Installation art invades North Side

Looking for a new Posturpedic bed? The Mattress Factory isn’t the place for that. Instead of mattresses, there are amazing art installations. Last weekend, the Mattress Factory opened not only a new exhibit, but also a brand-new affiliated museum next door.

The Mattress Factory’s latest exhibit, called Factory Installed, is a presentation of installations by various artists and has been in the making for three to five years. “Artists are selected one to two years in advance. Communication begins with them right away,” said Meredith Knight, the communications manager of the Mattress Factory. “A few months before the exhibition is scheduled to open, they come to the museum, live in an apartment building we own for them, and create their work.”

The new works at the Mattress Factory are, for the most part, stunning. The piece that affected viewers the most was easily Jesse Bercowetz and Matt Bua’s “Ships, Chips, and the Stack of Documents.” The focal point of the piece is a large torture chair, constructed of a reclining chair, rope, and other objects. Bercowetz and Bua constructed this piece in such a way that even the most ordinary of objects, such as a table fork, looked threatening and lethal. Inside the room of their piece, there was a tension in the air, exacerbated by dull red lights, the sound of a steady drip of water, and fog. Around the chair, the viewer could hear different media blaring, such as an interview with one of the September 11 hijacker’s ex-girlfriends and an audio recording that discusses the idea that September 11 was in fact a conspiracy by the government.

“It was so grotesque that I wanted to look away, but at the same time, so well-done that I couldn’t,” said sophomore computer science major Alissa Briggs.

According to Knight, the Mattress Factory was not concerned with the controversial nature of “Ships, Chips, and the Stack of Documents.” Knight stated, “The museum’s mission is to select artists based on their previous work, and then give them free range to do what they want when they are here ... with our full support and assistance no matter what. Our job is simply to support [the artists] as they create new work!”

Another awe-inspiring piece was Deborah Aschheim’s On Memory. The piece, which was constructed out of LEDs, video, and plastic, looks like something out of “The Matrix.” It has “nerve cell” sculptures that are suspended from the ceiling. Inside each sculpture is a television that plays a video that is someone’s memory. The video images are stunning; they are moments everyone has lived through but no one ever documents, such as a child’s first bike ride. What is more stunning than the videos are the sculptures. The “nerves” that bind the sculptures to the floor and ceiling were hand-sewn out of plastic bathmats.

“It was like the ‘nerves’ were connecting all these memories together and tying the people to their families,” said sophomore materials science and biomedical engineering major Maria Gatica.

Other materials used to create “On Memory” were baby cams, infrared monitoring devices, home security motion detectors, and spy cameras. These were used to create the sense of “a sprawling, sensing, and reactive sculptural network,” as Knight stated. “Deborah was here and worked for months to create that piece in the gallery. It was a very amazing process.”

One of the other pieces that is open until January 28 is Dan Steinhilber’s “Untitled.” Constructed of fans, a plastic tarp, rope, an electronic timer, and Styrofoam peanuts, this piece was definitely one-of-a-kind. Fans blew the tarp so that viewers could walk over to the other side of the room and sit on the Styrofoam peanuts, which were encased in a garbage bag. This piece was not as popular as some of the others in the exhibit; however, it was amusing to see the tarp suddenly collapse on people because the timer had stopped the fans from turning.

The same night that Factory Installed opened, a small house next door to the Mattress Factory was brought to life. The house, known as the The Tom Museum, was opened to the public. The Tom Museum is a project of Tom Sarver, a Pittsburgh-based puppeteer. According to Sarver, “The project is designed to illustrate my complete artistic vision by making public my process of experimentation, development, and construction.” The house consists of three floors, each of which houses a different exhibit. By the end of the fall, The Tom Museum will consist of four floors. The new floor will have an installation inspired by wind power.

Although the museum sounds like it will eventually be an interesting place for viewers of all ages, it is currently in the process of adding the fourth floor. The best advice is to probably postpone a trip to it, at least for a few months. On the other hand, try to get to the Mattress Factory before January 28, when Factory Installed closes. You won’t regret visiting the Mattress Factory’s amazing new exhibits; they are well worth the trip to the North Side.