Immersive multimedia installation to be showcased at the Carrie Blast Furnaces

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Projection of a man in a hard hat onto an industrial background.Historically Evocative

Artist Valery Lyman has long been drawn to places around the country that are, as she puts it, “historically evocative.” And in her opinion, Pittsburgh and its surrounding steel towns fit that bill.

That attraction is what led Lyman to create a multimedia exhibition that examines the rapid expansion and abandonment of industry—boom and bust cycles that have become a recurrent phenomenon in American history. Entitled Breaking Ground, it will be on view at the Carrie Blast Furnaces for three nights from August 22nd to August 24th. Lensed through the rise of the oil industry in North Dakota, this exhibition considers how these cycles have forged not only our national character and defined our migrations, but are also reflected in Pittsburgh’s own industrial heritage.

Breaking Ground has traveled across the country showcasing a series of site-specific photographic and sound installations assembled by Lyman. Photographs projected onto large industrial remnants accompany sound compositions selected from over 15,000 negatives and hours of audio recorded during her five-year field work in the Bakken region of North Dakota. The installation, presented by Rivers of Steel Arts, will also weave in photos Lyman will capture during her six-week stay in the Monongahela Valley preceding the opening.

“This exhibit is a reflection of industry but also an immersion into a region,” said Lyman. “My goal is for the work to be responsive to, and inclusive of the space where it is experienced.”


Immersion is a major theme of Breaking Ground. Though the piece incorporates photography, projections, and audio, it is up to the viewer to control their experience. “The photographs offer a time capsule aspect; having them overlaid onto a historical site ties them to the history of the space. Adding in the audio recordings gives the space realism while also playing with density and echo and the sound of dreams colliding,” says Lyman.

Rivers of Steel Arts celebrates creative inquiry by crafting opportunities to interpret the region’s past, reimagine its future, and explore a sense of place. Lyman’s Breaking Ground is a strong reminder that the history of southwestern Pennsylvania can be experienced both singularly and as a part of the whole evolution of our country over the past 100 years.

“Lyman’s Breaking Ground exhibition will lend our region’s unique voice to the context of her important work in the Bakken oil fields,” said Chris McGinnis, director of Rivers of Steel Arts. “The project’s manifestation at the Carrie Blast Furnaces provides something truly special and an experience unlike anything Rivers of Steel has yet featured. Lyman’s timely photographic and sound work reveals a narrative all too familiar to those who have grown up in southwestern Pennsylvania—it captures the hopes and dreams of individuals versus the harshness of industry and the landscape itself. The play of subtle light projection and movement fitted over rusted steel and intricate pipes emphasizes the peculiar stillness of this once-indomitable giant, with a nod to the toils of the workers who gave themselves to the Carrie Furnaces.”

For more information on the exhibition, including how to purchase tickets, please visit the Breaking Ground exhibition page.

General admission is $5 per person. Members of all regional unions will gain free admission.

Portrait of artist Valery Lyman

About Valery Lyman

Valery Lyman has an extensive background in documentary film, working for 15 years as a sound recordist, cinematographer, and director. Lyman’s enduring interest in short, impressionistic works, unencumbered by the narrative imperative, landed her at the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard in 2014 to study and work with the renowned filmmaker Lucien Castaing-Taylor. Lyman’s work with photographs and audio separately breaks the time-based visual-aural bind to allow each more textural integrity. This work, including Breaking Ground, is heavily contingent on immersion and wandering, and invites the body into the experience of film.

Portrait of Lyman by Bruce Jackson, Buffalo NY 2018.

African American steelworkers with a mill in the background

Artist Profile: Curtis Reaves’ Remnant of Promise

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Curtis Reaves holding a camera

About Curtis Reaves

When Curtis Reaves applied to be an artist-in-residence for Alloy Pittsburgh 2018, his artistic vision for a site-specific work at the Carrie Blast Furnaces was nearly fully realized. The resulting video installation, titled Remnant of Promise, is very much an extension of the themes that have been central to Reaves’ work and his development as an artist.

Drawing inspiration from his grandfather’s practice of telling family stories through photographs, Reaves’ work uses traditional and contemporary photographic technologies to share his passion for the arts and its power to build community. His projects are designed to empower youth and adults to become community ambassadors through collaborative video documentation and photographic storytelling.

Reaves is a multimedia artist, educator, and co-founder of the community-based nonprofit C-Clear. Based in McKeesport, PA, C-Clear helps socially disadvantaged youth and adults to realize their true potential while working to break the cycle of generational poverty, using the arts as a driver of economic growth and change in the community.

C-Clear has become a partner of Rivers of Steel through of our work with the Mon Valley Creative Corridor. A recent initiative of Rivers of Steel, the Creative Corridor aims to strengthen the economic and cultural vitality of the Monongahela Valley by fostering the creative economy, collectively working together with creative professionals, enterprises and communities to establish the region as a thriving destination—to live, work and play. Reaves’ work through C-Clear has made him a natural partner in this ambitious endeavor.

Learn more about C-Clear.

About Remnant of Promise

Roughly six million African Americans left the American South and traveled north between 1916 and 1970 in search of a better future. Inspired by his own family’s journey of from Middleburg, NC to Braddock, PA where his mother established “Bert’s Market,” a grocery store which served the steel town community for forty years, Curtis Reaves explores the Great Migration in his video and photography installation, Remnant of Promise.

Using archival images, overlaid with contemporary photos of the Carrie Blast Furnaces, and presented with the spoken words of the poem Forged in Steel—a collaboration with Monongahela Valley poet Mike Vick—this installation shares the migration experience from the perspective of the African American workers. Historically, these iron and steel workers received the lowest paid wages and most challenging positions. Remnant of Promise celebrates the culture, the traditions and resiliency of these workers and their families, both in the mill and in the community.

This video, along with archival photographs, were installed in the Pyrometer Room at the Carrie Blast Furnaces from August 25 through September 29, 2018 during Alloy Pittsburgh 2018 exhibition.

Learn more about the Great Migration in this story from the Smithsonian Magazine.