At the West Philadelphia Traction Company workspace and art center, the exterior walls present a revolving door of artwork that changes a couple of times a year. In each of the large, covered windows surrounding the building, site-specific works counter the brick facade with prints by a single artist. This summer’s display by Mandy Katz is a phantasm of black and white wheat pastes that draw on the distant and not-too-distant history and ecology of the surrounding areas. Written and audio components also complement the work through a collaboration with Kia Hayes, Elliott Harvey and Angela Vitacollina.
The exhibit, entitled “Occult Philadelphia Revealed,” provides a montage of cultural bits from a variety of sources, culled together by Katz and expanded by her collaborators. Utilizing a variety of media and techniques including collage, stencil, printing, drawing and painting, Katz explores West Philadelphia through a number of lenses, many of which would seem wildly disconnected if not for their geographical closeness.
One panel examines the natural history through images of the extinct passenger pigeon and the American chestnut, which was virtually eradicated from the area in the early 20th century by the chestnut blight. In another, Katz celebrates the work of naturalist and early Darwin supporter Joseph Leidy and his friend and assistant Cyrus Burris.The image of a desktop, paperwork and specimens, apparently spread out in the midst of some type of scientific examination, reveal the intellectual past of this area.
Elsewhere Katz pays homage to the original Lenni Lenape residents of the Delaware Valley wilderness with a poem by Kia Hayes, while noting the prevalence of later agricultural bounties such as wild rice, millet and rye, as well as snapper, shad and oysters in another panel. On the front two windows, the artist recalls the arrests of protestors at the 2000 Republican National Convention and the life of radical performance artist and political voice Kathy Change, who committed suicide on the University of Pennsylvania campus as an act of civil disobedience in 1996.
Additional poetry and content will be available in an accompanying zine that Katz produced with Hayes, Harvey and Vitacollina. There is also an audio element – a sound-collage – created by Vitacollina and Harvey, and inspired by Katz’s work. On June 1 from 6-9 p.m., there will be a one-night only reception to view the original work with the artist in attendance.
Traction Company is located at 4100 Haverford Ave., Philadelphia; firstname.lastname@example.org; tractioncompany.com.