On first walking into the raw warehouse space at 100 West Oxford Street in Fishtown where this installation and dance performance series took place, I was struck by the sense of warmth and community. The space, and the event as a whole, part of the Philly Fringe Festival, had the feeling of a warm, gently lit barn raising party where people work through a task together: sharing music, conversation and food, and drinking with each other.
The space was filled with a wide array of work of all types investigating in different ways the theme of human use, destruction, and recycling of their surrounding environments and materials. More than 25 individual artists were represented. I was impressed by the installation’s commitment to reach out to and incorporate the surrounding community. Collaborations with local student groups and the craft-based, do-it-yourself feel of the event seemed to welcome participants from all parts of the community regardless of age, class, or formal experience with ‘Art.’ The fact that many of the works were either made out of materials found here in Philadelphia, or else depicted recognizable parts of the city or issues pertinent to its inhabitants (homelessness, abandoned buildings, urban decay) added to my sense of the exhibition’s engagement with its surroundings.
One of the main draws the night my friends and I went (Thursday the 14th) seemed to be the interactive “Giraffe’s Dream,” co-created by Tara Wosiski and Brad Carney. This piece was a sort of vertical loom, a freestanding wooden frame strung tautly with pieces of string and accompanied by a palette piled high with colorful strips of fabric. Visitors were welcomed to weave these strips through the loom to add to the growing creation. A sight in itself, the mound of glittering, opaque, and sheer fabric scraps had all been discarded from local Kensington clothing factories. There was also something quite moving about the sight of visitors, many of them strangers to each other, engaged in their collective task with bowed heads and a kind of dutiful seriousness.
The installation moved seamlessly between interactive pieces, videos, sculptures, and found object constructions, photographs, collages, and paintings. Though there were a great variety of pieces, they worked together as a collection in the space without one outshining the rest. Nothing felt crowded, and there was plenty of room to move around the concentration of large, quirky sculptures. The emphasis was certainly on the built construction; many of the works directly spoke to the Make it, Break it, Rebuild it title, giving one the sense of an energetic, fluid working process of collecting, constructing, deconstructing, and reassembling.
Some pieces were clearly made to be seen in the context of the dance performances that happened on the other nights of the event, which made me wish I could have attended these shows and seen the pieces activated by the dancers’ movements. Lincoln Line, the band that played the night I was there, was more of a separated accompaniment to the artwork– they provided a focus, but didn’t specifically interact with any part of the installation. However, the black and white images projected behind them provided a nice backdrop and implied connection to the visual stimuli elsewhere in the warehouse space.
A kind of youthful, energetic cheerfulness seemed to spread throughout the installation, embodied by the event’s organizers, who warmly greeted people as they entered the space, telling them what to expect and how they could make themselves at home. As I neared the back of the warehouse space, I came upon one of the final pieces, Mike Konrad’s series of simple illuminated lamps spelling the words “Great Idea.” This seemed like a fitting encapsulation of the down-to earth, hopeful approach of the show as a whole. Make it, Break it, Rebuild it reminds us of art and artists’ capacity to engage a community in an examination of its own problems, hopes, and creative potential.
Photos courtesy of Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe.