Whimsical, magical wonders rooted in reality

Gnome Core journeys through South Philly Meadows

3 minute read
Gnome Core BSR 2 6 24a

You, too, might feel fatigued by existence if you were evicted from your magic land. That’s how Bone Legend Worm Wizard, the “committed yet cranky” gnome at the heart of Alex Tatarsky’s Gnome Core, feels. But he’s still willing to tell his tale, and visitors to the South Philly Meadows have a chance to hear it this Sunday, February 11.

Clowning around

A self-described “experimental clown artist,” Tatarsky’s performance art often blends comedy and physical theater while reflecting on humanity. They have performed both in the US and abroad, and their Sad Boys in Harpy Land appeared at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival this past fall before heading to Playwrights Horizons for an off-Broadway run.

Clowning brought Tatarsky to Philadelphia, and they remained in the area after studying the theater art at Pig Iron School. While Bone Legend Worm Wizard is a newer character, Tatarsky still sees the performance as rooted in the clowning tradition. For Tatarsky, clowns are inherently connected to the earth, as are gnomes.

“The classic clown move is the pratfall, like falling back to the ground, which brings us in connection with the earth and connection to our childlike self,” Tatarsky said. “Learning to walk entails a lot of falling and picking ourselves back up. And that also feels to me like the core of the human condition.”

A real-life garden hermit

In the summer of 2023, Tatarsky-as-gnome held a residency on the Glen Foerd estate in Philadelphia. Also entitled Gnome Core, the performance drew upon the 18th- and 19th-century practice of great houses employing real-life garden hermits. Today’s garden gnome statues likely developed from this quirky tradition.

It was while in Oslo several years ago, and after seeing a nearly six-meter-tall gnome sculpture by artist Paul McCarthy, that the concept of the gnome came to Tatarsky.

“I kind of became obsessed with thinking about the role of the gnome in relation to public space, like the gnome as a kind of caretaker, as a figure that watches over what's happening,” Tatarsky said, also pondering the artist’s responsibility to community and landscape.

"The power of being present together"

The meadows in South Philly’s FDR Park have become a favorite place for Tatarsky to bike and explore and are a fitting next location for the gnome’s appearance. The gnome, who is concerned about losing his home, will guide attendees on a roughly hour-long walk that promises to be “funny, musical, and politically awake.”

This presentation of Gnome Core is both an invitation to spend time outdoors, as well as to learn more about Save the Meadows, Tatarsky said. The former municipal golf course at FDR Park, reclaimed by nature during the pandemic, became a natural oasis for city dwellers. But plans are underway to remake the park, and not everyone is on board.

The gnome, Tatarsky said, will not be leaving quietly.

“These questions and issues are always at the heart of what I care about,” Tatarsky said. “I want people to get excited about wildness and unruliness and the power of being present together in our bodies.”

What, When, Where

Gnome Core. Sunday, February 11, 2pm, at South Philly Meadows, 1954 Pattison Avenue, Philadelphia. Free. For more information, contact Anissa George at [email protected].


Recommended for ages 13 and up; some profanity in language will likely occur. Participants are encouraged to dress warmly and wear boots as not all trails are paved.

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