PPEHLab is OPEN and workers are working, drinkers are drinking

During the first of three open houses in this pilot phase, visitors toured the lab and artists and such got to work. For an event that came together super fast, after we got last-minute permission to use the city dock (see previous post), a whole lotta work got done that afternoon.

It’s always amazing to witness the PPEH Fellows in action: 22299479571_b41cf2d38e_k

Patricia Kim and Brooke Stanley, and Program Assistant, Carolyn Fornoff, conjured siren songs and lured bikers off the straight and narrow Schuylkill Bank path onto WetLand; Shams Haidari, Ayla Fudala,and Kasey Toomey explained the project once they arrived on board (see previous post).

But that was not all, no, that was not all.

On shore, visitors were invited to consider their “Philly Climate Story,” a new art-advocacy project by the brilliant and beautifully bespectacled Joey Hartmann-Dow. (The project is back at open house 2 on 10/25, so you can add your story, or visit the website.)

And, artist collective We the Weeds, Zya Levy and Caitlin Pomerantz, were there to teach about four sister plants, three native and one non-: ambrosia artemisiifolia (AKA Roman wormwood, common ragweed), artmesia vulgaris (AKA Common wormwood, mugwort), artemesia annua (AKA Sweet wormwood, sweet Annie), and artemesia absinthum (AKA Green ginger, wormwood).

Among their various usages–as antihistamines (ragweed!?! are you as surprised as I was?), as dream aid, against malaria–the making of absinthe (with wormwood) is likely the most famous. We did not drink absinthe, but We the Weeds did mix up some tasty refreshments from their very own artemesial bitters. Tasty. Carolyn and I both had two.22088540129_a962cf6b21_k(1)


‘A House that Collapsed onto Itself’

Program Fellows were busy in the PPEHLab at WetLand open house on Saturday afternoon, 10/17. They welcomed people on board and helped passersby, joggers, and bikers find the gangway to the public dock, otherwise kept locked. (We soon realized showing visitors to the “gangplank” was making them nervous.)

On the boat, Fellows gave tours of the lab, talked with people at length, and helped visitors record their names in the log.

22102308849_9b4eb94644_kLook who was there! Barry Bessler (“Dr. No,” see previous post) and his wife, Carol, with Penn’s Director of Sustainability, the irrepressible Dan Garofalo for the photobomb. #Welcomeaboard. On board, Barry sat down to talk with WetLand’s creator, artist Mary Mattingly,  about City Parks and Philadelphia’s efforts to open them up to everybody. We’ll cut the footage down for the second of our doc shorts about the project.

Undergraduate fellow Shams Haidari (C’16) is a Political Science and History double major, interested in Middle Eastern governance, energy production, and energy trade as well as Arabic poetry. She guided visitors skillfully through the lab. She had this to say:

Mary Mattingly’s WetLand Project docked alongside the Walnut Street Bridge this past Saturday. Part-home, part-boat, and part-studio, WetLand boasts a bathroom—complete with bathtub, toilet, and sink—two bedrooms, a living room, and kitchenette. Solar panels attached to the roof—now coated in wood beams—provide electricity, and a rainwater filtration system ensures a supply of clean water. However, one attendee at Saturday’s open house provided a more succinct description, commenting that WetLand looks like “a house that collapsed on itself.”

It’s an accurate statement—partly because it describes the first thought that ran through my mind when I spotted it from the bridge on 24th and Chestnut, but mainly because it suits the project’s purpose. An example of the intersection between sustainability and humanistic studies, WetLand aims to deconstruct the traditional home and to redefine the boundaries between a living space and the environment surrounding it.

Watching people walk through WetLand for an open house, I also couldn’t help but find the comparison oddly on-point. Couples, joggers, and young families took their time touring: asking how the boat runs—it doesn’t—and where the floor boards come from—a gym in Iowa. One excited child asked if he could sleepover—yes, but only for short stretches of time in the spring and summer. At the end of the day, visitors left—and WetLand moved back to its home at Bartram’s Garden.”

Urban Boating at Its Finest

Last Saturday, the PPEHLab at WetLand held the first of three open-houses this fall on the Lower Schuylkill in Philadelphia. Captain Bob Smizer met us early in the morning at Bartram’s Garden where WetLand has been docked since 10/5 when we took it out of dry dock in Westville, New Jersey, under the Walt Whitman Bridge, and had our own crossing the Delaware (see previous post) experience.

Our electrical engineer, Rand, was already on board adding more solar panels for more power. 22102162289_04f26be9c4_kHe kept working as we trawled upriver, just making it under one surprisingly low bridge and floating under several rail bridges.

Wind picked up as we moved into the more cavernous spaces of center city where all wetlands along the River have been built over, on the west side to accommodate the “Expressway” (or Distressway) and rail lines, and on the east for commercial and residential properties and more rail. It’s quite something to experience the city from the vantagepoint of the river.

As we pulled up to the dock, a big gust blew WetLand hard against the gangway. Minor damage only to report.

Yes: Permission to Dock

After ten months of discussion and a few sleepless nights, permission arrived last week allowing us to dock WetLand at the City Parks & Recreation dock along Walnut Street. (Here’s a map of the areas I’m talking about, on the Lower Schuylkill River in Phildelphia.) The PPEHLab at WetLand had since spring 15 been slated as a community partner for the Philadelphia Open Studio Tours (P.O.S.T.), a huge city-wide arts crawl, on 10/17. We got the actual permit via email the day before.

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 2.34.33 PMAfter moving at a snail’s pace for months, our discussions with one huge bureaucracy, of the city, were buttressed by critical support within a second very large bureaucracy, the university.

Many lessons in navigating the halls of power were learned. Strategic help from our good friends at Bartram’s Garden was essential.

I was so delirious by the time we got to yes, that I asked Barry Bessler, Chief of Staff of Parks &Rec, whose nickname is “Dr. No,” to play it for me one more time. You can hear it in this 3-second video. He’s a good sport, right?


Art in the Service of ?

Earlier this week, PPEH took part in a conversation at Slought Foundation about “Art in the Service of Future Generations.” And we talked with a few pretty cool guys: Veit Stratmann, Ken Lum, Amze Emmons, and Aaron Levy.

It proved an interesting counterpoint to a convo 2 months ago (August 15) at Slought that we had been involved in featuring WetLand creator, our artist in residence, Mary Mattingly. Like in that conversation, we ranged over topics about culture, art, ethics, politics, and responsibility.

Veit’s such a GOOD SPORT, and he braved canoe and kayak transport–and got pretty wet–to come aboard ‪#‎WetLand‬. With program Fellow and co-designer of Pier 68, Kasey Toomey, we talked on film about the work of artists amidst dire social-natural conditions. 12049428_10153589031734435_331069340442385785_n

We had wrapped up shooting and high-tailed it to dry ground in the midst of a huge thunder storm. We found refuge and some refreshment.

As we cut the footage for the first short in a series of documentaries of conversations in the PPEHLab, we’re thinking about collective artistic action. And, what does it mean to be in service of, rather than in service to? And most importantly, as Veit wanted to know, is WetLand in service of something: the river? the people in its watershed? And, as he repeatedly asked, how can the closed space of a boat, a closed community, open out into society? Community can often signal such a small place.

While you wait for the short doc, check out what Veit has to say about related topics over here, in the context of the devastating earthquake that hit L’Aquila:

“L’Aquila is in an unacceptable state. And this status calls for real change. It appeals to the formulation of an objective—something that I feel should be avoided in an artistic posture. The necessity of identifying a goal runs the risk of transforming anything that I might accomplish in L’Aquila into “social work,” canalizing my thinking towards a univocal “solution” to purely non-art related problems.”

Univocality is definitely not our thing. ‪#‎welcomeaboard‬.

Solar panels and a thunderstorm

I *thought* Sam was a good student, but look at him here cutting my raft loose from ‪#WetLand… Although it’s fall “break,” fellows and students in the Penn Program in the Environmental Humanities got to the PPEHLab at WetLand on Friday (10.9.15): first time! It was pretty great. No one fell overboard.


But the day also reminded us that Floating WetLand will be no easy task. We couldn’t get the solar panels re-installed (or the composting toilet working) before a big t-storm hit. #‎welcomeaboard‬

No dock yet

We’ve been talking with many different city organizations to try to obtain access to one of the few public docks on the Lower Schuylkill. Although they’re public, it turns out getting access is not so easy. Especially if you’re a floating lab with no engine.

11924921_10153507331774435_5966107238801961264_nBut we’re working on it (access that is, not a combustion engine). Stay tuned. And in the meantime, we paddle over to the PPEHLab moored just off Bartram’s dock on their kayaks. Pretty generous.

Week One

 The PPEHLab at WetLand, a floating lab for experiments (artistic, pedagogical, practical, scientific), launched Monday (10.5.2015). Launched literally: it’s a boat. Albeit a boat without sails, oars, or an engine.

Bob Smizer rafted WetLand across the Delaware and then up the Schuylkill River. Moored just off Bartram’s Garden, the PPEHLab at WetLand is now in a pilot phase for the next month. During this time we’ll navigate the Schuylkill and city politics; collaborate with the amazing folks at Bartram’s; interview artists; host students; and more.

Keep a look out on social media. You are#welcomeaboard #WetLand.