Project Mon Valley

Artist

Aaron Henderson

Date

2020–2021

Location

Monongahela River Valley, PA

Collaborating Organization

The Breathe Collaborative with North Braddock Residents For Our Future

Introduction

Project Mon Valley is a temporary public artwork created by artist Aaron Henderson as part of the Office of Public Art’s Environment, Health, and Public Art Initiative. Tentatively launching in the summer of 2021, the project will consist of three individual site-specific projections that will be displayed at a series of projection events in the Mon Valley. Based on the artist’s interviews and interactions with community members in the region, the projections will share their stories and experiences with a broader audience.

Research & Process

Henderson was selected to collaborate with North Braddock Residents For Our Future (NBRFOF) in 2019. Henderson began his research for this collaborative endeavor by working with NBRFOF to learn about their community activism and advocacy work. In particular, they focused on the fight against the unconventional gas wells proposed by Merrion Oil and Gas in North Braddock and adjacent municipalities.

Henderson engaged in discussions with NBRFOF, attended site visits to North Braddock and adjacent communities, and participated in meetings for Merrion Oil and Gas’s proposed gas wells at United States Steel Edgar Thomson Works along with NBRFOF members.

Through that first year of work, Henderson learned about the history of environmental injustice in the community and its impacts on communities and individuals throughout the Mon Valley, both in the past and in the shadow of the rapid expansion of the fracking and plastics industries in our region.

The project aims to raise awareness of the environmental injustices affecting communities in the Mon Valley. This unprecedented time raises questions about relationships with our friends, neighbors, communities, governments, industries and the environment. Henderson will work with people from these communities to create public projections that respond to their situation and experience.

Focus on Air Quality

The decision was made in late 2020 to engage other air quality organizations in the creation of the final artwork, reflecting both the widespread impact of these local conditions and some of the challenges that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since January 2021, Henderson has been working with the Breathe Collaborative, a group of organizations and individuals who deal specifically with air quality in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The Breathe Collaborative, which includes NBRFOF, is facilitated by the Breathe Project. Henderson meets weekly with the Breathe Collaborative to learn more about issues impacting communities throughout the Mon Valley and develop the final artwork.

Industrial pollution is threatening the health of this community. Project Mon Valley aims to make visible some of the invisible threats faced every day by the residents of Braddock. It is a call for understanding and action as we all fight for cleaner air, water and soil.

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About the Artist

Aaron Henderson’s photographs, videos, and installations engage in an ongoing critique of our relationship to spectacle, technology and performance. He believes that it is only through a thorough examination of ourselves—and our culture—that we can discover what we were, what we are, and what we are becoming. Well acquainted with movement, he threw himself into walls and off platforms for STREB Extreme Action, an acrobatic performance company from 2002-6. His videos and installations have been presented at the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Wexner Center, and many other museums and galleries in the United States, Europe and Asia. His projection designs have been presented at Lincoln Center, the Andy Warhol Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston) and theaters and festivals around the world. Aaron is an Associate Professor in the Department of Studio Arts at the University of Pittsburgh.

About the Collaborating Organizations

The Breathe Collaborative is a coalition of citizens, environmental advocates, public health professionals and academics working to improve air quality, eliminate climate pollution and make our region a healthy and prosperous place to live. The Collaborative powers the Breathe Project through science-based work and a community outreach platform.

North Braddock Residents For Our Future (NBRFOF) is an all-volunteer, grassroots group of residents organized to promote community health and clean air, and fight unconventional gas drilling in their community. NBRFOF came together in 2014 to resist proposed unconventional gas wells at the Grandview Golf Course, North Braddock, Pennsylvania. Working closely with North Braddock council members, residents and business owners NBRFOF was able to defeat the placement of unconventional gas wells at Grandview Golf Course through zoning changes. NBRFOF stepped up their efforts in 2017 to resist Merrion Oil and Gas’s proposed unconventional gas wells at United States Steel (USS) Edgar Thomson Works (ET Works).

Image credits

Gallery, top:
All images and photos courtesy the artist

Artist Headshot:
Artist Aaron Henderson, photo by Suzanne Hojnick, courtesy artist

Related

PROJECTS

Nine Mile Run Viewfinder

A portal for seeing, hearing, and smelling the waterway beneath our feet, this artwork by Ginger Brooks Takahashi was created to bring attention to the connections between Nine Mile Run, the stormwater and sewer systems, the Monongahela River, and the water we drink.

PROJECT

Dirt Is Beautiful

The project by Mary Tremonte is designed to increase the visibility of new and established community garden participants within Grow Pittsburgh’s service network, and provide them with more resources.