Traction Company: subTraction at Napoleon

at Napoleon Gallery

Through Dec 6, 2013

By Jacob Feige



When I moved to Philadelphia a few years ago from New York, I didn’t know many artists in town. If someone had asked me to imagine what art in Philadelphia looked like, I would have thought of something like Traction Company: a massive, dirty, sprawling space occupied by gnarled, earnest makers tooling away with welding torches and table saws. There would be dirty hoodies, broken boom boxes, day or night jobs, and plenty of time to geek out with a piece of heavy machinery. The only thing I really knew about Philly was that it was tougher and cheaper than New York, so surly sculptors seemed to fit with my limited notions of the place.


I’ve never actually been to Traction Company’s West Philly building, but my two-year-old and I spent a minute or two in a precise, tiny replica of their large shop. As part of Traction Company’s exchange with Napoleon during the Citywide events in November, its members have built the replica with the patience of Santa’s most Aderall-fueled elf endowed with the fine motor coordination of the hobbyists who build those model train dioramas that used to be in department stores around the holidays. Inch-long handsaws sit next to thimble-sized buckets filled with tiny wood shavings. The replica, which includes walls and ceiling, sits within Napoleon’s gallery, and an attendant momentarily shuts visitors inside the space for full immersion. It’s large enough that you can stand up, but you’ll want to crouch down close to the floor for the entire visit in order to admire the craft of each itty-bitty vice clamp.


The art world as I know it tends to be long on spiels and slap-dash and urgent in the making of things. I’m glad to see someone carrying on with hand-made, self-referential perversity, which recently seems to have little clout, its principle purveyors like Charles Ray and Joe Fig having faded from peak notoriety ten years ago. I don’t quite relate to the impulse, but I’m glad it’s there. Thank goodness that we have room in Philadelphia for thirteen people to get together and spend forty thousand hours chasing a crazy idea to its conclusion. In other places, the usual killers of whimsy, like money and blunt common sense might have made this project a joke over drinks instead of the fully realized representation that it is.


Jacob Feige is an artist and Assistant Professor of Art at the Richard Stockton College of NJ. His work has recently been seen in Jacob Feige: Paintings 2008-2013 at the College Gallery, Stockton College and A city(ies) that walked at Tiger Strikes Asteroid and Fjord in Philadelphia. 

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