Pittsburgh perfect space for rivers-as-transformation art show | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh perfect space for rivers-as-transformation art show

Former CP staffer Justin Hopper returns from England with exhibition at Wood Street Galleries

Pittsburgh perfect space for rivers-as-transformation art show

Pittsburgh exists because of its rivers. They knit the city together and separate its contents. The city’s metaphorically rich landscape is one reason for “River Separates Water,” a new exhibition at Wood Street Galleries.  

Running from July 6-Aug. 26, this show’s curator is a former City Paper staffer. Based now in England, Justin Hopper has brought several shows to Pittsburgh that showcase an incredibly vibrant scene of new landscape artists in the United Kingdom. 

“There are only three pieces in the show, and it barely fits on two floors,” says Hopper. “It’s about one thing, the river. Obviously, that’s because Pittsburgh is as good an example as any of these ideas — that the river is a space we use, metaphorically and literally, to represent this space of transformation.”

“Waterbourne,” by London-based artists Rebecca French and Andrew Mottershead, is an audio artwork that narrates the afterlife of a body underwater as it gradually dissolves and flows out to the sea. 

“It sounds grisly, almost disturbing,” says Hopper. “It’s actually incredibly comforting. Parts are graphic and a bit difficult, but the message of it is this incredible sort of coming-together of humanity and the rest of nature, as the world uses each part of the human body.” 

On July 7, there will be a special, hour-long riverboat tour of the Ohio River, featuring “Waterbourne.” Another part of the exhibition at Wood Street Galleries is “SOURCEMOUTH — LIQUIDBODY,” from Scotland-based artist Hanna Tuulikki. 

“She learned this Sanskrit gestural sequence — like, a dance that you do with your eyes and hands,” says Hopper. 

Pittsburgh perfect space for rivers-as-transformation art show
Rebecca French and Andrew Mottershead’s “Waterbourne”

“It’s about the life cycle of a river, and also about the mentor/mentee relationship. Just like how you never find the point where a river starts, where 10 drops of water become a river — there isn’t this moment where you suddenly know more. It’s a beautiful artwork, and fills an entire floor with three video screens, a dozen speakers, that you walk through from room to room.”  

A third part of this exhibition is from Berlin-based artist He Xiangyu, who once lived in Pittsburgh. 

“It’s a video installation based on a documentary he made about the village he lived in on the Yalu River, which acts as the border between China and North Korea,” says Hopper. 

“This river that has been a lifeblood for thousands of years, is now dividing people. He talks to people who make their living going back and forth across the river, including those who smuggle little bits of copper across the river. While it is an Iron Curtain-style border — there are soldiers there, and they will shoot you — there are also people who do it all the time.”

“The thing that really draws me into it is the absolute sublime beauty of this riverscape. It smacks you in the face with how big and beautiful and sort of terrifying that landscape is — how daunting it has become as a natural feature, and now as a political border.”