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“old or new?”

May 17, 2011 at 1:26 am

A favorite game of mine, when wandering around looking at buildings, is to try & figure out whether a building is old or new, whether details are the product of restoration or are authentically original, etc. Sometimes this is clearly apparent and not worth wondering about — sometimes it is very difficult! I was just in Philadelphia and I had the interesting experience of having to play this game with the remnant of a building…

My friend Dan S & I saw this with simultaneous mutual gasps of awesomeness: “aaah look how cool they tore down the house and you can still see the wallpaper!!”

Then I said, “wwwwwait a second, I’m pretty sure that’s some kind of recent art project… because I’m pretty sure I took pictures of that same side-of-a-building a while ago, with no wallpaper on it…”

We had a half an hour till I had to get on the bus, so we walked up to check it out (on Vine St, right north of Chinatown).

The wallpaper could have been screenprinted, but upon closer examination, it was some kind of digital output onto a glossy coating on a fibrous Tyvek-type material — we found a couple of scraps around the site! It was pasted onto the building side with a heavy (I guessed plastic-based) glue, and carefully cut and sliced to create a ripped-looking edge.

(click on any of these images to enlarge)

Ultimately the patterns are (more-or-less) too large in scale to be authentic Victorian wallpaper — and many of them are mirrored across an axis instead of repeating more subtly, also not a “real wallpaper” hallmark. But I think the artist’s intentions were not to replicate a historic thing, but to create something that would echo the intricate busy-ness of Victoriana, push passers-by — in a creative way — to think about the former inhabitation of the building that had existed in that place, and maybe make some people (like us) play the “old or new?” game…

I know nothing about the makers of the installation, but I can’t imagine that it was done without permission of the building owners; it would have been much too visible and time-consuming of an endeavor. Anybody know anything about it? Phila. folks out there reading this?

[UPDATE! Amy fills us in that this project, entitled “Home That Was”, was commissioned by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, and done by the artist Ben Volta working with Phila. high school students, who designed the patterns. Here’s Ben’s blog & writing about the project, showing some of the process that they used in the creation of the mural… Thank you, Amy!]

I have many dreams of pattern– and wallpaper-making, and seeing this just amplifies them… What a neat project.

When I returned to Providence & my computer, I did indeed find these pictures from my cellphone camera, December 2009:

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