It was chilly, blustery, the ground was damp with rain and more was forecast on the first weekend of proper fall weather — and also the debut weekend of Figment Pittsburgh. The unique, free festival of interactive art has been held in New York and various other cities. Here's CP's preview of Pittsburgh's two-day version, held on the North Side.
On Sunday, the weather in Allegheny Commons was not affecting the spirits of the organizers. “This is my favorite!” gushes volunteer Priya Shah, wearing a bright red afro wig. She swirled through a grid of streaming fluorescent ribbons contributed by the Mattress Factory, pursued by some fascinated children.
The festival’s airport security-esque tagline, "What are you bringing?," seemed to be mostly answered with "my offspring."
“I biked over with the kids,” said Robert Blackwell, a computer programmer from nearby Manchester. “Any event that get us all out doing things is fantastic. The kids are loving it. I’m missing the Steelers game for this and I’m happy about it!”
He was at the silk-painting stall, "Silk Sensations," where organizer Janice Patrignani told me: “This lady came yesterday, painted with us, and then she brought her grandchildren today. We’ve experienced a lot of that.” She continues: “I think we’ve had a good turnout but it could have been better.”
Also popular with children was the plate-spinning costumed storyteller "Burgh Man" and a medieval sword-fighting troupe. Most successful overall might have been the "Modern Fossils" project, where passersby were invited to make clay imprints of outdated technologies. "Yesterday I had 60 fossils made," organizer Jessica Cieslak said. "It was busy."
It wasn't all kids. Melissa Ciccocioppo, a graphic and clay artist, came fully dressed as a woodland fairy. “I heard there were costumes and art and interactive stuff and I live close by so why not?” she said, shruggomg. Looking round the Commons, where projects were somewhat sparsely dotted around Lake Elizabeth, she said: “This is good but I feel like there should be more.”
While the whimsical affair was more of a walk in the park gone particularly surreal than an actual arts destination, but it was hard to get through without making some. I was cajoled into joining a drum circle, and when this turned into a rain dance, took shelter in the costume tent. Donning an antlered panda head suddenly seemed a practicality rather than an affectation.
Sheltering with me was volunteer Clifford Reese. “We’re going to do it earlier in the year next time,” he told me. “This was the earliest we could get things approved, and as you can see we’re in a rainstorm right now. We managed to get 27 artists to participate. New York in their sixth year has 200.” He added, "My daughter’s having a nice time and she’s met a lot of other kids to play with."
For a first showing, the festival's projects were endearingly low-fi and welcoming, but it's the children who brought the most to them.