Published November 2, 2016
In an unassuming row house on Pittsburgh’s North Side, an architectural fantasy world consisting of thousands of found and altered objects — columns, drawers, dollhouses, cabinets and toys — extends throughout the walls, floors and ceilings.
The magical assemblage of reconfigured parts winds its way up and down stairways, cuts through floors and wraps around corners, converting all three stories into an oasis for the restless mind.
This is “A Second Home,” a reconstitution of architectural fragments large and small by UB artist-architect Dennis Maher in Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory museum of contemporary art.
Acting as mediator of house and object, Maher has fused “a mysterious wonderland that cleaves, intermingles and collages a house’s physical and metaphysical counterparts.”
In so doing, Maher has created a refuge for the displaced objects — and dwellers — of our urban milieu.
Repositioned in this matrix, the artifacts of “A Second Home” coalesce to form miniature worlds of model buildings, rooms, furnishings and cityscapes. “I am interested in the house as a kind of architectural model that brings together many different scales and parts of our surrounding environment,” says Maher, UB clinical assistant professor of architecture.
“The house magnifies the city.”
And for those who enter 516 Samposia Way, “A Second Home” offers a retreat into the imaginary — “a moment of sanctity and contemplation where the act of looking is essential,” he says.
Maher’s wonderland is also multi-sensory, thanks to contributions from sound artists Dubravka Bencic and Kevin Bednar. Recordings from within the house — including the creaking of its 130-year-old floors and doorways, as well as the artists’ percussive play with its new components — resonate inside the space, creating a multi-layered, recursive dialogue between the house and its appended elements.
In addition, looping compilations of new and found video footage, projected into the assemblages, add to the almost hypnotic audiovisual-scape.
Indeed, visitors who venture within these “layered vignettes” may find themselves deep within the recesses of their mind. Maher describes this house as a “radically interior world, one that dreams of memories that it has never had, conjures the places that it has always wanted to be and draws its own magic out of the grains of the woodwork.”
“A Second Home” is also, in a way, where Maher finds himself. His own home in Buffalo, The Fargo House, is perhaps his most prominent work of assembled architectural remains — and which evolves daily through Maher’s life and work.
Maher recently expanded his urban enterprise into an abandoned church in Buffalo, where he will partner with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery to train city residents in construction-related arts.
It was this body of work that caught the eyes of Mattress Factory co-directors Barbara Luderowski and Michael Olijnyk, who curate the museum’s room-sized environments with in-residence artists from around the world.
Both also have personal collections of found objects — vintage doll houses for Luderowski and mid-century modern and industrial design for Olijnyk — which Maher has featured prominently in “A Second Home.”
For Maher, the project in Pittsburgh was particularly immersive — and all-consuming. He arrived in May with two 26-foot trucks packed with items from his collection. With 10 rooms to transform, he spent the next three months scouring every thrift store, flea market and architectural salvage shop in the Pittsburgh metro area. His team of collaborators, from visual artists to carpenters, added richness to the installation.
After opening in August, the house will continue to transform over the next two years in collaboration with the Mattress Factory and through site-specific projects with architecture students from UB and Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University.
As a house in constant flux, “A Second Home” offers an open invitation into a unique fissure in space, time and self, says Maher. “I want people to keep looking, and to lose and find themselves as they make continuous discoveries.”