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Philly native Stephen Talasnik brings his work home for Seaport’s floating art exhibit

Stephen Talasnik's Endurance sits illuminated in the Delaware River boat basin ready for the opening of the FLOW exhibition. FLOW is a sculpture exhibit on the Delaware River in partnership with Philadelphia Sculptors and the Independence Seaport Museum. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

Stephen Talasnik's Endurance sits illuminated in the Delaware River boat basin ready for the opening of the FLOW exhibition. FLOW is a sculpture exhibit on the Delaware River in partnership with Philadelphia Sculptors and the Independence Seaport Museum. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

It’s been 34 years since Philadelphia native Stephen Talasnik showed his artwork in the city. This month, he re-enters the Philly art scene with a floating sculpture in the Independence Seaport Museum’s outdoor exhibit, “FLOW.”

In the 1980s, Talasnik showed primarily two-dimensional artwork at galleries around the city, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. Feeling the need to burst out of his hometown bubble, Talasnik started to travel and explore different mediums. 

This exploration eventually brought him to several Asian countries, where he embarked on his study of bamboo architecture. He was mesmerized by the farmers he met and their ability to create bridges, fences, homes out of reeds and bamboo and vines. 

After a 34-year hiatus from showing his work in Philadelphia, Stephen Talasnik has come back for the art exhibit “FLOW,” a sculpture exhibit on the Delaware River in partnership with the Independence Seaport Museum and Philadelphia Sculptors. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

During 12 years of exploration and study in Asia, Talasnik began making small scale bamboo creations, gradually working toward very large sculptures. Some of his sculptures and drawings have become part of the permanent collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and The National Gallery in Washington, DC.

From Saturday, Oct. 12 through Dec. 7, his latest sculpture, “Endurance,” will live on the Delaware River in the boat basin at the Independence Seaport Museum. 

It takes four workers to lift and slowly introduce Talasnik’s sculpture into the Delaware River boat basin. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

“FLOW” is the brainchild of Philadelphia Sculptors President, Leslie Kaufman. She wanted to create an exhibit “using the harbor as an outdoor canvas.” 

Kaufman and co-curator Elaine Crivelli invited 14 artists to create pieces using the word “flow” as a jumping-off point. Some chose to speak about climate change and the environment, while others looked toward migration and memory. 

Happy Castaways is a floating sculpture by Isabelle Demers and Fanny Mesnard. Fantasy animals cavort in their artificial paradise, an island in the Delaware River boat basin, as part of the Independence Seaport Museum’s FLOW exhibit. (Peter Crimmins/WHYY)
Simone Spicer’s Convergence sits in the river basin for the art exhibit FLOW. Plastic water jugs stand in for the ice blocks of an igloo that seems to be melting as it floats on the water. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)
Philadelphia native, Nancy Agati’s Evidence Cycle—Imprint and Impact sits in the river basin for the art exhibit FLOW. Agati’s sculpture is a giant fingerprint made of found wood from the Delaware River that floats on the surface and moves with the cycles of currents and tides. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

Talasnik took his inspiration from the 1915 voyage of Ernest Shackleton, whose scientific expedition ship, The Endurance, became stuck and eventually crushed by South Pole ice caps. Miraculously, the crew made it out of the pole’s harsh climate alive. 

He spent two-and-a-half months creating his sculpture on site as artist-in-residence at the Independence Seaport Museum and, with the help of a team of seven installers, introduced his work to the water on the Monday before the exhibit’s opening. 

Two installers maneuver a canoe to steer Talasnik’s sculpture into place.
(Emily Cohen for WHYY)

“Every piece has risk involved,” Talasnik said of his sculptures. 

But he means it more than ever for “Endurance,” which is made primarily from bamboo and reed. Talasnik had to find a way to weigh down the feather-light artwork while still allowing it to float. Using a combination of cement anchors and high compression foam, Talasnik’s ice caps follow the motion of the Delaware River. 

The first half of Talasnik’s sculpture settles into its spot in the Delaware River boat basin as the installers ready the second half. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

A premise of the show is to envision the future of the Delaware River. Talasnik envisions a future in which ice caps continue to melt and migrate so far south that they will eventually float along the Delaware. He said he doesn’t see himself as an environmental artist, but he’d like there to be a habitable Earth for his son and for future generations. 

Stephen Talasnik’s “Endurance” sits illuminated in the Delaware River boat basin ready for the opening of the “FLOW” exhibition. “FLOW” is a sculpture exhibit on the Delaware River in partnership with Philadelphia Sculptors and the Independence Seaport Museum. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

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