Last Friday, hundreds of aesthetes arrived at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) to see Alex Da Corte and Jayson Musson’s "Easternsports." The multilingual, four-channeled, absurdist soap opera piece has been written up in various international publications. However, despite this global attention, the sub-tone of the articles register as bewildered.
The Huffington Post asked the artists, “Is there anything that strikes you as distinctly Philadelphia in the work?” Granted, both artists have roots in the city, yet the very question points to a larger concern. When examining the art produced by Philadelphians, created in the city, or the art scene itself, must one always use the city as a filter to view our art through? And moreso, is there anything inherently “Philadelphia” about the art we produce that keeps us from being associated with the big players of the art world? In approaching these questions, and combating the stigma, we look at what is being produced in the city’s contemporary art scene while keeping the great art collections we have, in our periphery.
“I was recently asked in an interview what my favorite art in Philly is,” said Andrew Cameron Zahn, the owner of CRUX space, Philadelphia’s first and only new media art gallery, “and I answered, the Marcel Duchamp collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Duchamp was the predecessor of new media. You can’t help but mention him when you talk about art in Philadelphia, even though he didn’t work here that much. When I teach my students about new media and physical computing I start with Duchamp.”
Zahn, an artist, lecturer, and now gallery owner, isn’t modeling CRUX space off of anything he has previously experienced. The gallery is birthed out of Zahn’s affinity for artwork created with and about new media technologies, yet more significantly, CRUX space aligns with the city’s burgeoning interest in technology as a whole.
With city government’s recent launch of the Innovation Lab (a space dedicated to creative solutions to problems using modern technology) and the creation of countless local startup companies, hackathons, and grand gestures (like changing a part of 3rd Street to N3RD Street), Philadelphia has been prioritizing its tech scene.
The world is becoming more technologically dependent — a notion that’s underlined within the world of art, and illustrated in the surfacing of genres, and subgenres, that fall under new media’s umbrella. From the '90s, the term “new media” became an established label for artistic practices working in new technologies. Digital art, virtual art, Internet art, and even post-Internet art have taken command within the last three decades presenting us with pieces like "Easternsports." Galleries today must have the capability to display new media work, and though many in our city have (the ICA, Vox Populi, Little Berlin, Fjord, etc.), there has yet to be a full space dedicated to new media work.
“I feel like in Philly, there are places that have tried to incorporate more new media, but nothing has been designated solely for the work,” Zahn says, talking about why he felt it was necessary to create CRUX space. “I think what CRUX will do is have an impact on the fertile culture based in technology in Philly. Technology or new media art was, at times, not considered a legitimate form of fine art. Today, that is changing.”
The gallery is a sign of an art scene addressing its gaps. Having spaces like CRUX, dedicated to emerging and experimental art forms, aids us in establishing our city as a front-runner in contemporary art without the necessity of the Philly filter. The space, while allying with local interests, may mark a new direction for our art scene. The sponsors behind the gallery further support that belief, including: Design Philadelphia, Mural Arts Program, InLiquid Art & Design, and more. Don’t miss CRUX space’s opening exhibition, “Meditating Technology” featuring the works of Lauren McCarthy, Ashley John Pigford, Andrew Tomasulo, and Katherine Bennet.
“Meditating Technology” opens on Oct. 3, 6-10 p.m. at CRUX space 700 W. Master St., Philadelphia, PA 19122.