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Arts & Entertainment

'Nothing' exhibit challenges the notion of what is possible

| Sunday, March 28, 2010

If we can believe that nothing is impossible and that anything can happen, how would we live differently• What could we envision• Where could we be• What implications are there if we banish contemporary constrictions and limitations of thinking?

In 1999, Tate Modern curator Sheena Wagstaff lauded the assertion by the Mattress Factory directors Barbara Luderowski and Michael Olijnyk that "nothing is impossible." Since then, the pair and their museum have proved that quite literally, producing exhibits filled with installation works that not only challenge visitors, but the physical building itself, which has been poked, punctured, sawed and otherwise altered in countless ways in the name of art.

Now, they prove it again with "Nothing is Impossible," an exhibit with new and context-specific work by artists Karl Burke, Rhona Byrne, Brian Griffiths, Bea McMahon and Dennis McNulty.

Based in Dublin and London, each of the artists was invited to spend a period of two months in Pittsburgh to develop work for this exhibit.

This project is the first in a series developed by curators Mark Garry and Georgina Jackson as part of the curators-in-residence program at the Mattress Factory. The residency, made possible through support from the Fine Foundation, began in March 2009 and will continue until April 2011.

Both Garry and Jackson believe that artistic practice is a method of re-thinking our relationship with the world, of posing other possibilities, other narratives.

Each of the artists did their part in filling the Mattress Factory's Annex Gallery, affecting each space their works occupy with alternate realities that question perception, scale and physical space.

That's obvious right at the entrance, where visitors are confronted with a giant teddy-bear head made of tarpaulin that literally pushes and pulls against the very parameters of the gallery space. Titled "The Body and Ground (or Your Lovely Smile)," the inflatable piece by Griffiths seemingly is tethered to the ground by ties. These ties suggest a kind of submission, recalling the tale of Gulliver's encounter with the Lilliputians or a type of outmoded circus performance. The bear, a powerful and sometimes dangerous beast, is culturally constructed into an object of comfort and cuddles. Almost human, its opened eyes confront passers-by and look out through the windows to spaces beyond.

Behind this, McNulty's piece considers how and what buildings become, their values, failures and possibilities. Undercurrents of science fiction and fantasy interplay with social, political and architectural histories, in works which weigh intention against physical experience.

This work, titled "Projected from First Principles," has two HD videos within a constructed space. The first, showing images of a seated figure wearing a mirrored visor and gesturing to the viewer, is projected onto the wall accompanied by somewhat ambiguous, though distinctly urban sounds. The other, projected into a triangular arrangement of two-way mirror glass, presents a fragment of footage of a car journey along the freeway, intertwining and looping again and again, on an endlessly repeating excursion. The image repeats itself visually to infinity in the two-way mirror matrix; a never-ending loop or a journey to nowhere.

These two videos alternate with each other and, within this mechanism of display, suggests a tension or friction, an ambition to control and be certain of something, anything, and, yet, an inability to stop the motion of time or progress. The reflections that are employed in all aspects of this work confirm our role in and responsibility for the systems that currently surround us.

Another film work by McMahon functions in similar fashion, but in a more direct way. Titled "Invisible," the real-time elements of the film were shot using two cameras simultaneously.

During filming in Pittsburgh, the cameras were positioned on a device that fixed them so that they replicated the distance between human eyes. This real-time footage was combined with a number of animated sequences. The two pieces of film are displayed simultaneously and are superimposed, causing a double image to occur. The footage is shown using two projectors through left and right circular polarizing filters onto a screen made from a mirror that is coated in milk.

Within this body of work, the mechanics of production and the methods of display coalesce with the conceptual references and subject matter, creating a situation where each element references and reveals elements of each other. Such is the manner in which much of the subject matter in the film work is presented as double images which reference both thinking about how our vision works and the stereoscopic method used to film this work.

With the piece "Stop the world I want to get offffff," Byrne relied on the generous management at Kennywood who allowed her to procure a number of the older wooden sections from "The Racer.". Byrne's piece, located in a room on the third floor, is a sculptural work made from this reconstituted material. Basically a circular, elevating ramp that takes the viewer up to the ceiling, it offers a pathway through the gallery space, a slower trajectory through the world and vantage point to other places, inviting us to experience imaginary mental and perceptual spaces as much as a shared physical one.

Finally, Burke takes his work outside with "7 increments," which takes the form of a large sculptural intervention that is located in a vacant parking lot at 510 Sampsonia Way.

This work is made from the type of galvanized-steel sections typically used to construct urban fencing. The work consists of seven independent square units each measuring 12 feet by 12 feet set equidistant in a straight line.

Burke employs these modular forms to frame the environment they inhabit. Acting like a form of tunnel, its vertical lines and physical scale dissect its surrounding buildings, trees and sky.

This configuration and its deliberate use of scale dwarfs the viewers, encouraging them to re-access their personal physicality and relationship with the objects that surround them.

There are several more works by each of the artists on display as well, making for a thorough exhibit experience that truly does re-imagine the entirety of each respective space they occupy, and prove that nothing is impossible.

Additional Information:

'Nothing Is Impossible'

What: An exhibit with new and context specific work by artists Karl Burke, Rhona Byrne, Brian Griffiths, Bea McMahon and Dennis McNulty

When: Through Aug. 8. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 1-5 p.m. Sundays

Admission: $10; $8 for senior citizens; $7 for students; free for age 5 and younger. Half-off admission Thursdays (except group tours)

Where: Mattress Factory's Annex Gallery, 1414 Monterey St., North Side

Details: 412-231-3169 or Web site

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