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Meditations on the Fourth of July and Karen Kilimnik at the Powel House

Karen Kilimnik, Candlestick, 1993, pastel on paper, 25 1/2 x 19 3/4"; installed in Powel House dining room
Karen Kilimnik, Candlestick, 1993, pastel on paper, 25 1/2 x 19 3/4″; installed in Powel House dining room

I’m not much of a history buff. But I just completed John Adams by David McCullough. Plus I’m reading another book a friend gave me about the portrait of Elizabeth Powel in the Powel House on 3rd Street.

All this set my imagination back to a time when people got caught up in the extraordinary events that made us a new, independent country, by the skin of our teeth. With those books in mind, the Powel House and all the rest of historic Philadelphia comes alive.

Alas Karen Kilimnik’s installation at the Powel House for Landmarks Contemporary Projects does not.

Karen Kilimnik
The thing I found most interesting in this group of television screen grabs from The Avengers was the uneven spacing between the photos. So, a little modern haphazardness inserted in the perfect recreation of the past? Not all that interesting.

Kilimnik has inserted a number of her paintings and photographs, some sound pieces and some objects into the house. The photos are images grabbed off the television screen of episodes from The Avengers, and they do add some sense of modern people living in this space and some commentary on family photos. My favorite piece in the exhibit is the one that has the word PAUSE included in the grab.

Karen Kilimnik
Karen Kilimnik, the sports car rally + the treasure hunt, england, Steed, Emma Peel, assorted villains + the butler – Emma Peel, 2007, c print, 4 x 5 1/2 inches; I liked the PAUSE clarifying the source of the photograph.

But a bowl of gruel with the soundtrack of Food Glorious Food playing? Puhleez. It neither brings life to the past nor expresses much of interest about life in the present. If I compare the barrenness of this installation to an installation in the same space by Roxana Perez-Mendez using some of the same strategies–sly insertions of cultural household artifacts and sounds that do not belong to the house, Kilimnik’s piece looks haphazard and silly. Even granting her obsession with celebrity and the deficiencies in celebrity culture, the lives of others in this context never take off. Here’s my post and Roberta’s on Perez-Mendez.

Perez-Mendez took the liberty of inserting artifacts related to herself and her own Puerto Rican background into the space, thereby commenting on American as well as Puerto Rican values and taste as well as on past lives lived. Her piece also spoke to the issue of immigration that’s hot on the political burners these days. It also spoke to identity and empathy and the need for imagination. I’ll raise the stars and stripes for Roxana who raised the Puerto Rican flag in front of the house. Raise them both. Sometimes a little flag waving can be a good thing.