Identi-teens

By Serena Zets – 10th Grade, Pittsburgh CAPA 

Throughout the summer, The Mattress Factory, a world renowned installation art museum located in the North Side, hosts a Summer Art Cooperative for Pittsburgh teens to work as artists in residence and guest curators. Needless to say, this is not how the typical teenager spends their summer.

On Friday, August 7, The Mattress Factory hosted a culminating exhibition for the Summer Art Cooperative entitled “Identity.”  Since it was held at the end of the summer, I expected a kind of casual event that is commonly associated with teenagers in the summer.

As soon as I walked into the museum, I knew I was wrong to have underestimated the young artists. Outside the building was an interactive bubble piece that the teens created themselves. The piece consisted of a huge bubble made of sheets of plastic, similar to garbage bags, patched together with fans blowing inside to help it retain its shape. It looked like a cloud out of a Dr. Seuss book had somehow landed right on a street in the North Side. Based on the torn look on their faces, patrons were struggling to decide whether to check out the bubble first or head inside and browse the galleries. Luckily there was enough time for both.

Inside the museum, the gallery was lit up with twinkling lights and was packed with people. The whole thing took on a sophisticated aura which was a fitting way to wrap up such a successful summer program. Every artist explored the true meaning of identity in a different way, and the result was a comprehensive exhibit that explored every facet of identity from race to age.

Despite not identifying as an artist, participant Kathryn, a senior at Oakland Catholic, created a striking piece that tackled age and its relation to identity. The piece consisted of a colorful mock birthday party topped with a handmade tissue paper flower chandelier. On the decorated table were cakes displaying various significant ages, including 1, 10, 13, 16, and 18. Each cake was bright and eye-catching except for one; the cake reading 18. The white 18th birthday cake symbolized that Kathryn has not turned 18 yet, so she has no idea what it will bring.

Kathryn considered age to be a crucial part of identity because it’s something that binds us all. She said, “Age is something that has  nothing to do with your skin color or religion. Your age makes you a child or an adult, regardless.” Despite the fact that Kathryn is still a teenager, her maturity shines in her piece and in her statements.

Another participant, Isabelle, a freshman at CAPA, took a different spin on the theme: she left it up to the viewers. She realized that identity isn’t a “one size fits all” topic, so she decided to incorporate everyone into her art. Her final piece consisted of a typewriter which invited viewers to take a moment to think about identity and write their own definition. It was an unorthodox approach, but it worked nonetheless. Isabella said, “I thought it would be cool to use an old typewriter. People don’t really know what identity is, so I wanted them to just write their thoughts down.”

When asked what her favorite part of her experience was, Isabelle took a look around the crowded gallery and replied, “This is my favorite part.” When she said this, I felt inclined to take a look around the space. And when I did,  I saw everything from people stepping up to pieces hoping for a better understanding of the art and of themselves, to kids running around in the bubble outside, to the long line of people waiting to sit at the typewriter.

After attending the exhibition, I learned a lot about myself and my own identity. I am a visual artist, but at CAPA I’m a writing major. Thus, it can be discouraging and hard to stand out when you’re surrounded by multifaceted talented teens. But once I witnessed the Co-Op group in action, they proved that a group of teens, all with different talents, could successfully work together. I hope to take that idea back to my school as well as my life. I wish I had as good a grasp on painting as these young artist, but more importantly, a better grasp on my own identity.


Serena Zets Serena Zets is a sophomore at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts High School. At CAPA, her discipline is literary arts where she received the opportunity to take part in an introductory journalism course. She is a resident of Squirrel Hill where she bakes, reads, and most importantly sleeps.

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