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Benjamin Volta of Volta Studio, in collaboration with the Asian Arts Initiative‘s Youth Arts Workshop, tackled the exterior of a large section of fence surrounding the PECO Callowhill Substation located at 11th and Callowhill Streets. The project entitled “Emoji Energy.” This Knight Arts grantee guided a group of local teens to explore the history of electricity, electricity as a utility, electricity and human body, and electricity as a creative metaphor.

Youth Arts Workshop, Summer 2013 in front of "Emoji Energy" mural. Photo by Timothy Lee

Youth Arts Workshop, Summer 2013 in front of “Emoji Energy” mural. Photo by Timothy Lee

Throughout the summer months, these students were busy at work designing Emojis and electronic wiring diagrams, posing for and manipulating photographic portraits of themselves, and planning the new face of this downtown industrial spot. Located very near a number of Chinatown art destinations such as Vox Populi and, of course, the Asian Arts Initiative gallery, the substation displays the typical, mechanical appearance of industrialization and David Lynch’s Eraserhead. While this is not at all distasteful (in fact, quintessentially Philadelphia), the new addition of colorful and thoughtful visual art serves to update the metal fences and fixtures to fit the changing face of the neighborhood.

A view of "Emoji Energy" on a sunny evening.

A view of “Emoji Energy” on a sunny evening.

Harnessing the power of print thanks to the facilities at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, the team of young artists hand-printed their designs over blown-up images of themselves. This mingling of indistinct portraiture and mandala-like original designs proves to be a real showstopper, demanding attention of any passersby, particularly those who are familiar with the area.

Jingwen and Benxin working hard to screen print their design on the picture. Photo courtesy emojienergy.blogspot.com

Jingwen and Benxin working hard to screen print their design on the picture. Photo courtesy emojienergy.blogspot.com

All of the hanging, rectangular murals are organized into a checkered configuration along a wide stretch of 11th Street. Printed onto a translucent material, they allow a great deal of light to flood through. This effect not only allows the Callowhill Substation to remain visible, but also splashes the artwork with a contrasted play of light and shadow which emphasizes the nature of the equipment it references – electric-producing machinery which provides us with energy for lights, appliances and computers alike.

If you happen to be in the area checking out art, walking for dinner in Chinatown, or grabbing drinks at one of the nearby watering holes, be sure to stop and see what some area artists have been up to. In a city of so many murals, new public art can either slip through the cracks or stop us in our tracks. The “Emoji Energy” creations definitely fall vibrantly into the latter category.

Asian Arts Initiative is located at 1219 Vine St., Philadelphia; info@asianartsinitiative.org; asianartsinitiative.org.

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