Tuesday, July 30, 2013


The Mattress Factory produces a robust series of educational outreach programs in local schools around the Pittsburgh region. Our educators work with teachers and students in classrooms to actively investigate the creative practice of resident artists as they experiment with new materials, take risks and communicate ideas through installation art.

Recently artist John Pena visited the Barack Obama Academy of International Studies to explore his process with the students there. This is what he had to say:

Over a series of twenty sessions, I worked with an art teacher named Donna Hetrick and eight of her advanced art students at the Obama Academy in East Liberty to create a series of site-specific installations throughout their school. During my first ten visits, we focused on shorter exercises that I created to help familiarize the students with installation art and the role that context plays in creating an installation.

The first exercise I gave them was to create a mini-museum that had to house five objects of great importance to them. It also had to be small enough to be stored on their body somewhere. One student painted tiny images of his objects on his keys. Another created a tiny paper house with small clay sculptures of her objects inside. We then took a field trip to the Mattress Factory and the students were impressed and challenged by what they saw. It left an indelible mark on them as they continued talking about it over the course of our time together. 

Finally, each student had to pick a site in their school for which they were to propose a work of installation art. After they secured their site, Donna and I had them write up a proposal of their installation including all logistics, materials and motivations for their idea. This proposal had to be supplemented with preliminary sketches as well. Once their proposals were approved by the principal of the school, the students began creating their installations. The reactions to their installations were very positive. The student body began talking about them and it was exciting to watch the young artists explaining their ideas and approach to their peers. Below is a list of the installations with a quick description of each project.

Rina Matsuda
Title: Sun
Materials: Yellow paper & Tape
Description: Rina proposed to create a giant image of the sun using small pieces of yellow paper. It took about a month to install this project. Rina was trying to draw awareness to the one space in the entire school where there is an abundance of natural light.

Wendy Levenson
Title: G2G
Materials: Paper and Red Cellophane
Description: Wendy noticed that an exit sign on the 2nd floor of the school was missing its cover, so she decided to create a new cover using the language of text messaging instead of the traditional word “Exit.” This was an effort to address how much of a hurry everyone seems to be in during the school day. Wendy wanted to cause people to look at their environment more closely as well as create an installation that was enhancing or improving upon her school. 

Myiya Peters
Title: Vines
Materials: Paint and Graphite
Description: Myiya wanted to create an installation that was always in a state of constantly growing and changing. Over two weeks time, she painted an image of a vine growing out of a hole in a pillar near the cafeteria. She expressed her concern about how there has been a hole in the pillar for a long time and it bothers her. So she decided to make something exciting emerging from it.


India Harper
Title: Bridge to Nowhere
Materials: Paper, Markers and Tape
Description: India’s idea stemmed from a quote from Barack Obama in which he states, “Excuses only build bridges to nowhere.” She wanted to visually represent this somehow so she took strips of grey paper and asked her friends and teachers to write an excuse on each piece of paper. Then after she collected well over 60 excuses, she used the paper to construct a bridge on the wall of the school. One side of the bridge is emanating from a students mouth while the other end of the bridge is collapsing.


Tommy Brewer
Title: Barriers to Water
Materials: String, Wood and Glue
Description: Tommy’s IB Diploma theme is clean water. He decided he wanted to create an installation that would draw awareness to how fortunate we are in the United States that we have easy access to clean water. So he suspended wiry string around a water fountain in the school to cause people to paused before they drink the water. Then there was a printed explanation of the project above the fountains.

Monday, July 29, 2013


I led a two-week workshop for kids ages 9-12 called “Mammoth, Monstrous, Massive Sculptures.” During this time we created large scale sculptures made out of low-tech materials like cardboard and paint. We then brought the sculpture to life by using our bodies to control them. During the first week, I had the students create a series of smaller sculptures to help familiarize themselves with the materials and ideas.

During the first shorter exercise, I had each student bring in an small object then asked them to replicate that object five or ten times its original size using cardboard, tape and paint. We installed these objects in the Mattress Factory Garden and the kids were excited to see their large objects in a new context. The next project centered around the concept of “Ephemeral.” We discussed the definition of ephemeral then I showed them examples of Ephemeral Art. I broke them into teams of 3-4 and gave them one day to create an ephemeral experiences using cardboard and paper. This exercise went wonderfully and I was excited to see how well they understood and internalized this concept. We had a spirited discussion after each of the teams presented their final project.

The last week of the workshop was spent working on two large-scale interactive sculptures. We brainstormed ideas for what we wanted to become as a group and quickly decided to make two projects. One team called “Team Iceburgh” made a giant iceberg out of cardboard, tape and paint. Each part of the structure was made to fit one of the students so they could all be a part of the overall structure. In order to give the illusion that it was melting, they all moved in unison with each other and slowly knelt down to create the illusion the melting ice. The second team was called “Pencil Plan” and they created a large box of colored pencils that they inhabited. Each person was clad in a costume that resembled a colored pencil. The costumes were quite creative as they involved a hat with a tip that could be pressed down to mimic the dulling of a pencil’s lead. The kids acted out a skit where they ran out of the box, dulled themselves by drawing and then had to return to the box to get sharpened.

Both projects were a huge success. I was amazed at how well the kids worked together to bring their ideas to life in such a short time.

--John Peña

Visit John Peña's website at johnpena.net.

Friday, July 26, 2013


Meet Russ Orlando. Russ arrived this week for his residency at the Mattress Factory to install his work for the exhibition, Detroit: Artists in Residence. Russ holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Wayne State University and a Master of Fine Arts from Cranbrook Academy of Art, and has built his career as an artist primarily through performance, often using his own body as an impetus for social commentary. The artist's statement on his website offers:

Whether physically present in my work or creating a sculptural object, the methods I use attempt to capture the immediate in gestures, from a place that I both know and do not know. I experiment with performance, video, photography and collage, often in the same piece.

I like to explore conflict in my work, always leaving several entry points for the viewer. My natural inclination is to do things that are improvisational. To counter this, I’ll sometimes do a piece that’s very controlled and meticulous to refresh and regroup. But occasionally, I combine these two approaches. Most recently, I’ve been focusing on activating the performance in a sculptural object.

When I arrived at work this morning, Russ was standing in our administration office, clad in a mechanic's blue collared jumpsuit, stirring a pot of salt water. I would have raised an eyebrow, but things like that are more common here than not; one of the coolest aspects about working at the Mattress Factory is that we get to witness artists in action as they prepare their installations for public view. Russ invited me and my coffee out to the garden to watch him "salt" some of the pieces for his installation, which will incorporate old car parts crusted in salt. 

Russ Orlando (right) chats with MF co-director Michael Olijnyk about his project

Between hurling ladles of salty sludge at a rusted and graffiti-ed fender he pulled from a junkyard in Detroit, Russ explained that his process for this project is to not alter the original metal piece in any way, but to apply layers of salt, letting it "cure" in the sun for a few days at a time. 

Russ Orlando applies salt to metal car parts in the garden

Russ stressed that he likes to leave the way the salt adheres to the metal to chance, and referenced Richard Serra's early work with flinging red-hot lead at the wall and floor in Jasper John's studio.

I left Russ as he was dripping the last crystals of salt onto his fender and grill, wondering if the salt would eventually completely obscure that fabulous section of aqua paint on the fender. I suppose we won't know until the piece is finished--that is the exciting thing about installations at the Mattress Factory...you never know.

Save the date for the opening reception of new works by Detroit: Artists in Residence, Janine Antoni and Chiharu Shiota, September 12 from 7 - 9 p.m.

Read All Posts by Mandy

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Richard Morris Used to Live in Our New Gallery Space

516 Sampsonia Way, our soon-to-open 2,500 square-foot exhibition space, was a rental property from the late 1800s until the 1980s. While Molly Tighe, our archivist, was digging through historical documents to research the building, we were contacted by Richard Morris, whose family lived in the property from 1934 until 1963. Morris was a wealth of information, and provided stories and pictures about life in the North Side at the middle of the century. Since his stories give such a great sense of space for the building and resonate so well with the themes of our opening exhibition there—Chiharu Shiota: Trace of Memory—we decided to make a video, and let Morris take you through a virtual tour of the building before it opens on September 12th. Enjoy!

--Posted by Matthew, marketing intern

Friday, July 19, 2013


For the past two weeks an enthusiastic bunch of students have taken up their own artist residence at the Mattress Factory for Community Art Labs. Pittsburgh puppet maker Cheryl Capezzuti has been working with a group of 10 to 13-year olds to transform both every day and unusual materials into one-of-a-kind creatures and full-body puppets.

Artist John Peña has been guiding students through various stages of sculpture, from miniature to massive! 

You can see more pictures of Community Art Lab on our Flickr page.

As today is the last full day of workshops for our first session, Director of Education Felice Cleveland sat down with the young participants to hear what they had to say about the Mattress Factory and their workshops. Some of the best responses are below:

Do you know what installation art is?
-Yes, art you can walk into –  a place that you can actually live in.
-Yes, art that you can get into – inside of it and connected with it.
-Yes, art that makes use of space or that you can be inside of.
-Yes, when art is made in the space and it is IN the space.
-Something that is creative and can use any material, anything you can imagine.

What have you learned at Community Art Lab?
-That you never make mistakes in art, even if you mess up to keep going
-How to work better with other people, work more quickly and execute an idea faster.
-That there is art that stands out and art that doesn’t. I learned that "ephemeral" is something that lasts for a very short time.
-Art isn’t just painting and sketches. You don’t need anything fancy to make art (i.e. we are using a lot of cardboard!).

What was your favorite activity at Community Art Lab?
-Making the project where something fits in your hand five or ten times bigger.
-Making small and big puppets – it was very artistic and we used recycled materials. Working together on one project but trying different materials. 
-Giant puppets and making giant things.

How did you like being at the Mattress Factory all day?
-I like it, it's fun and different. I’ve never been to a camp with so many activities and you actually get to go outside and eat lunch in a piece of artwork.
-I like it a lot. I like the atmosphere of both classes. It is happy like a family.
-I LOVE it, because it is fun and creative and you get to not just look at art, but go in to it.

How does Community Art Lab compare to other programs you have participated in?
-It is more exciting here and you get to do everything.
-It is better than others, you can make so many things with all your teachers and it is so fun.
-Everyone is treated the same – both adults + kids. There is a better quality of art/materials.
-This program is a lot more work—more collaborative.
-It is a museum and it is a lot of art – there are better and more interesting projects at CAL. Other
camps have projects I already know and something I don’t know is more interesting.
-All other programs were science / math, so this was more creative and laid back. There were no wrong ideas for projects.

What improvements could be made to Community Art Lab?
-Longer – having more weeks.
-Longer days.
-We could add more weeks and have more activities and different artists come.

Do you have any other comments?
-The Mattress Factory is awesome.
-I think that there is a good amount of staff who were all very charismatic and I’m glad they had air conditioning.

All of the students involved in this summer's Community Art Labs will take part in a celebration August 9 from 6-8pm. Come check out what all the budding artists who participated in our workshops have been up to this summer. Invite your friends to come with you and see incredible artwork (both in our permanent collection AND made by students) and never-before-seen performances, participate in hands-on workshops and enjoy light fare. Free; RSVPs requested to felice[at]mattress[dot]org.

Thanks to all of our 2013 Community Art Lab participants. We're glad we have air conditioning too!

Read All Posts by Mandy

Monday, July 15, 2013


During the last week of the installation, Feminist And..., we detailed our intern Matthew Liner to document some of the works for our blog. Matthew dug deep and spent time in each of the spaces to share them in his own words. Below are his interpretations of works by Parastou Forouhar, Loraine Leeson and Carrie Mae Weems.

Feminist And…Orientalism: 
The Work Of Parastou Forouhar

Parastou Forouhar’s Written Room defies traditional boundaries of architecture. The walls and floor are covered in an ornamental Farsi that branches and sweeps over the white of the room. The writing does not obey the “up-down direction” that Forouhar attributes to architecture. Instead, she reimages the space as a place where her language fails in everyday life, separating her from both the Western culture that sees her home as an “alien society” and the native Iran that rejects her beliefs.

Through her illustration, animation, painting, and sculpture, Forouhar observes how we, as Westerners, observe “Oriental-Islamic” culture. To the average Western viewer, the writing on the walls of Written Room is indecipherable. The Persian language becomes pure ornamentation: a beautiful script that simultaneously alienates and contains its audience. The cultural gulf created by the disparity between languages separates the audience from what surrounds them. They can find no beginning, no end, and no words for interpretation. The effect is that of expatriates in a foreign country: thrust into a new culture and forced to give up an authoritative standpoint, isolated by what surrounds them.

However, Forouhar complicates her work. The Farsi on the walls only offers snippets of phrases and words, leaving the piece broken and obfuscated to even those who can read her writing. The choice to further the distance between the audience and the artwork hints at the beginnings of the project as it relates to the identity of an expatriate, distanced from both the culture she’s in and the culture she’s from.

Forouhar’s parents were assassinated on November 21, 1998. Her parents, Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, were the first of the “Chain Murders”—political murders of the Iranian government’s opposition. A year later, Forouhar began her Written Room project, building a body of work that explores national identity from a country known for political prosecution of women and activists.

Since the deaths of her parents, the Iranian government has challenged Forouhar at every attempt to memorialize her parents’ deaths. Most recently, in November of 2012, she was stopped and had her passport confiscated upon entering the Iranian airport. Her precarious situation makes obvious the dilemma of the expat existing between a cultures that misunderstands and a culture that rejects.

You can view more of Forouhar’s work, as well as read her essays on her website.

Feminist And…Community Perspectives: 
Loraine Leeson’s Active Energy

“If there were any technology that could be developed that you feel would best support yourselves or your communities, what would that be?”

Loraine Leeson's art practice revolves around the above question. Through her work, she’s helped raise awareness for a variety of issues, bringing communities together around a single cause. Her community-centered art has worked to benefit communities for the past 30 years. In the 80s, Leeson co-founded the Docklands Community Poster Project, which ran during the ten-year re-development of the London Docklands. In 2002, she founded cSPACE, a website dedicated to the exploration of collective creative practice.

In 2008, Leeson began Active Energy, a series of interviews with the Geezers Club in London’s East End. This project has Leeson directly asking her subjects what technology they thought would support their community, and the group banded together in answering the question with a concern about alternative energy in the Thames. Since, the group has made a proposal to install turbines in the river.

Bringing the project to Pittsburgh with the Mattress Factory, Leeson posed the same question to a group of senior North Side women, and they answered with their concerns about Alzheimer’s. The videos of the interviews, exploring their concerns about dementia and aging, are paired with those of the Geezers in London. Outside the viewing room, a small table and video station offer an interactive segment of the piece, where viewers can watch more in-depth interviews, as well as find out more about the project. The effect of the piece is a cacophony of voices, blending concerns of mental and environmental health from both sides of the Atlantic, and connecting with Betsy Damon’s addition to the exhibition.

Find out more about Loraine Leeson’s work at the Active Energy website and join in on the conversation in the comments below. What technology do you feel would best help the local community?

Feminist And…Pepper’s Ghost: 
Carrie Mae Weems’ Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me

What do Carrie Mae Weems and Tupac Shakur have in common?

They’ve both taken the form of Pepper’s Ghost.

Carrie Mae Weems’ installation at Mattress Factory (which recently traveled to the Look3 festival) builds on an already diverse body of work that examines the legacies of racism, sexism, and classism in American culture through far ranging media. For her piece at the Mattress Factory—Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me – A Story in Five Parts—Weems skews the use of film in a way only she can, by conjuring up Pepper’s Ghost., a technique with roots in the 16th-century that still wows audiences today.

In the late 16th-century, Neapolitan scientist Giambattista della Porta set down instructions for an illusion titled “How we may see in a Chamber things that are not.” The instructions, which describe using a polished glass pane to reflect objects completely outside the audience’s field of vision, are (according to Wikipedia) the first description of Pepper’s Ghost.

Fast-forward to 1862, and the inventor Henry Dirks has developed a theatre spectacle known as the Dirksian Phantasmagoria, an update to the illusion that fills an entire stage.  Dirks’ technique proved too costly for theater owners to support, since the entire stage needed to be rebuilt for his effect to work. So, John Henry Pepper, a scientist and inventor with The Royal Polytechnic Institute in London, popularized a modification of Dirks’ technique that was cheaper. Pepper’s name was permanently tied to the technique, although he did try to give Dirks credit.

Since its popularization, the technique has been used by everyone including amateur haunted house builders to the team that brought Tupac Shakur back to life at Coachella 2012.

Weems uses the illusion to great effect, capitalizing on the ethereal quality of Pepper’s Ghost to show how the history of race, gender, and class in America still haunts our culture today.

-Posted by Matthew, marketing intern

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


As we discovered in our last post from the MF Archives, James Turrell's 1983 exhibition at the Mattress Factory marked a significant turning point for the museum, which until then had only exhibited works by local artists. Though the museum's exhibition program has grown to include works by artists from over 25 countries, many aspects of the early life of the Mattress Factory remain unchanged. In particular, I find it fascinating to look back and reflect on the museum's long-standing dedication to maintaining a creative workspace for artists. Ever since the very beginning, co-directors Barbara and Michael have encouraged artists to experiment with their craft, unencumbered by deadlines or commitments, and with the undivided support of the entire museum staff.

James Turrell planning his installations at the Mattress Factory, 1983

James Turrell's month-long residency was a flurry of activity. He worked alongside the construction crew, drafting and re-drafting plans, hanging drywall, and experimenting with a variety of effects until he was satisfied that his vision had been realized.

James Turrell planning and re-planning his installations, 1983

In November 1983, Turrell described his Mattress Factory residency as providing the time to take risks and explore far more possibilities within a space than he expected in a standard museum setting. He described the experiences as allowing him to "work as an artist," making messes, changing plans last minute, and allowing the artwork to evolve and develop through the creation process.[1]

James Turrell working "as an artist."

The 1983 Mattress Factory presentation of James Turrell works was a part of, Urban Pulses: The Artist and the City, a cross-institutional, city-wide exhibition heralded as the most significant expression of contemporary art in Pittsburgh in decades.[2] Over the course of several months contemporary art heavyweights Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, Paul Thek, Gilbert and George, Romare Bearden, Roger Welch, Ed Paschke, Michael Smith, David Wojnarowczs and others filled gallery spaces across the city, offering varying takes on notions of urbanity, expression, and the grit of the city life.

Without a doubt, the most lasting work from this intensely vibrant period in the Pittsburgh art scene are the two Turrell works created during his residency, Pleiades and Danaë. We'll look closer at these works and learn about how they came to stay at the Mattress Factory in our next post.  

[1] Mattress Factory.  1983 Programs Completed Report.  Artists Files Collection. Mattress Factory Archives, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

[2] Miller, Donald. "Most significant art show since 69." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 22 October 1983: 21. Google News Web. 17 June 2013. 

Read All Posts by Molly

Friday, July 5, 2013



Friday, June 21, 2013
This year's Urban Garden Party was again a sold-out affair, with nearly 1,400 guests flocking to the North Side to get down in support of Art You Can Get Into. The event raised an unprecedented $265,000 for the museum's artistic programs, educational outreach and operations. Following the fundraiser, over 400 people attended Community Garden Party for art activities, performances, workshops and fun! Click here to view pictures from this year's party.

Go back to a time when clothes were a little flashier, hair was a little funkier and 45 rpm was the only speed in town. Marking the museum's 35th year in Pittsburgh's North Side and looking ahead to our fall exhibition, Detroit: Artists in Residence, the Mattress Factory presents Soul Factory: Motown at the Museum. Co-Chairs Anne + Anuj Dhanda invite you to groove on over in your hippest rags for the museum's annual fundraiser, headlined Vancouver-based DJ The Gaff. This year's funk fest will feature over 40 of Pittsburgh’s best restaurants and caterers, pop-up performances by live entertainers including Kierra Darshell's Divas of Drag and DJ Zimmie, a silent auction of one-of-a-kind artwork, a Motown photo booth and dancing. A VIP pass will open the doors to the exclusive VIP pre-party from 6 - 7:30pm, hosted by Bob Sendall of All in Good Taste and featuring signature cocktails poured by Tender and Verde with Wigle Whiskey and Clique Vodka. Title Town Soul & Funk Party will provide Motown sounds from the 60s and 70s on original 45s and a private performance by Kierra Darshell's Divas of Drag will open the floor for you to shake your own groove thang in our Soul Train dance-off. Your VIP pass also gets you access to the VIP Lounge--including exclusive entertainment, a private bar, restroom and courtyard for VIPs only--throughout the night.

After the excitement dies down at MF, slide on over to Penn Brewery at 800 Vinial Street for the official Soul Factory after-party! All party attendees are invited to the after party, so SAVE YOUR WRISTBANDS for exclusive drink specials, a DJ and more. Check back for details as they are confirmed!

Anne Nemer Dhanda + Anuj Dhanda

Mary-Lou Arscott
Christine Astorino
Judith Berger
Molly + Peter Blasier
Jessica + Jeff Brown
Pamela Z. Bryan
David Bush + Tim McVay
Lalit + Supriya Chorida>
Dan Drawbaugh + Sarah Thomas
Sherry DuCarme + Jeff Crummie
Rich + Cindy Engler
Peggy Finnegan
Beth Ann Fuhrer
Bryan Garlock + Deb Bergren
Paul J. Gitnik
Bob Hoover + Kathleen DeWalt
Rick + Laurie Johnson
Ryan Lammie
Susan + Scott Lammie
Jacqui + John Lazo
Martin Lazor + Karen Fredette
Scott Leff + Marilyn McDaniel
Helene + Tom Long
Muriel Luderowski
Ellen Mazo
Annie O'Neill
Nancy + Woody Ostrow
Councilman Bill Peduto
Terry + Tracey Perles
Donna + John Peterman
Marirose + John Radelet
Frances + Smokey Robinson
Caryn Rubinoff + Craig Dunham
Sharon Semenza + Bill Robinson
Dmitri + Ann Shiry
Rosanne Silva + Michael Tonkin
Eric Smith
Gene L. Svrcek
John Verbanic
Anoo + Viju Verghis
Alan + Martina Wells
Eric Werner
Michael White + Rick LeBeau
Maureen Young
Mazen Youssef + Suzan Obagi


UPMC + UPMC Health Plan

CA Technologies
Tata Consultancy Services

Cisco Systems
Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield
PNC Bank
PPG Industries Foundation

Allegheny General Hospital
Anne + Anuj Dhanda
H.J. Heinz Company
National Financial, A Fidelity Investments Company
The Pittsburgh Steelers
Schell Games

Plastic Surgery of Pittsburgh


41st Parameter
Gartner Inc.
Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, University of Pittsburgh
Susan + Scott Lammie
Marilyn Coleman Consulting
Radiant Hall Studios

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
90.5 WESA + 91.3 WYEP

2 Local Girls
All in Good Taste Productions
Atria's @ PNC Park
Bar Marco
Bean Catering/Just Bean Coffeehouse
Big Boss Ice Cream
Bluebird Kitchen
Clique Vodka
Coca Cafe
Diageo-Guinness USA
Divine Delectables
Donato's Restaurant
Double Wide Grill
Eclipse Lounge
Enrico's Biscotti Co.
Erin's Fine Foods
Gina Marie's Catering
Half Baked
Jimmy Wan's Restaurant and Lounge
JPC Event Group
La Prima Espresso Co.
Lola Bistro
Marty's Market
Monterey Pub
Ola Appetit Catering Company
Opening Night Catering
Penn Brewery
PGH Taco Truck
Pittsburgh Candy Buffet
Pittsburgh Winery
PVI Global Imports
Rania's Catering
Rita's Italian Ice
The Capital Grille
The Culinary Artists Gourmet Catering Group
The Elbow Room
The Grateful Deli
The Greek Gourmet
Tupelo Honey Teas
Wigle Whiskey

17th Street Cafe
ALCO Parking Corporation
Hilbish McGee Lighting Design
J.V. Chujko
Massage Envy Spa - Squirrel Hill
Mistick Construction Company + Northside Associates
Party Savvy
Shults Ford


The Gaff and Skratch Bastid: Good Old Days Pt. 2           
The Gaff: Do That Thing          
Girl Talk: This is the Remix 
Love Skateboards: Rob Mentov and Justin Bohl: Nothing Stops Detroit
The Best of Soul Train