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!


  1. Great post. Aurora Robson's work is superb. Meejin Yoon's "Light Drift" also looks wonderful. I'm going to do a bit of research on Janell Wysock; her work interests me greatly.

  2. Thanks for this tantalizing post, Gary!!!! I'm coming down to see DesignPhilly next week--W,Th,F-- and am even more excited after reading this. Thanks and hope we connect while I'm in town. Love your blog.