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PAFA exhibit gets ‘Traction’

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STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON 
For Digital First Media

The Traction Company Exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is experiential while telling stories and examining the past, the present, and the future. The show features works by a 12-person artist collective, which is comprised exclusively of PAFA alumni.
Since 2007, Traction Company members have met once a week to work in a studio built in a former trolley manufacturing warehouse. The members work on their own art as well as collaborative pieces. One such piece is called “subTRACTION.” It’s a 1:6 scale miniature version of their studios, made completely by hand. Portions of “subTRACTION” are included in the PAFA exhibit, which also features new group pieces, including a full-scale re-creation of one of the truss structures from their studio, and individual artists’ works.
Miguel Horn is one of the members (as well as their communications guru).
“The underpinning narrative of the show is that, as artists, we have this space in West Philly, and the neighborhood is developing, so we’re considering our future,” he said in a recent telephone interview.
The truss represents their history and that of the building they do their work in. It’s made from timbers that were salvaged from the building down the street after it was torn down and turned into student housing, he said.
“It’s a metaphor for our studio,” he said. “There are 12 members and 12 segments in the piece that work together,” he said. “They’re pushing and pulling and creating a stronger network.”
Another piece of the exhibit features modular studios. That speaks to the collective as well.

Detail of the entrance to the Traction Company installation at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  Photo by Barbara Katus

Detail of the entrance to the Traction Company installation at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Photo by Barbara Katus

“What if we can’t maintain our space and the building gets developed into student housing?” he said. “They’re kind of like escape pods. Everything until now has been tied to structure. The modular pods are movable.”
Horn hopes the exhibit will give viewers a glimpse of what their creative life is like.
“It’s interesting to get a behind the scenes look at the process of art making,” he said.
He’s happy that the exhibit is at his alma mater.
“It’s a great way to see what alumni are doing,” Horn said. “It’s amazing that the Academy is doing something like this in their space. It’s a cool contemporary show.”
PAFA’s Curator of Contemporary Art Jodi Throckmorton said her main job was to make sure the individual pieces created a cohesive whole.
“It was trying to figure out how all of these pieces would look good together and make sense and tell the story of how it started, where they are now, and the future of the collective and their building,” she said.
Though it’s personal, the work also is universal.
“They’re speaking to fears all artists have. You make great spaces. Neighborhoods change. That puts the future of where studios are in peril,” she said. “You see it happening all over the U.S. with the changing real estate market.”

Traction members, from left, Billy Dufala, Sedakial Gebremedhin, Connie Ambridge, Miguel Horn, Morgan Dummitt, Jeffrey Dentz, John Greig, Jr., Lucia ThomË, Brendan Keen, Laura Giannini and Joshua Koffman. Not pictured, Steven Dailey. Photo by Barbara Katus

Traction members, from left, Billy Dufala, Sedakial Gebremedhin, Connie Ambridge, Miguel Horn, Morgan Dummitt, Jeffrey Dentz, John Greig, Jr., Lucia ThomË, Brendan Keen, Laura Giannini and Joshua Koffman. Not pictured, Steven Dailey.
Photo by Barbara Katus

For people who may not have as much experience viewing contemporary art, “you can find it to be a really fun experience,” she said. “You’re going to have ‘wow’ moments. The work is deep and thoughtful. People can come in and just enjoy being there.”
She thinks viewers will especially feel that in the “subTRACTION” portion.
“Why are we so intrigued by things we know then see in miniature?” she said. “When things are shrunk down, you get to feel like you’re a giant. It’s a magical way of looking at things.”
No matter what parts people see, though, the exhibit experience is transformative, she said.
“You walk in and you’re transported to a different world.”

IF YOU GO

What: Traction Company Exhibition
When: Through Oct. 11
Where: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building, 128 N. Broad St., Philadelphia.
Info.: Admission and other information: https://www.pafa.org/visit/admission

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