September 18, 2021 – ongoing
Lenka Clayton and Phillip Andrew Lewis were 2020 Sabrina Merage Foundation Artist Fellows. The culmination of their fellowship consisted of three interrelated projects: an 8-foot-tall cast bronze plaque, an artist-run gallery space, and a year-long rotating group exhibition. Historic Site is a permanent art installation that is always on view.
Historic Site is an 8-foot-tall cast bronze plaque in Pittsburgh, PA by artists Lenka Clayton and Phillip Andrew Lewis. Installed on the façade of a 120-year-old building, the absurdly large plaque is a contemporary companion to a small existing bronze plaque on the building’s exterior, commemorating its first use as an incline train station.
During their Sabrina Merage Foundation Artist Fellowship with Black Cube, Clayton and Lewis spent a year researching everything that could be documented as having occurred on the site. The artists scoured all archives available to them, and spoke to many experts including an anthropologist, two architects, several archivists, the author of the book on Pittsburgh inclines, a curator of the Anthropocene, the director of the National Aviary, a big cat specialist, a botanist, a cinema historian, a city historian, an entomologist, a geomorphologist, a local historian, a curator of invertebrate paleontology, the official historian of Isaly's, two librarians, neighbors, among others.
The resulting information was compiled into a lengthy text—over 1,000 words—that begins 600 million years ago and extends indefinitely into the future. Mimicking the original plaque, the text was cast in bronze with the same typeface, format, and material, and was even fabricated by the same local foundry, 34 years later.
Excerpt from the Historic Site plaque:
"The place on which you are standing moved into position ten degrees south of the equator. The receding ocean left behind a warm tropical landscape covered with leafy ferns, enormous trees, and thick peat bogs. Fish, invertebrates, amphibians, and precursors to reptiles and birds thrived here, including the Fedexia, a two-foot-long, five-pound prehistoric amphibian named after it was discovered in 2004 near a Federal Express depot at the Pittsburgh International Airport."
Lenka Clayton and Phillip Andrew Lewis, Historic Site, 2021, Troy Hill, Pittsburgh, PA. Courtesy of the artists and Black Cube. Photo by Sean Carroll.