When artist Andrés Alvarez left Colombia to take a job as a teaching assistant at the University of Scranton, he was eager to soak up the typical landscapes associated with American pop culture. However, this eventually turned into what he calls “visual bulimia.” Rather than really connecting to and experiencing the culture, he was seeing things simply for the sake of seeing them.
So in hopes of giving his time in America greater meaning, Alvarez began painting some of Scranton’s pretty, albeit unexciting landscapes. He also utilized everyday items that were representative of his experience living amongst young, broke college students: empty cereal boxes and other food packaging in his garbage.
Strangely enough, seeing Tony the Tiger and the Lucky Charms leprechaun randomly hanging out in a landscape painting isn’t nearly as distracting as you’d imagine. In many of Alvarez’s pieces, the tree limbs are the only real source of structure as the leaves and other details take the form of splatters. Meanwhile, the brightly colored brand labels fade into the background, their advertising mascot peaking out most prominently along the sides and edges.
Alvarez further captures the standard college student diet in one of his smaller pieces, which features the labels of cheap, processed foods like Goya rice and, of course, Ramen noodles.
“I think his works question the relationship we have with our environment and how our culture rapidly consumes it,” says Eva Piatek, a friend of Alvarez’s and curator of the exhibit at the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art.
Elaborating on this overall theme are the mosaic-like creations of local artist Amy Orr, who, like Alvarez, uses post-consumer materials as her primary medium—specifically, credit cards. Instead of landscapes, Orr intricately assembles the plastic bits and pieces into replicas of some of the most iconic images and figures in American pop culture. This includes Lady Liberty and Barack Obama’s “HOPE” poster.
Perhaps the most impressive example of her artistry is her recreation of a world map. With each card meticulously cut into individual, color-coated states and countries, one can only assume Orr was quite the jigsaw puzzler as a child. Giving the piece even more depth is the fact that it’s constructed of an expansive array of plastic cards—whether they be health insurance, supermarket, membership or gift cards—from all over the world, most of which she acquired through donations.
Orr has used a slew of other post-consumer materials in her previous works, including twist-ties, currency, shattered glass and even chicken bones. She says she’s drawn to these elements as an artist not only because of their variety and abundance, but their inherent symbolism.
As for the prices of her artwork, well, they seem more ironic than symbolic.
Through June 30. Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art, 531 N. 12th St. 267.519.9651. philamoca.org
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