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Katharina Grosse’ psychylustro on MutualArt

From my latest article for MutualArt

Katharina Gross, psychylustro, 2014. All photos are courtesy of Steve Weinik for the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.
Berlin based artist Katharina Grosse has recently completed her biggest work yet – using the city of Philadelphia as her canvas. For the city’s renowned Mural Arts Program, the abstract artist infused her signature bold colors along the Amtrak Northeast Corridor line, in and out of the city, in an enormous piece called psychylustro.  Seven site specific infusions transform the landscape between Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station and the North Philadelphia stop, with bold abstractions that reclaim every inch of the space for the purpose of art. The ambitious installation knows no boundaries, enveloping abandoned buildings, brick walls and even rubble, staking its claim over the somewhat forgotten landscape. Psychylustro pushes beyond just a mural project, and instead becomes an experiential installation, meant to be seen through the capsule-like oblong windows of the moving Amtrak train.
The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program has been transforming communities within the Philadelphia area for 30 years, not only beautifying neighborhoods, but creating dialogue between locals by bringing in artists from around the world. Through these murals, the program uses public art to incite social change. The program takes over large-scale wall space throughout city, turning them into oversized works of art, which become new meeting places for the community.
With Grosse’s psychylustro, the Mural Arts Program has surpassed itself by pushing its mission to the next level – going beyond the flat mural into an encompassing installation that engages the entire community into a conceptual piece of art. Unlike many examples of conceptual art, the piece is for public consumption, presented democratically for all members of the community to experience, not just the so-called “art world.” According to the project’s curator Elizabeth Thomas,psychylustro “combines ideas of the psyche and illumination to convey the work as a landscape of the mind. The project aims to frame viewers’ railway journey and intensify the experience of their surroundings.” These references move beyond a static mural, and bring viewers deeper into the installation, creating a dialogue between the work and the various surfaces it occupies.
Rather than figurative imagery, Grosse’s piece focuses on abstraction. Bold and unnatural colors were chosen to juxtapose with the existing landscape, claiming the paint strokes (created with a high power sprayer) as an art work that floats above the surfaces they are spread across. An under-layer of white paint was used to further this separation, allowing the bold colors to pop on the industrial canvases. Grosse is known for her installations of painted dirt and trash, set inside a more traditional gallery setting, but psychylustro transports her oeuvre back to the outdoors, using found objects in their own setting. Hot pink seems to explode across one of the installation sites, covering everything from the side of an old brick enclosure to the dead trees that pepper the site, down to the rubbish left at the side of the train tracks. A bright orangey red brings the same chaotic feeling close to the viewer’s eyes, bleeding into the soil, foliage and edge of the trees that hug the train as it passes by. Other murals within the psychylustro experience are more controlled. Bold lime green strokes loop across an abandoned brick building, while wooden construction boards are given a new look with bright pink. The largest mural in psychylustrocascades across a massive four story abandoned warehouse, it’s broken windows creating pockets of black within the swirling orange and white paint.
 
Psychylustro also plays on the idea of perspective and size, creating a duality that can be experienced in two totally different ways. On foot, the massive abstract murals are larger than life, taking over entire sides of three story buildings or bridges, making the viewer feel small in comparison to their enormity. Yet the experience on the Amtrak train is totally different. Zooming by at sometimes 100 miles per hour, psychylustro is a series of abstract interruptions from point A to point B. The viewer, as commuter, has become accustomed to the mundane industrial landscape along the Northeast Corridor route. Grosse’s installation disrupts the normality of the commuter experience, drawing attention to scenes that would otherwise just be a blip along the journey, and creates a new way for viewers to experience their familiar terrain. With nearly 34,000 daily commuters who take this train, psychylustro engages a massive, potentially new audience, exposing these viewers to contemporary art with a completely new approach. For art lovers, the usual viewer experience is that the slow pace of meandering around a museum. Psychylustro not only engages a wider, and sometimes unsuspecting audience, but also turns the usual slow process of art viewing into a journey of speed. Mural artist Stephen “ESPO” Powers also utilized the train system with his Love Letters Project that runs along the train in West Philadelphia.
Like a museum exhibition, Grosse’s next level mural experience is accompanied by a traditional audio guide, accessible by using your cell phone to call 215-525-1045. A map of the accessible project sites is also available for those wanting to experience psychylustro by train and by foot, athttp://muralarts.org/katharinagrosse, although many of the sites are closed to the public.
Grosse herself sums up the project best , “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.”
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