Two winters ago, a lone white door on Penn Avenue's art corridor opened into an installation with no heat, its electricity from a generator. Today, the door is painted to suggest brick, mortar and beams breaking through a logo announcing Bunker Projects, an experimental gallery and artist residency.
"What I imagined happening here was hosting shows that a more traditional gallery wouldn't do. Stuff that's more performance-based, or installations where the pieces can't be commodified or bought and sold," says Cecilia Ebitz, one of the residency's three founders.
Ebitz and co-founders Jessie Rommelt and Abagail Beddall graduated from Penn State's undergraduate sculpture program in 2011. They moved to Pittsburgh's East End and searched for a space they could turn into a communal studio for young artists.
The Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. offered to house Bunker in the two stories above music-and-art venue The Roboto Project, which had suffered serious fire and water damage. A year-long, rent-free renovation began in 2012.
"It's a beautiful space now. It glitters," says Rommelt.
In this all-in-one studio, gallery and intentional living space at 5106 Penn Ave., two artists at a time create and show work. The three-month residencies began in April.
Bunker's "social practice" — art that catalyzes an event or experience involving its audience — required applicants to name three ways they'd interface with the local community.
"Interfacing doesn't necessarily mean in the way that you present the work, it could be the way that you let the community inspire or provide the content for the work," says Ebitz.
Artists have proposed projects that range from taking portraits of neighbors and collecting field recordings from the street, to presenting workshops and talks open to the community. During studio hours, artists will open their doors to passersby.
Early residents' work has focused on abstraction. Paintings from Lisa Jakab's solo exhibition Crystalline Shadows utilized deep, vibrant hues to explore the concept of liminal spaces, nature and the playfulness of light. On Thu., July 3, at monthly gallery crawl Unblurred, Bunker features a retrospective of collaborative work from two non-residents, video artist Julie Mallis and painter D.S. Kinsel (who themselves help run another new art space across the street, BOOM Concepts).
"I want the artists here to feel supported by people who already live in the neighborhood, and vice versa, by having art that's less about the exchange of money and more about the exchange of ideas," says Ebitz.