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.
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.