Thursday, September 23, 2010

DesignPhiladelphia - "be like water" (says Bruce Lee)

Aurora Robson - "Up Drop" (detail)

One of the great cultural assets of Philadelphia is the now six-year-old DesignPhiladelphia. This major annual celebration of all things design is now housed at University of the Arts, and each year in the month of Ocotber (this year, the 7th through the 17th)  brings together scores of exhibitions, installations, symposia and unclassifiable "happenings around the filed of design - furniture design, product design, sustainable design, fashion design, architecture, landscape architecture, etc. It is definitely a big tent, and plays to the wealth of talent that Philadelphia has in these areas. It also serves as a vehicle for bringing in artists and designers from outside the region to enrich the dialogue. It is the largest celebration of its kind and brings together the work this year of over 450 designers.

One of the exciting installations this year is "be like water" - a site specific installation by the artist Aurora Robson, curated by Eileen Tognini. This huge project will take place in the Skybox of 2424 Studios at 2424 East York Street in Fishtown. It opens on October 15th and runs through November 7th. The Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy was involved in helping to make this installation a reality, as were several private supporters. It seems that water is a theme of a few of the DesignPhiladelphia projects we are involved in, so today's blog entry is an invitation to "wade in" and give you a taste of some of these projects.

The Skybox
This monumentally scaled installation is made from thousands of recycled plastic bottles and will stretch over 108' long.

"My work is largely about transforming something negative into something positive, recognizing and exploring potential. be like water is an installation comprised of bottles and caps that would otherwise be burdensome on the environment. Instead, I have transformed them to create what I hope is suggestive of an uplifting waterfall of light and form," says Aurora Robson. The title of the work - be like water - comes from a quote by Bruce Lee, the martial arts icon: "Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend."

Aurora Robson - The Great Indoors - Rice Gallery, Houston

In conjunction with the show, invited schools, including Philadelphia public, charter, private and a community school have been engaged in collecting plastic bottle caps. Plastic bottle caps are especially problematic as they do not get recycled, and end up in landfills and oceans — likely to be ingested by birds and fish due to their opacity and bright colors. In a joint effort to raise environmental awareness, bottle caps will be collected and sorted by students, and then displayed at the event. Robson will then deliver all of the bottle caps to Aveda, located in Babylon, NY, one of the only places in the country that recycles caps.

The use of familiar, ordinary and recycled materials, considered unconventional by classical standards of materials to create art, has long been a personal interest of Eileen's. "It's my goal to introduce an artist's work whose use of unexpected materials may expand the definition of 'what is design of art,' moreover to use design and art to show how waste by-products can be brilliantly re-imagined so materials don't end up in the waste stream."

Robson is a 2009 recipient of the Pollock Krasner Grant and the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Sculpture, and a 2010 recipient of an Arthur Levine Foundation Grant. She was the subject of a major profile last year in Art in America magazine. She has exhibited internationally and has works in major public, corporate and private collections worldwide. Robson is in the process of forming an international alliance of like-minded artists, designers and architects called Project Vortex, creating global opportunity for artists to join forces with Project Kaisei and the Ocean Conservancy to help eliminate the plastic vortexes in our oceans.

Urban Studio - Rainwater  Collection Kit for Urban Row Houses

There are many other exciting DesignPhiladelphia projects, including several others that the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy and other City agencies are involved in. In an earlier blog entry I reported on the Virtual Public Art Project, a partnership with Breadboard at the Science Center. The Art Gallery in City Hall will also be featuring an exhibit called Visual Voice: Neighborhood Led Design, by the design collaborative Urban Studio. It runs October 7 - November 12th, 2010, with an opening reception and discussion on October 14th, 4-7 PM. This illustration is from an Urban Studio project that looked at how rainwater collection could be implemented in our urban row house environment.

And the Mural Arts Program will be presenting Light Drift by the artist Meijin Yoon, an installation on the banks of the Schuykill River between Market and Chestnut Streets. This installation opens October 15th at 6:30 PM and will be up for public viewing for three consecutive evenings, Ocrober 15-17, 6:30 PM - 1 AM (as a light installation it requires dusk or darkness for the full impact). Glowing orbs will start on the Schuykill banks and extent out into the river. The orbs on shore respond to human touch by changing color and activating changing colors and patterns in the water orbs. Very cool!

Meijin Yoon - preliminary rendering for Light Drift, Schuykill Rover, Mural Arts Program
So, "be like water" in October and flow your way to be like water at the Skybox in 2424 Studios in Fishtown, Light Drift in Schuykill Banks Park, and Visual Voice at the City Hall Art Gallery. And while you are at it, don't forget to download the app for the Virtual Public Art Project and be prepared to view art that is "out of this world" at and around City Hall and the Science Center area. Not to mention the MANY other DesignPhiladelphia exhibitions and conversations - including many other projects that the Office has been involved in, directly and indirectly - such as The Philadelphia Underground, a video installation, conceived and curated by artist Marianne Bernstein in the Broad Street Concourse. Ricardo Rivera of the Klip Collective is producing it, and there are eight artists (including Ricardo) whose work will be featured. Opening night party is Saturday, Oct.9th from 7-10pm in Dilworth Plaza. For more info on The Philadelphia Underground project see this piece on ArtBlog. And, finally, FABLASTIC, weavings created by young people from MYX:Multicultural Youth Exchange using plastic bags. 

Apologies for the run-on blog entry, but there is so much to talk about!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Celebrating Student Artists

Artist: Lung Ung, CAPA, 11th Grade, Teacher: John Fanti

The exhibition currently mounted in The Art Gallery at City Hall is "A Plus Art - An Annual Celebration of Student Art." This exhibition is a selection of some of  the best art from students in Philadelphia’s public schools. Each year, The School District of Philadelphia organizes an exhibition of approximately 1,500 works of art at the School District Administration Building on North Broad St. Working in partnership with the District’s Office of Comprehensive Arts Education, we have chosen works that highlight our children’s artistic achievement in what we hope will be an annual exhibition in City Hall.

This exhibition is also a testament to the many dedicated art teachers in the School District, as well as the arts administrators who emphatically believe that a quality arts education is an important part of a child’s critical development.  Dr. Dennis Creedon, the Director of Comprehensive Arts Education, and Tessie Varthas, Content Specialist-Art Education were instrumental in the organization of this exhibition. Despite the many challenges our students must often overcome, it is our shared responsibility to nurture their talents and provide them with an opportunity to shine. For some students, the arts gives them a sense of unlimited possibilities. Each of the students in this exhibit will be honored with a Mayoral Certificate of Excellence.

When I was a young public school student in New York City MANY years ago, I exhibited in a similar show of the best work by public school students. I still remember the pride and optimism it gave me as a young artist.  I am honored to now be able to pass on that experience to this very talented group of students, and I wish them great success.
Group Project, Central High School

In mounting this show we had to think about the function of this relatively new gallery space. Some in the arts community have indicated a preference for a focus on only the work of professional artists. Others have pushed for a focus on community-based art - by students, seniors, and others that do not normally get the benefit of gallery exhibition of their work.  This debate has also swirled around the possibility of an art gallery exhibition space at the new expanded Convention Center - in the end a tentative decision was made there to have a tri-part focus: K-12 student art; art by the students at our many art schools, such as PAFA, UArts, Moore and Tyler; and work by professional artists. At the Art Gallery at City Hall we have decided to serve the role the arts play in our civic life, and the many forms that can take. We will sometimes highlight student art and hope this show can become an annual event. We will tie into such citywide festivals as Design Philadelphia (our next show!) and the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts next year, and we will sometimes serve as an extension space for the Art in City Hall exhibition program. We will be eclectic, we will always seek partnerships in our exhibitions, and always strive for the highest quality. I believe providing a showcase for the work of the best of our young student artists is a perfect use for this new gallery space. I also had the pleasure of welcoming students on the first day of class at CAPA, our School District specialized arts high school - and many CAPA students are represented in this show.

I am remiss in not having written about this show earlier, so I hope that all my Philadelphia readers that may not have seen the show yet will come see it before it ends in a few days.

Here are the details:

The Art Gallery At City Hall
"A-Plus Art" 
August 9 - October 1
A selection from the 2009-2010 School District exhibition.
Room 116, East Portal Market St. Entrance.
10 am - 4 pm weekdays

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Virtual Public Art Comes to Philadelphia

In a few weeks DesignPhiladelphia 2010 comes to town, and there are an array of really cool projects that are part of it that my Office has been working on. I thought over the next couple of weeks it would be fun to begin to preview some of this exciting work. First up: Virtual Public Art.

What is Virtual Public Art you say? Well whip out your smart phone and get ready for some mind-bending public art that exists only in "virtual space" but that is also part of the real space we live in. The first city-wide virtual art exhibit is coming to Philadelphia October 7, 2010. Breadboard; NextFab Studio; and Virtual Public Art Project(VPAP) are collaborating with the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, and DesignPhiladelphia2010 to host the first VPAP exhibit in Philadelphia as part of Design Philadelphia 2010. The VPAP Philadelphia project will include an informative multimedia exhibit at Breadboard’s Esther Klein Gallery (3600 Market Street) that introduces the Philadelphia community to the technology behind Augmented Reality and virtual art, and to recent VPAP projects in other cities around the world.

The image above is from a piece called Cargo, created by VPAP developer Christian Meinhardt. These structures could never exist in the "real world" being composed of hovering cargo containers that defy the laws of gravity. Yet this art was "installed" in various locations around the world damaged by human intervention, evoking the "cargo cults" created among native populations by American intervention in WWII. As an aside, can't help noting the connection to Mike Daisey's The Last Cargo Cult, a theatre piece presented as part of last year's Live Arts Festival. Below is a video that gives a sense of how this works: a 30' tall sculpture virtually installed in Prospect Park in NYC.

VPAP Philadelphia will also locate eight unique virtual artworks (created by Philadelphia artists) at various locations around Philadelphia’s City Hall location and the University City Science Center campus. These works will be viewable through the camera on any smart phone equipped with free downloaded VPAP application software. Breadboard is a new University City Science Center program that promotes art and design at the intersection of science and technology. VPAP is a new organization that is literally pushing the boundaries of public space and art via free Augmented Reality platforms easily accessible through smart phone applications. DesignPhiladelphia is the nation's largest celebration of its kind, a city-wide initiative showcasing the role that design has played historically in Philadelphia, and unites the creative disciplines – from architecture to interior design, fashion to product design, multi-media to graphic design.

Philadelphia has an incredibly strong cultural sector, as well as a long tradition of design and technology innovation. This program brings those strengths together in a very exciting way. I have been working with the Breadboard folks on an array of projects that unite science, art, design and technology in extraordinary ways that both serve our community and shine national and international light on what we’re doing here. Very cool stuff... I have also been meeting with the folks from the Vincent Michael Gallery in Northern Liberties, and they are also developing a technology for virtual public art. Look forward to collaborating with them as well!

VPAP uses emergent Augmented Reality platforms to create virtual art in public spaces by merging computer generated imagery with physical, real-world locations. The finished projects be viewed using the iPhone 3GS and Android phones. Just imagine the potential: A massive sculpture could be installed in the City Hall courtyard (or even replace William Penn on the Tower). The Liberty Bell could melt and reassemble itself right before your eyes (on your phone at least). Art can interject itself where the laws of physics or historic preservation would otherwise make it impossible.

Breadboard will also sponsor a suite of supporting workshops and events at NextFab Studio as part of DesignPhiladelphia 2010. These workshops will generate opportunities for Philadelphia artists and individuals to gain more in-depth understanding about virtual art and Augmented Reality and/or work on content to submit digital art work for consideration in the upcoming VPAP exhibit.

Artists and individuals interested in submitting work for the VPAP Philadelphia exhibit may contact

VPAP Public Events and Timeline:

September 1, 6:00-8:00 pm at NextFab Studio (3711 Market Street, Philadelphia)Public talk and demonstration with Chris Manzione, founder of the Virtual Public Art Project. This event will include a Smartphone walking tour to view temporary VPAP virtual content geo-tagged along the Science Center’s Market Street corridor.

September 18, 10:00 am-4:00 pm at NextFab Studio (3711 Market Street, Philadelphia)Special all-day VPAP Workshop: an Augmented Reality workshop where individuals can work one on one with VPAP personnel and learn how to create virtual content that can be viewed using smart phone applications. This event will also serve as a primer for individuals wishing to submit content for consideration in the VPAP Philadelphia exhibit.

September 18, 12:00 -1:00 pm at NextFab Studio (3711 Market Street, Philadelphia) Special presentation by Christian Meinhardt (VPAP software developer): Practical applications and how to guide for AR enthusiasts

October 7 at City Hall and Science Center locations VPAP Philadelphia launches virtual art exhibit (in collaboration with start of DesignPhiladelphia’s sixth year). Virtual artwork created by Philadelphia artists will be viewable through free smart phone applications at City Hall and Science Center locations.

October 15, 5:00-8:00pm at Breadboard’s Esther Klein Gallery (3600 Market Street, Philadelphia) Opening Reception for The Virtual Public Art Project: an indoor multi-media exhibit that introduces the public to VPAP and the technology behind virtual art. (The EKG exhibit will open in September but the public reception is October 15.)