Pictures of the Future
Artist collective Sans façon (Tristan Surtees & Charles Blanc) and Steve Gurysh are currently working on Pictures of the Future, a multi-faceted public artwork consisting of a series of interwoven public artworks that reframes Riverview Park's existing elements, landscape, and history.
The components of this project are being completed from fall 2023 through spring 2024.
A launch of the entire project is being planned to coincide with Arbor Day celebrations in April 2024.
Taking its name from the proclamation made by Thomas M. Marshall at the inauguration of Riverview Park, Allegheny City, in 1894, Pictures of the Future comprises several dynamic elements which serve to resource, amplify, and recalibrate the relationships between the park's diverse and dedicated caretakers, its daily visitors, and the unique context of a historic astronomical observatory situated within a dense 250-acre urban forest.
“Within its broken hills, nooks, dells, and secluded spots, the young can whisper into each other’s ears and can draw pictures of the future without either paint or brush.” - excerpt from the proclamation
Pictures of the Future is an artwork realized through the help of arborists, an astronomer, a blacksmith, a paper-maker, an observational drawing teacher, a filmmaker, carpenters, a wood carver, the park’s ranger, grounds and maintenance crews and several municipal and non-profit organizations.
Through the project, the park’s heritage trees have been surveyed and cataloged for the first time, finding some to be over 300 years old, others believed to be unique in the city. Many of these trees have witnessed the landscape's transition from indigenous homeland to farmland, the construction of an observatory, the formation of a city park, and its succession into a dense urban forest under ecological strain.
With the help of Tree Pittsburgh, the artists are placing identification at each witness tree and collecting their seeds for propagation, enabling the future expansion of the canopy within the park and into surrounding neighborhoods.
Other elements include the manufacture of tree planting implements (known as ‘dibbles’) embedded with meteorite to be gifted to the park’s caretakers and public works crew, a public program offering observational drawing classes with handmade paper and charcoal made from its fallen trees, as well as a monumental sculpture featuring a faithful reproduction of one of the architectural columns within the facade of the Allegheny Observatory. The column has been carved in-situ, directly into the volume of a 200 year old wind-fallen oak located deep within the forest.
Ultimately, the work will integrate into the life of the park. The meteoric dibbles will become part of the library of everyday tools for planting new trees. The distributed charcoal and paper will become traces of the public's observations of the park's daily transformations. The column will slowly decay, fungus will emerge from its intricate details, rot will set. As each element recedes, we wonder how these gestures will leave lasting traces and afterlives in the cultural and environmental ecology of the city? How might an artwork link the stewards of a park in new capacities, inspire ongoing acts of care?
As part of the legacy of the work, the survey and mapping selection of witness trees is enabling the process of registering the park as one of only a small handful of arboretums in the city. Riverview's arboretum accreditation will acknowledge the ecological and cultural significance of this park, creating future avenues for funding and support, to restore and maintain the landscape within which these witness trees reside.
Preview images: tree carving
This sculpture can be found just off the trail near Riverview Avenue and Mairdale Avenue. Starting at the parking lot, head up the Wissahickon Trail. The sculpture will be seen up the bank to the left of the trail. Approximate location is shown in red on the map below.
About the Artists
Sans façon & Steve Gurysh
As a collective, Sans façon shares a commitment to sustained, artistic research and conversation with landscapes, infrastructure, places, and communities in order to create responsive, layered, and experiential artworks. Sans façon (Tristan Surtees and Charles Blanc), a twenty-year collaborative team currently based in Calgary, Canada, and their collaborator Steve Gurysh, an artist and ten-year-long resident of Pittsburgh, are interested in creating a public work that allows people to engage and connect with embedded histories and also changes how we look at, understand, and interact with a landscape.
More information on the artists and their work can be found here:
At each Art in Parks location, local storytellers created works to document and expand the narrative of the artists. For Riverview Park, narrative nonfiction writer Mark Kramer has penned a personal essay addressing the unbalanced ecosystems of the park forest. Read his work below, and learn more about the work of the other storytellers here.
Art Commission Hearing, Final Review
Final Approval for this project was given by the Art Commission in July 2022.
To hear the artists describe their planned interventions, watch this video of the Art Commission hearing (starting at 1:34:00).
In fall of 2021, Sans façon and Steve Gurysh met with park rangers, members of Friends of Riverview Park, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, and other community members to begin to explore, experience, and understand the complex histories, ongoing activities, and future projects taking place in Riverview Park.
In December of 2021, the artists held a discussion and presentation to share the insights they've gathered so far and to hear community feedback.
In March of 2022, the artists met with the community to share their developing concept for Riverview Park, and gather feedback from residents
This project received a RADical ImPAct Grant from the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD).