A Factory Lost & Found in Pittsburgh

Posted by M. Michelle Illuminato, Aug 15, 2016 0 comments

For the 16th anniversary of the Public Art Network Year in Review, we offered the selected applicants and artists the opportunity to tell us the stories behind their works. This week's blog salon features the stories behind some of the most compelling public art projects completed in 2015.

I created the “Lost & Found Factory” for the Three Rivers Arts Festival in downtown Pittsburgh, June 5-14, 2015. The "Lost & Found Factory," boasting big spangled signage and huge colorful flags, was an actual working factory where favorite lost items were recreated or “found” and returned to their owners. Situated in a glass kiosk in what used to be one of Pittsburgh’s early industrial districts, the “L&F Factory” drew visitors to its windows to watch artists busy at work sewing, gluing, molding and making.

The Lost & Found Factory.

Over the crowd you could hear, “Have you lost anything in your life—special or mundane—you’d like us to find?” Passersby would approach the “Lost” booth and offer memories of things gone missing. Most times the anecdotes started with humor. “I lost my marbles.” “I lost my virginity.” But quickly people settled on sharing a story about something they lost that held significant meaning. Some stories sounded familiar—those of childhood “blankies” and heirloom jewelry; others were surprising or even abstract (“My sense of romanticism”); and still others were completely gut-wrenching: “My entire platoon.”

Two milk glass table lamps that I had since I was a child. They remind me of life before it became a hassle. #69

I used to be a very romantic person. I believed in love above all things, but I feel that has been lost over time. Recently I’ve met someone special and I’d like to call on this sense of romanticism again. Please help me find it. #150

When my wife was four years old she lost a helium balloon in the shape of a bunny’s head. It was fuchsia in color and very large. All the features of the bunny’s face were detailed and the balloon was a sculpture of the face rather than simply a picture of one. She only had the balloon for five minutes or so before she lost it to the sky. #250

Artists recreated "lost" objects inside the Lost & Found Factory as onlookers watched them work.

After sharing their stories with the intake clerk and drawing a rough diagram on the “Lost” form, participants departed with a small numbered tag and instructions to watch the website. Meanwhile inside the factory, artists responded to the requests by using varied types of materials in the storehouse: fabric, buttons, paper, clay, wood, paint, wire, all of which were white in color. When finished, the freshly found object was photographed, packaged and placed on a peg outside on the “Found” display, ready for pick-up.

Lost sense of romanticism created by an artist at the Lost & Found Factory.

Throughout the festival, people returned to watch the progress in the factory and retrieve their found items. Sometimes they were greeted by the artist who “found” their item; the reception often broke into a hug, a laugh, or even tears. One participant, upon receiving her two small white lamps, exclaimed, “I never thought I’d see them again!” In item after item, the white color of the found recreation, along with the artists’ interpretation and attention to detail, allowed participants to project their memories of the original object onto this new one. Those long-lost objects became real again in their hands.

 Artist Marguerite Keys gives once-lost milk glass lamps to Anne George.

The “Lost & Found Factory” tapped into our personal memories of singular connections we have to special things. These objects may be small or large or abstract and unwieldy, and yet somehow they all have been etched onto our minds. They act as symbols for relationships, relics of important moments, or as souvenirs that take use back to places we have experienced. On another level, the project employed our collective memory of the city’s lost places of labor. Visitors to the factory saw the creative work that went into making these renditions of their lost objects, and this labor in turn paid homage to the often invisible work of making the original missing items. 

Please see the website for more details about the project and its many supporters, including Three Rivers Arts Festival, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Pittsburgh Office of Public Art, MAYA, Alfred University, School of Art & Design, IKEA, and Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse. Special thanks to curator Nadine Wasserman and to Veronica Corpus, Emily Blair, Andrew Oesch, Laurel Jay Carpenter, Lenka Clayton, and Carol Kumata and Attack Theatre. And finally a huge thanks to the artists, whose work makes lost things found!

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