Troy Hill is a neighborhood somewhere on a hill some direction outside of Pittsburgh. You know, over there. The last time I was there was when Andrea was visiting in 2011 and we went to see the largest collection of relics this side of the Vatican. Right up there on Troy Hill! It was also the first time Andrea got to hear real life Pittsburgh accents, so that is usually when I think of when, if ever, Troy Hill comes to mind.
Those relics are kind of a hidden gem here in the city. I never knew they existed until I took some Christianity class at Pitt back in 2006 (once upon a time, I was going to major in English Writing and minor in Religious Studies—look at me now!) and the professor told us about it and while most of the class looked bored as fuck, I was furiously scribbling the information down in my notebook because BONES.
A few years ago, Troy Hill added another gem into their hidden treasure chest when some art-savvy dude bought an abandoned house and then commission German artist Thorsten Brinkmann to set up shop and turn this average, unassuming Pittsburgh brick house into a gesamtkunstwerk called La Hütte Royal. Kara and I have wanted to check this place out for some time now, but like usual, we get distracted by life and it gets moved to the back-burner. However, last month when I asked her if she wanted to go to the Mattress Factory with Corey and me, she rekindled the idea of La Hütte and Corey was definitely on board for this change of scenery.
Touring the house is free, but an appointment must be made. I was mildly stressed about this because 1. I hate making appointments and 2. I hate having responsibilities. THANK GOD I was able to fulfill these requirements through email, and that is how we ended up with a 2pm engagement on Troy Hill last Saturday.
This is also how I learned, 9 months after purchasing my car, that I absolutely cannot parallel park by relying on the backup camera. Plus, Kara and Corey were heckling me! Finally, I went old school and threw my arm over the back of my seat and successfully parked without the aid of a visual device.
“THIS IS LIKE A TEXTBOOK PARK JOB, TOO!” Corey exclaimed. “Like if we had a ruler, it would be the perfect distance from the curb.” That made me feel better for the previous botched attempts, so thank you COR-COR!
(That’s what Chooch calls him and it’s incredibly obnoxious.)
Here’s the telephone pole that I did NOT wreck into, no thanks to the backup camera.
I texted the docen, Ryan, to let him know that we were running on time and then the three of us tentatively climbed the steps of a very unassuming brick house on a regular old Pittsburgh street. Kara made herself at home by plopping down on the porch swing while I tried to pee in anticipation of who was going to open the front door. I kept envisioning some stuffy older man like Dick from the Bayernhof, but instead we got a young college student in skinny jeans and a beanie and in my head I was thinking, “LET’S BLOW THIS LA HÜTTE STAND AND GO TO A BEACH SLANG SHOW TOGETHER!”
I mean, I was like, “Oh hello, Ryan. I’m Erin.”
AND I’M SINGLE AND CERTAINLY NOT EVEN CLOSE TO 36 YEARS OLD.
We had to wait for two other people, who turned out to be SOPHIE the COSTUME DESIGNER and her plaid-shirted companion. They both seemed to be drowning in each others’ ennui. SOPHIE of course had previously visited La Hütte, but her manpanion had no idea where she had brought him. Another fun date with SOPHIE, he probably mumble-cored to his other lumbersexual bruhs over nitro coffee and poutine the next day.
(I swear to god, I leave the house repeating to myself, “You love people. All people. All people are love” but then I find myself standing on a porch with the likes of SOPHIE and I remember why I often dislike leaving the house.)
Ryan gave us the run-down on the rules, which included twisting doorknobs (all doors that open can be entered), sitting on chair-like objects (everything but the chairs in the tiny dining room could be sat upon), and red-curtained fireplaces (there is only one in the house and that was our cue to get down and crawl). I asked about pictures, because I know Corey’s head was going to blow up in wonder, and Ryan happily said that we could photograph our faces off for all he cared, and we were welcome to share them on any social media sites but that we would need permission from the artist if we want to, you know, put them on a blog or whatever.
I didn’t say anything but the whole time, I was thinking, “Does my zero-revenue-generating blog with 5 followers count?” Like, I didn’t want to ask and be laughed at. So I said nothing and figured OH WELL I just won’t post any. Except for that first photo down there of Corey, because that bell-thing comes up all over the place when you Google search the house so I made the executive decision that this was OK because I don’t really feel like bothering some German artist right now.
Once we were in the foyer, backs slightly arched to avoid Suffocation By Large Hanging Torture Bell, Ryan collected our jackets and sent us on our way. I was relieved that SOPHIE and her downtrodden date got a head start into the basement, leaving us free to explore without judgment.
We started in the basement, which had a boxing ring built in what appeared to be the garage. Here is where I want to start spewing out every single detail of what we saw, but I think it’s kind of worthless to just read the words instead of actually experiencing it. Because putting it here in type makes it seem like it’s someone’s refuse, belongings left behind, that were just strewn about haphazardly and stamped as Art. But it’s not like that — there is a method to the madness, rhyme to the reason…it’s just that I don’t know exactly what those methods and rhymes are because I’m not Thorsten Brinkmann.
The house’s innards have been completely revamped into what the inside of my head looks like, a/k/a an explosion of color, hidden passages, and filth.
The main floor was primarily built around vinyl and I had to really dig deep to keep from lying supine across all of the beauty. All of the “chair-like objects” in the living room had record covers adhered to the surface…so needless to say I came home with new dining room chair projects for Henry.
I lied. Two more pictures. Will I be arrested?!
The upstairs is where shit got real crunk. We had to crawl through a tiny fireplace and along secret corridors built between the floors and it was horrifying and exciting all at once! I am so claustrophobic and hate not knowing where I’m going, especially when tight spaces are involved. I think Chuck E. Cheese’s infamous Cheese Factory ruined me at a young age.
Please tell me you know what I’m talking about. It was the first introduction to trauma for many kids in the early 80s, and it was definitely my first encounter with the crippling fear of being abandoned and left for dead inside a giant wheel of Swiss cheese, inexplicably sound-tracked by ominous outer space bleeps.
This is how I felt about La Hütte, with the added sensation of voyeurism thrown in. There were times when it really did feel like sneaking around someone’s decrepit home.
The tour ended in the attic, when we burst through a door on a wave of Corey’s bombastic laughter to find SOPHIE and her ambivalent beau (ambivabeau?), seated in old beauty salon hair dryers and watching a film of Thorsten himself trying a number of ways to sit in a chair.
Afterward, Ryan (who was sitting in the corner and I didn’t even notice!) was anxious to get some sort of dialogue going but I refused to speak in front of SOPHIE so we all kind of just sat there while SOPHIE talked about being in COSTUME DESIGN SCHOOL and Ryan was like, “There’s a whole school for that?” So yeah, take that SOPHIE. Anyway, we stuck around while Ryan escorted them back down to the foyer and when he returned, we all had a nice chat about the house, the owner (who lives down the street in a really nice house with a black fence), the artist, etc. etc. Ryan told us that Thorsten built the installation around the history of the house and its previous inhabitants, and used most of the things he found around the house.
I was hoping he wouldn’t make us go around and offer our interpretations, because I am really horrible at that. I love art–I love making it and I love looking at it, but I rarely try to “figure it out.” I can only tell you how it makes me feel, and this house made me feel like Alice in Wonderland—like I was somewhere I wasn’t meant to be, and it was at times beautiful and quirky, and at other times creepy and uncomfortable. And in keeping with the Alice theme, I was reminded a lot of how I felt the first time I watched Alice, a stop-motion film by Czech director Jan Svankmajer, who also made Little Otik which absolutely wrecked me during my pregnancy.
While it’s not clear to me what Thorsten hopes visitors will take away from La Hütte Royal (I tried not to read too much about it before we visited), I personally felt like we were in an entirely different world. For most of our time in the house, I had no idea what floor we were even on, because there was so much crawling and climbing. I loved the play on dimensions and how space was completely fucked with—it was basically my dream house. In one room, I’d expect to see the white rabbit, and in the next, Leatherface. When can I move in!?
After a nice discussion with Ryan, we excused ourselves. “We’re going to eat PB&J now at Peanut Butter Jelly Time in Bloomfield,” I explained (IN CASE HE WANTED TO COME, TOO).
“That sounds disgusting,” Ryan said.
Somewhere, PB&J is art, OK Ryan?