i’ve been wanting to participate in Hidden City Philadelphia events for a while now, and i finally had a chance thanks to the 2013 Festival that happened to coincide with my business trip out here. from what i gather, the last time it happened was 2009, so it’s a pretty big deal. basically they find abandoned sites around town (!!! you know how i feel about abandonment!) and ask artists to come and do an installation in them. i went to three places today, two as part of a combination with a West Philadelphia mural trolley tour and one that came recommended by a fellow attendee at the second site.
Kelly Natatorium (by Camp Little Hope)
inside the old city water works (which later became an aquarium and even later became a public pool before closing in the early 70s), the artists in cooperation with local schoolchildren are exploring our relationship with our dwindling supply of water. they are building boats that deal with three possible futures — fracking in the Delaware Valley, aging infrastructure, and climate change. they also served tea (delicious peach iced) in little plastic baggies, whose purpose, according to them, was two-fold: 1) that’s how many developing nations serve drinks, and we need to think about them and their current and future water situations as well, and 2) as you hold it, you are viscerally aware of the liquid and how much you have left.
Hawthorne Hall (by Rabid Hands Art Collective)
this run-down apartment building in West Philadelphia housed a theater on the second floor and functioned as an entertainment venue, with fraternal organizations hosting performances, boxing matches, and dances. the theater is currently abandoned, replete with very peeling paint, and for the art installation an imaginary fraternal organization called the Society of Pythagoras has turned the place into their secret clubhouse (the artists used found materials on site).
Fort Mifflin / Mud Island (by Ben Neiditz and Zach Webber)
first off, who knew there was a historic fort located literally next door to Philadelphia International Airport? (certainly not me, and i spoke with a local who didn’t know it existed either — i thought GPS was leading me astray.) surrounding the fort is a sea wall, and you have to walk on top of that to the forest to the southwest that separates the fort from the airport. built up in there are dwellings constructed from found materials. this was, hands down, an amazing experience. in a forest, next to a busy airport, littered with detritus, are these buildings hidden amongst the greenery. the discovery was the best part, since the path was unmarked — round a corner, come across a shack. look up, discover a treehouse. and i won’t spoil the surprise of what’s in some of the old fort casements — just be sure to peek into both of them. let’s just say one of them wasn’t very pleasant after doing a ghost tour of the fort.
the festival concludes at the end of June, so if you’re in town, it’s well worth checking out. note that there are 6 more sites that i didn’t visit, and be sure to wear comfortable shoes because you’ll have to do a bit of work to explore these previously-hidden places!