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Weekly Update (1) – Spiritual Challenge


This week’s Weekly has my review of the Fleisher Challenge 2. Here’s the link to the art page and below is the copy with a couple of pictures. More pictures at my flickr set.

God’z in Da Houze!
Three artists tackle the urban cave.

Three artists in this month’s “Challenge 2”—the second in the four-part Wind Challenge Exhibitions at Fleisher—turn their sights on Philadelphia’s abandoned buildings, squats and degraded housing stock. They end up with work that—in spite of its heavy sledding through issues of poverty, embattlement and despair—offers a tiny ray of hope.

Light is the director in this show, illuminating the objects and providing ambience. Sometimes celestial and hot as a laser beam and elsewhere cold and clinical, light washes the scene and affects not only what you see but how you see it.

Jeffrey Stockbridge
Jeffrey Stockbridge, photo of abandoned building. This one looks so much like a painting I did a double take.

The raking natural light hitting the abandoned interiors in Jeffrey Stockbridge’s color photos is almost spiritual in nature. The cinematic hues of blue, yellow or pink that push through partly covered windows or partly opened doors all but shout that these rooms are sacred spaces. The light is Vermeer-like and a felt presence.

Stockbridge—who uses a large-format camera and available light—doesn’t explain the abandoned houses. But in some cases there’s evidence of life inside the decrepitude. The vestiges of human habitation in the decay (clothes in the closet, an electric cord snaking up a once-grand stairway) give the works an even holier feel—who but a saint could live in a cave such as this? And why? The mystery takes the photos beyond the haunted house and into something more intriguing—a human narrative about the present and future.

Amy Leigh Walsh
Amy Leigh Walsh, interior detail of her towering cave of cardboard boxes.

Dollhouse light bulbs illuminate the peephole interiors of Amy Walsh’s towering cardboard-box city. The bulbs, however, give off far less light than is needed to light this vast multistory cave. They’re stingy illuminators, and the ambience they impose makes everything feel fleeting and dreamlike.

Look through one of several peepholes and you’ll see evidence of almost manic building: Tiny planks frame a wall or a floor; doors and windows exist and have their moldings around them. But whoever’s working has left and taken the tools. It’s like an abandoned beehive: The idea of work interrupted by flight is strong. But as with the beehive, the enterprise feels urgent. If this hull is abandoned, another will be found, and work will continue.

Isaac Schell
Isaac Schell, Redemption Ministries

Photographs by Isaac Schell portray what’s often overlooked, the cosmetic fixups on old Philadelphia buildings whose reuse bespeaks change not necessarily for the better. Schell’s depictions—buildings caught in harsh sunlight that shows their every blemish—are full of wonder at the mystery of time and change. Under clinical scrutiny like this, these buildings seem poignant, their facelifts exposed as so many botched surgeries.

Art can’t teach you how to move forward in life. But sometimes art provides an opportunity for people to gather and talk about important issues. This show is such an opportunity.

“Challenge 2”
Through Nov. 25. Fleisher Art Memorial, 719 Catharine St. 215.922.3456.