Oct 27, 2011

The Whole Site: Muralism and Public Art in Context

by: Mary Kate O’Keefe

Vibrant photographs of garden art, hot glass splashing into concrete molds, Brazilian hilltop favelas, and hand painted murals were flashed one by one onto the wall by the projector at Mural Arts’ recent Thought Experiment.

Hosted at the Center for Architecture on Arch Street as part of Design Philadelphia, this particular installment of the muraLAB talk series boasted an inspiring panel of artists and innovative thinkers. Mural Arts’ Executive Director Jane Golden was joined by International Design Clinic founder Scott Shall, Brooklyn-based PrePost’s duo (Joshua Draper and Joseph Vidich), internationally celebrated artist Jeroen Koolhaas, and Interface Studio city planner Scott Page.

After wine and light hors d’oeuvres were enjoyed by attendees, the lecture portion of the evening was launched by Scott Shall, who first spoke about his own work using humble materials to “upcycle” in lieu of recycle. After talking about Do-It-Yourself culture, the idea of “vending” education in small, accessible, five-minute portions to children in Bolivia, and his current project in Philadelphia at Bodine High School, Shall framed the dialogue for the other artists by introducing the remaining speakers and facilitating questions from the audience.

Co-creators of PrePost, a Brooklyn-based studio that researches and explores intersections between art and architecture and pre- and post-industrial art making techniques also presented at the event. Joshua Draper and Joseph Vidich spoke about the importance of tooling; they argue that by creating their own tools, they are participating fully in the creation process and are able to reach a highly innovative level of design. The Columbia graduates used a variety of media and materials and are inspired by the way analog and digital designs inform one another.

Jeroen Koolhaas, the “Haas” half of visiting collaborative team “Haas and Hahn” opened his remarks by talking about an architectural construction that informs his and his partner’s work: the favela. A Portuguese word meaning ‘hilltop slum,’ the favela typically has a lot of stigma attributed to it by those who live outside of the slums. After seeing a favela in Sao Paolo for the first time in 2001, Koolhaas was deeply moved by the angular, cube-like homes stacked on top of one another and knew that he wanted to expose unfair stigmatization by painting the facades of an entire favela. In a politically neutral way, Haas and Hahn’s mural work communicate messages of both hope and optimism.

Before Jane Golden presented her thoughts about Mural Arts Philadelphia’s past, present and future, Scott Page of Interface Studio in Philadelphia brought yet another interesting perspective to the panel’s compelling conversation about making art that relates contextually to its location. Unlike the other panelists, Page is not an artist himself. He did say, however, that he has brought art into his work as a way for local residents to voice their opinions in city planning discussions and has “used art as a way of expressing relationships and things that are hidden.” For Interface Studio, “art is a way of broadening the conversation,” which is why he was very engrossed in the previous speakers’ descriptions of their own artwork that addresses use of space, the economy, and social and political challenges communities are facing around the globe today.

Each of the five presenters offered the audience and one another a fresh viewpoint from which to look at public art, why it is made, and the power that it can have to ignite change on scales both small and large.


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Last updated: Mar 21, 2016

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