As a recovering extreme commuter (my Brooklyn to NJ route took four hours daily), I know well how numbing train travel can be. Mundane no more in Philadelphia: Berlin-based artist Katharina Grosse has roused a 5-mile stretch of railway from its postindustrial slumber by spraying swaths of color – orange, green, pink, white – onto crumbling walls, abandoned buildings and weedy thickets. Titled psychylustro, the project description offers this reading: “Think of it as a real-time landscape painting, where the ever-evolving city is the canvas and your window is the frame.” A cell-accessible audio guide adds another frame to the experience through an interview with Grosse, a lesson on the corridor’s history, and an interpretive soundtrack by Philly sound artist Jesse Kudler.
“We wanted to create a choreographed experience that moved viewers through time and space,” said Jane Golden, executive director of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, which organized the seven-part installation. “We wanted to illuminate the rubble, the wild eruptions of nature, and we wanted to highlight the contradictions of decay and rebirth in this strange setting.”
Nearly 34,000 people cruise past psychylustro per day, mostly on Amtrack, mostly en route between New York and Washington (though some are New Jersey or Pennsylvania commuters like my former self). “That your life is constantly in that kind of changing mode — is something I’ve always been fascinated by,” Grosse said. “And this time we have an extra tool, which is the train. In a museum you walk, and that’s the way you move. Here, you can fly.”
By design, psychylustro will become obsolete: using Benjamin Moore house paint sans sealant, the color will gradually wear off and anti-graffiti measures will cease after six months (already, the scene pictured above has lost its orange hold on the leaves). Ultimately, the elements – natural and urban – will reclaim the sites; the bold bands will slide into streaks, akin to these silk pants.
Grosse has made a career of coloring outside the lines and redefining the traditional notion of a canvas: for her concurrent New York debut, Just Two of Us, she created 18 neon iceberg-esque sculptures, wedging them between trees at the MetroTech Commons in downtown Brooklyn.
Of her ongoing exploration of color, Grosse says, “I need the brilliance of color to get close to people, to stir up a sense of life experience and heighten their sense of presence.” May my presence at psychylustro be possible (I’d revisit my commuter days to see it); time to plan a trip back east.