New exhibits dazzle the senses

By Larissa Gula

Pittsburgh Center for the Arts

6300 Fifth Ave.

Exhibits on view until Nov. 7

Open to… Pittsburgh Center for the Arts

6300 Fifth Ave.

Exhibits on view until Nov. 7

Open to public, requested $5

donation, free to members

General Hours:

Tu-Sa: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Th: 10 a.m.-7 p.m.

Su: noon-5 p.m.

If you still think of paintings and drawings when you hear the words “art exhibit,” the new installations at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts might surprise you.

Amidst the PCA’s six new exhibits, there are two that make use of the senses in unusual ways. One allows the public to touch the pieces — “Touch Me, Please,” by local artistic guild Group A — and another features vocal recordings of Pittsburgh locals: “Five Men, Five Women, One Child” by Lenka Clayton.

The PCA is a nonprofit group that focuses on sharing local artwork and is “committed to the artist and the advancement of artistic excellence in visual arts,” Stefanie Moser, the PCA’s assistant to the director, wrote in an e-mail. The organization focuses specifically on film, video, photography and other digital and creative medias and crafts, she wrote.

“The Center is where the community can create, see, support and learn about visual arts,” Moser wrote. The center also offers educational programs.

Eric Shiner, the Milton Fine Curator of Art at the Andy Warhol Museum, juried the “Touch Me, Please” exhibit. According to Shiner, this particular exhibit defies the usual museum rules that prevent the public from interacting with the artwork.

“It’s an interactive environment first and foremost,” he said of the exhibit. “Guests will walk into a space and immediately feel compelled to interact and touch the artwork. It’s a mix of wall pieces, installation art and sculpture.”

Of course, Shiner was a juror, not an artist. This meant sifting through submissions to find works like Group A’s — pieces that stand out and are thematically appropriate.

“Normally art groups in the city ask me to be a juror for shows,” Shiner said. “What that entails is that artists submit about two art pieces each. I go through everything and pick the things I think are appropriate for the theme of the show. I just select the works that make sense for that exhibition. Ten to 15 percent [of the works] are accepted into exhibition.”

Group A members could not be reached for comment.

Clayton, creator of “Five Women, Five Men, One Child,” made an exhibit of a different breed — her piece is an audio documentary rather than a physical collection of items.

Clayton’s project is a composition of audio recorded by anonymous men, women and a child in Pittsburgh during a normal day in their life.

This exhibit features “11  assorted stereos sitting on white shelves in a semicircle around the gallery, from a quietly humming dusty stereo to a decorated karaoke machine,” Clayton said in an e-mail.

The voices often overlap and cut each other off or go silent altogether, creating an “ebb and flow” of various conversation and argument in the room, she said.

“The recordings are played in the gallery in real time,” Clayton said. “Words once uttered at exactly the same moment by people usually separated by geography and circumstance collide for the first time to form an accidental documentary of the city. It happened, but no one heard it.”

Clayton began this project after moving to Pittsburgh from abroad, and had no trouble finding the equipment and permits from local art groups and law offices. Clayton took inspiration for the show from a childhood dream.

“I wanted desperately to become a census taker,” she said. “I love the folly of attempting to count millions and millions of people individually. The census is a utopian idea, full of beautiful glaring holes. I passed the test to be a census taker but was never called on account of my not being an American citizen. This project was a response to the Census Bureau, my own incomplete census of every single word spoken by five men, five women and one child on the first of April, 2010 (census day).”

Some might think putting the project together would be an exercise in tedium, but Clayton remembers the development as a sensory adventure.

“The transcribing process was incredible,” she said. “It was like listening to a three-month-long radio soap opera that progressed a single word at a time.”