What Have We Done tackles environmental concerns with art exhibit and workshop series | Pittsburgh City Paper

What Have We Done tackles environmental concerns with art exhibit and workshop series

click to enlarge What Have We Done tackles environmental concerns with art exhibit and workshop series
Photo: Tina Dillman
"Lesser bodies" (Maria Mangano, 2019) at What Have We Done.

After Tina Dillman moved to Pittsburgh from Buffalo in December 2018, she noticed how much the infamously polluted city affected her health.

“I’ve had a cough ever since I got here,” says Dillman, who serves as the director of exhibitions and programming at Pittsburgh Center for Arts and Media (PCAM). “My allergies were really bad here this year, to the point where I started taking medicine, and I haven’t taken medicine in years.”

The reasons behind her sudden health issues are at the crux of the latest Guild Member New Collective exhibition, What Have We Done. Opening today at PCAM and running through Jan. 19, 2020, the juried multimedia show invited representatives from six Pittsburgh arts guilds to submit new or existing work that has never been displayed at PCAM.

The show, which occurs every three years, will feature 14 artists working in sculpture, fiber arts, painting, installation, and other mediums.

The show marks the first curatorial project Dillman has executed for PCAM from conception to completion. Because of this, she wanted to do a few things differently compared to previous Guild Member exhibits. For one, in order to make it more accessible, she eliminated the entrance fee that had been charged in past years.

“I don’t want there to be a financial barrier,” says Dillman. “There are already so many costs that are put onto the artists, and it’s not a fruitful undertaking.”

As Dillman conducted studio visits with the chosen artists, she noticed a theme that would ultimately drive the show.

“Everyone was making some kind of commentary about the environment and global warming and local politics, and water and air pollution,” says Dillman. “Those are things that I’ve been thinking about since arriving in Pittsburgh, because once you take out the pretty landscape and the sports, the next thing you see is the manufacturing and what people are doing for a living here, and it’s all very dirty.”

The Facebook event page describes What Have We Done as a “post-apocalyptic take on the aftermath of human intervention,” with work that explores “the possible ramifications of the mistreatment of the planet" and "a grim narrative of the not so distant future.”

But, as Dillman points out, that “not so distant future” has already started leaving its mark.

“You can see it,” she says. “You can see the pollution … It’s in the air, it’s the filth and grime on your cars and in your houses …. Unfortunately, it’s an unnecessary byproduct of living that’s detrimental.”

The theme comes across in various ways, including through fiber art by Laura Tabakman, Michelle Browne, and Angela Pasquale, whose 3D soft sculptures depict what Dillman calls “trippy-looking nature scenes.”  
click to enlarge What Have We Done tackles environmental concerns with art exhibit and workshop series
Photo: Tina Dillman
Mixed material sculptures by Michelle Browne at What Have We Done.

From the Craftsmen's Guild of Pittsburgh comes Gerry Florida, who makes jewelry with recycled, salvaged, or vintage materials. From the Women of Visions group comes a sculpture by Celeta Hickman and music by local jazz singer Betty Douglas, who, along with her jazz trio, will perform two sets of songs related to the environment.

Also showing are Issac Bower, Doug Eberhardt, Arron Foster, Maria Mangano, Aaron Regal, Matt Van Asselt, Sarika Goulatia, Scott Hunter, Maria Kretschman, and Matt Van Asselt.

Dillman says an important component of the show is the free workshop series taking place during its run. Mangano, Florida, Pasquale, and Bower will all host their own workshops covering zine-making, making recycled jewelry, pickling peppers, and balancing wellness with technology use. On Thu., Dec. 5, all of the participating artists will appear during a gallery walk-through and talk.

To more directly address the concerns dictating the show, Dillman organized a panel discussion about Pennsylvania’s poor air quality with the citizen-based environmental advocacy organization, PennEnvironment, as well as local politicians and representatives from the medical and tech sectors.

Dillman hopes the art, as well as the various related workshops and events, will keep driving a conversation around what the show’s title suggests – recognizing the human impact on the environment and taking accountability for it.

“You can really start seeing the change locally if we all act in some way to contribute to a better society,” says Dillman. “We just have to be comfortable talking about what it is that we want and what it is what we need to get there. If we don’t talk about we’re just sort of succumbing to the way that things are and I don’t think that’s going to make anyone’s life better.”

What Have We Done Opening Reception at PCAM. 6-9 p.m. Continues through Jan. 19, 2020. 6300 Fifth Ave., Shadyside. Free. center.pfpca.org