SHELTER: Crafting a Safe Home at Contemporary Craft | Community Profile | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

SHELTER: Crafting a Safe Home at Contemporary Craft

A show about finding home hits all the marks

Consuelo Jimenez Underwood’s “One Nation Underground”
Consuelo Jimenez Underwood’s “One Nation Underground”

“Shelter,” like “home,” “neighborhood” and “community,” is a term that most commonly refers to a place physical or geographic — something that’s been built, a tangible construction of bricks and mortar, or a designated area of longitude and latitude. It’s specific and structured and easily definable. 

But there’s a lot more to this word than crossbeams and coordinates. It’s conceptual as well, and incorporates not just facts, but feelings, those of safety and comfort, the ability to sleep with both eyes closed, the knowledge of belonging that can’t be snatched from your psyche like a pillow ripped from under your head. 

It’s this understanding, mostly, that occupies Contemporary Craft for its group show SHELTER: Crafting a Safe Home. About a dozen artists, most represented by multiple pieces, explore what this term — articulating a concept that’s been around since even before we as a species have been articulating concepts — means here and now. Curated by gallery staff with deft inclusivity and admirable balance, it demonstrates our drive to find a space in which we know we are protected, and the obstacles that can transform this basic human need into, for many, a dream.

Consuelo Jimenez Underwood uses the symbol of nations, the flag, to explore the man-made boundaries that separate people, often with clear intent to embrace or include, and how the drawn lines can be erased and reset. Images ingrained because they are unavoidable are united with others vaguely familiar but not quite known, assembled on leather, wire, linen, thread and fiber. The meaning behind these and the struggles for which they hold place do not distract from their aesthetic loveliness. 

Holly Grace’s “Four Mile Hut,” like a table-top gingerbread house blown from glass, speaks of a bond with place that is personal and individual. It expresses a yearning for solace, the distinction between loneliness and solitude, peaceful and centered through introspection, and the detachment it can sometimes demand.

Local artist Chris Ivey is a strong presence with a continuous video playback of East of Liberty, the lauded documentary series exposing the sacrifice of a neighborhood a few miles away on the altar of gentrification. The film runs against a background of protest signs held aloft by those who would rather their community be filled with affordable houses than high-end retail chains selling unaffordable home furnishings.

Soonran Youn’s figural stainless-steel wire busts are pleasing, but determining their relevance to the theme of the exhibition is difficult. Motoko Furuhashi’s small jewelry-like sculptures incorporate the materials of streets and signs; connecting them is a bit easier but still a stretch.

Gregory Kloehn’s “Multi-Species Triplex” takes shelter in a literal sense by creating a small, movable, shed-like building constructed of doors, pallets, wood scraps, crutches, a refrigerator door and other abandoned materials, that manages to be cozy and inviting, a place of rest and calm meant to house the homeless offering comfort and autonomy. The practicality of it is stunning, with its simplicity of roof, bed, windows. What’s touching and thought-provoking are the details of things ornamental and unnecessary, like carved arches and birdhouses, providing something beyond the basic and utilitarian, giving its occupant the right to not just survival, but beauty and happiness. Seth Clark also examines structures themselves, but how they fail and thwart in our quest to make them serve us, using building materials like joint compound and wood that deteriorate and lose their ability to support.

In the “It’s Not Just About the Rain” works, Tali Weinberg utilizes cotton thread to weave breathtaking grids. It’s not immediately apparent how these patterns relate to the issues she states her work confronts, like climate change and the housing crisis. But the works themselves are masterpieces of trompe l’oeil, dizzying squares we see filled with depth and dimension even though none are there. They’re exhilarating to look at even if we have to reach to discern the meaning they promise.

Over the years, Contemporary Craft has steadily produced group shows tackling major issues plaguing present-day American life with honesty, empathy and passion. SHELTER is no exception, hitting all the marks with unflinching grace. Its strength and commitment to addressing, through visual expression, what we should all be addressing ourselves, motivates us to do so by approaching that which is negative from a position of positivity.