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Temple Gallery Gets Contemporary, from Whirr to Wurlitzer to Buzz

Temple Contemporary




An indoor apiary with a pipeline to fresh air on campus, a neon beacon to the neighborhood, a machine that translates regional accents like “wooder” (water) or “aboot" (about), a playable bicycle-Wurlitzer organ hybrid, installations of mass incarceration and vacant Philadelphia schools, interactive fiber and karaoke stations, a kiln and shale cup casting cooperative, and a calendar full of creative programming:  

These are all ways that Tyler’s School of Art’s Temple Gallery is rebranding its new name as Temple Contemporary, opening its doors more often for events and involving a community advisory board to plan exhibitions and happenings. The change was made official last month, moving from the traditional gallery practice of one or two curators choosing existing and thematic art to where the community programs, through the conduit of an advisory board, create a truly interactive process of collaborative art-making on several themes in the same walls.  It is this change that makes it a contemporary, vital, and a living space.
When Tyler moved from Elkins Park to the Main Campus location at 12th and Norris three years ago, the new facility combined the school, the department of Exhibitions and Public Programs, and the former Old City gallery.  Rob Blackson, Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs for Temple Contemporary describes the new curatorial focus to activate the space as a “transformational shift, increas[ing] the artworks and objects displayed in the space. We have shown more objects in the past six months than in the past three years of Temple Gallery programming. By producing more event-based programming we have also generated larger audiences. Visitor figures have tripled our 2010-2011 program statistics between the months of September and February.”
Assistant Director Sarah Biemiller curates collectively with a 30-member Advisory Council, “We have 10 students, 10 faculty and 10 community members from a range of disciplines, voting together programs and issues.  This is how we decide what is locally relevant, internationally significant:  ideas rise such as mass incarceration and obesity.  This is the democratic process on how we determine our programming.  We choose the ones that receive the most votes, and a subcommittee meets of those who voted on the topics.  People bring books they’ve read, things they have heard on the radio.  We creatively imagine that topic in some way based upon what’s relevant now, relevant to what is happening today.”
The creative hand is found in the gallery labels and marketing materials, through hand stenciled labels color-coded with the overriding themes and silkscreened calendars.  One of Temple Contemporary’s themes for the 2012-2013 season is that of Philadelphia ideals, documented in handmade pokeberry ink, made from berries indigenous to Philadelphia, berries that grow best in urban settings, and the same ink that was used in the Declaration of Independence.
In addition to the sounds of Rachel Welty’s karaoke devices, the whirr and buzz of interactive gizmos, Temple Contemporary is staging a year long series of “quiet works” including Jennifer Danos’s tile sculpture installations marking the legacy of the floorboards of the row homes that stood on the site of the gallery at historic points in time at 2018 N. 12th Street, a subtle grey wall painting by Spencer Finch titled “Goethe’s shadow,” and a hidden work -- a gold spun fiber spider web Catherine Bertola (UK) “Unseen by all but me alone." There's also a monthly “silence project,” represented currently in Selena Kimball’s “What they Could Have Edited Out if they Could,” as she sings the lost sounds from a pianist who could not play without humming. 
Gallery monitors are “conversation starters” who talk and engage the public about the work.  Students can come in and make their own shale cups and fire them, work on resident artist Mary Small’s fiber project, creating non-traditional quilts based upon the motifs of artist Sol Lewitt. Students can participate in an experiential installation by Ashley Hunt that tackles prison and incarceration, based on the New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina and his reaction to what happened down there.  Sharing the same gallery with an active bee colony created by Hillary Berseth, a  new large scale video projection plays with the idea of “Philly Tawk,” enjoying the snippets and sounds of diverse Philadelphians.   
Visitors can experience a neon portal decorating the glass window of Temple Contemporary. Heads of State’s window neon uses fun fonts to tell the weather and events by gleaming “FOOD,” “ART,” “OPEN,” “TODAY,” a clear blast to the community to come and read the daily happenings of a vibrant, active, recharged space.  The gallery will take a break from contemporary program in the spring to mount student thesis shows, and its programming season will follow the university calendar. 
“That’s our hope that the more programming we do like this, people will feel like they have a part in it, have a stake in it,” Sarah Biemiller shares, her voice punctuated by the whirr and hum of the gallery sounds.

BONNIE MACALLISTER is a multi-media artist, grant writer and journalist residing in West Philly. Her work has appeared in Tom Tom Magazine, Toronto Quarterly, Nth Position (U.K.) and Grasp (Czech Republic). Send feedback here.
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