Two silvery trees appeared in Iroquois Park-that wedge of green between Eakins Oval and the Philadelphian-last week. They are Symbiosis, the latest in the Parkway’s procession of outdoor artwork, freshly installed in a collaboration between the Association for Public Art and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.
Symbiosis is the work of sculptor Roxy Paine, and an artwork camping out in Iroquois Park for the next year on loan to the Association for Public Art courtesy of the sculptor and Marianne Boesky Gallery.
Back in 2007 the Association for Public Art (aPA) installed Mark di Suvero’s Iroquois, the 40-foot high amalgamation of red steel pieces arranged near 24th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Before Iroquois its strip of green was a pass-through. Used by some but hardly noticed by others. Now the art has given the spot an identity.
“What I love is that this is now called Iroquois Park… I didn’t invent this. It happened organically, which tells you something about a sculpture’s ability to shape this place,” said Penny Balkin Bach, aPA’s executive director.
Bach said aPA wanted to see what would happen if another artwork were added to this space, and sought a piece that could coexist with Iroquois in terms of scale, composition, and materials. Transforming this space into a more deliberate public and parklike space was among the suggestions advanced in last year’s More Park, Less Way plan* for the Parkway.
Iroquois and Symbiosis are both contemporary works constructed from industrial materials, and really reward viewers from all angles. It will be intersting to see how the reflective Symbiosis looks in different light. During the installation it read almost white against the gloomy sky. On a bright day it shines.
Symbiosis features two “dendroids” – tree forms – one snapped as if by a storm and resting on the other. It’s at once natural – like the snapped hemlock sitting on the edge of Iroquois Park – and manufactured. No, the metal trees aren’t dipped in nickel. They’re hand crafted from stainless steel pipes and rods. The smooth trunks are surreal and the branches that look like nerves. It’s a stark piece, but it’s also compelling in its strangeness.
“If we don’t continually add contemporary things then this collection won’t evolve,” Bach said. And who knows, maybe someone will love it so much they’ll buy it for aPA. It’s happened before.
*More Park, Less Way was developed by PennPraxis. PlanPhilly is a project of PennPraxis.
Ashley Hahn is an independent writer with a background in historic preservation and city planning. She started Eyes on the Street for PlanPhilly in 2011 and was PlanPhilly's managing editor from 2015-2017. Ashley has lived in 12 zip codes that she can think of, including neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and New York. She is a Philadelphian by choice.