- Infrastructural: Susanne Slavick's "Reconstruction (Magenta Beirut Bridge)."
The title of Susanne Slavick's Pittsburgh Center for the Arts 2008 Artist of the Year show, R&R&R, is inspired by the military jargon for "rest and recuperation." But Slavick, concentrating on the landscape, translates the initials variously as "reveal, regret, restore" and "recognize, rue, reconstitute." It's work that is imaginative, thought-provoking and beautifully executed.
Her canvases, a sampling of works from an ongoing series, begin with photographs of the aftermath of war: pockmarked streets, burned bridges, the remains of buildings. There are no identifiable landmarks, so we could be looking at Afghanistan, Baghdad, Bosnia -- anywhere bombs have landed and mines have exploded.
Conversely, the alterations Slavick makes to each picture are specific. Initially, these embellishments are slight: a stripe of color bisecting the ruins, perhaps, or sometimes hidden, buried beneath wreckage to be discovered behind what's left of a wall or window.
As you travel from one room to the next (you will get a lot more out of this collection by exploring it in order), you'll see these alterations shift and grow. In several cases, Slavick plays with color. The span she inserts into an image of a bridge missing its center is gray and concrete, while the rest of the photo is brilliant cobalt. A rounded corner of a tall building dotted with balconies is seen in a quartet of photographs that are identical, with manipulations that are not. In one rendering, the building's alcoves are augmented with intricately devised mosaics sooth fiery orange. Another version blazes red but is beginning to heal beneath round Band-Aids strewn across it like bullet-holes. The third work in the series goes to black, while snowy curtains ghost in windows ... while in the final rendering, the building is resurrected in a warm Valentine pink glow, with railings rebuilt and safety restored.
Slavick's amendments mutate from imitations of architectural shapes and patterns -- the motif within a tile; the pillar, now horizontal, meant to stand vertically and uphold a roof which no longer exists -- to the designs found in nature. As nature claims Slavick's contributions, it also claims the country. Water might be pooled inside a ditch in one image, but waves will cascade over, and take possession of, a road in the next. Daisies, lilies and tulips sprout from wreckage and rubble, and foliage triumphs over concrete.
People do appear with these images. In one work, workers swarm over the skeletons of architecture to supplement its bones -- but they're an aberration. In Slavick's restoration nature, both real and fantastic, eventually takes over. A truck that will never again be driven by a man may instead provide the shelter for a family of cranes. Vibrant birds guard nests as complexly assembled as anything man could ever blueprint; dragons twist and coil and dance across detritus; creatures beyond classification block out whatever wreckage lurks beneath, and overcome the devastation entirely.
The artist, an art professor at Carnegie Mellon University and former head of CMU's School of Art, has stated that she believes "the generative force behind all creative enterprise embodies hope." Here, "creativity" applies not only to the artist who dips a brush in paint, but to a seed that produces a flower or nightingale that keeps her eggs warm. What begins as tiny, almost timid restitution blossoms into full-fledged restoration -- and the hope Slavick cites is passed on to the viewer.
Pittsburgh Center for the Arts Artist of the Year Susanne Slavick continues through Nov. 2. Artist gallery talk: 7-8:30 p.m. Thu., Oct. 9. 6300 Fifth Ave., Shadyside. 412-361-0873