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The Mattress Factory is an artist-centered museum, international residency program and renowned producer and presenter of installation art. We say “yes” to artists, offering time and space to dream and realize projects in our hometown, Pittsburgh, PA. We invite audiences from around the world and around the corner to step inside, immerse and connect with the artistic process.

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John Peña

Word Balloons

This play is a reflection on the (im)possibility of accepting diversity and the other. The fragmented body of the neoplasm—the fruit of unstable conditions—overcomes barriers, loves and denies itself and others, wanders around, forgetting its profession. It frequently and with pleasure divides, goes through dangerous palpation, questions the possibility of contact with the experience of the other. Poorly brought up but very successful, it invites us to a trans-species transition.

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Artist Statement

For the Mattress Factory, I created a small and large three-dimensional word balloon. I fabricated the sculptures by layering and shaping sheets of extruded foam and coating them with plaster. Both of the sculptures were then elevated above the ground with a series of 2x4s.

I wanted to explore how the act of daily speech, which though mostly invisible, has the capacity to carry a significant intellectual and emotional weight. When manifested in the physical world, these words can be so light and yet so heavy that they need to be braced in order to remain in the world. As in life, there are times when I say things and then find myself constructing elaborate bracing methods to support whatever I’ve said for fear that it will come crashing down.

In my studio practice, I typically make drawings, videos, and small-scale sculptures. In one project titled Letters to the Ocean, I have sent a letter to the Pacific Ocean every day for the last ten years. I have thousands of returned letters with markings from the post office indicating that “No such place exists.” In my thirty-second video titled Outrunning Clouds, I attempt to race a cloud shadow and lose. My most recent project, Daily Geology, consists of a series of drawings I have made every day for the last five years in which I attempt to capture a memorable moment from my day. This project has allowed me to return to my great childhood love of drawing comics.

My work at the Mattress Factory feels like a direct extension of this impulse. I am taking a word balloon - a classic comic icon - and translating it into the physical world. I am now confronted with a whole new set of concerns and implications that fill me with excitement, confusion, panic, hunger, and wonder.

When

2014

About The Artist

John Peña is a multi-disciplinary artist who engages with the natural world to reveal the subtle relationships between humans and nature. Through his art, Peña tries to communicate with the environment around him, often documenting a memorable moment or encounter. Those experiences are then pieced together to create a larger story that evokes an appreciation for the ordinary moments in daily life. John received his BFA in Painting from Central Washington University and his MFA from Carnegie Mellon University.

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