News Column

Art is the heart of the Three Rivers Arts Festival

June 5, 2014

By Kurt Shaw, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

June 05--An arts festival isn't an arts festival without art, and the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival offers plenty of it.

From the monumental sculptural installation "No Limits" by Cuban-born artist Alexandre Arrechea in Gateway Center, to the Juried Visual Art Exhibition featuring tons of local talent at the Trust Arts Education Center, there is plenty to see and experience over the next 10 days of the festival.

Visitors to the Artist Market in Gateway Center will no doubt notice Arrechea's "No Limits," a series of 10 large-scale sculptures, each representing iconic New York City buildings such as the Chrysler Building, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Building and the Empire State Building.

Each represented in whimsical ways, coiled, spun or made to look as if in perpetual motion, they play with the idea that architecture itself can be elastic, offering, as Arrechea puts it, a "point of access from which to understand the dialog between art and architecture and how this relationship can evolve and open new doors."

"I want the spectator to experience feeling in control of their reality and immediate surroundings," he says.

Arrechea's pieces also offer a point of access for the themes of this year's festival -- sustainability, environmental stewardship and crowd-sourcing.

Beginning with the fact that it takes 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton T-shirt, Edith Abeyta, who recently moved from the Los Angeles area to North Braddock, has been busily working on "o:ne:ka," a crowd-sourced art project installed at the reflecting pool at the Portal Bridge in Point State Park.

It is composed of nearly 3,000 discarded T-shirts, each collected from individual Pittsburghers as well as local T-shirt printers like Commonwealth Press and Underground Printing. The T-shirts are layered like shingles along several simple wooden frames, spelling out the word o:ne:ka, the Seneca word for "water."

Like the layered T-shirts, Abeyta says, "There are layers of history everywhere, and each one of us carries it with us. Sometimes the stories are buried, sometimes obliterated by others, sometimes the attempt at erasure is intentional, and sometimes force is used, but all the voices are always present. The land where these three rivers converge is filled with people, voices and histories."

Several more artworks explore themes of sustainability and environmental practices, such as the sculptural installation and interactive activity "Diversion" by Rose Clancy of Ingram.

Situated at the Point State Park Overlook, Clancy offers the opportunity to create a "take-home" compostable sculpture to be later buried in their backyards or compost bins.

"I want people to know that organic matter is renewable resource, and its role in soil is crucial in the continuation of a healthy food web -- a food web that we humans are a part of," Clancy says. "I hope that people walk away realizing that individual action does matter, not just for today, but for the tomorrow of their grandchildren's grandchildren."

Clancy's isn't the only interactive artwork on display. Located in Katz Plaza, "Before I Die," by artist, designer, and urban planner Candy Chang of New Orleans, invites the public to complete the phrase "Before I Die ____", using chalk and their hopes, dreams and aspirations.

"Anyone who walks by can pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives and share their personal aspirations in a public space," Chang says in regard to her installation, which is a continuation of a project she began in 2011 and has since been re-created in 30 languages and more than 60 countries, including Kazakhstan, Argentina, China, Denmark and South Africa.

As in previous years, there will be plenty gallery exhibits on display, several of which are at the Trust Arts Education Center at 805-807 Liberty Ave.

That's where the festival's Juried Visual Art Exhibition will feature 59 works by 52 of Pittsburgh's most talented artists, including the Best of Show winner "Dadpranks," a multimedia video by a collaborative team of six women: Lauren Goshinski, Nina Sarnelle, Elina Malkin, Laura Warman, Isla Hansen and Kate Hansen.

Also on display at the center is "China Express," a black-and-white photography exhibition that documents people and places affected by coal shipping. Artist Carlan Tapp's 40 digital prints illustrate his 1,200-mile journey along the China Express train's route from Wyoming to the Pacific Northwest proposed port in Bellingham, Wash.

And not far way, on Penn Avenue, Detroit-based artist Susan Goethel Campbell's "Portraits of Air" at 709 Penn Gallery is a crowd-sourced installation that is the result of nearly 100 air filters placed throughout the Pittsburgh region, which she has turned into a visual document of the invisible element of air, incorporating photography, sound and the spun-glass air filters.

Festivalgoers will find that exhibit next to Tom Sarver's "The Occasional Market" at 707 Penn Gallery. There, Sarver, who lives in Stowe Township, has set up a grocery store of sorts, stocked with homespun art pieces based on family folklore.

"They are based on stories from my late grandfather's old grocery store that was in the East End in the 1950s," Sarver says. "I have lots of little sculpture objects as well, and some new collages."

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at


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