The funny thing about the Mattress Factory is that it’s been around since the 80s but I never knew about it until I was in college in the 2000s and was determined to milk my Pitt ID for everything it was worth. Which turned out to be free rides on the trolley and free admission to the Mattress Factory. (Or maybe it was just discounted? Who has time to remember this shit, anyway.) What I do remember is going to their website and being all, “HOLY FUCK THIS IS IN MY CITY?!” and then telling Janna about it and we went immediately. Or maybe we waited a few days. I don’t know. The point is that we eventually went and I have been obsessed with its industrial-spaced collection of confusing art ever since.
The first time I ever wrote about the Mattress Factory was on LiveJournal, back in 2005/2006. One of my LJ friends commented and said that they were surprised to see that Pittsburgh has something “so cultural.” I was pretty annoyed by this, because that antiquated view of Pittsburgh being all doom, gloom and steel-workery is pretty tiring. Yes, Pittsburgh has cultural thangs, ok? I mean, we also have a shit-ton of mullets and Yinzer Steelers fans, but we got them there myooseums and shit too. Leave us alone.
ANYWAY. I try to go at least once a year because the installations change so often. Corey and Janna are generally always on board for a trip to the good old MF, so that is what we did on Saturday. This time around, they were featuring some artists from Detroit, which I think is a sign that Bill and Jessi need to come visit sometime in the next several months so I take them to see art from their hometown brethren.
One of the rooms had fake trees with tin cans hanging from the fake boughs. Each tin can played something, like a conversation, a mariachi band, static. There were other people on the floor at the same time as us and I watched them choose two or three cans to press against their ears before moving on to the next room, but Janna, Corey, and I listened to every single one because you don’t pay $15 to half-ass it, OK?
Two other rooms on that floor also had audio stimulation, but our favorite was Diptyching:
An ominous “soundtrack” and an unsettling array of screams and construction sounds challenge and warn the viewer of the impending calamity on the other side. Both entrance and exit doors are equipped with automatic door closures to create a one-way in and one-way out corralling experience.
Dude, that last line is true because we thought we were locked in and it was terrifying. Here is a snippet, although the first few frames are from one of the other installations, which basically was a room full of ticking clocks and the hypnotic shadows of swinging pendulums:
SQUIRTING BLOOD! YES!! NOW THAT IS SOME MOTHERFUCKING ART! We were all unanimous in that this was the best room ever. I wish it was my bedroom, actually.
Another installation we loved was called Cured. Large chunks of car parts coated in coarse salt were suspended from the ceiling by meat hooks. It was fucking horrific.
I loved it.
The mirrored polka dot room is a permanent installation and thank god for that because it makes me so giddy every time. We also laughed because we always seem to wind up in shoe booties when we’re together and by always I mean Saturday and also that day in September when we visited the Palace of Gold.
Awkward Elevator. (Not actually an installation, just real life.)
We decided that we need a group photo with all the weird people-things in the back of the room, so instead of doing what normal, socially-functioning humans would do and ask one of the other Mattress Factory patrons to assist, we lurked around like complete creeps until we were alone in the room and then struggled with the timer function on our iPhones, only to have to abruptly stop and whistle into the rafters with our sweaty hands clasped behind our shady backs.
You know how it is.
Before leaving to check out the two annexes (yes, there are TWO additional buildings now!), we stopped in the gift shop so I could awkwardly say hello to my Instagram friend Sam who works there. We actually became Instagram friends because she liked one of my pictures from the Mattress Factory a few years ago and was all, “Hello, I work there!” and I thought that was just too fucking cool. And of course, she is as cool as you would expect someone who works at the MF to be. (I’m not being sarcastic. She’s all vintage-y and makes cool art-things. I like her.)
We had to walk down an alley to the new building, which was three floors of rooms totally webbed-out with black string. It was intricate, claustrophobic, decrepit, wonderful. It gave me that Alice in Wonderland sensation that so often happens when I’m at the Mattress Factory. This dreamy sense of “Is this real life?” has a way of sneaking up on you and for the next several hours you’re pulled under into this giddy, sometimes terrifying, world that Drake should rap about on his next album for no reason other than I love Drake.
We weren’t allowed to take photos in the last building, but there was this film called Honey Baby playing in one of the rooms, so we sat down to watch. At first, I was like, “Oh, OK. It’s a baby rolling around in utero. Makes sense.” But then the baby twisted around and in my head, I’m shouting, “HOLY FUCK THOSE ARE SOME MIGHTY DEVELOPED GENITALS.” Turns out, it was an adult man rolling around in honey, in slow motion, with this foreboding and totally stressful THUMP-THUMP-THUMPing music going on and it gave me flashbacks to the time I rented “964 Pinocchio” and wanted to float out of my skin, never to return. And this just kept going on and on, this man contorting and twisting his groin toward the camera in case we forgot he was a man, and I couldn’t tell if he was upside down or if I was upside down and HOW WAS THIS POSSIBLY GOING TO END?! I wasn’t about to stick around to find out if a bucket of honey was going to drop on us, so I said, “I can’t watch this anymore” and walked away. Janna was like, “But I’m enjoying this very much. :(” So, I guess if you want to know how it ends, you’ll have to come to Pittsburgh.
I really need to just take the plunge and buy a membership. I mean, it’s about time.
For some reason, Pittsburgh has got A LOT OF LOVE lately from various media outlets (OMG maybe because it’s actually a cool city?!). Mostly food-related bullshit, but there have also been the obligatory “lists” floating around, which of course will mention the Warhol Museum and the incline, which my friend Bill thought it was a house traveling along the side of the hill the first time he was visiting from Michigan. But I don’t always see any mention of the Mattress Factory, which is hands down my favorite art-type place to go up in this piece. So if you are planning a visit to the Gloomy Steel City at some point, please make sure you visit the Mattress Factory. It is full of weird fucking shit that might make you scream, “HOW IS THIS ART!?” but then you cock your head a different angle and see it in a completely different way. Or sometimes you still see it as bullshit but hey, at least you’re at an art museum thing and not blowing your money on lapdances like usual. Good job!
I mean, it’s not for everyone, though. Like, one time Henry went and said, “That was fucking stupid” and then never went back again.