Yesterday I visited the Mattress Factory for the first time ever. This is somewhat surprising considering I've lived in Pittsburgh my entire life. Upon immediate arrival at the Mattress Factory, it seemed like any normal museum, however I soon began to understand that visiting an interactive museum was a completely unique experience. As a young child I grew up with constant visits to the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, however in recent years the only art museum I have visited is the Carnegie Museum of Art. I always enjoy my visits to the Carnegie, and I even wrote my Freshman Research Project on the Teenie Harris exhibit. However, there is clearly a difference between an observational style art museum and an interactive, hands-on art museum. Neither style of museum is necessarily better, however an interactive museum allows viewers to become more engaged in the art. This is especially valuable if you are a casual museum-goer like myself; I am interested in art, but I do not have an extensive knowledge of it, and I tend to have a short attention span.
One piece that particularly captured my attention was Diaspora by Ryder Henry. This exhibit's architectural style was unlike anything I've seen before. It was a combination of Sci-Fi and modern architecture. The buildings, roads, and cars were intensely detailed despite being made from recycled materials such as Trader Joe's coffee cans. This made me feel a personal connection to the artists, as Trader Joe's is one of my favorite stores. It surprised me that such an intricate work of art could be created from objects that usually end up in a landfill. Of course I've made my fair share of school art projects with various repurposed materials, however I can certainly say that they were not nearly as successful as Diaspora. Diaspora also had other intimate details like small flashing lights on certain buildings; I loved the subtle detail that these lights added to the town, especially because they weren't overly bright and obnoxious and I only noticed them upon close examination.
Another detail I found notable in the town was a sign labeled "Automat" in English with Arabic writing below. I don't know Arabic, so I have no idea what the Arabic writing said, however it made me wonder wether Ryder Henry included this as an arbitrary detail or if he was making a subtle statement. Perhaps the artists forsees a future where Arabic is just as widely spoken as English. (Of course, this is by no means in implausible statement; Standard Arabic is the 5th most spoken language worldwide, while English is 2nd most spoken.) However, this is all my own personal speculation; I don't know the artist's true intention.
My favorite part of Diaspora may seem strange, but I really appreciated the physical placement of the installation within the museum. Diaspora is located on the fourth floor next to two windows. As I was looking at the installation, I eventually became distracted by two people smoking outside on top of the neighboring home. Afterwards, I approached the windows and looked around at the surrounding Northside neighborhood. I thought it was really interesting to compare the present-day Northside to Henry's futuristic vision. Although this was my first visit to the Mattress Factory, I am certain that it won't be my last. I know I'll be back soon to check out all the new installations coming in May.