Tuesday, April 23, 2013

KATE MILTENBERGER, Development Intern

Extra-Curricular Interests: rock climbing, school, books  

Artists in heavy rotation: The Decemberists, Bastille, Ellie Goulding, Kimbra, Broken Bells 

Two Things to a Deserted Island: a hammock and a book (possibly an e-reader with lots of books?!) 

Dinner with one person from history: Leo Tolstoy. He was Russian, wrote amazing books, and basically invented his own form of Christianity. That's some really great dinner conversation, if you ask me.

One more thing: I love the Legend of Zelda video games!


Thursday, April 18, 2013

SCREENINGS: T. Foley, Cone of Shamelessness

T. Foley is the artist behind the fourth installment of Screenings here at the Mattress Factory. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview Foley about her life, work and inspirations, and of course, her most recent work, Cone of Shamelessness, created specifically for the Mattress Factory.

CAITLIN HARPSTER:  Could you give us a brief history about yourself and how you have come to create the work that you do? 

T. FOLEY:  As long as I can remember, I’ve been an observer—this led me to begin writing short fiction in high school, and to major in English in college. Eventually I found that delivering stories to audiences (through print media and at readings) did not feel satisfying. In filmmaking school, I began to use actions, rather than words, to express my creativity, and that felt good. 

CH:  In Cone of Shamelessness you used your cell phone and a webcam to create the footage we see. Are you using technology as a mediator to connect with your viewers, by bringing it down to a relatable, local, low-tech, social media, texting level? 

TF:  I like home movies, so using the Web camera and iPhone--technology which many people have access to--made sense to me. The movie is very intimate—shot in our home, made with our dog.  It’s also a little love poem to our new dog. Intuitively, I was probably trying to balance my reactions to her being in that cone. Some of her regular gestures appeared hilarious to me, as in the shadow dog walking scene, when she looks like some kind of space monkey. I also sympathized with her frustrations (when she had an itch behind the cone, she was not able to scratch it).  

I have other work that is about accessing technology—specifically my public art/original ringtone creation project, Locally Toned. Through it, I work with others to capture the sounds that are interesting or important to them in a particular environment, and then I share the sounds as ringtones, free of charge, at locallytoned.org

CH:  I also feel the ‘low-tech’ quality of the video aids to it being more of a ‘gesture’ as well, which  Screenings is loosely based on. How did you interpret Cone of Shamelessness as a gesture? 

TF:  When figuring out what make for Screenings, I thought about the prompt to do “gestural” or “spontaneous” video sketches. So I wanted to keep things really simple in terms of technology and process. I also worked by myself, like William Wegman did in his early videos with his dogs in the studio. 

CH:  A lot of your works exude a sense of humor—personifying blow-up dolls, animalizing yourself, ventriloquism, etc. Is humor an element that you tend to utilize often in your works? 

TF:  I’m very inspired by comedy. As a tween and teen, I loved Saturday Night Live’s short films, and acts by Albert Brooks and Andy Kaufmann. Later I admired early performance videos by William Wegman and Miranda July. This past year I’ve developed more awareness as a comedic performer. I did a thematic residency last fall (with about 20 other artists) called Experimental Comedy Training Camp at The Banff Centre. We had come up with new, live performances every week, for seven weeks, and although it was really stressful it gave me the chance to try things outside my comfort zone. Before I went to Camp, after moving to Los Angeles last summer, I took a class at the Groundlings School—the West Coast improv program with alumni like Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig and Paul Reubens.

In licence, the blow-up doll movie, and in Cone of Shamelessness, I improvise scenarios that let me re-imagine the world. A blow-up doll is usually a sex object, but I teach her how to roller skate, sing, and drive a car. A ventriloquist dummy is a puppet meant to speak in public, but mine has selective mutism (he never speaks in public). He messages with others live, on Chatroulette, and re-does famous works of performance art (like Vito Acconci’s Seedbed). 

CH:  I know that one of the stipulations for this series was that the video be silent. How did this help shape your work, if at all? To me, it made for a more direct parallel between you and your dog. Dogs cannot talk, therefore the viewer is left to fill in the silence with their own thoughts of what you/your dog could be thinking. 

TF:  Yes, I thought about the fact that it was going to be silent. I pictured surveillance, live text-chat, or “choreography of motion” scenarios. I love the early films from the late 1800s by the Lumiere Brothers and Edison, so I was thinking in terms of an action simply unfolding before the camera.

About dogs not being able to talk -- that’s true! I often feel frustrated that I cannot tell Cousin Violet [the name of Foley's dog], “We’ll be back,” when she’s experiencing separation anxiety, or that I can’t say anything she’ll understand or be comforted by when she’s frustrated. Something like, “That cone won’t be on forever; it’s helping you to get better.”

T. Foley is an artist living and working in Los Angeles.  She received her BA in English at Duquesne University, and studied film, digital media and video at Pittsburgh Filmmakers as an independent student. Check out T. Foley’s work, Cone of Shamelessness, screening in the lobby through April 25, 2013. 

Read All Posts by Caitlin


Thursday, April 11, 2013

MOLLY TIGHE, Archivist

Extra-Curricular Interests: 
Traveling here, traveling there, going on hikes with water features, cooking with ingredients I've never used before (sometimes successfully), and practicing every preparatory yoga pose in the book that can help me be able to sit in a full lotus position...someday

What artists are currently in heavy rotation on your iPod?
Rachmaninoff, Grateful Dead (`76 and the late `89 are my favorite years of late), Granddaddy, Astrud Gilberto, and a compilation of pre-revolution Iranian pop

If you could bring two things with you to a deserted island, what would they be?
My husband and a bottle of the highest SPF waterproof sun block available

If you could have dinner with one person from history, who would it be and why?
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Or, if she would have the patience to help me with a few of my sewing questions, then I'd love to have dinner and chat with Coco Chanel.

One more thing we should know about you:
I had my wedding at the Mattress Factory!


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Our CLASSy Volunteers

Every other Thursday, a special group of volunteers visits the Mattress Factory. They're all participants in the day program at United Cerebral Palsy/Community Living and Support Services (UCP/CLASS). UCP/CLASS serves people with a wide range of disabilities who live in Allegheny County, offering programs that build on individual strengths and promote inclusion in the community. Day program participants volunteer at Veteran's hospitals, offices, and nonprofits in our community, and luckily, we're one of the stops for some art-loving volunteers.

Sherry Johnson and George Ryden visit us every other week with their enthusiastic program coordinator, Teresa Martuccio, and sometimes bring along new volunteers who have heard how much fun they have and want to see the museum for themselves. Our UCP participants help with any number of tasks: they stuff folders, they unwrap and prepare materials for installation, they staple our exhibition guides - and most importantly, they fill our lobby with cheer and joy. They love the museum as much as the staff, and like all of our volunteers, they're an important part of the MF family.

Not only do Sherry and George volunteer their time for the museum, they both create art through UCP's art classes. Sherry is a sweet, gentle woman who loves color - her favorite is purple, although she's told me that there isn't a color that she doesn't like. George is a sunny and energetic young man who loves sports, especially the Pirates. Both of them are enthusiastic artists, and you can even buy their work here at the MF - we sell greeting cards in the shop featuring Sherry and George's paintings.

Working with volunteers is one of the best parts of my job as Visitor Services Coordinator, and UCP's visits are a highlight in my week. It's a joy and a privilege to work with individuals who give back to their communities and are as passionate about art and the museum's mission as we are.

Read All Posts by Maria

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

CAITLIN HARPSTER, Education Intern

Extracurricular Activities:
I loveeee going to local shows, running through the cemetery, painting, printing and crafting of all sorts (if I ever find the time)

What artists are currently in heavy rotation on your iPod?
I do not have an iPod, but in my six-disc CD changer in my car, I have the albums: Citizen Cope, MGMT, First Aid Kit, The Gaslight Anthem, The Lumineers, and M. Ward.

If you could bring two things with you to a deserted island, what would they be?
I'm going to have to take the practical route on this one and say matches and a knife. I'm not much of a MacGyver.

If you could have dinner with one person from history, who would it be and why?

It would have to be Gerhard Richter, my all-time favorite artist.  I like to think we would be really good friends.

One more thing we should know about you:

You should know that I am addicted to road trips!


SAM DITCH, Museum Shop Manager

Extra-Curricular Interests:
Thrifting, making things, reading sci-fi books, and collecting vinyl records

What artists are currently in heavy rotation on your iPod?

T. Rex, Devendra Banhart, Ian & Sylvia, The Incredible String Band, & Los Destellos

If you could bring two things with you to a deserted island, what would they be?

My library of books (that counts as one right?!) and a water purification system

If you could have dinner with one person from history, who would it be and why?
Rachel Carson, because I would love to hear her thoughts and suggestions on where we are headed today

One more thing we should know about you:
I can often be found hula-hooping to Peruvian Cumbia in my tiny backyard.


MARIA MANGANO, Visitor Services Coordinator

Extra-Curricular Interests
Bicycling, clarinet, natural history, making high-pitched noises at photos of cute cats on the internet

What artists are currently in heavy rotation on your iPod?
Don Byron; The Bad Plus; Chamber Music Northwest & David Shifrin playing the Brahms Clarinet Quintet

If you could bring two things with you to a deserted island, what would they be?
A pocket knife, and my husband--he's good at the wilderness survival thing, so he could build us a shelter while I go birdwatching

If you could have dinner with one person from history, who would it be and why?
Marie Skłodowska-Curie. She was an incredible scientist and a true trailblazer for women - the first woman to win a Nobel, the only person to win in multiple sciences, the first female professor at the University of Paris - I could go on. Her pride in her heritage (she used her Polish maiden name professionally), her defiance of prevailing wisdom concerning the ability of women, and her dedication to her career have inspired me since childhood.

One more thing we should know about you:
I taught myself Quenya (the Elvish language and alphabet from Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings) in high school. It gave me some nerd cred for Carnegie Mellon.


Monday, April 8, 2013

MANDY YOUNG, Marketing Manager

Extra-Curricular Interests
I enjoy web-based collections acquisitions (read: online shopping), devouring British period pieces, whipping up culinary creations with none of the proper ingredients, and continuing my life-long quest for the perfect sweatshirt.

What artists are currently in heavy rotation on your iPod?
MGMT, Moody Blues, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac

If you could bring two things with you to a deserted island, what would they be?
I suppose I should say, "my fiance," and something practical like, "bottled water." But if we're playing make-believe let's say a swarthy pirate and an unlimited supply of fair-trade coffee.

If you could have dinner with one person from history, who would it be and why?
My grandfather. Also Frank Lloyd Wright, because cantilevers.

One more thing we should know about you:
I have an unhealthy obsession with ridding the world of grammatical errors. I also do not like sweet drinks or mean people. I do, however, like mean drinks and sweet people.

Factory Feature: Betsy Damon

Betsy Damon is an artist whose work is part of Feminist And…, an exhibition we have on view through May 26. Damon is an environmental artist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She received her MFA from Columbia University. In 1985 while camping across the country with her children, Betsy was moved by the dry riverbeds in Castle Valley, Utah, and decided to devote her life to the investigation, education, and preservation of the integrity of water. Six years later, in 1991, Damon founded Keepers of the Waters. As their mission states, Keepers of the Waters aims "to inspire and promote projects that combine art, science and community involvement to restore, preserve and remediate water sources."

For Feminist And… Damon created an enchanting installation in our basement. Equipped with stones, rocks and running water, Water Rules–Life Pittsburgh: Seeking Lost Rivers, Living Waters of Larimer is an inspirited work of art that completely transforms the space into a captivating new environment. Described by Damon as a “river,” this installation is meant to represent the topography of Pittsburgh. Damon explains that, “Water is the foundation of all life. The Ohio River is the foundation of Pittsburgh, and this very basement is the foundation of the Mattress Factory. This installation down in the basement is a foundation.” 

As part of her installation, Damon includes a video, Living Waters of Larimer. In this video, Damon interviews the residents of Larimer and talks to them about water in their community. Larimer is a plateau neighborhood in the east end of Pittsburgh upon which more than 75 million gallons of water falls upon annually. As part of her work here at the Mattress Factory, Damon also expands her installation to include the work she is doing in the Larimer community. Damon poses the question, “What would happen if Larimer was able to collect all their water?” She then concludes, “They could have playgrounds with water, fountains, ponds, streams running through, water for fire, water for the basic street cleaning, and it would all be from the rain water.” Damon continues to work with the Larimer green team and district to redesign the infrastructure of the neighborhood in order to accomplish such goals.

One might ask how an environmentalist such as Damon ties into our Feminist and… installation.  Damon explains, “The Earth really is our mother. We were born in water, and most life is created in water. Water is a generative force on our planet. For many reasons it has been really important for me personally to find that generative initiating impulse of life. And that’s very female.” Damon also was an activist during the beginning of the women’s movement and taught a feminist studio at Cornell University. She led a huge national network for twenty years called No Limits for Women Artists.

On Saturday, April 20, 2013, Betsy Damon will be at the Mattress Factory to lead ArtLab: You Are Water. In this ArtLab, participants will learn about how water creates life, form, your body, plants, stones, etc. She will demonstrate how to create natural filtration systems, and participants will make a work of art using a beautiful marbling technique on paper and inspired by the important role water plays in our lives.

Read All Posts by Caitlin

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

SCREENINGS: Steven Summers, Empire

Steven Summers is a Chicago-based artist originally from Pittsburgh. Summers studied painting and drawing, receiving an MFA in Film and Video at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He now works as a video instructor for DePaul University and The Chicago Academy for the Arts. Summers’ works range from traditional narratives to experimental installations. Summers installed a two-channel video, XX/XY, at the museum for our 2002 Gestures series. The piece consisted of two screens--one displaying an old man and one a young woman--at either end of a long corridor. XX/XY played with the notion of a moment in time—two screens staring back at each other.

For the current Screenings exhibition, Summers has created Empire. Empire is a three-hour, digitally manipulated video of an elderly man lying dead on the floor in a living room. How long has the man been lying there? What is actually happening? Is anything happening at all? One might ponder these sorts of questions while standing in front of the large projection screen in the lobby of the Mattress Factory. If you choose to stick around for a few (or several) minutes, you might begin to notice something is, in fact, happening. The room begins to grow lighter, becoming more illuminated as time passes. You might begin to notice the clouds outside the window are slowly floating by. The fern in the background is ever so slightly swaying back and forth. A narrative is unfolding, and it is up to the viewer to fill in the gaps.  

Summers’ Empire is a beautiful homage to Andy Warhol’s 1964 film of the same name. I touched base with Exhibitions Manager, Owen Smith and got his feedback on the new installment. Owen mentions, “It is Summers’ own version of a homage to Warhol, but not in the traditional sense that he is trying to achieve the same things. It is totally different.” Warhol’s film is an eight-hour piece in black and white, and is a single, stationary shot of the Empire State Building. Devoid of anything personal, Warhol’s Empire presents a spectator-viewer of the exterior of an iconic building in New York City. It is a commentary on the passing of time, from dusk to dawn. Warhol lengthened the film from six to eight hours by slowing down the speed from 24 frames per second to 16 frames per second. The point of the film, according to Warhol, is to, “see time go by.” Warhol asks the viewer to be patient, and absorb the changing of time, almost in a religious, meditative state.

Summers’ Empire is also asking the same thing of his viewers; however, Summers’ video is much more personal and more narrative than Warhol’s film. We, the viewer, have a bug's-eye-view of the deceased man. We are helplessly present in the room with him, and we--the viewer--are alive. According to Summers, this could be “both a comment on mortality but also the nature of narrative films. Narrative films, by tradition, work in an artificial time bubble. They cut quickly from scene to scene, and jump from day to day. ‘Boring’ unimportant parts are removed.” Empire is not one of these narrative films. It does not run on its own fictional clock, but runs in the same real time that the viewer experiences. Summers wants the viewer to feel time.

Steven Summers’ Empire will be screening in the lobby of the Mattress Factory during regular museum hours until April 11, 2013. Come by and check it out for yourself!

Read All Posts by Caitlin

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


The natural world, including human beings, is connected through a sacred energy.  When you walk through the woods or a beautiful garden you are connected to this wonderful energy. Earth Day helps us to remember this and to realize that we must protect and take care of our natural environment. Art can represent the spirit and beauty of the natural world by exactly replicating nature (such as photography and certain painting processes) or through more conceptual art, representing the spirit or ideas of the artist such as Winifred Lutz’ Garden at the Mattress Factory. With this in mind, we are planning plenty of Earth-friendly events to celebrate Earth Day!  

Earth Day at the Mattress Factory will take place Saturday, April 6, 2013. The museum will host three special events: Backyard Composting, Water & You: How Rain Gardens Clean & Protect the Environment and Art Lab: From Herbs to Art.  

Backyard Composting will be held from 10am to noon. Not sure what to do with your kitchen, garden and yard scraps? Would you like natural, home-made compost for your lawns and gardens? Expand your recycling efforts to include kitchen scraps and yard debris. Nancy Martin-Silver of the Pennsylvania Resource Council--who taught the Rain Barrel workshop, “Celebrate the Rain!” last fall--returns to present this workshop. Backyard Composting will cover the importance and benefits of composting, the process of setting up a compost pile, proper maintenance, and ways of using finished compost. Participants will receive an Earth Machine Compost Bin, which is approved across the state as an ideal bin for urban and suburban areas, and has an eighty-gallon capacity. Registration is required and costs $50 single/$55 couple (includes one compost unit per registration). Sign up at www.prc.org or call (412) 488-7490, ext. 226. 

Water & You: How Rain Gardens Clean and Protect the Environment will follow the Backyard Composting workshop. Free with museum admission, Water & You will be hosted by The Urban Gardeners, the local and creative North Side gardening center and artists. The Urban Gardeners are not strangers to the Mattress Factory: in 2009, they created a beautiful site-specific living plant installation, Lawn, outside the entrance to 1414 Monterey Street. We are thrilled to have them back to lead this interactive demonstration about the significance of rain gardens and how they aid in naturally protecting our environments. The Urban Gardeners will also discuss what watersheds are and how they function in rain gardens. The Urban Gardeners will provide useful information about how to build and maintain your own rain garden so we all can do our part in saving the environment. 

Art Lab: From Herbs to Art is the final installment of Earth Day at the Mattress Factory and will take place from 1pm-4pm. This special ArtLab will be guided by museum educator Rosalind Santavicca. Rosalind will demonstrate the special technique she uses to create watercolor prints of beautiful herbs, plants and flowers. Participants will be able to pick from a selection of herbs, or use leaves from plants in the Mattress Factory’s own urban garden. This is a fun project that can be done at home with your friends and family as well! ArtLab is free with museum admission.

Read All Posts by Caitlin