Artists re-imagine common items in ‘Recycle.fiber’ exhibit

Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010

Going green, it seems, has seeped into the art world. The practice of using recycled materials to create pieces of art has become a trend. The current exhibit “Recycle.fiber” features art created with environmental responsibility in mind; challenging viewers to rethink their relationships with “disposable” objects and reduce their carbon footprint.

However, where this exhibit differs from most is that all of the works on display are by fiber artists who are members of the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh. This exhibit brings with it many traditional techniques that have in their own way been recycled and applied to unconventional materials in a traditional way.

“Certainly this theme is one that we have seen a lot of, but fiber artists bring something different to it,” says Laura Domencic, director of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, where the exhibit is on display.

Still, reduce, reuse, recycle are the imperatives embodied in the works, which include everything from quilts to wearable art, including dresses and shoes.

For example, Jean Thomas’ “in memoriam” is a comfort quilt like no other. Comprised of several dozen sympathy cards and letters that the artist has fused onto cotton muslin, it smacks of sentiment and mourning at the loss of generations of loved ones while providing warmth of the emotional kind.

Michelle Brown has made the most of the quilt form, too, by taking four found quilts and sewing them into rust-stained dresses that she handstitched, stuffed with pillows and hung on the wall. Titled “Marilyn, Audrey, Sophia and Grace,” the piece commands attention in the largest of the two galleries that hold the exhibit.

Most unique among the works on view is a work by Judith Gentile, who has taken to the shoe department of her local thrift store to “reincarnate” three pairs of pumps. “Firebird Reincarnated,” “Panther Reincarnated” and “Parrot Reincarnated” have been painted, beaded and stitched into specific themes that have brought new life to these old shoes.

Also making the most of the old and unused is Laura Tabakman’s “Waterfall,” an ingenious wall installation made of playing cards the Guild had printed a few years ago for a project. She has taken the use of this material a step further by making two small vessels out of the cards, which are located on pedestals nearby.

Another wall installation is made from the most common material one can think of yet couldn’t possibly find a use for — the pull tabs from milk cartons. Mary Towner strung several dozen — each adorned with a picture of an animal shelter cat — on rows of vintage cording. Titled “Disposable,” the piece is a poignant social commentary regarding animal control and overpopulation.

As disposable a material as milk-carton pull tabs are, perhaps no other material is more taken for granted than the plastic shopping sack. Akiko Kotani has come up with a surprising solution for using this ubiquitous material. By crocheting it, she has created two unusual yet evocative sculptures — “Imagine I” and “Imagine II” — which really do stimulate the imagination. Are they Rasta wigs, sea anemones, re-creations of the human or other animal brain• No matter what you come up with, you are sure to take delight in these most unusual works.

Another ingenious example of the use or re-use of such simple materials is a handwoven tapestry by Sigrid Piroch titled “Eroica.” It was made from reel-to-reel audiotape, which the artist has woven into a zebra-like pattern. Not only was this material once as ubiquitous as the plastic garbage bag, it also was just as easy to spot on the highway or in a parking lot, yet now hard to find.

Nature’s castoffs were the raw materials for Silvio Marko’s “Beach Treasures.” Comprised primarily of beaded embroidery and glass beads, it includes starfish, seashells, freshwater pearls, mother-of-pearl and a few pieces of glass Marko found washed up on the beach.

Finally, Lila Hirsch Brody’s “How I Water My Recycled Garden” is a tour de force of color and texture. Here, as in all of Brody’s works, she has incorporated artificial flowers in some fashion, but, in this case, onto a life-size bust of a female figure topped with a blue watering can. The piece is a comical commentary on the act of recycling, but no less important as a contemporary statement of that old 1990s mantra, “reduce, reuse, recycle.”

Additional Information:

‘reCYCLE.fiber’

When: Through Jan. 23. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Sundays

Admission: $5 suggested donation; free for Pittsburgh Filmmakers and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts members

Where: Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, 6300 Fifth Ave., Shadyside

Details: 412-361-0873 or website

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