produced elsewhere,” Raczka says.
He chose Kim Beck, Matt Forrest, Casey Droege, Corey Escoto, Gabe Felice, Lori Hepner, Renee Ickes, William Kofmehl III, Maritza Mosquera, Tom Sarver, Shaun Slifer, Barbara Weissberger and Paul Zelevansky — all local artists — to execute the works.
Each installation takes on a different theme or approach. For example, Sarver made sculptures from junk people brought in off the street, and Weissberger made a collage from photos people had on their smartphones of food they had photographed. Kofmehl turned the whole process back on his audience by setting up a drawing studio in one corner of the gallery and having visitors draw a live model, whether fully capable or not.
Zelevansky, husband of Carnegie Museum of Art Director Lynn Zelevansky, began by painting a large diagrammatic-type image on one wall using black paint, creating a bold structure with empty forms.
Audience members were requested to suggest letters, symbols or icons that could be used to fill in the blank spaces while building upon the existing structure that Zelevansky had created. As a result, his piece “Structure and Character” is a real standout work for the mere fact it enlivens the space with a bold, graphic presence.
Felice filled the expanse on the other side of the wall with a good number of “psychic drawings,” which he created by asking visitors to focus on a clear thought, which he then attempted to divine and translate into a drawing. The subsequent drawings combined make for an exquisitely detailed and interlocking mural that really doesn't make sense as a whole, but offers a multitude of visual entry points to what looks like a magnificent puzzle.
The piece “Tell Me What You Want (What You Really, Really Want)” by Droege and Escoto is basically a 6-foot-tall pyramid made of Styrofoam cups, at the base of which are three kid-sized swimming pools filled with water, that function as a wishing well.
While building it, Droege and Escoto requested that visitors share their wishes with them. The wishes were then printed on the Styrofoam cups and the gallery visitors were invited to toss coins into the cups. With wishes like “become a famous movie star” and “I just really want to be happy,” this installation offers more than a few hopes and dreams to ponder.
“The only thing holding it together is a few dabs of glue and some paper clips,” Raczka says with a chuckle. “It's going to be a miracle if it stays together (until the end of the exhibit) with all the kids running around as they do.”
Raczka says the exhibit is not meant to be a conventional “white cube” display. “It's meant to be a project, an exercise, a lab, an experiment,” he says. “It's art-in-public, or as public as a gallery can be, not art-installed-in-public, and it's meant to be ephemeral.”
At the close of the exhibit, the works will be painted over or effectively “cease to exist,” he says. “The artists are, of course, free to salvage what they can from what they made and use it as they may,” he says.
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.