Becky Slemmons began work on Gatherings not with sketch pad or chisel, but with visits to places of worship. Over the course of 13 months (starting in 2010), she went to 100 of the more than 1,500 churches, mosques, temples and other spiritual houses in the Pittsburgh area. Included were places devoted to Catholicism, Islam, Krishna Consciousness, Orthodox Judaism, Hinduism and Presbyterianism, and one Pagan Pride Day. Her purpose was to investigate the ritual of attending service and explore its connection to the ritual of creating art.
The project is represented in the 707 Penn Gallery through video, sketches and a garment created for congregational wear.
The garment is the most complete and complex element representing the project in the gallery. At the onset, as seen in the video as well as in photos documenting its progress, it's a simple sheath, no sleeves, buttons down the front, unadorned. Through the experience of religious practice it becomes heavy, weighed with appliques, additions, embroidery, beading, lace and panels — a wearable passport bearing the stamps of spiritually driven travels.
- Becky Slemmons wears her Gatherings garment
Slemmons' wall-mounted sketches combine precise ink and rough pencilings on a single page for each visit. Some are very specifically intricate renderings of objects within the holy places, or the places themselves. Others are more abstract, either visually or symbolically. A handout provides details on the location and date of each visit, but nothing is posted otherwise.
The video, composed of segments lasting a few seconds each, is a static interior shot of the Pittsburgh-based artist's front door. We see her mundane preparations to leave — donning various coats and patting a lovely, sweet dog — then her later homecomings with grocery bags or handfuls of mail in tow, lovely sweet dog offering welcome. Her countenance and composure are unvaried, and if her investigations have affected her, it's not discernible. While it doesn't lessen the work as a whole, it provides little insight.
Still, what's here is a scant representation of the complexity of Slemmons' efforts. While worth a look on its own, the gallery show, curated by Murray Horne, is best followed by a visit to www.gatheringspittsburgh.blogspot.com, where a fuller examination of the project is available. The gallery show is intriguing, but only a starting point both for the viewer and the artist. It's worth expanding with the larger, more in-depth online exhibition.