We each see the spaces in which we live in a different light, and even more so, the neighborhoods which are foreign to us. I entered into Mural Arts’ 2017 project, Monument Lab, fascinated with graffiti and street art, particularly on the streets of Philadelphia. Throughout my time with Monument Lab, I studied the many components that make up the visible and invisible layers of Philadelphia. These may consist of the architecture, the murals, and the train system, but they are also made up of people, their passages, and the words and works they leave behind. I attempted to create a “portrait” of Fishtown, where my site at Penn Treaty park was located, from my own experience as the neighborhood’s visitor. I was also working with Philadelphia Assembled run by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a project that was asking questions about the city’s past, future, as well as celebrating identities and striving for true common space. I was fascinated by the connection that people have to their neighborhood as the walls around them shift with the tide of gentrification. Simultaneously in Monument Lab, we acted as bearers of a lost public history, the displacement of the Lenne Lenape tribe, whose home was once on the land of the park. Other layers start to appear – layers of time and space, memory and lived experience. More than anything, both projects positioned its collaborators as witnesses to Philly citizens’ thoughts, fears, hopes, and dreams about their city.
I’ve attempted to visualize layers of three Philadelphia neighborhoods and draw them onto sheets of clear acetate. The acetate is hung so that you can see through each layer onto the layers behind it. You, as the viewer, can rearrange the layers, and interact with the work to bring layers to the front, or push others behind. They are all connected together by a spiral, which was a shape that became apparent again and again. This project is not meant to be an accurate “portrait” on the essence of a place, but instead, a reflection of my experiences in that place, and a space where you may interpret it to form alternative reflections of your own, meditating on the seen and the unseen.
I lived in West Philadelphia during the summer of 2017, and spent time there with friends, as well as assisting El Seed painting his mural as a part of Mural Arts in partnership with the (DIS)PLACED project from Al Bustan. I spent time nearby working at the Perelman Building with Philadelphia Assembled, and taking classes at the University of Pennsylvania. West Philadelphia is a part of the city with a complex relationship to gentrification and a slow tide of displacement, but also imbued with creativity and a unique commonality in its neighbors. I was most struck by the plant life in West Philly, in Fairmount Park and beyond. The vivacity and diversity of the trees, bushes, and flowers, are symbolic of the fluorishing life in this area of the city.
In Philadelphia, I encountered many uses of light, which dazzled me in multiple nighttime art performances. Hua Hua Zhang’s White Nights was one of these, at the Asian Arts Initiative. Another was an installation from the KLIP Collective, accompanied by the Monument Lab Marconi Plaza
Fishtown is a complex area of the city. Labeled by many as the ‘next Brooklyn’ and a hipster enclave, gentrification has grown dramatically, but in uneven patches around the neighborhood. Working at Penn Treaty, I had many conversations with residents about the rising rents, as well as the uneven distribution of the change. Much of lower Kensington and Fishtown is impoverished, with few social services, as well as very little green space. I wanted to explore the complex relationship that this neighborhood has with change, the history of the foundation of Philadelphia, and the city’s somewhat uncertain future.