Professor Showcases “Graphical Interventions” in Philadelphia-Based Exhibition

“Over and over zine, Vol. 1” Photo by Eric Sison

By Tom McLaughlin

Living in a world built for speed – “the quicker, the better, where people are zombies just getting from point A to B” – Allan Espiritu believes it is time for an intervention.  A “graphical intervention,” that is.

“I want to disrupt your everyday by distracting you to think about the language for a moment – even if it’s a fleeting moment,” says Espiritu, an associate professor of fine arts at Rutgers University–Camden. “I’d love my work to interrupt that daily routine and let these interventions resonate with you, even if it’s for one second.”

Allan Espiritu

Espiritu’s provocative, artistic disruptions are currently featured in the critically acclaimed exhibition, “Person of the Crowd: The Contemporary Art of Flânerie,”on display through May 22 in the Barnes Foundation’s Roberts Gallery in Philadelphia.

The Rutgers–Camden educator and graphic artist is one of about 50 international artists – inspired by the notion of wandering and observing cities – invited to hit the streets to address diverse issues such as fetishism, gentrification, gender politics, globalization, racism, and homelessness, through a variety of mediums.

Espiritu has three pieces showcased in the exhibition that are part of his ongoing “Over and Over Project”: two wheat paste murals “It Gets Sweeter and Sweeter, It Gets Deeper and Deeper” and “i was so blind,” as well the piece “Over and over zine, Vol. 1,” consisting of a newspaper box holding a zine, which is the first part of a “sticker project” called “Over and Over: Stick’em Up.”

“All of these works documented in photographs for the exhibition exist beyond the museum’s wall, within the city,” says Espiritu, who was recently named a fellow by the Philadelphia chapter of the AIGA, the professional association for design.

As Espiritu explains, “Over and Over” is a series of works – titled using pop lyrics – that explore ideas of psychological control, the aesthetics of desire, consumption, and saturation. The works avoid traditional pictorial representation, choosing instead language and typography as the mode of expression, while visually referencing the oversaturated, repetitively abundant American pop culture landscape that bombard people every day.

In “Over and Over: Stick’em Up,” Espiritu gave viewers a vinyl sticker and asked them to place it anywhere. They were then asked to document the location of the work with a photograph.

“It Gets Sweeter and Sweeter, It Gets Deeper and Deeper” Photo by Eric Sison

“By doing this, the viewer becomes an active participant in the process of artistic creation,” says Espiritu, a Philadelphia resident. “The placement of the sticker becomes the genesis of meaning – creating visual and contextual connections between object and place, significance and meaning, temporality, and permanence.”

A graphic designer by profession, Espiritu aims to bring graphic processes and marketing approaches to his work. From a fine arts perspective, he notes, his work stems from theories based on the Situationist International movement of the 1950s and ’60s, in which artists created situations to break people out of the control of the everyday.

He now considers it an honor to participate in the “Person of the Crowd” exhibition with fellow artists – among them, Jenny Holzer, Keith Haring, Sophie Calle, Marina Abramoivic, and Guy Debord – whose works he has studied and now teaches to his students.

“It’s amazing; my own artistic approach conceptually stems from these artists,” says Espiritu, the founder, principal, and creative director of GDLOFT in Philadelphia.

By creating works that have multiple layers, he adds, there are multiple levels of meaning intended to reach everyone differently.

“I’m hoping that viewers can access at least one of those layers,” he says, “and make a connection with it.”

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