Roving Eye: Flying High in Pittsburgh



My week started out with a trip to Flight School. Not to learn how to fly a plane, but to see presentations by 20 Pittsburgh-based artists who just completed a program by that name. Hilary Robinson, formerly the dean of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Fine Arts, got the idea last year, and the project quickly came together with funding from many local foundations, plus a grant from Creative Capital in New York. Flight School aims to teach local artists, through a series of business-related strategy sessions, the skills necessary to be successful in their careers.


The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts/Pittsburgh Filmmakers and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council teamed up to make the program a reality. The participating artists learned how to develop business models, how to approach museum types and how to develop an eye-catching portfolio. There were several stand-outs in the group: Dave English, an animator; sculptor/performance artist Vanessa German; and photographer Jae Ruberto. It’s great to see so many truly talented young artists thriving here, and it seems to me that Pittsburgh really has become a place where artists see a future for themselves and their careers.


On Wednesday, I headed to Lawrenceville, aka the Williamsburg of Pittsburgh, to visit Mary Mazziotti in her Studio space located in a former arsenal. Mazziotti started off in the advertising business and has lived all over the world, including Indonesia and the Middle East. She eventually decided to focus full-time on art-making, and her textile-based pieces combine traditional practice with contemporary social critique. She is very interested in skeletons and death, and she incorporates these themes into domestic textiles like pillowcases and quilts. Mazziotti also creates stitched works that situate her Death character in the most unlikely scenarios: Death feeding his cat, Death visiting the dentist, and even Death at an orgy. I love the playful energy in Mazziotti’s work, and New Yorkers can go see her solo show at OK Harris Gallery in SoHo until May 14th.


Yesterday was a very busy art day in Pittsburgh, with several openings at downtown galleries and art spaces. First, I went to see Herman Pearl’s new installation Named UnNamed in a vacant commercial space. I entered a pitch-black tunnel leading into another darkened space that’s illuminated by a hovering circle of light in the center of the room. Recorded voices utter name after name in varying degrees of clarity, and as I drew nearer to the center of the space and stepped underneath the circle of light, I realized that I was on a platform that began to vibrate beneath me. The piece completely altered my depth perception and vision, and only after reading the text panel outside the installation did I realize that the names were those of American soldiers killed in the Iraq War.


Next, I made my way across the street to the new August Wilson Center for African American Culture to see Alisha Wormsley’s show “A Photopera: The Transformation of Oshe.” In addition to paintings, collages and a shrinelike installation, the opening featured a live performance by Houston artist and opera diva par excellence Lisa E. Harris. Wormsley recently spent several months in Cuba researching the influence of African religions there. Her show includes a series of photos of Wormsley’s friends and family channeling some of the gods the artist learned about through her research. I especially loved a video piece exploring Stockholm Syndrome and slavery–an idea powerful and haunting in equal measure.