Creating ‘Pictures of the Future’ at Riverview
By Sean P. Ray | Managing Editor
“Within its broken hills, nooks, dells, and secluded spots, the young can whisper into each other’s ears and can draw pictures of the future without either paint or brush.”
This excerpt from the proclamation made by Thomas M. Marshall for the inauguration of Riverview Park in 1894 has been the guiding principle and nomenclature for “Pictures of the Future,” an art installation by artist collective Sans façon and Steve Gurysh that’s been in the work since 2021 and is nearing completion.
Tristan Surtees, who makes up Sans façon alongside his partner Charles Blanc, said the artists are expecting the project to be wholly complete early next year, with the majority of the work done by the end of 2023.
For example, one major aspect of the art piece — a fallen tree which is being carved into a replica of the columns on the Allegheny Observatory façade — will be completed in September. The column will be placed on its side near the Snowflake trailhead on the northern end of the park, and the forest will be allowed to slowly reclaim the carved wood over time.
“It tells a story itself that this fallen tree that was there over 150 years ago now lays and decays in the forest,” Surtees said.
However, for the artists, the project extends beyond just the pieces they will be physically making. It will also include how the public interacts with the installations once they are complete, making “Pictures of the Future” a living art piece which will evolve as the years go on.
“Public artwork is a beginning rather than an end,” said Surtees.
Indeed, “Pictures of the Future” is not like traditional art. It is not made up of a single piece in a single space, but rather multiple pieces of art spread all over the park.
“When you look at such a large park and you have a small public art commission, you think how you can align with the appetites of the people who care for the park already,” Surtees said.
Besides the aforementioned column, the piece includes metallic disks which will be placed on heritage trees within the park.
Heritage trees are trees which have been in the park since it was officially proclaimed as a park. Some of these trees have been identified as more than 300 years old, having seen the park change and evolve around them.
Further, seeds from these heritage trees have been collected and will be grown into saplings by the non-profit group Tree Pittsburgh. These saplings, once grown sufficiently, will be planted in the park using tools known as dibble bars. The dibbles are themselves part of the art piece, as each one is being specially made by a metalsmith named Glen Gardener with iron from a meteorite in the head of the tool.
Heritage trees in Riverview Park will receive metal disks with the tree’s species on it as part of the ‘Pictures of the Future’ installation. Courtesy photo
Gurysh explained that the use of materials from the meteorite is a way to tie the park to one of its most prominent features, the Allegheny Observatory. By using a meteorite, they are utilizing an “object from space which could have been viewed from the observatory,” which will “come in contact” with the soil of the park as a dibble, Gurysh said.
Many of the dibble bars will be gifted to caretakers of the park, who majorly influenced the direction of the project. The artists in particular thanked Nancy Schaefer, a ranger for Riverview Park, for her guidance as the art installation was developed.
“We’re really keen to learn from all the caretakers and personnel that have invested a lot of their time in maintaining the park,” Gurysh said.
Further, paper and charcoal made from the carved fallen tree will be used for drawing classes at the park. Gurysh said the tree carving produced “quite a bit” of sawdust for the paper. The paper is being made by a papermaker named Katy Dement, and the carving of the column is being done by Fredy Huaman Mallqui and a woodworking team called Urban Tree.
An application for arboretum status for the park has also been made as part of the art project.
Tying all of this together is a short film documenting all the different artisans involved in the project and their contributions to “Pictures of the Future” which will be released next year. The short film is being shot by local filmmaker Michael Pisano.
For Gurysh and Surtees, the project has been something of a dream come true. The installation was part of a series of art projects done for parks all across Pittsburgh. While the artists were assigned to parks to work on, both Gurysh and Surtees said their choice would have been to work on Riverview. Gurysh, who currently lives in Kansas, formerly lived in Pittsburgh.
“I became very fond of Riverview Park in the process, as well as the Allegheny Observatory,” Gurysh said of his time living in the city. “I visited there many times.”
For more information about “Pictures of the Future,” visit engage.pittsburghpa.gov/art-parks/sans-facon-steve-gurysh.