Artist known for connecting neighbors through public art tries something new

     Artist Candy Chang is working on a new mural with The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts' Porch Light Program. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    Artist Candy Chang is working on a new mural with The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts' Porch Light Program. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    In Philadelphia, it’s difficult to walk a few blocks without seeing one of the city’s many murals. One artist about to make her mark is Candy Chang.

    In Philadelphia, it’s difficult to walk a few blocks without seeing one of the city’s many murals or mosaics on the side of a building or even spanning an entire city block.

    Now New Orleans-based artist Candy Chang is about to make her mark with a black-and-white surreal collage and interactive installation, in collaboration with the city’s renowned Mural Arts Program.

    Chang, with a background in urban planning, is interested in encouraging people to connect through a city’s shared and public spaces.

    “I’m really interested in the city, the history of cities, the shape of cities, how they’ve changed, what they’re fundamentally made of, how we’ve changed and what we’ve lost along the way,” said Chang. “Do the messages we see out in public really reflect what matters to us as a community and as individuals?”

    Participatory art

    She’s best known for creating participatory installations where she asks people to share a private or even intimate detail about their lives in a very public space. The collection of responses people share becomes the art and can reveal patterns and interesting finding about living in a city — or about one’s neighbors.

    In Brooklyn, she asked residents to share how much they’re paying in rent on sticky notes displayed on a storefront window. Just by offering four basic pieces of information, residents old and new were able to show the range of housing costs in Brooklyn, for anyone to see.

    chang brooklyn post it 1200(Image courtesy of Candy Chang)

    In Las Vegas, Chang asked people to step into a confession booth, like a religious ritual, and share a confession on a wooden plaque. She then presented the anonymous confessions on the walls of an art gallery.

    chang confessions 1200

    (Image courtesy of Candy Chang)

    And in New Orleans, Chang painted a giant chalkboard on the side of an abandoned house, and invited people to respond to the prompt, “Before I die, I want to …”.

    chang NOLA before I 1200

    (Image courtesy of Candy Chang)

    The responses on the wall ran the gamut from simple to humorous to aspirational. A few examples include:

    Before I die, I want to plant a tree.

    Before I die, I want to hug a sloth.

    Before I die, I want to experience unconditional love.

    Chang said the core of the installation is the responses that people share, reflecting the joy, fear, gratitude, anxiety, and wonder you find in any community.

    The “Before I Die” installation did not stop in New Orleans. Artists and community organizations from around the world replicated the chalkboard including in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. In Reading, Pa., a group put their own twist on the “Before I die” wall and created a community chalkboard in front of a vacant lot that asked people to share what they love about Reading.  

    “Most people now live in cities, but I see so many studies saying that people feel more isolated than ever and I think there are a lot of barriers to connecting with the people around us,” said Chang. “While those barriers remain, it’s easy to forget the humanity in the people around us and become impersonal and even adversarial.”

    Another level in Philadelphia

    In Philadelphia, Chang is taking on a different challenge by teaming up with the Mural Art’s Porch Light program, which focuses on addressing mental and behavioral health issues through public art.

    There are no fill-in-the-blank-prompts, chalkboards or sticky notes and it’s not a collection of neighbors’ thoughts, either.

    Inspired by the I-Ching and Carl Jung, Chang designed a surreal mural with 64 fables.

    People walking by will be prompted to think of a situation in their life where they’re seeking clarity and spin a giant dial on the wall. Depending on where the spinner lands, the dial will direct the person to read and reflect using one of the corresponding fables.

    big I ching artwork 1200

    (Rendering of “Atlas of Tomorrow” mural by Candy Chang with The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts’ Porch Light Program)

    Chang admits it’s a lot different than some of her other work, but that it will push the boundaries of what a mural might be able to do by offering tools in a public space to move beyond sharing consolations.

    Laure Biron, Porch Light program director, said working with Chang seemed like a natural fit.

    “I think there are so few artists who really have a heart for the public health and mental health piece of the work because it’s so tricky, said Biron. “People don’t want to talk about it. I think even artists who are complex in their own right don’t want to tackle those issues, especially on a really big public scale.”

    The mural is expected to be completed in April 2016 at South and Juniper Streets.

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