Flood Plain screens a documentary about otherworldly art space The Mattress Factory


The Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh is a quietly remarkable institution, having hosted superstars like James Turrell and Yayoi Kusama as well as emerging and local artists over its 40 years on the city’s North Side.

An equally quietly remarkable film about the museum, Site Specific: A History of the Mattress Factory, screens on Saturday at Flood Plain.

It’s a documentary and a love song from David Bernabo, a Pittsburgh-based filmmaker, musician, dancer, visual artist and writer.

“I was trying to tap into the sense that I got of the Mattress Factory over the years,” Bernabo says. The film, he says, is “mysterious, it’s sometimes abrupt cuts. Sometimes it’s a bit of a narrative, sometimes it’s a little elusive,” he says. “The material I was working with lent itself to that.”

Interwoven among the interviews with founders and co-directors Barbara Luderowski and Michael Olijnyk and archival footage from past installations, the film tracks the installation and opening of Vanessa German’s 2017 exhibition, sometimes.we.cannot.be.with.our.bodies. It’s an elegant device, providing the spine of a timeline for the film’s occasionally discursive and meditative storytelling style.

It also gives a peek into the underappreciated world of museum staff and the painstaking preparations that go into building an exhibition.

“A museum is a little chaotic,” Bernabo says. “Schedules constantly shift. I just wanted to show a little bit of the behind the scenes—the staff is so accommodating.”

The museum was founded by artists in 1977 as a food co-op and art space. It hosts site-specific installations on the property, with few of the restrictions or guidelines that most institutions have in place. It’s been a living laboratory for 40 years, and the film tells the story of its evolutions as well as gives a sense of what can happen in such a singular place.

It’s the kind of place that went out and rented a cutting-edge camera to film artist David Ellis falling into paint for the lush 2008 video work “Fly,” as well as literally catching him at the end of his glorious skid. It’s the kind of place that let artist Hans Peter Kuhn poke giant rods through the roof for his “Acupuncture” installation. And it’s where, last year, Meg Webster’s “Solar Grow Room” took over with an indoor garden fed by solar-powered grow lights. 

“Even if you haven’t heard of the museum, it’s an interesting introduction, and kind of an interesting case study for any museum,” Bernabo says.

Bernabo, a lifelong Pittsburgher, first started going to the Mattress Factory 18 years ago, as a junior or senior in high school.

“We would go to the Mattress Factory because it was the cool thing to do in the city,” he says. “It was the weird art museum. I was getting into philosophy and music. It was a time when I was very accepting of anything that was coming.”

The first piece he saw there was Robin Minard’s 2000 installation, Silence (Blue). In it, a carpeted room holds 341 speakers between clear and blue plexiglass with the faint sound of water emerging. Bernabo says the piece isn’t strictly beautiful to look at or even technically astounding, but it provides a sense of transport, of moving to another place.

He’s been going ever since.

The film is like the museum: In parts, it’s straightforward narrative, but in others it’s lyrical and impressionistic. Any music you hear that’s not part of an artwork was composed and performed by Bernabo.

If you’re ever in Pittsburgh, the Mattress Factory belongs on your must-visit list. But Saturday night you can visit its environment just by heading for Cherokee Street.

Site Specific: A History of the Mattress Factory screens Saturday, May 11 at 7 p.m. at Flood Plain Gallery, 3151 Cherokee. Tickets are $10. 

Fox 2: “A Complete Unknown” The Art & Life of Brad McMillan opens Saturday at Flood Plain

St. Louis, Mo. – “A Complete Unknown” The Art & Life of Brad McMillan opens Saturday, July 14, 2018, at Flood Plain on Cherokee Street.

The mind and hand of the late Memphis, Tennessee based artist, Brad McMillan, lent itself to 35 years of constant drawing, doodling, painting, illustrating.

In “A Complete Unknown,” Flood Plain collaborates with McMillan’s daughter, Catherine, to show the breadth of this artist’s thirty-plus years of self-taught creative practice and reflect on a daughter’s memories and unanswered questions regarding her deceased father’s life and work.

"A Complete Unknown" opens with a public reception on July 14, 2018, from 6-9 p.m. and runs through August 11, 2018. Open hours will be held on Saturdays 12-5 p.m. and by appointment. Viewing appointments may be scheduled by email at mcmillancat@gmail.com.

For more information, visit https://www.floodplaingallery.org/current-exhibition/.

[see video interview]

Alive Magazine: Our Chat With Three Female Co-Directors Of The New Saint Louis Art Gallery, Flood Plain


 Christina Wood     Posted Jan 18, 2018

In the Cherokee Street storefront that used to house beloved Saint Louis art space fort gondo, three women have launched Flood Plain, a new gallery with a vision for showcasing innovative contemporary art in the Midwest. Washington University alumnae Amelia-Colette Jones, Trina Van Ryn and Liz Wolfson came together in the spring to acquire the space, and kicked things off at the beginning of November with their first exhibition, “Time Won’t Give Me Time” by Saint Louis-based artist Brandon Anschultz.

With combined experience in visual art, arts administration and education, Jones, Van Ryn and Wolfson do have different backgrounds, but also share a vital interest in expanding the conversation about experimental art in the Midwest. They envisioned Flood Plain as a “creative laboratory” for artists exploring new ideas, and where they also hope to hold classes and events to benefit the larger St. Louis community.

Below, the three co-directors share their insights about the process of launching Flood Plain, their goals for the gallery and what they love about the artists they work with.

Photo Credit: Dave Moore

Photo Credit: Dave Moore

How does visual art figure into each of your respective backgrounds? 
Amelia-Colette Jones: I’m originally from Texas and moved to Saint Louis in 2007 for the Visual Art MFA Program at Washington University in St. Louis. After I graduated in 2009, I fell in love with St. Louis and started the micro-funding program Sloup in 2010, which I ran until 2012. I’ve shown work as an artist in Texas and the Midwest, and in 2016 I did a fellowship with New Leaders Council. My capstone project was to create a business plan for an art space.

Trina Van Ryn: I went to Parkway West High School here in St. Louis and then went on to Washington University, where I got a BFA in sculpture and art history. Then I got my MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, and since I made video art installations, I moved to Brooklyn. After a couple years, my mom, a retired Gifted Specialist, convinced me to move back to St. Louis to teach art. I’m currently the 3D art teacher at Villa Duchesne. I’ve done an artist residency at the Vermont Studio Center and [have] shown my own work in Michigan, Seattle, New York and a couple times here in St. Louis.

Liz Wolfson: I grew up in New Orleans and moved here in 2000 to do my undergraduate work at Washington University. I started doing curatorial work as an undergraduate as part of a student-run gallery group, and after graduating in 2004, I worked at several nonprofit art institutions around town, including White Flag Projects in its first couple of seasons, and the Saint Louis Art Museum. Also in 2006, I started working as a freelance art writer. I still think of myself as a writer, first and foremost. I did my MA at Saint Louis University in American Studies from 2008-2010, and am currently finishing a Ph.D. in American Studies.

What’s the story behind Flood Plain? How did the three of you connect and decide to open the space? 
ACJ: I talked with Brigid Flynn and Liz Deichmann at Midwest Art Project Services about what I had started to work on during the New Leaders Council, and they put me in touch with Liz. Liz was out of town at the time, so we scheduled a phone call. I was driving to a poetry reading in North City for the call, so I pulled my car over and Liz and I talked on the phone for I think over an hour. At the end of the conversation, Liz said, “I think this is going to work.” We met in person over Liz’s spring break and the momentum has continued to build since then. It’s funny, Trina was my neighbor when I first moved to St. Louis, so I’ve known her for almost ten years. Liz and Trina also knew each other prior—so Liz and I meeting completed the triangle.

LW: When Amelia and I had our initial conversation, it immediately became clear that we shared a lot of the same programming goals and interests in experimental art practices. Trina, who I’ve known for several years and who Amelia also already knew, had expressed interest in helping with the space from the beginning. At some point it just felt natural to ask her to join as co-director. We knew she’d bring great skills and connections as an artist and professional art educator to the endeavor.

TVR: When Liz told me that she was starting a gallery in the old fort gondo space, I told her that I wanted to be involved in any capacity she saw fit. So when she and Amelia approached me to be one of the co-directors, I said ‘Yes’ even before they finished their pitch. I am thrilled to be a part of this group and to make a mark on the St. Louis art scene.

What are your goals for the gallery?
ACJ: We have two main goals. The first is to support and contribute to Saint Louis’ already vibrant creative community by providing artists with a space in which to experiment with new ideas, techniques and processes, encouraging them to expand their practices in new directions. Second, we aim to build relationships with other artists and artist-run spaces in the greater Midwest.

Our name, Flood Plain, comes from our interest in St. Louis’s position within broader regional geographies, connected by the rivers that converge nearby. By forming relationships with like-minded spaces in other cities, we hope to help facilitate opportunities for St. Louis-based artists to reach outside audiences and to expose St. Louis’ art audiences to new, interesting artists from outside the city. Through these programs we hope to highlight the many vibrant art communities that exist outside the country’s major art centers like New York and Los Angeles, which sadly often get overlooked by art collectors and national publications.

To what extent do your individual interests and aesthetic preferences overlap, and to what extent to they differ?
LW: While we all share a common interest in promoting St. Louis’ creative community, both locally and regionally, we each bring distinct perspectives to our work. We’re extremely collaborative and each share the title of co-director. Amelia is great at bringing new artists to our attention. Both she and Trina are extremely experienced with art installation, and Trina, in short, is great at building stuff. I have taken on a lot of the logistics of running a nonprofit organization. And we’re all interested in programming different community art classes and events in the space as our work progresses.

How do you collaborate on curating the space?
TVR: We all work full time and have extremely busy schedules, so basically things get done by whomever, whenever they can get to it. We try to go on studio visits as a trio, and when we installed Brandon Anschultz’s show a few weeks ago, we were all present and weighed in on issues of placement, what pieces to include or exclude, etc.

What are the challenges involved in setting up a new gallery space?
ACJ: The biggest challenge that we are currently working on is raising money to cover our overhead expenses. Though we had a very successful fundraising effort at our first opening, we are still paying almost all expenses out of our own pockets. Money is usually such a mystery in the art world, with little transparency regarding where funds come from, besides grants. We are working hard to learn about fundraising strategies and the mechanics of running a nonprofit artistic endeavor. We’re also honored and grateful to be a project of Midwest Artist Project Services, which is a wonderful resource for artists and art spaces in the Saint Louis area.

Your first exhibition is Brandon Anschultz’s “Time Won’t Give me Time.” What led you to show this artist’s work first?
LW:  We were all very excited to work with Brandon, who is an established artist and whose work we all greatly admire. But  just this year, he has really embarked on a completely new body of work that represents a significant shift from his practice of the past decade or more. This was really an ideal show for us from our perspective, because one of our primary goals is to encourage artists to experiment and explore new ideas, treating the gallery as a kind of creative laboratory.

All images courtesy of Flood Plain.

St. Louis Magazine: New Cherokee gallery Flood Plain aims to make St. Louis' arts ecosystem all the richer

The new gallery is an addition to the city's rich community of artist-run projects.





Amelia-Collette Jones, Liz Wolfson, and Trina Van Ryn

 A floodplain is one of the richest ecosystems on earth. Flood Plain, a new gallery in an old familiar space—3151 Cherokee, formerly known as fort gondo—aims to be similarly wild, fertile, and diverse. 

Last year, gondo shut its doors after 15 years around the same time other artist-run spaces, such as White Flag Projects, also shuttered. “It just felt like a ton of bricks,” says Liz Wolfson, who began exploring the idea of starting another project in gondo’s space soon after its closure.

By March 2017, Brigid Flynn and Liz Deichmann at Midwest Artist Project Services had connected Wolfson with artist Amelia-Colette Jones, who was looking to open an art space, too. Both women were friends with sculptor Trina Van Ryn, and she soon became the third co-director. Jones says the process was so effortless, “it almost felt like ‘It is written,’” she says with a laugh.

The trio contemplated a few names, including Lost Islands, but Flood Plain best captured their vision. “We were looking for something that was grounded in the local, or regional, geography,”  Wolfson says. “We want to show artists from the Midwest and South, and the Mississippi River connects all of that,” Van Ryn adds.



The first exhibit, Brandon Anschultz’s solo show Time Won’t Give Me Time, opened last fall. Van Ryn says Anschultz, who'd shown there before, was so familiar with the space, he didn’t need a studfinder when he placed “Black Ladder,” a mirrored sculptural piece hung from the ceiling. “He knew exactly what was underneath it—he’d seen it before it was redone,” she says. But this work was unlike anything he’d showed at gondo before, radically new work catalyzed by the psychic shock of the 2016 election and what it might mean for him as a gay man. Instead of the abstract pieces he showed at the Great Rivers Biennial, these works were narrative, exploring his coming of age as an LGBT youth in the ’80s, when figures like Boy George offered liberation from rigid gender roles even as the AIDS epidemic loomed.

“I think of the space ideally as a laboratory, first and foremost,” Wolfson says. “It’s a place where artists can bring work in and have audiences interact with it and see it and see how it goes. I feel like that really happened with that show. For it to happen right off the bat was just affirming.”

Jones says helping Flood Plain find its place in a thriving environment of other local artist-run projects—The Luminary, Paul Artspace, The Bermuda Project, Granite City Art and Design District, and the brand-new Monaco—is also greatly affirming. 

“Things are changing,” she says. “There are great things happening. It’s exciting to contribute to that and to be part of the momentum.”

Upcoming shows at Flood Plain

  • Youthful Discretion (February 3–mid-March): The title is a play on the phrase “youthful indiscretion,” suggesting that some young people are mature and fully formed enough to make a serious mark on the world, says Jones, despite their age; the group show features the work of St. Louis BFA and MFA students.
  • Amy Reidel (early April): Best known for her works combining weather radar, glitter, and floor mandalas, Reidel will be creating all-new work for this solo show. She will also collaborate with Jones on a limited-edition print. (The print series will be an ongoing feature of Flood Plain shows).
  • Rose Raft Pop-Up Show (summer 2018): Flood Plain will collaborate with Southern Illinois artist and music collective Rose Raft for this group show, which will display work from artists-in-residence and include a shuttle to Rose Raft’s space in New Douglas, Illinois.


Stefene Russell   Russell is the culture editor for St. Louis Magazine, executive editor for St. Louis At Home, and oversees SLM’s online arts and history sections.

Stefene Russell

Russell is the culture editor for St. Louis Magazine, executive editor for St. Louis At Home, and oversees SLM’s online arts and history sections.