The first sign that something is afoot at the Women’s Studies Research Center is the giant bra hanging outside the entrance. Once inside, the unsuspecting visitor to the Kniznick Gallery within the Center will find it taken over by a host of unexpected characters. Among others, an odious oil rig, a cardboard crocodile and a sad succulent have taken up residence here as part of “Fool for Thought,” an exhibition by performance artist Pat Oleszko.

The gallery showcases a number of costumes from a variety of performances and events.

Her body of work includes many outdoor installations and performances, featuring many of the elaborate costumes now on display.

Oleszko makes the world her stage, creating and donning costumes that bring a humorous light to the topics and issues they address.

Susan Metrican, the Rosalie and Jim Shane Curator and Director of the Arts, reveals in her description that Pat Oleszko is the “Fool” for which the exhibit is named.


CARDBOARD CREATURES: Oleszko’s cardboard alligator costume promotes environmental awareness.

Oleszko’s art has been featured in such varied venues as the Museum of Modern Art and the Sesame Street Magazine.

She has received many grants and awards from her work, most recently being named a 2016 grantee of Tree of Life, a foundation benefiting talented and late-career artists. She has held talks and exhibitions in many colleges and communities, as well.

One of the more prominent pieces in this showcase is “Hello Folly: The Floes & Cons of Arctic Drilling.” Featuring costumes from a performance piece targeting the practice of oil drilling in the Arctic, this work centered on an angry oil platform labeled “Polar Wrecks-Plorer,” which was worn by Oleszko during the performance.

Scattered around the gallery are dismayed polar bears, whose habitat is endangered by this practice.

Nearby lay pipelines with oil leaking from their ends, one labeled “Hell No!” preceded by the logo of the Shell oil company, and another labeled “Keystone XL Not!” in reference to the controversial pipeline.

Also part of this piece was a sailboat manned by fishing rats and a white beacon mounted aboard a small red boat. A common theme in “Hello Folly” was the use of blue plastic bags to represent water.

According to Founding Director, Shulamit Reinharz ’77 Ph.D., the bags have a second meaning of the pollution of the seas with garbage.

Another piece that stood out (and was much more lighthearted) was “Stalking Walking Topiary.” Displayed here are a few of the characters that made up the topiary, a group of plants that are brought to life by a gardener at Carnegie-Mellon and go on a mission “to liberate their relatives, those far-flung flora held captive under glass” at the Botanical Gardens.

A master of disguise and puns, Oleszko is at once the puppet and the puppet master, concocting performances that bring humor and whimsy to a wide range of topics.

Fool for Thought is on display until Mar. 3 and an artist lecture and reception will take place tomorrow, Jan. 25, beginning at 4 p.m.