Our Imaginary Archive

The Think Tank was recently invited to to participate in Imaginary Archive, an ongoing project organized by Gregory Scholette. The project is a collection of real and fictional printed materials documenting a future “whose past never arrived,” according to Scholette.

This iteration will be presented as a part of an exhibition, “Traces in the Dark,” curated by Liz Park at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania. The exhibition runs from February 4th to March 22nd. We hope you’ll take the trip to come see our contribution.

For our part, we’ve created a collection of materials about the fictional public art project, psychylustro II, undertaken by the Mural Arts Program. Some background on the collection:

In 2014, Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program installed a public art project called psychylustro along the northeast Amtrak and Septa rail system. With paint sprayed directly on the ground, vegetation, trees and structures along the rail line, the piece was “conceived as a temporary installation, but [one which] changes over time as the elements gradually reclaim the space.” Mural Arts asks the viewers to “think of it as a real-time landscape painting, where the ever-evolving city is the canvas and your window is the frame.”

Fast forward to 2018. The City of Philadelphia and particularly the local school district have (again) come under significant financial stress. As a strategy to create revenue, the city starts selling parcels of land in Fairmount Park. The Wissahickon Creek Trail soon comes under threat and the Mural Arts Program partners with several other city agencies to install psychylustro II in the park. The express goal of the project is to generate additional revenue for the park system through a series of exclusive tours and related touristic packages. The second iteration of the public art project involves spraying water-based paints on the banks of the creek and on some of the historic WPA-era structures that are in disrepair.

This collection is contained in the archives of the University of Pennsylvania and was donated by the Friends of the Wissahickon, an organization which for several decades has been the caretaker of the Wissahickon Creek and its trails. Objects included in the archive have been gathered from the sites of both the original psychylustro and subsequent psychylustro II. The documents include (real) history and correspondence surrounding the Mural Arts Program, from its early history as an anti-graffiti initiative up until the (fictional) 2018 installation of psychylustro II.

Here is some background on the Imaginary Archive project. Past contributions to the archive can be viewed here.