Skateable sculptures kick off ‘Open Source’ from Mural Arts

A skater tries out Monk's work. Photo by Steve Weinik for the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

The idea of “open source” might spark thoughts of sharable, alterable software. Mural Arts Program has taken that concept and applied it to art through their Open Source: Engaging Audiences in Public Space exhibition. Curated by Boston-based Pedro Alonzo, Open Source invites 14 international and local artists to create original, temporary, site-specific artworks to explore our city’s ever-changing urban identity. The artists, including the globally-known JR, Swoon, MOMO, and Jennie Shanker, will keep in mind Mural Arts Program’s ethos of public art as a catalyst for social change and dialogue and emphasize participatory elements in their work.

Electric tape, chain-links, and stencil portraits

Each artist starts with a specific issue — such as incarceration, mental health, or the environment — and a location in the city. The artists then collaborate with community members and conduct research based on interviews and personal histories to develop their work using their signature mediums and methods. Heeseop Yoon, for example, will be working in the Italian Market neighborhood to create a large-scale mural with her technique of image-making using black electrical tape on Mylar, based on photographs of the neighborhood and items she’ll find there. Sterling Ruby will make an outdoor playscape in an empty lot. The playscape’s design will be directed by the letters and drawings of Philadelphian children. Shepard Fairey will make images inspired by interviews with inmates at Graterford SCI, members of Mural Arts’ re-entry program for formerly incarcerated people known as the Guild, and those involved in Mural Art’s Restorative Justice program. Other projects include a waste transfer station in the Edward Bok Vocational School in South Philly by the Dufala Brothers, a maze of chain-link fencing next to City Hall by Sam Durant, and stenciled portraits of immigrants by Michelle Angela Ortiz, among others.

From sculptures to murals, street art to found art objects, each artist’s creative pursuit keeps the art-making process and results accessible to the public. Art outside in public spaces enables unlimited visits by a wide array of people. Each project will have the possibility to change over time based on the way it invites the public to interact with it.

Don’t topple Rocky

Jonathon Monk, a British artist based in Berlin, was the first of the 14 artists to debut his artwork, which is located in Paine’s Park (the skateboarding park behind the Art Museum). “I initially toyed with the idea of using the fallen figure of Rocky [as a sculpture] before it became clear he was such an important hero for the city,” Monk said, “and as an Englishman I am probably not fully qualified to deal with the issues that might arise from something so iconic.”

Instead, inspired by the minimalism and conceptualism of artist Sol LeWitt, Monk made two skateable sculptures, entitled Pyramid and Steps, which were installed in early June. They are both highly geometric in form and seem as though they were assembled using gray Tetris bricks. Since Monk is not a skater and didn’t know what kind of art might work best to be skated upon, he relied on a group of young skaters to give him feedback on his initial ideas, resulting in changes in material and sizing. “They were very positive with the challenge that these particular objects might present [when skating],” Monk said. Those sculptures will remain in Paine’s Park until November 2015, as long as they are able withstand the wear from the skateboarders.

The Open Source creative processes and collaborations take place from now through the fall, with a monthlong, citywide celebration and exhibition in October. The celebration includes block parties, discussions, hands-on activities, and more, all offering the public the chance to be involved in conversations with the artists.

At right: Monk's Pyramid was installed in Paine's Park in June. Photo by Steve Weinik.