At Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, Cat Chow and Jesse McLean work wonders with found objects and images. | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

At Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, Cat Chow and Jesse McLean work wonders with found objects and images. 

click to enlarge Chow, baby: Cat Chow's "OBAMA #2 (Vicious Circle I)" (detail). - PHOTO COURTESY OF MANCHESTER CRAFTSMEN'S GUILD.
  • Photo courtesy of Manchester Craftsmen's Guild.
  • Chow, baby: Cat Chow's "OBAMA #2 (Vicious Circle I)" (detail).

"Altered Meanings," highlights the work of Catherine (Cat) Chow and Jesse McLean. Although their dramatically different styles do not immediately invite comparison, thought-provoking relationships dwell just beneath the surface.

Both artists utilize everyday images and objects, especially materials that are decidedly un-monumental, and transform them into suggestive, arresting works. Chow, who has exhibited both nationally and internationally, works with re-purposed materials, such as belts, washers, rubber, zippers and chains. McLean uses images from media and pop culture, altering them digitally yet retaining evidence of manipulation in the works.

Chow, currently living in New York and Savannah, is known for making wearable art that blurs the boundaries between fashion and fine art. For instance, her famous "Bonded (Zipper Dress)" is a gown constructed from a 100-yard zipper; it is in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Chow was trained in costume design, and most of her work is meticulously crafted, yet with a conceptual bent: Think of "Not For Sale," a floor-length evening dress woven out of 1,000 shredded dollar bills.

The Manchester Craftsmen's Guild exhibit marks a slight departure from Chow's best-known work. But while there are noticeably few "wearable" pieces, many sculptures allude to apparel, such as the oversized and un-wearable necklace-shaped works made of heavy steel cogs ("OBAMA #2"), or "lost" keys on a brass ring ("OBAMA #6"). "OBAMA #7" is an ogre-sized necklace, about 6 feet tall, made of hundreds of brass washers.

But the remainder of the works are inspired by minimalism, utilizing repetition and simple forms, and are no longer garments. "OBAMA #9 (Vicious Circle II)" is a stunning circular grid made of braided rubber and steel washers. Three works (OBAMAs #3, #4 and #5) are made of hundreds of reclaimed belts, without buckles, coiled into large shapes that are reminiscent of vinyl records. The row of highly polished steel discs in "OBAMA #10 (Blak Metal Musique)" hanging from brass chains in the center of the room also suggest records, fitting considering Chow is also a musician.

That the works are all titled "OBAMA" is provocative. When I asked her about this, Chow said: "Although I would never call myself a political artist, it is important for my work to serve as social statements. Titling all the works 'Obama' can be seen as an art piece in itself and undoubtedly the most important work in the entire show."

In the hallway outside the main gallery are the works by Jesse McLean. The Diver series is composed of glossy digital prints of figures removed from their original backgrounds, floating on a gray-and-white grid that's like the transparency background of a Photoshop image. The figures, captured in mid-dive, are silhouettes patterned with the ubiquitous Photoshop grid; they appear against flat, turquoise "water" shapes.

In "Soldier Traces," it appears as though McLean has applied the "magic wand" tool in Photoshop (which lets you select all areas of a particular color, and outlines these areas with broken lines) to a starkly contrasting black-and-white image. Since these lines can't be printed (they are simply a matrix), McLean likely (and painstakingly) copied the lines digitally. What remains are broken, white-outlined shapes on black backgrounds. At first the images appear to simply be patterns, but a closer look reveals the hidden imagery. One image depicts a soldier with a gun, seemingly a news image from a war. Another reveals a running boy, another a standing man, another a girl walking: In each, the background remains ambiguous.

The witty video "See You at the Top!" depicts mountains scrolling down the monitor, being "scaled" by the Photoshop "hand" tool. The appropriated photographs of mountains are made infinitely more interesting through McLean's observable "stacking" and collaging of the images into one gigantic, never-ending mountain.

"Altered Meanings" invites contemplation of found images and objects that Chow and McLean have "re-purposed" into stimulating works of art.


Altered Meanings continues through Jan. 9. Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, 1815 Metropolitan St., North Side. 412-322-1773 or



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