From May 23rd to June 30th, Hidden City Philadelphia will hold its second Hidden City Festival, hosting art shows and events at nine sites around the Philadelphia area. Hidden City Philadelphia was born out of its previous festival, held...
From May 23rd to June 30th, Hidden City Philadelphia will hold its second Hidden City Festival, hosting art shows and events at nine sites around the Philadelphia area. Hidden City Philadelphia was born out of its previous festival, held in 2009. Now a successful full-time online magazine, Hidden City also hosts tours and events, and boasts a developing Community Action program. The idea of the Hidden City Festival is to mount contemporary, site-based art installations in little-known or endangered sites throughout Philadelphia, preferably with some kind of connection to the city’s heritage. For the 2013 festival, which features taglines like “Ready, Set, Explore,” and “See the City Anew,” Hidden City is hoping to offer Philadelphians the opportunity to explore unique environments, view intriguing and original art, and visit parts of the city that might otherwise escape their notice, all while engaging with Philadelphia’s rich and diverse history.
Hawthorne Hall’s unique facade
Rabid Hands Art Collective uses abandoned spaces and their unique histories as inspiration
I recently has the opportunity to visit Hawthorne Hall, one of the nine sites featured this year, for a preview showing. Hawthorne Hall, tucked inside an apartment block in Powelton, is home to a sprawling, walk-through installation piece created for the festival by Rabid Hands Art Collective.
As a group, Rabid Hands is primarily interested in overtaking abandoned or underused locations with epic installations pieces. To do this, they invite many artists with a wide range of artistic practices to come and engage with the site, co-creating installations in a deeply collaborative process. Rabid Hands creates work using discarded and found materials inside unique architectural spaces. The goal is to have the art and the space itself frame and comment upon one another in ways not possible in traditional gallery spaces.
A view of the main space in Hawthorne Hall
A major inspiration for Rabid Hands’ transformation of Hawthorne Hall is the rich history of the space. Built in 1895, the Hall has been home to dozens of organizations over the years. Notable groups that have inhabited – and thus altered, modified, and left their charge upon space – include the Irish National Foresters, New Light National Baptist Church, and the Knights of Pythias. Unique moldings suggest the space may have also been home to a cabaret theater at one point. Each of these former tenants added to the space, either physically altering it or imbuing it with new meaning by their presence and the rituals they enacted within it.
Rabid Hands is using this idea as a jumping-off point, hoping to emphasize these layers of history through their installations. To do this, the artists are forming The Society of Pythagoras, a secret society much like ones formerly housed in the Hall. Each of the artists will take on a specific role and title within the society, and the pieces they create will reflect and play off of the secretive, ritualistic practices these kinds of societies engage in.
Walking through the space, visitors will find themselves gradually initiated into the society as well, each setpiece serving as some unique kind of introduction or induction ceremony.
Various instruments and sound installations will be a part of the completed installation
Rabid Hands’ installation engages and melds with Hawthorne Hall
The sprawling interior of Hawthorne Hall is an excellent example of wabi-sabi, an aesthetic concept originating in Japan that privileges the beauty of imperfection in nature and the inevitability of decay. Wabi-sabi places this more authentic aesthetic, with its many imperfections, over the manufactured or uniform. Hawthorne Hall is both beautiful and charged with history, in large part because it’s resplendent with swaths of rust, walls of chaotically textured chipping paint, expanses of crumbling wooden rafters, and stret