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Re: [BKARTS] FiberPhiladelphia at Landmarks Contemporary Projects

For more information, please contact lcp@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, or visit the website www.philalandmarks.org

Three Solo Projects
With highlights from the permanent collection 
March 7-30, 2008
Opening receptions First Friday, March 7, 5-9 PM
Part of FiberPhiladelphia, 
2008 International Fiber Biennial

Marie H. Elcin, Water, Water, Everywhere
Physick House
321 S. 4th Street

Caroline Lathan-Stiefel, Keeping it Under Wraps 
Phuong X. Pham, Stasis, Extended

Hidden among the files of the Powel House records are photo albums, featuring the founding members, such as Francis Anne Wister, of the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks. Some of these photos capture fundraising events held at in the Powel house, which, not only paid for the restoration of the historic Powel House, but also celebrated the women's sewing, quilting, and needlework so romanticized during the colonial revival period of the 1930's and 1940's*. 

In honor of these women, who were artists as well as charter historic preservationists, Landmarks is pleased to present three solo projects by artists Marie H. Elcin, Caroline Lathan-Stiefel and Phuong X. Pham. The exhibition, a series of three installations running concurrently at two historic house museums, is part of FiberPhiladelphia, the citywide 2008 International Fiber Biennial. A major international event, almost two years in the planning, FiberPhiladelphia encompasses two symposia and more than twenty-five exhibitions examining the current explosion in the use of textile and fiber materials in the field of contemporary art. Concurrent with the artists' installations, Landmarks will also present fiber-based highlights from the permanent collections of our four historic houses: Grumblethorpe, Physick House, Powel House and Waynesborough. 

At the Physick House Museum--the Federal-style home of Dr. Philip Syng Physick, "Father of American Surgery"--Marie Elcin's installation, Water, Water, Everywhere, explores the effect of water as a conveyor of disaster. Elcin's project is based in research about the 1792 Yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, during which Dr. Physick remained in the city, treating the afflicted. Through delicate beadwork, embroidery, and screen-printing, Elcin captures the tension of both historic and modern day life. Beautiful on the surface, Elcin's intricate work explores the tension between strength and fragility, life and death--even utilizing the molecular image of the Yellow Fever molecule as a recurring design element.

Elcin also relates the past catastrophe of Yellow Fever to contemporary concerns about global warming and our increasingly ambivalent relationship with water: both giver and taker of life. The life and well-being of our cities depend on the health of our rivers, and the proper treatment, distribution, and disposal of water. In Philadelphia, over 3000 miles of pipes lie under our feet. We turn on the taps and water magically, consistently flows. We are fortunate. We take it for granted. What happens when water mains break? When factories and runoff upstream pollute our waters? What will happen if sea levels rise? How many homes would be flooded?  What happens after months of drought? Is there enough? How close are we to epidemics of water-borne or vector-borne diseases? As Elcin examines our collective histories, she sees that everything is connected, and we stand in the balance between safety and catastrophe.

A block over at the Powel House Museum, Caroline Lathan-Stiefel's installation, Keeping it Under Wraps, is inspired by a piece of tatting by Martha Powel in the collection of the museum. Lathan-Stiefel takes the tiny, precise historic textile and transforms it, using it as a visual counterpoint to the symmetry and formality of the house's Georgian architecture. Lathan-Steifel uses commonplace materials  to give the work a provisional quality: her work commands the space but shuns monumentality. 

The boundaries of women's lives in the 18th century were complicated and restrained by social mores. As the wife of the mayor of Philadelphia, Elizabeth Powel was keenly aware of this.  In her research, Lathan-Steifel was struck by a quote found in the book A Portrait of Elizabeth Willing Powel, by David W. Maxey, in which Elizabeth writes to her sister Mary Byrd: 
A fine Woman is totally unfit for Government & what are Commonly called the great Affairs of public Life. Women are quick at Expedient, ready in the Moment of sudden Exigencies, excellent to suggest, but their Imagination runs Riot; it requires the vigor of mind alone possessed by Men to digest & put in Force a Plan of any Magnitude. There is a natural precipitancy in our Sex that frequently frustrates its own Designs.

With Keeping It Under Wraps, Lathan-Steifel creates something that both mirrors and transforms Martha's tiny piece of tatting--allowing a woman's creative work to seep outward and, in the words of Elizabeth Powel,  "run riot" amidst the solemn symmetry of the house's architecture. 

Also at the Powel House Museum, in what is now called the "ballroom," Phuong Pham's installation Stasis, Extended is inspired by the physical history of the Powel House, which by the turn of the 20th century had become a horsehair mattress factory.  Her piece explores horsehair as a contemporary medium, while referencing the house's decline and rebirth over the centuries. Pham takes this coarse and unglamorous medium and uses it to express subtlety and delicacy in the elegant Powel ballroom. 

Pham's installation is a meditation upon material history, as well as the meticulous and repetitive hand process of art, craft and industry. Her process is not necessarily spiritual, but metaphysical, in the sense that gestures made by hand question space and time in relationship to her own body. Like the tenuousness of history, her piece is an accumulation of actions and parts that come together in a poetic whole. Strands of common horsehair and delicate silk intertwine and dance throughout the ballroom, while thousands of knots in the materials act as evidence of Pham's exploration of the material and form. Her work honors and highlights the totality of the social history of the Powel House from the refined life of the 18th century, through the harshness of its industrial period, to its interpreted, restored state today. 

Curated by Michelle Wilson and Robert Wuilfe.

* In related programming after the exhibition, a public lecture will be given by Frank Vagnone, Executive Director of Landmarks on April 8, 2008 entitled "Historic Preservation: Gender roles in the preservation of the Powel House." Stay tuned for more information about this important lecture.

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