Nestled in a storefront on Penn Avenue in Garfield, Dawn Weleski's "Time Travel Agency" looked like your average business: A young woman in professional attire sat behind a desk, working on her computer. These vacation plans, however -- a trip back in time to the Civil War, or forward to the year 3000 -- were far from average.
Weleski's project, part of Jon Rubin's Art in Context class at Carnegie Mellon University, helped people imagine their own personal time trips. After a week, clients received picture postcards detailing their adventures. "I wanted to create a business in which I could readily interact with people and force them to imagine and play in their minds," says Weleski, a CMU junior. "The people that do come in here will become a representation of the area through imagination."
Rubin is an artist who became a CMU assistant professor last fall. "For years I've been creating site-specific work, and I thought instead of teaching in a classroom at a university, we should get the students out into the city," he says. Rubin found the storefront, at 4915 Penn Ave., and challenged his 19 students to create work to engage not only the space itself, but also Garfield and the adjoining neighborhoods of Bloomfield and Friendship. The projects, grouped under the name Tent Show, complemented the Penn Avenue art scene.
Throughout March and April, each weekend has featured a different Tent Show project. Though the Time Travel Agency ran for a week, most projects lasted only one weekend day. On April 7, the class came together for "One Mile Radio," operating a pirate radio station out of the storefront. Though the signal did reach just a mile, the students played the station in the convenience store across the street to convince customers to stop by. The result was a hodgepodge of interviews, live music and on-air requests from locals.
Two projects had Mexican themes. For "Taco Truck," John Peña, Joey Hays and Ally Reeves turned the storefront into a fully functional taco truck, handing out homemade tacos to passers by. Amy Conroy's "Piñata Bash" created custom piñatas. A salon owner's was shaped like a hairdryer; a tattoo parlor owner had one made of his logo; and children requested Sesame Street's Elmo.
Meanwhile, students are also creating half-hour programs for Tent Show TV, which will air online throughout the summer. Excerpts from their pieces are currently available at www.tentshow.org. "The TV shows need to relate to the context of the neighborhood, whether it's through documentary or fantasy," says Rubin.
The final Tent Show project is Kazuki Eguchi's "Car Bingo," on Sat., April 28. Eguchi will leave bingo cards on cars parked near the storefront, along with invitations to the 6 p.m. drawing. Winners get a free car wash. Even those who don't show up for the drawing will be tracked down (via license plate) and rewarded.
Next semester, Rubin hopes to take Tent Show to another neighborhood. "To me, Pittsburgh has these two remarkable resources," he says. "The first is that every neighborhood has a distinct personality, and the next is that there seem to be a lot of available storefronts."
Tent Show featuring "Car Bingo" Sat., April 28 (6 p.m. drawing). 4915 Penn Ave., Garfield. www.tentshow.org