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Midsemester Review

tflurry's picture

Play in the City: an interesting concept. To discuss what play is, means, can be, and to then go out and try it in a city as varied as Philadelphia. I had hoped, going into this course, that when I walked out I would walk out with a different way of thinking about the world- a difficult demand to be sure. Thus far I have not been disappointed. Ant Hamilton’s Quiet Volume changed how I thought about libraries, reading, even silence. Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens helped change how I think about silent art forms like mosaic and painting, and to the canvas and materials themselves. The trip into Bryn Mawr proved that these lessons I am learning apply everywhere. It is clear that my experiences in this course have changed how I think about the world, given me more tools with which to think about the world, and that can only be positive.


Our first trip into the city was to see the Quiet Volume, by Ant Hamilton. Over the course of the day, my group and I enjoyed a science museum, a sculpture park, and the performance itself; from casts of The Thinker to a collection of college-aged jellyfish, even before the show started. The show itself changed how I think about libraries, about reading, even about silence. What, after all, is silence but the absence of noise? And yet little disturbs the average hearing human more than the complete cessation of noise; there is always some sound or another going on, even if just the click of computer keys. The library is not silent, although many do not actively realize just how loud it can be; the sliding of chairs, the flipping of pages, the thump of a dropped book. These noises are the unintentional results of a library, present as a function of its use. The quiet of a library is an intentional result, present to facilitate its use. The whisper of some unknown person in your ear as you flip trustingly through the journal before you. The conflict between what one reads and what one registers, or what one reads and one thinks they read, or see, or sense; the tension is there, but invisible until pointed out. Hamilton chose to play with what it is like to misread a word, or to translate a sentence’s meaning into something that may be clearer, or less understandable- in this way he manipulated what it is to even read, to interpret the work before me.


Our second trip into the city built upon this idea by exploring its inverse; although mosaics are technically silent, uttering no sound of their own, the Magic Gardens of Isaiah Zagar were loud; visually deafening. Everywhere you looked there was something else to see, to puzzle over, to squint at until it came into focus. Hamilton played with my perception of silence, of reading and thinking. Zagar similarly restructured my approach to silent art, to the canvas and the materials. A wall is just a wall is just an orderly pile of bricks and mortar; Zagar took cement and a seemingly chaotic collection of odds and ends, china and tiles and bicycle wheels, and made story after story from them. These stories do not necessarily even end when the wall does; in one mosaic, the mosaic trail off mirroring the tree line of the former mural, leaving the wall unfinished in a nostalgic storyteller’s ellipsis. In the interior of the Magic Garden, by contrast, the mosaic crawled up the walls to cover the ceiling, even spilling out of the floor to build its own walls. The canvas does not dictate the confines of the story.


The third trip I was on did not actually go to Philadelphia; due to extenuating circumstances, the day was spent instead in the town of Bryn Mawr. More specifically, it was spent in a local coffee shop called Hot House, and then walking around town some further. This experience reminded me that the rules I was learning in the city were not confined to the city, but applied everywhere. The quiet of the coffee shop was not quiet, nor was it any less of a coffee shop because it sold sandwiches, smoothies, and other non-coffee items. When walking around town,  we spotted a peculiar sight: a single pink lily, standing tall and proud out of the top of an overflowing garbage can. The fact that it was a slowly-dying remnant from a bouquet, and it’s waste bin canvas, only added to the story it seemed to tell as it defied expectations of its location. It did not appear wilted, it refused to remain within the boundaries of the can; rather it proudly stood like a figure head, using its canvas as a jumping off point.


Hamilton changed how I think about silence, about reading with and into a piece, the intended and unintended results of a place. Zagar taught me about where art ends in comparison to the canvas, and how the materials played in. The Hot House and Bryn Mawr taught me that these lessons are useful everywhere. My experiences in this course have changed the tools I have to think about the world, and I find myself well satisfied.