Miller Institute for Contemporary Art opens two very different exhibits with This Skin of Ours and Intersections

The Miller Institute for Contemporary Art at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) will examine both natural and man-made forms when it unveils two exhibitions, This Skin of Ours and Intersections. The two shows may not have a common theme, but they do provide an extensive look at the past, present, and future of art at CMU. 

Intersections serves as a 30th anniversary retrospective for the school’s Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry. Now one of the oldest centers for experimental arts research in the United States, the studio has supported what director Golan Levin describes as “atypical, anti-disciplinary, and inter-institutional research at the intersection of art, science, technology, and culture.”

This means, he says, preserving traditional art forms while embracing new media. 

“Culture is a living organism. We’re trying to support agents of cultural change and support artists who are creating new work,” says Levin, who has served as the studio’s director since 2009. “Right now, society is changing at an incredibly fast pace, owing to technological pressures and the integration of social media. Artists have to be there and have a seat at the table in terms of determining not only new technological agendas but also interpreting those changes for us.”

This includes artists making with what he calls “playable art” in the form of video games, and working with robotics and interactive graphics, as well as projects dealing with environmental research or social issues that connect CMU with the Pittsburgh region. Intersections will highlight the latter with an exhibit on Conflict Kitchen, the now-closed Pittsburgh-based restaurant specializing in cuisine from countries with which the "United States is in conflict."

Golan says Intersections comes in two parts, the first, a history wall documenting about 120 projects created by faculty, staff, students, and artists-in-residence with help from the studio. The second part consists of 18 new projects, including real-time robotics installations, video sculptures, and virtual reality experiences.

Guests can also expect a look at The Last Billboard, a public art project in East Liberty that notably ended last year after a submission by local Black artist Alisha B. Wormsley was taken down, an act that led to public outcry. Also highlighted are works by interdisciplinary artist Addie Wagenknecht of the cyber-feminist research collective Deep Lab, and Shining360, an experimental virtual reality video by Claire Hentschker based on Stanley Kubrick's film The Shining

Levin feels that, while the studio has existed since 1989 and presents a host of public programming, it’s still not well known in the Pittsburgh community, something he hopes Intersections will help change.

“We present value outside of Carnegie Mellon’s walls as well as in it,” says Levin.

But while Intersections mainly deals with the inorganic world of robots and screens, This Skin of Ours takes a very different approach with an intimate exploration of the body’s largest and most exposed organ.

Guest-curated by Liz Park, the exhibition is described as a “topical investigation of skin as a sensing and protective organ, an artistic surface, and a metaphor for the boundary between the self and the other, pain and healing.”

 “I think we don’t always think about the skin as a very important organ is because of its size we somehow take it for granted,” says Park, who also served as an associate curator for the 2018 Carnegie International at Carnegie Museum of Art. “If there’s something really ubiquitous, we don’t end up paying attention to it, so there’s invisibility to ubiquity.”

click to enlarge A Vessel for Carriage, Matty Davis and Ben Gould - DAVID KASNIC

David Kasnic

A Vessel for Carriage, Matty Davis and Ben Gould

Park also examines the idea of “sharing skin” and experiencing it as a “collective sensing organ, pulsing with color and texture, and having the capacity to feel and empathize with the pain of others as well as the pleasure from tender touch.”

This idea plays out in a piece by performance artist duo Matty Davis and Ben Gould. As part of a residency at the Braddock Carnegie Library, the two will present a choreographed dance inspired by Gould being diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, a neurological condition characterized by involuntary vocal or physical tics. In the performance, Park says Davis will both respond to and lead the “sudden bursts of energy” symptomatic of Gould’s condition.  

“It’s a really beautiful movement-based performance,” says Park.

Also included are new works by Wilmer Wilson IV, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, and Byron Kim, who will contribute a series of so-called “bruise paintings” influenced by poet Carl Phillips.

“When we’re talking about a bruise, the most obvious thing we see is it’s the result of a violent act, but also what’s happening is the repair that’s happening under the surface,” says Park. “We should be talking about care and intimacy and repair as much as the violence going on at the moment.”

She sees This Skin of Ours as giving her the intellectual freedom to speak about a complicated topic, whether it’s through painting, sculpture, performance, or, in the case of featured artists Victoria Fu and Matt Rich, re-imagined aprons. 

“[There are] all these different ways we can explore this topic,” says Park, adding, “They are going to look really fantastic.”

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