NATURAL SELECTIONS: Art in the Open: Selections from 2018 at the Schuylkill Center

By Christina Catanese

A mysterious, vine-woven figure recently appeared behind the Schuylkill Center’s Visitor Center building. Though lacking facial features or limbs per se, it feels human-ish and appears to gaze over the hill into the forest.

This sculpture, created by Brooklyn-based artist Anki King, was the first piece from our fall exhibition to be installed this summer. King harvested vines from the Schuylkill Center property while they were still growing strong in the height of the August growing season for maximum benefit to the ecosystem as well as pliability.

Over the next few weeks, nine more artists will install their work in our environmental art gallery before the show officially opens on Sept. 13. Their work spans a diverse range of practices and materials – along with this vine sculpture, there will be on display wet plate collodion photography, weavings from discarded textiles, ceramic tiles with embroidery details, drawings, polaroids, cyanotypes, printed monotypes and more.

What these works have in common is that all of the artists were 2018 participants in Art in the Open, a public art program in which selected artists create their work on Philadelphia’s Schuylkill Banks for three days. We are pleased to be offering these artists the opportunity to adapt their work to our spaces, continuing our partnership with this citywide program for the third time.

Akin to King, Sivan Ilan utilized unconventional materials in her work, challenging their typical perception as waste or undesirable materials. A master’s student in textile design at Philadelphia University, she created large woven panels made exclusively from scrap fabric found in the university’s studios.

Mia Rosenthal and Christopher Wood present different kinds of drawings which shed light on how a place participates in the drawings themselves.

Rosenthal created detailed ink drawings of items that she found on the ground on the River Trail, as well as in her neighborhood playground. These meticulous portraits of local detritus reveal something about the character of their place.

Wood, in addition to continuing his Daydrawing series (in which he has completed a new powdered graphite drawing each day since Jan. 1, 2016), experimented with ways that the environment could participate in the drawings. He left paper with graphite in various locations on the trail, sometimes weighted with different objects, and allowed the weather and place to shape the material.

Looming large in the room will be a place-specific sculpture transplanted into the gallery by Matt Greco and Chris Esposito. This team participated in Art in the Open for the third time together this year and created an aggrandized form of a bollard – those posts used to secure a ship to a dock with ropes, a ubiquitous element from the Schuylkill River’s shipping history. Blowing this often overlooked object up to a size that cannot be ignored forces reflection on how this industrial legacy may still be felt today.

These works and more draw inspiration from place in a variety of ways, and the particular location of Art in the Open, between the Schuylkill River and the deeply urban built environment of Center City Philadelphia, offers an opportunity for artists to comment on and complicate the relationship between people and nature. Transplanting these works to the Schuylkill Center site, which also borders the River Trail about 10 miles north of the Art in the Open site, gives us a chance to consider these relationships from yet another angle.

Please join us to meet the artists at the opening reception of Art in the Open: Selections from 2018 on Sept. 13 at 6 p.m. Enjoy artist talks, light refreshments in the gallery and a short walk to the outdoor installation. Art in the Open: Selections from 2018 will be on view through Oct. 27.

Christina Catanese directs the Schuylkill Center’s environmental art program, tweets @SchuylkillArt. This blog was originally published in the Montgomery News August 29.

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