The sounds of doo-wop reverberate off the walls of Broad Street Ministry as local artist Candy Chang and dozens of Philadelphians dip their fingertips in black paint to begin work on a new mural that will be dedicated next month at the corner of South and Juniper streets.
Dab by dab, the work, called The Atlas of Tomorrow, slowly comes together on the sanctuary floor. It’s being created in the halftone style, meaning that it’s made up of thousands of dots (think Lichtenstein, but in black and white.) “I found that the finger is the best tool for making round dots,” Chang says. “It’s been very therapeutic to do it with a lot of people.”
Something soothing about finger painting thousands of dots when you’re in a funk. pic.twitter.com/RdEBQJlQwi
— Candy Chang (@candychang) March 21, 2016
It’s fitting the work began with such a cathartic tone. It was created through Mural Arts’ Porch Light Initiative, a program Chang has been involved with over the years that seeks to create public artwork that helps those struggling with mental illness, trauma and addiction.
“We’ve talked about the tools we use to improve mental health, so I wondered what would happen if those tools were embedded into the city fabric for the public,” Chang says about the initial inspiration for the mural.
The finished product will be a head-scratcher to say the least. The most prominent image is a large electric drill coming out of a lion’s head. Below, a woman stands subduedly on a bridge, facing a series of cogwheels and a chess piece. A watch hovers in the top left corner.
Chang will speak in more detail about the mural and its capacity to help those struggling with mental illness at a conversation Thursday night, hosted by Mural Arts and held at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA). She will be joined by CAConrad, author of eight books of poetry, and moderator Jenn McCreary, executive director of The Philadelphia Citizen.
Like Chang’s global Before I Die project, there’s a participatory aspect to The Atlas of Tomorrow. Spectators are invited to turn a dial at the bottom center of the mural that will let them choose from 64 hexagram symbols. Each of those symbols corresponds to an encouraging poetic story inspired by the ancient Chinese text I Ching, which Chang says “offers a lot of practical wisdom and insight that can be applied to any situation.”
The surreal nature of the poems and images, Chang says, should steer every mind in a different direction—much like the introspective exercises we use to deal with different issues that come up in our lives. “I hope the experience will be like The Twilight Zone for emotional well-being,” Chang says.
Photo Header: Conrad Benner