By: Alyssa Laverda, Associate Director
Phillip Scarpone’s recent investigation through the grounds of the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh has yielded a collection of cement-lined relief sculptures that speak to the impermanence of legacy, but also the human will for the endurance of it. This series is created through the heavy constructive materials of concrete, steel, and wood, but combine together to form softened and worn crests of grace— capturing the essence of redemption and forgiveness that we all hope to achieve in the end. Inspired in his work by personal experience and memory, Scarpone now looks to how we as a society invoke remembrance. How is a lifetime memorialized? At the rudimentary core of any burial ground is an inexplicit silence, the invisible sense of awe and respect, and a sublimity that seems to emanate from the earth-- reminding us of our own mortality. In attempting to engage with this fortitude, Scarpone collects imagery, places his feet in the steps of strangers, and opens up to the well of loss, death, and the celebration of life.
Throughout The Allegheny Clusters, monumental association occurs in the plaque-like structures that are set (or not set) on steel bases. The cement forms intimate weathered stone, beaten by the elements until canyons of carved grooves become velvety bluffs. This illusion of heaviness, the suggestion of lasting stone, simulates the complex depth of hushed sensitivity and alludes to the profound sense of permanence of a final resting place. The subjects seem to be excavated to expose their amalgamations; pieces of tombstones, mausoleums, parts of the vigilant protection of weeping angels and blessed saints, fragmented symbols of justice and virtue are all abstractly combined to form a visual narrative of piercing moments. Juxtaposing these images establishes a tangible connection between them, reforming their separate appearances into a group identity. These three-dimensional machined collages create a meditative platform for contemplating our age-old societal construct of interment, while also offering a concerted tribute that encompasses the commemoration of these deceased inhabitants arising out of the physical markers of their individual sacred sites.
The formal compositions of the works refer back upon themselves, back onto the concept of the cycle, of a story that has completed. The three positions of the sculptural works (floor, stand, wall) act as a beginning, middle, and end, but are resolute in their own parts. Tied to the ground, Allegheny Cluster #3 exhibits heavy mass— the gravitational pull of a starting point. The standing piece dictates a labored transition from the floor to the wall, as it has evolved but appears to still rely on the complete support of the steel bracing. Allegheny Cluster #2 frees itself from these ties and sits on the wall at eye level. Apart from the rest, the work bears its own weight and floats on the white wall. Offering multiple interpretations, such as this program of ascension, the Allegheny Clusters are each intrinsically powerful and individually unique.
Scarpone's process for creating this particular collection interweaves traditional sculptural practice with cutting-edge visual technology. From photographic source material, the artist manipulated three-dimensional sketches through mesh scanning sequences and CAD CAM software. The works were then created in birch plywood using a triple axis CNC machining method along with conventional metal fabrication techniques. As these images become more and more removed from their original state, becoming lesser facsimiles of the original carvings, further "deterioration or fragmentation of information in the images and objects" occurs. This digital or synthetic erosion feels akin to the organic wear of the carvings.
The works at first seem macabre, but when one is engaged with the pieces, they appear secure and serene. Their understated nature asks the viewer to come in close, to appreciate the muted aspects of their mellow transitions between flowers, hands reaching out, and lit torches. The pieces create a stilled moment, much like the charged and subdued atmosphere from where they were inspired. The pensive quietude, sealed space, and states of recollection of Scarpone's journey through the Allegheny Cemetery is fully realized in these three substantial works that stand nuanced in their monumental yet moderated forms.
For more information on Phillip Scarpone, check out his artist page for him here.