Emerald St. Philadelphia
August 2015-March 2016
I spent much of this year engaged in a wayward project whose final form and ultimate meaning I am still wrangling with. The idea had been lodged in my mind for some time that I wanted to make a public ode to vanishing space, and that I would do so by creating a belabored, trompe l’oeil painting of a beautiful, anonymous factory building in Northeast Philadelphia and install this painting beside the building for passersby to see. I intuited that the changing landscape in this rapidly-transforming neighborhood might render this particular view obsolete at some point in the not-too-distant future, whether through the building of view-obstructing condos, the tearing down of the blue building itself, or some other developer’s space-filling machination. I felt that erecting a handmade facsimile of an apparent reality (mimicking the ubiquitous realtors’ signs), might offer a kind of acknowledgement. Something about the way that we collectively experience space, particularly vacant or unscripted space, and the subsequent feelings that occur when this space becomes owned, and thusly, inscribed and necessarily exclusive. I wanted my painting to make people do a double take, and in that action, to consider or reconsider their own situation at this moment– and the fugitive nature of this particular spatial, personal and communal now.
Just days after erecting my painting, I was outdone by a local graffiti artist who tagged both it, and the real building behind it, with the same tag. The metallic grey bubble letters “Tober” leered from the two facades like delirious twins. Several days later, the entire building was claimed with names. About a month after this, the City of Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network came out with a truck and buffed both the building and my painting. And so a cycle began, and I became faithful documentarian.
For seven months, this lasted. Scrawled cursive monikers and admonishments met with grey erasure. And the spaces surrounding the installation were no less active. Two buildings went up in the time of my documentation. I watched foundations get laid and frames get built, I watched backhoes and bulldozers level the earth and dump piles of gravel. I watched men carry drywall, shout curses, eat their lunches. I watched high school kids walk home in clusters under 3 o’clock, winter-lit skies. One day I dropped my camera lens on a yellow “We Buy Houses” sign. I became friendly with the blue building’s owner, an auto mechanic named Tony, who was so casual about the whole project, despite the fact that it might be luring people to deface his building. (I later found out he had a daughter in art school). But really, it is the painting who witnessed it all. I just tromped around, and clicked my camera, when I could.
On a blustery day in March, the painting toppled. It appears to have been punctured by a wind-borne piece of debris from the neighboring construction site. I dragged the painting and a few notable bricks back into my studio, from whence it came. I am left with this, and my copious documentation.