Contemporary Craft showcases works in found materials with Transformation 10 exhibit | Art Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
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Contemporary Craft showcases works in found materials with Transformation 10 exhibit 

How does it make you feel?

click to enlarge Robert Villamagna’s "Shrine for a Mill Rat" - ROBERT VILLAMAGNA
  • Robert Villamagna
  • Robert Villamagna’s "Shrine for a Mill Rat"

Stephanie Sun, marketing manager at Contemporary Craft, frequently gets the same question about the Transformation 10 exhibition: What are the most bizarre materials used by the artists? Her answer is “snake scales, soap, and human hair.”

Each piece in Transformation 10: Contemporary Works in Found Materials brings new meaning to the phrase “one person’s trash is another’s treasure.” 

Spanning the entire left side of Contemporary Craft’s main floor, 35 pieces deck the walls and cover the floor. The word “Pure,” made of reclaimed denim and discarded inner tubes, tops a mirrored image of a woman drinking out of a cup. There is a brooch carved out of soap and rimmed with gold and gold-plated brass. An interactive “seeing machine,” created from found wood, requires two people working together to see each other through a magnifying glass poised in the backs of conjoined cabinets. There is also an electrifying, multi-colored, jungle gym-like entity made entirely of street brooms and wood. 

Each piece of artwork is thought-provoking and allows visitors to reconsider the ordinarily mundane items, and the notion of craft. 

While this idea of finding and reusing materials is nothing new, unique to Transformation 10 is the artists’ reinvention of the material's potential, and the way found objects are used to create a connection to contemporary society. 

“[Transformation is] a theme that has remained relevant over time [and is] open to interpretation across different media,” says Janet McCall, executive director at Contemporary Craft. 

The 26 national and international featured artists were chosen based on how found materials were incorporated in their works, how works expressed personal and global narratives in unexpected ways, and overall craftsmanship. One artist was chosen to receive the Elizabeth R. Raphael Founder’s Prize. Launched in 1997 to recognize excellence in contemporary craft with a focus on transformation, the exhibition is meant to be complementary to the award.

“We look for [something] innovative that we haven’t seen before,” said Sun. “This award is [meant to] follow the legacy of our founder, who felt like craft artists were really stepping out of the craft field of just making everyday objects. [The chosen artist] really uses the materials to express conceptual ideas, to stretch the limit of the material to become something the material wasn’t.”

click to enlarge Melissa Cameron’s "1.1.2017" - MELISSA CAMERON
  • Melissa Cameron
  • Melissa Cameron’s "1.1.2017"

Melissa Cameron of Seattle is the current Founder’s Prize-winner. Her entry "1.1.2017" catalogs one day of gun violence in the U.S. After the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, Cameron gave thought to daily gun-related deaths in America that don’t make headlines. 

“People have become inured by the frequency of everyday gun violence,” says Sun. “This is an issue Cameron wants to address.”

Cameron researched fatal gun incidents that occurred on January 1, 2017, through the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. She found 62 occurrences in 55 locations involving 66 guns, affecting 73 people in that one day. Cameron dug deeper and found the weapons used, and collected metal, plastic, fabric, or paper containers from those 55 places. After matching a container to the corresponding weapon, she cut an outline of each gun that rendered the vessels useless.  

Standing in front of a denim jacket, the inside lined with purple glass shards, Sun explains: “[There are] a lot of different ways to interpret these pieces of work. When looking at these, we ask people, ‘What do you think this shows you? What do you feel from looking at the piece?’”

Artists featured in Transformation 10 have different concepts of meaning behind their works. Ultimately, it is up to the viewers' interpretation — the feelings when viewing the pieces of art, and how they relate it to the world at large.

Follow music writer Jordan Snowden on Twitter @snowden_jordan.

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