Disguised as just another decaying row home along 52nd Street, Eris Temple Arts is either the first or last place you’d expect to find an art opening and performance showcase on a Saturday night in West Philly. Should you be deceived by the uninviting exterior, the socially charged graffiti and scent of second-hand fabric greeting you at the door reassures that you are indeed at the right place.
With the signal of a blue spotlight, a crowd huddles around the stage area on the ground level to absorb an eclectic music sampling that includes everything from the Afro-soul beats of the Philly-based Ghetto Songbird to the lulling melodies of singer-songwriter and solo harpist Liz Ciavolino. Only between acts do guests stop and take notice of the equally eclectic and unique creations surrounding them—a collection of multimedia works from 16 female-identified—and mostly local— visual artists.
Organized by Permanent Wave Philly, the local chapter of the original, New York-based network of feminist artists and activists, the show’s title, Create Chaos!, is as much a nod to the venue’s namesake—Eris, the Greek goddess of strife and discord—as it is to the rebellious spirit practically oozing from the walls.
“We believe that the creative energy of chaos can inspire us to create and destroy the criticism, stereotypes and gender roles that keep us from creating,” says Permanent Wave Philly member Candice Johnson, adding that the goal of the show is to “celebrate women, trans and marginalized people as creators of art and music, rather than passive observers.”
Scanning the gallery space, you’re eyes are first drawn to a torn shirt hanging off the left wall with plush, hand-knit guts and organs spewing out from strategically placed holes. The provocative piece by Quinn Palmer not only gives a whole new meaning to the concept of wearing your heart on your sleeve, but defies the kitschy associations often attached to fiber arts.
Photographer Katrina Ohstrom, on the other hand, highlights the frivolous nature of disarray, capturing a stockpile of multicolored hamster cages and an assortment of toys thrown together on a blue tarp. Positioned next to these playthings is Cathleen Parra’s photo, Kissing, of a young girl in a polka dot dress playing on the floor with two Barbie dolls—both disrobed, one decapitated. Needless to say, the audience is taken on a bit of a rollercoaster ride.
In addition to the visual art, Create Chaos! features three video installations, the most memorable being Barbarism, a multimedia project developed by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch and Sarah Secunda. Exploring the topics of identity, sexuality and gender injustice with a dark sense of humor, the experimental piece is likely to make you giggle the next time you pass a Sephora store.
While the featured works don’t yield an all-encompassing statement about womanhood, they do encapsulate Permanent Wave’s mission to continue the arts movement started generations ago by women, queer and trans people, simultaneously debunking the common misconception that feminism is dead or somehow less relevant today. With roughly 50 members and a core group of about 15 consistently active members, the local chapter often partners with like-minded organizations in the city—most recently, Girls Rock Philly, SlutWalk Philly and Hollaback Philly—to host fundraisers as well as out-of-the-box art events and biweekly conscious-raising meetings.
During the opening reception, guests were invited to unleash their own creative chaos at a makeshift arts and crafts station in the back of the house containing stamps, markers, magazine clippings, glitter and face paint. It was there that perhaps the most empowering slogan of the night could be found, and from the unlikeliest of sources: a googly-eyed monster puppet with interchangeable felt faces and a miniature protest sign in his hand reading “Death to the dominant paradigm.”
Through March 31. Eris Temple Arts, 602 S. 52nd St. permanentwavephilly.tumblr.com
Calendar: Sept. 2-9