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When driving around Philadelphia, there are many things that the visually attuned may note. There are trolley tracks and the occasional cobblestones, old architecture nudged right up against brand new apartment buildings, bikes, worn-down industrial fixtures and bars. In reference to that last one, AIGA Philadelphia has taken it upon themselves to parody the seemingly omnipresent neon signs glowing and flashing from so many of the city’s restaurants, stores and bars.

The "Locals Only" exhibition sign, complete with the Pennsylvania keystone. Photo by Gaby Heit

The “Locals Only” exhibition sign, complete with the Pennsylvania keystone. Photo by Gaby Heit

 Undergoing a slight décor shift from design collective to dive bar for the show “Locals Only,” the AIGA space on 2nd Street in Old City has nine artists showcasing their work in neon light fixtures. Typically seen advertising beer or similar fare, many of the artists aim to replicate the traditional use of signage while also taking liberties of their own.

One notable trend is the aim to harness those things which are uniquely Philadelphia. Anyone who knows the scoop on the famous Philly cheesesteak is aware of the South Philly pride and rivalry associated with the sandwich; people will argue endlessly about which establishments are good or bad and who has the best cheesesteak in town. Another insider tip is the phrase “whiz wit” – the authentic way to order a cheesesteak with cheese whiz. Sharon McMullen glorifies this cheesy phrase in her piece of the same name.

Sharon McMullen, "Whiz Wit." Joel Evey, "LOL." Julie Frey, "United Squiggles of America." and Kenny Kim, "Yous Guys." Photo by Gaby Heit

Sharon McMullen, “Whiz Wit.” Joel Evey, “LOL.” Julie Frey, “United Squiggles of America.” and Kenny Kim, “Yous Guys.” Photo by Gaby Heit

Kevin Jackson also focuses on a local linguistic phenomenon in “Wuddering Hole.” For anyone familiar with the Southeastern Pennsylvania/South Jersey region, the dialect is extremely easy to pinpoint based on the way people ask for a cool glass of ice water. Instead of going to the local “WAHtering hole,” as most others would say, Philadelphians have a tendency to pay a visit to the “WUDdering hole” instead. Kenny Kim also plugs the local accent a bit in “Yous Guys,” the Philadelphia plural you equivalent of “y’all.”

Kevin Jackson, "Wuddering Hole." Dan Gneiding, "Happy Hour." Steve DeCusatis, "Beat It You Val Jerk." Photo by Gaby Heit

Kevin Jackson, “Wuddering Hole.” Dan Gneiding, “Happy Hour.” Steve DeCusatis, “Beat It You Val Jerk.” Photo by Gaby Heit

Others take their contemporary neon approach directly from the playbook like Dan Gneiding’s “Happy Hour” (needs no explanation) or Joel Evey’s laughing-out-loud laden with a yin-yang, “LOL.” Greg Christman dodges the medium all together with a cardboard sign punched with Christmas lights that reads “My Wife Says We Are Too Poor To Afford A Neon Sign.”

The AIGA Philadelphia has quite the bright array of text and context this month from Philly slang to internet jargon. The gallery space was, like a corner bar on any given weekend, packed to the gills on First Friday. Be sure to check out the AIGA space and the exhibit which will be up through January 30th.

AIGA Philadelphia Space is located at 72 North 2nd St., Philadelphia; space@aigaphilly.org; aigaphilly.org.

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