Artist/curators Justin Hopper and Emily Walley adapted the New Agey idea of the Ley Line — an energy path of mystical significance — and invited Pittsburgh-based artists to follow a route through Oakland, studying a zone from St. Paul's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue to the Monongahela River. The goal was to see the city afresh, through something more akin to the discovery and wonder of a natural-history expedition, rather than the instrumental representations of cartography.
In Ley Line, at Assemble, little attention is paid to the sociological. The neighborhood's oil-and-water mix of undergrads and long-time residents, though implicit, barely appears. Rather, materials and views are key to describing the place, and myth and memory capture aspects of the neighborhood's character.
There is a literal aspect to most of the artwork, though there's also interpretation and intervention. Nina Marie Barbuto's "Re(lic)ks" containerizes samples of hair, dirt, flattened beer cans, and Polaroids of sites and sights in hanging jars that unify the exhibit without attempting to dominate it. Less concrete but no less representative of the neighborhood are Lisa Toboz's photographs, which capture the country/city in-betweenness of the ravines that transition toward the river.
Much of the artwork has an assertively poetic side, including Anne Roecklein's "Fourth River," which rhythmically collages sliced-up postcards, depicting the Mon as uncontainable by any idealized view. Hopper's own "Guilty Landscapes" celebrates minor subversions, such as the unauthorized harvesting of tomatoes, linking them to books by Bukowski, et al., that Hopper (an occasional CP contributor) found liberating. Ashley Andrykovitch's painting of a passed-out reveler is iconic of a common-enough occurrence thereabouts.
Low-key interventions abound, from the dramatizing of neighborhood myths such as the billy-goat child to David Bernabo and Host Skull's witty pseudo-ritual actions, presented as video animations of digital photographs set to a vaguely cinematic score. Meanwhile, Walley's sculptural installation utilizes a platform and layered column of pennants to evoke the peripatetic sensation of glimpsing through trees and buildings.
Engaging with terrain, views and memories more than inhabitants, Ley Line takes a novel approach, and accumulates novel approaches, to one of Pittsburghers' favorite subjects: Pittsburgh. Some puzzling-over is required, aided by wall labels both informative and clever. Fresh and local, this project feels more like the start of something than the last word.