The facade of The Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse is a bold, green square painted onto a gray warehouse wall. It’s a cheery first impression. The center resells donated materials as art supplies. Pittsburghers also use it as a hub for trading stories and inspiration. The smell of old books, glue, and the soft chatter of the women in the fabric department — denoted by a hand-made sign hanging from the ceiling — makes me crave lukewarm Lipton tea and the sound of my grandmother’s sewing machine. It’s an unusual place for a gallery.
The Secret Show (each artist used the same secret ingredient, among other media) is hung on a far wall serving as a tiny gallery. It’s perfectly fitting to have the retail experience in the background; behind you, a 9-year-old girl looks for felt, while an old carpenter inspects scrap wood, and you use the same Exacto knife-like gaze to examine each of the six curious pieces of art. If you ask yourself, “What is this secret material?” then you’re conscripted into reuse culture yourself. Looking for a particular material, you ponder the artists’ methods: Why use the material this way and not that way? What’s the point?
Each artist challenges the viewer to pinpoint his or her message. Impressively, each piece stands alone, but “Black Life as a Spectator Sport With White Commentary,” by Terry Gibson, catches the eye. At its center is a large photograph of two small black children. The girl and boy wear their Sunday best and look at each other, bewildered … by all the attention. Fanned around the lower half of this image are dozens of tiny candid photographs of the backs of white men and women, all facing the central “spectacle.” The base of this collage incorporates newspaper clippings with phrases like “Islamic Arabs.” A banner full of African colors hangs over the European-looking frame. Attached to a chain, which hangs from the top, is a bouquet of dried flowers, in memoriam.
If you think repurposing is a waste, look again. The show also includes work by Lynne Flavin, Erin Neszpaul, Vivienne Shao, Kai Smith — and Anne Davis, who in her artist’s statement writes: “ALL items are identifiable and ALL were eagerly waiting at home to be deployed for higher use.”