Chucked by the side of the curb, desk chairs (broken), milk crates (trashed) and unidentifiable objects (broken and trashed) are the symbols for a peculiar Philadelphia tradition: saving parking spaces with whatever happens to be on hand. And heaven help you if you try to mess with any of them. If you’ve indulged in a little “space saving” yourself or have simply marveled at the sheer diversity of junk that saves parking spaces in Philly, then the Space Savers Project proves that you’re in good company.
When artist Christopher P. McManus moved to Philadelphia in 2008, he was both bewildered and impressed by the lengths to which Philadelphians will go to save an oil-stained spot of asphalt.
“I was immediately drawn to it,” he says. “I started thinking about these objects as works of art and wondering whether artists might be able to redesign these pieces.”
In particular, McManus liked the space savers that defied gravity, or expanded and contracted to fit the entire size of a parking spot. “I was really inspired by those ones that are kind of constructions themselves. For example, a traffic cone tied to a milk crate tied to a cage with a cinder block on it.” Where an eager parker might see a cracked recycling bin, McManus saw the beginnings of a public art project.
Recruiting a group of like-minded artists, McManus organized the Space Savers Project, an exhibition that turns pieces of junk into thoughtful statements about personal property in public space. With 10 artists hailing mostly from sculpture and design backgrounds, the resulting space savers will be on view in various parking spots around the city this Saturday, Dec. 10, and will then move to the Esther Klein Gallery for an indoor presentation. Featured space savers take on a range of forms, including a video installation that projects images of a car when it’s away from its spot, and a table where neighbors can sit and chat. Most do more than simply reserve a parking space.
Linda Yun’s “Move Along/Please Stay” features a minimalist mirror that faces the street, cleverly reflecting an approaching car in order to fill the space with the car’s own reflection. Acknowledging her own guilt in commandeering part of the street, Yun tacked a stray cat sanctuary onto the reverse side of the mirror, complete with kibbles, water and a jungle gym. “The guilt of stealing was forcing my hand in giving back in some way,” she explains. In a similarly subtle gesture, Michael Konrad’s “Camo Cones (Hiding in Plain Site)” is almost invisible. Wrapped in images of their immediate surroundings, the traffic cones—usually meant to stand out—dissolve into the streetscape. “Although it’s technically illegal, saving parking spaces is not something that people make any effort to hide,” says Konrad, whose traffic cones are meant to discreetly announce their presence. Konrad hopes his cones will introduce a little self-conscious subterfuge into the practice of brazenly saving spaces, an alternative to the status quo of “all sorts of random junk right out there in the street.”
Just because the artists are making space savers, however, doesn’t mean they’ll actually use them. Neither Yun nor Konrad practice space saving and both are dubious about the legitimacy of the habit in general. “It’s public space—free for anyone to use, plain and simple,” Konrad says.
Yun echoes the sentiment: “I believe it is sort of a breaking down of an implicit social contract,” in which everyone just looks out for No. 1. Also, she adds, “My neighbors would probably kill me.”
On-street exhibition: 10am-4pm. Sat., Dec. 10. Various locations. thespacesaversproject.tumblr.com/artists
Gallery exhibition: Dec. 16-Feb. 5. Esther M. Klein Art Gallery, 3600 Market St. 215.966.6188. kleinartgallery.org
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Calendar: September 17-24
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