The show takes visitors through multiple levels of Mattress Factory's main building on Pittsburgh's North Side to view works by five different artists. The national roster includes Chicago-based duo Luftwerk, multi-media installation artist Andréa Stanislav, and Jeffrey Augustine Songco, a Carnegie Mellon University alum who hails from New Jersey. There's also Thai artist Sarawut Chutiwongpeti, and Meir Tati, an Israeli artist whose work occupies MF's lower level basement area.
Stepping off the elevator onto the fourth floor, I'm greeted by an upside-down, headless, spinning horse sculpture, part of Stanislav's installation.
In her bio, Stanislav — a Russia-born artist who splits her time between St. Petersburg, New York, and Bloomington, Ind. — says her work "mines cultural histories to question and reflect the present and future through a lens that melds beauty, horror, and the unexpected." This comes through in "Surmatants – Mars Rising," a large-scale, 360-degree video piece that circles visitors with scenes of local folk dance group the Tamburitzans in traditional garb reminiscent of the hit 2019 horror film Midsommar.
These are interspersed with shots of industrial ruin around Pittsburgh, providing a gorgeously choreographed, shot, and edited commentary on the sacrifice made by Slavic immigrants forced to abandon their culture in order to work in local steel mills and assimilate to U.S. customs.
This dizzying work is complemented by Luftwerk, whose installation "Open Square" recalls aesthetics familiar to 1960s and 1970s science fiction. Visitors are drawn in by geometric shapes and lights that shift and change the searing, neon colors of the room, like a carnival funhouse by way of 2001: A Space Odyssey. This, combined with the works of Stanislav, give the fourth floor a Twin Peaks vibe intoxicating in its dreamlike weirdness and hyper-sensory indulgence.
a previous Pittsburgh City Paper article, Songco discussed how he struggled with his identity as a Filipino American who identifies as gay.)
The piece uses elements of comic book culture to explore the idea of how controversial political figures, including former U.S. President Donald Trump, Russia's Vladimir Putin, and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are either lionized or villainized by citizens. This comes through in Political Mutants, a 1984-like video featuring a pair of disembodied lips reciting edited monologues from various comic works, as well as a series of rubber masks that would not look out of place in a display of superhero Halloween costumes. The work compels with its grotesque imagery and questions about how world politics are ruled by Cults of Personality. (It should be noted that the video comes with corresponding footage of an American Sign Language interpreter, which I found to be a thoughtful touch.)
The Mattress Factory has seen a major shift over the last few years, shaken by controversy, the subsequent departure of its longtime leader, and reorganization. Despite this, the North Side space has managed to deliver some exciting shows, including the Jennifer Angus and Shikeith exhibitions currently on view at its Monterey Annex. With this latest crop of Factory Installed works, the museum has clearly not missed a beat.
Mattress Factory: 500 Sampsonia Way, North Side. mattress.org