Questioning Structure and Reality: Two exhibits at UnSmoke Systems Artspace

By David Bernabo

Here are Recital, we are investigating new ways to talk about art and the making of art. A series or two original conceived with The Glassblock will be transitioned to this space, in addition to new vehicles for art discussion. For now, please settle for a short interview and excerpts from a press release.

Surface/Structure, an exhibition of new works by Natalia Gomez and Kara Skylling, pairs work by Natalia Gomez and Kara Skylling. “Both artists explore constructed and built objects” — if history proves a useful tool, Natalia in large sculpture, Kara in highly structured, architectural water color illustrations. “By exhibiting their work within the context of raw, unrefined architecture, Gomez and Skylling aim to promote a reexamination of the existing structure, surface, and built history, of the space,” reads the press release.

I caught up with Natalia Gomez for a quick interview about her work for the show.


David Bernabo: Can you talk about your relationship to materials? Does the material become the primary informant on the resulting piece?

Natalia Gomez: My materials definitely are at the core of my work. I’m a strong believer that the materials you choose have embedded meaning that need to play a critical role in the piece. In other words, I’m using modern/everyday construction materials for all of their conceptual baggage and [the materials] do become the primary language in which to understand the work.

DB: Is cleverness much of a factor in your work?

NG: I’ve never really considered cleverness as being an ingredient in the process. I’d say playfulness certainly does. My process is very much one of iteration and response, and it can feel very playful, as if responding to the structure, methods of building, and the materials become a puzzle or game.

DB: Is it important that the viewer recognizes the labor involved in making your work? Is there an attempt to make visible your actions in altering the material(s)?

NG: The process and labor in making the pieces are key to me in a successful piece. It may be a subtle approach, but for that reason, I leave the drywall paper and substructure exposed. Sometimes I’ll even try to highlight instances of where the process required me to block something up in a weird way. In creating these pieces, I hope to bring to the viewer’s attention the human labor that was required to build it, and ultimately the spaces we walk through everyday.

DB: Is making art fun for you? I’ve been having so many conversations about the state of the art market in Pittsburgh and fluctuating level of interest and support that sometimes I forget about the basic enjoyment in making art.

NG: Making art is definitely fun! And it’s a pain sometimes. But I don’t think those two are mutually exclusive to one another. There are definitely times where I think to myself, “wow, I really did’t do myself any favors”. But the process, outcome, and ultimately the conversations you can have surrounding the work always make it fun. I keep going back to studio, so that says something.

“Man in Pond” and “Jenny Saville” by Tony Havrilla

The Natural Being, which also opens July 8 at Unsmoke Systems Artspace, brings together new works by Aimee Heinnickel, Tony Havrilla, and Brandon McDonald, mixing mark-making and “precise realism for the extrapolation of the human experience and voyeuristic representation of the implications that our actions have on each other.” The press release also boasts that “Natural Being calls into question our reason for being and the systems we have put into place to cope with our existence and the effects they have on our identity.”

Realizing that press releases need to advertise precise intentions with art, I’m excited to question my reality at this show. For now, check out the beautiful paintings (above) by Tony Havrilla.


Surface/Structure and The Natural Being open Saturday, July 8 from 6–9pm at Braddock’s Unsmoke Systems Artspace. Admission to this reception is free and open to the public.