I took a short trip to Pittsburgh and had an incredible time — great company, good food, new music, plenty of beer — and the next day the wife and I visited a museum we’d been to about 10 years ago: The Mattress Factory. This post will just focus on the museum, because I have some photos and because the museum is more germane to swords & dorkery.
You can go to the museum’s web site to get the fuller story and much better photos, but the tl;dr version is: The Mattress Factory was an actual factory, but made into a museum in the 1970s and it mostly houses “installation” art: whole rooms are taken over by a single piece of art or series of pieces, and some are interactive. It is actually two buildings now; the factory and residential unit. The factory has art in the basement and floors 2-4 (the first floor now being the lobby, gift shop, and cafe). Some rooms are permanent installations and some are temporary. The exhibits on the second floor are rooms that use darkness and light in fairly amazing ways, and have been there for some time. But two of my favorite exhibits were new. The first a temporary exhibit of the work of one of the artists-in-residence. It is basically a miniature world. It’s called “Diaspora,” and depicts a city floating on a planetoid, with dozens of individual buildings floating around it, and as you can barely see in the picture above, space stations reminiscent of the film 2001.
The city is a mix of modern and futuristic buildings, and it is ringed with a highway that is heavily trafficked.
The cars are something like half an inch long, and while they may look like small-scale architectural models or railroad models, in fact they all made from scraps of cardboard and other materials the artist collected from street trash and garbage bins.
Apart from the plaster or whatever makes up the land, and the model railroad foliage and flocking that makes up the grass and bushes, everything was made or repurposed by the artist.
The windows were all cut by hand (presumably with an xacto knife); the details all cobbled from scraps of debris; many of the sci-fi touches are clearly auto parts or plastic parts spray-painted to resemble giant machines.
The planetoid is apparently in some peril; here there is a crack in the ground that goes straight through to the void,
here there’s a pretty big pile-up;
here the highway abruptly ends. So you can see why those who can afford it are living off-planet.
Off in one corner of the room, by the fuse-box, there is an Asian building of some sort.
This next photo is terribly blurry, but there is a series of apartment buildings further out, moving toward the space stations.
If we go further into a darkened room, presumably representing outer space, we find a number of space stations, mostly formed in wheel shapes.
This is a shot showing one of the last apartment buildings, then a ring-shaped space station, and the other space stations beyond it.
This last one looks a little like the USS Enterprise trapped in a gyroscope.
And here is one last detail of a space station, showing some of the construction materials.
Lastly, a plaque on the wall gives a bit more information:
Many more photos, taken by professions, of this and other works by Ryder Henry are at the museum website linked above.
It’s less clear to me if the second building will be a permanent exhibit. I took a few photos of it, but they did not really turn out well. The gist of it is this: A three story apartment building was aquired by the museum, and it was a decrepit state. An artist touring it was fascinated by the stories implied by the layers of wallpaper, paint, etc. exposed on the walls, and the few remaining artifacts left behind by the previous residents. So she decided to “trap” the memories in the place by creating a sort of spiderweb of yarn, covering almost all the walls. Walking through the three stories of this building was a little creepy, as it seemed like the lair of some giant wolf spiders or something. There is an extensive gallery of photos here. If you can see this in person it’s pretty amazing.