Hey, Porter: Daria Sandburg and Pittsburgh’s Baggage Claim

Hands holding scrap of paper with the writing "Regret drug life that made me loose a child" (sic.)

“Regret drug life that made me loose a child” (sic.) Just one small piece of Pittsburgh’s baggage.

It’s a strange weight to carry–both metaphorically and very literally. The worn, shiny metal case (it was built to carry roller skates) is painted with a series of intriguing messages. A quote from Kate Tempest: “That thing you weep for, leave it,” and one from Carl Sandburg: “What is this load I carry out of yesterday?” The ends of the case have the instructions Got baggage? Leave it here.

The Orbit encountered this unique piece of luggage attached to the arm of one Daria Sandburg who has been toting it through our fair city streets, to events and happenings for a couple years now. Sandburg honors every one of the case’s painted instructions with an invitation for whoever accepts to leave their messages (“Pittsburgh’s baggage”) in the form of short hand-written notes on scraps of multicolored paper. A separate, smaller inset box contains “possibilities,” which people are equally encouraged to submit. Ask nice and Sandburg will convert your hand-written note into cut, stamped metal. Over the last year, hundreds have taken Sandburg up on the offer.

torn paper scrap with the writing "She was abused, now he's dead. No guilt."

Heavy baggage: one of the hundreds of hand-written claims

The baggage claim tickets cover the full gamut of guilt, regret, fear, and much much more. Markers of love and love lost, admissions of poor choices, addiction, and anxieties of every shade are stowed in the case. And while there’s a level of repetition and predictability to many of the entries, the format of one real human having submitted her or his expression in their own hand, in person, directly to Sandburg’s protective case makes each one unique, special, and often tragic.

Even the most prosaic of messages–Being forgotten or My ex or Uncertainty–somehow carry a greater weight when you know the author was right there, among us. Logically, we know everyone has these feelings, but somehow it’s hard to accept, or to believe. The volume of tickets expressing some level self doubt is staggering.

When the claims get deeper, more personal, they can be outright devastating. Take my lies, one reads, or My father’s suicide, or Letting where I missed be the measure of my life, or She was abused, now he’s dead. No guilt. It’s good the slips are so small or these could turn into major therapy sessions on both ends of the paper.

Daria Sandburg and her open case of Pittsburgh's baggage.

Daria Sandburg and her open case of Pittsburgh’s baggage.

All told, it’s a heavy load to carry around. I asked Sandburg if she feels the project, open-ended and unresolved by design, could, ironically, become her own personal baggage. Could she be trapped under the weight of needing to collect and store ever more of the limitless pool of strangers’ personal issues?

The response was remarkably upbeat, positive, and forward-looking. She doesn’t feel married to either the suitcase or the project, especially after the completion of a recent show combining the baggage claims with Sandburg’s original art (inspired by the submitted claims) at Boxheart. [The project required a greater-than-normal commitment to baggage collection.] But at the same time, there are no immediate plans to suspend her regular forays out with the box.

hand stamped metal with the text "I wish I wasn't afraid of doing literally everything"

One of Sandburg’s by-request hammered metal claim tickets.

Sandburg is leaving soon to take the case out for a week-long working/collecting trip to the greater Art Basel Miami (and its associated shows/events) for that annual art/schmooze megalopolis as part of Boxheart Gallery‘s travel team. [Boxheart is participating in the alternative Fridge Art Fair.] There, she’ll be collecting South Florida’s baggage, and yes, mixing it with our own. This blogger predicts more regrets around taking on extra calories or the perils of imperfect abs and less decades-old nightmares around the Mark Malone and Bubby Brister regimes. But maybe we’ll find out that everyone really has the same baggage, even if Miami’s comes well-tanned and wrapped in vintage alligator.

Daria Sandburg holding metal case with painted words "Got baggage? Check it here."

Follow Daria Sandburg and the Baggage Claim project on Twitter and/or Instagram for regular updates on incoming claim tickets–or just look out for the lady with the cool hand-painted metal case. She encourages meeting interested strangers: “Happenstance is what really makes the project wonderful.” If you do spot her, say hello, and maybe consider leaving that thing you weep for.

Nun of the Above: Corita Kent at The Warhol

Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent show at The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh

Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent at The Warhol

Radical nuns making religious pop art?  The grocery store across the street both inspiration and source material?  No need to tell us twice: the Orbit is there!  We may not have known it, but this was the show we’ve been waiting for this our entire lives and we got a first look on opening night.

Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent is up at The Andy Warhol Museum through April 19, and I cannot recommend it more.  It is the best Warhol Museum show this blogger has ever seen.  (Yes: that includes Diane Keaton’s clown painting collection.)

Sister Corita Kent lived, taught, and created art at the Immaculate Heart Community in Los Angeles in the 1950s and ’60s.  The lecture we attended mentioned that Sister Corita was fully booked with teaching and nun duties for much of the year and managed to do nearly all of her voluminous silk screen work in a very brief window between the end of classes in the late Spring and the start of Summer.

art instruction, Immaculate Heart Community

Nuns having fun: screen printing at Immaculate Heart Community

These periods of high production were often followed by cross-country summer road trips wherein the sisters would literally take their art to the people, traveling all the way to the East Coast, setting up roadside cheap art fairs at all points in between, wherever their station wagon landed.  Many of the surviving prints still have the tack marks to prove it.

The backstory is intriguing, but the art is fantastic.  It’s beautiful and clever, sacred and psychedelic, deeply meaningful and goofy.  My favorites are the silk screen pieces from the mid-60s where Sister Corita took familiar magazine advertising and product packaging, distorted, rearranged, and otherwise mutated it, and then usually combined it with Bible verses (you’ve got to get in close to read these) to turn the original message (often literally) on its head.

The color combinations are wild: often radically garish choices of fluorescent pinks and greens that seem like they shouldn’t work, but do.  The printing technique is really fascinating as well: words broken into multiple colors and bending text.  All this achieved in a low-tech, pre-Photoshop era by cutting, bending, and folding paper and then re-photographing to generate the required two-tone originals.

(My) photos don’t do justice to these fantastic pieces.  You need to get in close and read the fine print.  The show left me feeling incredibly awake and alive and inspired and envious.  Trips to Shur-Save haven’t been the same since.   Get yourself down to The Warhol while you still can.

Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent show at The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh

Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent at The Warhol

Flowers in February

Pop des Fleurs test installation, Arsenal Park, Pittsburgh

Pop des Fleurs test installation, Arsenal Park, Pittsburgh

On this grayest of days, in the midst of the most miserable of months, even the hardest of core ice-in-his-veins bloggers is tempted to just stay holed-up inside with his hot coffee, British crime dramas, and cauldron of thick stew.

But no!  Not with beautiful flowers blooming a mere two blocks from Chez Orbit.  Flowers?  In February?  In Pittsburgh?  Indeed!  Possibly (or maybe not) coinciding with this most contrived of holidays, the miracle workers of the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh have created their first test installation of the Pop des Fleurs project at Arsenal Park, in Lawrenceville.

Pop des Fleurs detail

Pop des Fleurs detail

The Fiberarts Guild were the masterminds behind 2013’s incredible Knit the Bridge project which brought together tons of volunteer knitters of all types from all over the county to ultimately cover the Andy Warhol (nee 7th Street) Bridge in knit and crocheted panels.

Pop des Fleurs has similar goal of taking fiber arts to public spaces, but with the very deliberate timing of bringing bright color to the outdoors in deep bleak winter.  The project team is looking for makers to create the flowers either on their own or in a number of public workshops and events.

The test installation will be up for just three more weeks (through March 8).  Find a cold, snowy day and get your keister over to the park for a blast of magic.

Pop des Fleurs with American flag

Old Glory


The Toynbee Tiles of Smithfield Street

Toynbee tile, Smithfield Street, Pittsburgh

It doesn’t get much more “street art” than the mystery “Toynbee Tiles” that have appeared embedded in the macadam of city streets throughout the country (and the world!) for the last several decades.  They’ve been tracked pretty thoroughly and their story and the search for their creator was spellbindingly told in the terrific documentary film Resurrect Dead (2011).

We don’t have the kind of quantity that exist in Philadelphia or Baltimore, but Pittsburgh still has a bunch.  Smithfield Street (downtown) is the best spot to collectively see a run of the local ones, all of which are photographed here.  There’s approximately one on each block from Boulevard of the Allies to Sixth Street.

Toynbee tile, Smithfield Street, Pittsburgh

Toynbee tile, Smithfield Street, Pittsburgh

Toynbee tile, Smithfield Street, Pittsburgh

Toynbee tile, Smithfield Street, Pittsburgh