An exploration of SPACE Gallery’s Psychic Panic with its organizer, Olivia Ciummo

On a recent Friday night after work I met and interviewed Olivia Ciummo, the organizer of the amazing Psychic Panic exhibit that runs until June 29th at the SPACE Gallery in downtown Pittsburgh. The interview took place during a reception for the Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival which added a pleasant atmosphere to the gallery while we explored her show. I hope you got to spend sometime downtown for that and will come to see this show before it ends.

Situated at 812 Liberty Avenue across the street from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Harris Theater the gallery is easy to find. If you know these windows, you already know where the gallery is:


It’s next door to one of the large parking garages downtown that everyone uses for Pittsburgh Pirates, Penguins and Steelers games. (The bucs are playing at PNC Park against the Mets, so make sure to spend a few minutes at the gallery before the game)

It’s been a main stop for the Cultural District’s Gallery Crawls and showcases works by independent artists. (information for the next Gallery Crawl will be on this website soon) It has been another example of how – as I have seen displayed in windows downtown – Pittsburgh is art.

Since May 16th, the gallery has been showing a fascinating set of works designed to explore the viewer’s thoughts and emotions on modern day micro and macro economics. The main subjects of all the works are, according to Ms. Ciummo, materials, body and/or labor. She was kind enough to walk with me through the gallery and discuss what was behind the works she brought together.

There are nine artists in all – each with a Pittsburgh area connection –  and each explores their point of view using a different medium. Being a very visual person, I found the collection invoked a strong emotional and intellectual reaction.

Each time I have visited the current exhibit I started with the works by Erin Leland on the wall to the left inside the door. They are a collection of gorgeous prints showing landscapes apparently untouched by the hand of man. As a viewer of this work, it’s impossible to not feel a sense of peace in the prints.

The next piece, Elina Malkin’s submission, is called Flex Space. According to Ms. Ciummo, some of the collages in the work are meant to explore post industrial landscapes using former manufacturing industry buildings and how the spaces tend to sit vacant. The collages are mesmerizing and bring up a lot of questions: how are these buildings that produced so much material just sitting idle? Can they fill the space around them?

Pittsburgher Ross Nugent’s submission runs very deep for him personally. It’s an industrial art film that documents many scenes at a local steel mill that employed both his father and grandfather per Ms. Ciummo. I love the industrial ambient noise that you hear with the piece. While discussing the artist, Ms. Ciummo told me she has known Mr. Nugent for a very long time thanks to working at Pittsburgh Filmmakers and an offshoot collective called Jefferson Presents.

Do you have family still working in a steel mill? Come to the gallery and acknowledge the history. I’d love to know if anyone can tell me which mill this film shows.

steel mill pittsburgh video space gallery

Ms. Ciummo‘s submission is a three sectioned piece and is, according to her, about the financial weight of some modern industries. She uses the visual nature of her pieces in a very visceral way: Ad-Map One shows some pieces involved in her work overlaid on a copy of a credit card contract. How many people actually read those things? The other parts of her submission involve articles she purchased with the credit card connected to the contract turned into a limited edition book and a short film about fracking. The film encompasses moving images and text, so that, according to Ms. Ciummo the viewer develops their own soundtrack to the film. A question her  work raised for me is how many people live on credit cards while learning the fracking industry? How many people move into small towns for the industry, use their credit cards, and then leave the town?

The next piece we discussed was Selima M. Dawson’s mixed media work. At one we saw that the colors and images she used were very powerful and evoked a lot of different emotions almost immediately. According to Ms. Ciummo, the submission is about “trauma and how it manifests inside the body”. Take a moment and answer that question for yourself and then schedule some time to come and see these paintings and the collage. The artist also has some earrings on display that are for sale through her company Blackbird Jewelry.

Selima Pittsburgh Space Gallery

Kevin Jerome Everson – who has had works at New York’s Whitney Museum – continues the viewer’s journey thanks to his short film showing a car being slowly crushed. My favorite part of the film is seeing the windows pop out of the car and the almost therapeutic sound of the steel just popping.

Chevelle being crushed Pittsburgh space gallery

The autobiographical part of the installation continues with Tara Merenda Nelson’s mixed media work. Ms. Nelson’s submission, according to Ms. Ciummo, depicts the artist’s personal journey after a botched surgery. It would be easy to stand in front of the piece and not just take it all in for an extended period of time. You owe it to yourself to experience the emotion that pours from this work.

Susannah Mira’s piece fits in the installation on a dramatically macro scale even though it is a relatively simple piece with two distinct parts – rabbit hair insulating a copper pipe. Imagine the opulence from back in the robber baron days – especially Andrew Carnegie at his height – and put it in a more modern day scenario. Ms. Mira’s work, according to Ms. Ciummo, asks the viewer to consider what would happen if such wealth and opulence were available today.

Derya Hanife Alton takes the subject matter for the installation and puts yet another fantastic spin on it for the viewer. Her submission is constructed of various knit and woven fabrics purchased from markets in Instanbul. She bought the fabrics there and then repurposed them for her art. I challenge you to try and not think about all the people that were around her when she was shopping for each piece you see as a viewer.

I thoroughly enjoyed walking the installation with its organizer and saw that the collection has something to offer everyone on an emotional and intellectual level. It nods generously to Pittsburgh’s history and deserves to be seen by everyone that can make it down by June 29th.

If you can make it down to SPACE Gallery on Friday, June 27th you will have a very unique opportunity to explore the collection. That night is the next Music SPACE event featuring unique local music artists performing along side the artwork. singer songwriter Morgan Erina and moody lounge group Silencio – a tribute to the works of David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti) will be performing. Here are a few clips:



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