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Sean Derry

Pittsburgh Center for the Arts


I celebrate amateur responses to complex problems. I repurpose discarded objects and build mechanical contraptions that perform. The vulnerability of these instruments is critical to comprehending the humility of intervening to reorder everyday conditions. I work to establish an equilibrium between ambition and uncertainty and use this frame to assess the perplexities of contemporary being. I study how we amend our surroundings by repurposing practices inherited from analogous activities. Computer simulations suggest that most of the glaciers in the Alps will disappear by the middle of the twenty-first century. In response, Austrian workers cover Pitzal Glacier with thick insulated fleece blankets. These white blankets protect the snow from the summer sun. The humility of the gesture reveals the quandary of living in a digital age while interfacing with continually shifting physical phenomena. The contraptions I create are residue of a process of simulating responses to found circumstances. I work within existing systems and observe the reaction of these systems to my actions. I instigate change in a manner that is purposely low-tech. The possibility of watching something work helps expose why it was built. Transparency demystifies the practice of invention. Acknowledging that innovation is often the product of serendipity allows imagination to be liberated from the domain of experts.


Sean Derry grew up in Alaska. His family moved to the territory via steamship in the late nineteenth century and later established one of the largest commercial reindeer herds in the history of Alaska. Derry’s ongoing interest in mechanical devices and amateur engineering can be at least partially attributed to his childhood experience repairing Craftsman lawnmowers. In his artistic practice, he explores the lived experience of a place and investigates alternative strategies for inhabiting these environments. Derry’s work includes installations, commissions and curatorial projects. He has developed projects for the Rivers of Steel Heritage Area, Trust for Public Land, Anchorage Museum at the Rasmuson Center, Art in Action, National Institute for Fitness and Sport, and Waterman Agricultural Center. He has completed public commissions for the University of Alaska, the City of Indianapolis, and Indianapolis Cultural Trail. In 2006, Derry’s commission, Charting Pogue’s Run, was featured in the Americans for the Arts Year in Review. Derry is the recipient of grants from the Sprout Fund, Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Alaska State Council on the Arts, and Edith Fergus-Gilmore Trust. Sean Derry currently lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is the area head of sculpture at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.