Nebula, a multimedia installation at Pittsburgh Glass Center by Hilary Harp and Suzie Silver, is initially overwhelming. But spending time with this combination of sculpture, video, photography and music allows satisfying subtleties to emerge.
The show features 16 individual abstract glass sculptures, created by Harp during a year-long PGC residency. Still, Nebula is billed as a collaboration, and indeed Harp and Silver have been working together since 2003; their acclaimed single-channel video "The Happiest Day" (2004) has been shown internationally.
Yet while Harp's background is in sculpture, this was the first time she had worked in glass. The sculptures in Nebula, ranging in height from approximately 6 inches to one foot, resemble meteorites or ice. They are bulbous and a little awkward, but those qualities are superceded by the striking way they are displayed. All are distributed among five fantastic, white-plaster-and-mirrored stands that reference either (imaginary) Martian flora or deep-ocean seaweed. The largest pedestal, titled "Minara," is just over 5 feet high. On its mirrored surfaces sit five glass sculptures, also with reflective surfaces. A "disco" light show is projected onto the work, creating colorful undulating patterns that ricochet across the surfaces, almost like laser beams.
Another stand, "Axanar," holds four glass sculptures. Upon closer inspection, it is apparent that they are lit from underneath; a blue light causes one to glow an iridescent, otherworldly cerulean. A smaller pedestal is titled "Cheron"; careful observation reveals that hidden motors cause the two glass sculptures on the stand to rotate silently and slowly, eerily reflecting into the room light and color from the nearby video.
Meanwhile, displayed in eight light boxes on the walls of the gallery are abstracted photographs of sculptures that Harp and Silver crafted out of reflective materials such as glitter, metallic pipe cleaners, iridescent fabric and foil. Inspired, in part, by photographs taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, some of the images are more successful than others in conveying the splendor of space. The materials, so often used for crafts, are not always adequately disguised by Harp and Silver. That sometimes makes it difficult to make the leap from the humble materials to "outer space."
Projected at one end of the gallery is a 25-minute animated video. The footage was shot using an antiquated stop-motion technique; symmetrical compositions were generated in Adobe After Effects. Electronic-sounding "Space Music" accompanies the video, part of which depicts abstracted blobs of glass floating through space. In another segment, metallic-foil mesh hurtles toward the viewer. In the most intriguing sequences, the imagery has been altered to suggest a psychedelic kaleidoscopic. Other scenes are reminiscent of underwater creatures or flowing water. Overall, the video successfully suggests the "otherworldly" in a slightly campy, yet visually alluring, manner.
Silver teaches at Carnegie Mellon; Harp recently left CMU for Arizona State University. With Nebula, they have created an environment that utilizes abstracted imagery to simultaneously suggest worlds as irreconcilable as outer space and underwater, with a little psychedelia thrown in for good measure. While it at first strikes one as visually noisy, the installation has a lot to offer if the viewer takes the time to appreciate the subtle plays of light, color, texture, sound and movement.
Nebula continues through Jan. 5. Pittsburgh Glass Center, 5472 Penn Ave., Friendship. 412-365-2145 or www.pittsburghglasscenter.org
- Across the universe: One view of Hilary Harp and Suzie Silver's Nebula.