In What Hath Night To Do With Sleep, at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Stephanie Armbruster collects the shadowy, undulating reminiscences of a year packed with movement — journeys to 18 cities and four countries. One outcome of these voyages is this solo exhibition of eight abstract works, half cold wax and oil on paper, half encaustic on panel, that investigate the consequences of investigation.
Dense black, stark white, vivid blue and weighty yellow merge softly or contrast with vigor, in slashes, smears and trickles that defy gravity to flow upward. Shapes suggest vast landscapes or claustrophobic streets, figures distorted by jet lag or culture shock, a lack of lucidity and focus, as one memory overlaps the next in endeavors to recall and pinpoint. In several, the outlines of text are perceptible behind and beyond the abstract forms that obscure them, hinting at attempted communication, or attempted understanding verging on but never quite achieving success. Occasionally a slash of magenta interrupts the haziness with definite, razor-edged precision. More often, the whirlwind of “it was all a blur!” is demonstrated literally to illustrate the common metaphorical statement.
Long-distance travel creates the strange dichotomy of submersion into a condition of immobile limbo within the context of forward motion. (This local artist has taken more than 60 flights in a 12-month period.) On one flight after another, hurtling through space and time — sometimes even backward — a metal beast pierces the sky with relentless momentum and seemingly unstoppable drive. But while the great machine screams racing from point to point, those within its belly are trapped in a state of near paralysis. There is little that approaches the feeling of helplessness associated with returning your tray table to its upright position and fastening your seatbelt, even while you experience the sensation of racing through the clouds. This paradox is captured within these works as well, and as much as they can be viewed as summaries of destinations, they can also be interpreted as the view from inside the passage.
While there is tumult and uncertainty aplenty here, this does not stop these works from being pleasing as well. The absence of clarity doesn’t necessarily speak to unrest; it can also speak to the acceptance of insecurity.