Bucks County Herald

Bridget Wingert: Happy to Be Here

Monumental histories brought to life



A father photographs his daughter as a “Me” monument on a recent Sunday.

A little girl climbs an unadorned metal walkway to a platform 7 feet off the ground. She holds her head high, raises her right arm slightly and stands perfectly still.

Her father is below, ready to shoot a photograph. The inscription on her pedestal says “Me.” The girl is in the Philadelphia City Hall courtyard – not busy on this late Sunday afternoon so there’s plenty of time to pose.

The girl has made herself a living monument joining one of the projects of the Monument Lab, a public art and history program taking place in city neighborhoods through Nov. 19.

“Philadelphia is a city full of monuments,” say Monument Lab curators Paul M. Farber and Ken Lum.
“Philadelphia is also a city full of monumental histories, many of which are little known, obscured, or simply unacknowledged. These underrepresented histories often exist in tension with officially acknowledged narratives. The projects that make up Monument Lab address issues of social justice and solidarity, including matters of race, gender, sexuality, class and national belonging.”

The project is meant to help yield new monuments based on the communities where they are located. They might not be stone or bronze. They might be made of recycled materials, images or sounds.

Monument Lab is a collaboration with Mural Arts Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA). The nine-week project has been set up at 10 sites, with 20 artists sharing their kinds of monuments.

Partners include the City of Philadelphia and its Department of Parks and Recreation, the University of Pennsylvania, PAFA, the Barnes Foundation and WHYY. Major funding has come from the Pew Center for the Arts and Heritage, the William Penn Foundation and Bank of America.

PAFA is the exhibition hub – the place where visitors can see images of all 20 prototype monuments.

Three artists exhibit at City Hall. Mel Chin created “Two Me,” the living sculpture project, which has two adjacent platforms that invite two people at a time to pose together and greet each other when they descend to the ground.

Michelle Angela Ortiz displays a series of animated projections at the North Gate of City Hall on Wednesday and Friday evenings at 8. With “We Keep Walking,” she honors immigrant mothers held at the Berks Detention Center.

Hank Willis Thompson’s monument is across the street on the Thomas Paine Plaza, where he has made a giant “Afro Pick” in the tradition of Claes Oldenburg’s “Clothespin.”

At Franklin Square, Kara Crombie has installed an outdoor boomboat where visitors can create their own musical productions from an archive of songs composed in the region.

At Logan Square – actually a circle on the Ben Franklin Parkway – visitors can tune in to Emeka Ogbo’s listening stations to hear the poetry of Ursula Emeka. The next weekly concert of choral music and poetry on the Parkway Central Library’s Skyline Terrace is 2 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12. The view of the city from the terrace is a bonus at this site.

At Rittenhouse Square, Alexander Rosenberg has installed viewfinders that show the park in photographs of gatherings and renderings of proposed structures that might have been there. Sharon Hayes addresses the absente of public sculptures of women with a sculpture that marks a long line of women who might have been memorialized.

At Washington Square, Marissa Williamson shares an interactive visual journey of one woman’s journey to freedom and Kaitlin Pomerantz has salvaged Philadelphia rowhouse stoops as sites of social interaction. Along the Delaware in Penn Treaty Park, Duane Linklater of the Moose Creek First Nation in Ontario has built a monument to the Lenni Lenape Chief Tamanend. The ground was a meeting place for indigenous communities for thousands of years and in 1682, it is where the chief and William Penn met to sign a “treaty of friendship.”

Linklater asked his 9-year-old daughter to write words of the agreement, “as long as the rivers and creeks flow, and sun, moon and stars shine.” Fabricators translated the handwritten words into a neon sign to be placed on the edge of the river.

Artists Billy Dufala and Lucia Thome of Recycled Artists in Residency created “Plainsite 20/20 – a giant excavator holding a tree to evoke the tension between nature and progress at Vernon Park in Germantown.

Near Vernon Park, Karen Olivier presents a contemporary view on the 1777 Battle of Germantown to honor veterans. The park will hold a special event from 1 to 4 p.m. on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

David Hart has planted a garden in collaboration with the Norris Square Neighborhood project in Kensington to highlight the city’s founding vision as “a green country town.”

A one-night performance of sound, poetry, projection and visual art, took place at Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia this fall and in South Philadelphia at Marconi Park and Shira Walinsky created an interactive video called “Free Speech.” Ricardo Rivera made a video, shown one night, of surnames of South Philadelphia’s generations of immigrants.

In this age of monument protests – Frank Rizzo’s stands out in this city – the project is an effort to discover what neighborhood monuments should be. Each of the sites had a lab that collects data about the visitors.
For tours of the monument sites, contact muralarts.org or 215-925-3633.

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