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Winded by the Wind Challenge


[Lauren reviews the first installment of this year’s Wind Challenge, lauding three artists’ approaches to their disparate subjects. — the Artblog editors]

The three artists selected for this fall’s Fleisher Wind Challenge Exhibition Series include Peter Morgan, Justin Webb, and Jenny Drumgoole. I had the pleasure of viewing the first part of this challenge on a particularly brisk and gray Friday morning. Like the chilly Philadelphia weather outside, the ambiance inside the gallery from Morgan’s ceramics, Webb’s paintings, and Drumgoole’s video installation reflected a city charged with energy and filled with nature and inhabitants worthy of study.

Flock and awe

Bird sculptures
Peter Morgan’s flock of birds.

Peter Morgan was the first of the challenge winners to greet my eye in Fleisher. Morgan’s body of ceramic works focuses on the indigenous birds of Philadelphia and her surrounding areas. The creation of the birds stems from Morgan’s passion for them, and within this space, they rest like tiny colorful islands, or a variety of shimmering jewels. Each bird stands about two feet high in glowing, glazed, ceramic glory. And while there is a certain element of kitsch to these ceramic birds, their clearly scientific representation and sophisticated, accurate color choices, juxtaposed with an almost childlike execution, make for sculptures that are simple, charming, and easy (dare I say calming?) to look at.

Painting of a dog
Justin Webb’s picture-prompt narrative.

In a more intimate area of Fleisher rest the quiet paintings of Justin Webb. Webb says that his intentions rely on a narrative of “incomplete, nonlinear, run-on sentences”. Admittedly, I was a bit thrown off by this original statement prior to having seen Webb’s work–but upon viewing the work, the artist’s statement made sense. The narratives portrayed through Webb’s work can undeniably be described as run-on narratives. A particular standout, “Untitled (Sleeping Bear, Mary, Table, Chairs, Pizza, Stick, Pot, Plant, Cactus, Cactus, Plant, Balloon, Balloon, Pendant Streamers),” is a really beautiful, almost precious painting portraying a dog in a traditional black-and-white-tiled kitchen. The dog sits in a room amid preparations for a party. The painting is vaguely reminiscent of traditional Dutch still lifes which always featured guest appearances by dogs. Webb’s dog stares at you, giving the feeling that he’s about to stand up and finish setting up this party himself.

Trash to treasure

Art installation
Jenny Drumgoole’s trash couture.

Last (but hardly least) come the sunny and warmhearted workings in video and installation of Jenny Drumgoole (alias: Soxx). Drumgoole’s “Happy Trash Day” project began as a party to thank Philadelphia’s sanitation department (with pizza, cake, decorations, THE WORKS), and quickly took on a life of its own. Drumgoole now seeks to make “Trash Day” a regular event, as a way for the people of Philadelphia to realize how much our sanitation department really does do for us; how hard they work; and even to bring more rights to their positions.

Drumgoole points out in her colorful, upbeat, and playfully childlike video that sanitation workers have not had a raise, often work in harsh climates, and overall are an overlooked genre of city workers. In her video, she speaks in front of the city council, creates “trash couture,” and addresses the issue in a manner that is nothing short of joyful, informative, and affirmative all at the same time.

The Fleisher Wind Challenge heralds a certain amount of notoriety and respect in Philadelphia–after all, any exhibition that is consistently and annually juried for 38 years (!) can hardly be regarded as a slapdash showing of amateur artists. The Wind Challenge seeks to bring together some of the most innovative, current, and socially exceptional artists creating in Philadelphia (and her nether regions). Established in 1978, this challenge comes in three parts, beginning in September and running to May, showcasing three different artists at a time.

Video still
Jenny Drumgoole, alias Soxx.

Each artist also has the opportunity to create an interactive family event. Drumgoole invited viewers to participate in another “Trash Day,” while Pete Morgan had a DIY bird-feeder workshop; Justin Webb will hold a film screening/pizza party extravaganza.

The Wind Challenge does an excellent job of highlighting different aspects of Philadelphia art culture–from Morgan’s environmentally aware birds and Webb’s quiet, observant narratives to Drumgoole’s fantastic stand on social issues in our city. The challenge left me feeling more aware of the city that surrounds me every day.

Wind Challenge No. I is on display from Sept. 26 – Nov. 8, 2014, at Fleisher Art Memorial, 719 Catherine St., Philadelphia, PA 19147.