Rubin, Peña 2011 Artists of the Year -School of Art - Carnegie Mellon University

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rubin, Peña 2011 Artists of the Year

Art faculty Jon Rubin and alumnus John Pena take home the 2011 Artist of the Year and Emerging Artist of the Year award, respectively. On view through January 22 at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, there is still time to catch their exhibition.

For more information and reviews of their show, check out the Carnegie Mellon's PIPER, Pittsburgh City Paper:Rubin, Pittsburgh City Paper: Peña

What works did you choose to exhibit for this show, and why?

I'm exhibiting 4 videos that contemplate the psychological complexity of domestic life. The newest, titled "HERETHEREHERE", was created specifically for the exhibition and charts a 1.4 mile journey from my house at 631 Kirtland Street to the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, through the homes of my neighbors along the way.

I decided to mostly show video works because its so rare that I get an opportunity to present multiple video pieces in one showing. Many of my national/international projects are more publicly involved and the video works are something I sort of make on the side. I do like how all of the works look reside within some sort of domestic space. The works are highly influenced from my experience of moving to the suburbs in high school and always feeling like an alien invading other people's real lives.

I have three works on display at PCA, which I chose because they all engage with nature in some shape or form. Also, they were all created over a significant period of time. In my work, I am concerned with how monumental and powerful forms can take shape through slow and gradual actions that accrue weight over time.

Do you think any parallels emerged between your works that were unforseen?

Most of the work I do is socially or publicly engaged, working with audiences as participants. I think John has more of a solo practice and that seems to be where his heart lies recently. But I do think that our work in the PCA show has much to do with each other. The work I am showing, at least in form, is much more introspective than my public projects. In both my public work and the videos in the PCA show, I am looking at the small ways we psychologically define and perform ourselves and the small distance between the banal and the miraculous, although this time the spaces are private instead of public. Certainly, there is a departure with John's project in that he focuses on himself - whereas I never focus directly on myself. But in the end I think our concerns are somewhat similar.

How do you relate to Pittsburgh as an artist?

I've lived in Pittsburgh for 5 years now. I moved from the SF Bay Area, which was rough in terms of the relative lack of ethnic, cultural, and culinary diversity in the city. All of which were reasons why I wanted to create Conflict Kitchen. I've been amazed though at the openness of people in this city and the distinct lack of BS. There is a midwest style humanity and civility here. It is also a place where you can make anything happen, cheaply. People in the city deeply crave creative culture and embrace anyone willing to make something happen. The foundation community here is very active and really easy to sit down with. CMU has a tremendous amount of power within this city, and I think because of that I have been afforded many opportunities. Personally, I feel a responsibility to use the power the university affords me to work with students and community members to move the culture of the city forward.

Is travel intrinsic to your work?

Traveling to do projects is always different from working on projects at home. The projects I do in other cities are often less complex than the works I can carry out where I live. That doesn't necessarily make them better or worse. Although I enjoy the work in other cites,  I always feel my works at home are able to be part of a greater feedback loop than when I create a project and only briefly get to see it enacted. I'm kind of a homebody in the end.

I travel quite a bit for residencies and projects both nationally and internationally. My work has adapted to my transient lifestyle. I make small drawings that can be transported and carried anywhere. I have also created a practice where I can make my work anywhere. All I need is a pencil and paper and a small point and shoot camera. In a way, travel has helped me find my voice by forcing parameters on me that I wouldn't normally impose.

What's next?

I'm developing a public project for the city of Columbus, Ohio's bicentennial next year. My first proposal is a public drinking fountain located outside of city hall that diverts fresh water from the sink in the mayor's office to the water fountain. There would be a pipe running out of the mayors office window to the public fountain.

I will be launching a quarterly subscription for my "Daily Geology" ( drawings in January 2012. Subscribers will receive three hand-bound artist books every three months. Visit  for more information.

Some Background

Jon Rubin joined the School of Art in 2006 as an Associate Professor of Art. He is the chair of the School of Art's Contextual Practice concentration, and has been instrumental in the creation of the Waffle Shop, Conflict Kitchen, numerous events connecting Pittsburgh and international communities, as well as co-curating the 2010 "Whatever It Takes" Steelers exhibtion at the Miller Gallery. He creates uncanny interventions into public life that reinvent social and political conditions and create new platforms for agency, participation, and exchange. Rubin has exhibited at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; The Mercosul Biennial, Brazil; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver; The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard, New York; The Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporaneo, Mexico; The Rooseum, Sweden; The ParkingGallery, Tehran, Iran; Nemo Film Festival, Paris; as well as in backyards, living rooms, and street corners.

John Peña is currently an adjunct professor in The School of Art. He is a multidisciplinary artist who grew up in Washington State and came to Pittsburgh in 2005 as a student in the MFA program. After graduating in 2008 he traveled Colombia on a Fulbright Fellowship, attended The Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, The Fine Arts Work Center and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art. He has exhibited at The Mattress Factory Museum in Pittsburgh, Kevin Kavanaugh Gallery in Dublin, Kate Werble Gallery in NYC, and The Bumbershoot Arts Festival in Seattle, WA.

Rubin & Peña
They have collaborated on a number of projects while in Pittsburgh such as: the "102.9 Radio" station that broadcast the sounds of an extinct bird 24 hours a day in an an abandoned building in Homestead; a "Human to Robot" hypnotized army; and the creation of Conflict Kitchen, which continues to serve delicious and informative dishes in East Liberty.

Pittsburgh Artist & Emerging Artist of the Year Exhibition
Rubin and Peña's nomination is the third time in four years that a member of the CMU community has been named the PCA's top artists, and the second time since 2009 that both honorees are from CMU. Numerous School of Art faculty and alumni have received these awards over the years, including Susanne Slavick (former Head, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Art), Jim Duesing (Professor of Art), Clayton Merrell (professor of Art), Kim Beck (Associate Professor of Art), Diane Samuales (BFA '70/MFA '76), Brian Dean Richmond (BFA '93), and Gregory Witt (MFA '09).