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Whispers from the Wall: The Silk Graffiti of Aubrie Costello

Posted August 4th, 2017

Walking down many streets in Philadelphia is like wandering an art gallery for graffiti. The tags of artists like SAGA, KAD, and LAZZ fill the walls with a calligraphy that has become a unique Philly handstyle. These, along with colorful street art projects, have made the city a vibrant center for the growth and evolution of graffiti, some even becoming three dimensional installations. You may spot some of these words made of flickering strands of fabric hanging from a wall, a fence, or a bridge. This is the work of “silk graffiti” artist Aubrie Costello, who uses long strips of Dupioni silk to write phrases around the city. Although the pieces are often large, they feel intimate, like their speaker is whispering to passersby. Some of her work is hung on the streets, while other pieces reside in nature, and others still have migrated into gallery spaces. This year, she is collaborating with dancers Jess Noel, Leslie Davidson, and Fatima Adamu in an interdisciplinary production, Show Me What You Want Me To See, or SWMYWMTS. The dance performance will take place inside a gallery with its walls covered in silk writing. An accompanying film by Lendl Tellington follows the trajectory of a romance between Jess and Leslie in the apartment of Victoria Prizzia, which is similarly filled in Aubrie’s silk calligraphy. This is interspersed with a separate story of love lost, performed by Fatima in a cemetery, as well as shots of more silk words and phrases fill a forest in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. The work is also a collaboration with composer Josh Hey, who has created ghostly and powerful original score (with a few surprise musical guests!) This interdisciplinary performance is in an intimate gallery space, accompanied by a screening of the film. The curves in the silk are mimicked in the movements of the dancers, bringing through its ephemeral but powerful emotive voice.

Silk graffiti by Aubrie Costello in Gravy Gallery and Studio

Aubrie grew up in the quiet Pine Barrens, and went to a public school where the arts were nurtured. Without much to do in their area, the kids in this town chose to make art. “There were a lot of graffiti artists, and skate kids, and musicians that are in Philadelphia now in bands. So I guess we all had that deep itch to make stuff, and now we’re in a city that is more nurturing for that.” Aubrie’s father was a woodworker, who did everything with his hands. “He would even hand draw all of his estimates and specs and documents. He didn’t do anything on a computer.” Aubrie herself absorbed the love for “do-it-yourself” aspect of a project—if given the choice, she also prefers a more analogue approach to her work. She went to the Moore College of Art and Design in 2003, where she began studying fashion design before transitioning to a major in Drawing and Painting. While she loved drawing and making her own clothes, she couldn’t enjoy the business aspect of fashion. She threw herself instead into creating art installations, and began investigating new ways of using silk. One such installation involved a huge pile of high heeled shoes, bound, or “mummified,” in silk. She would cover the gallery wall with drawings that would mirror the installation. While she was at Moore, professors would often wander into students’ studio spaces to check out their work and give them advice. One such offering was from a professor who taught fiber arts, which she had never even taken. “She came into my studio one day, and I was using silk very differently. I was stretching it on canvas stretcher bars. She said she liked it, but she said ‘You’re not letting the fabric speak for itself.’ And that was one of the things that stuck with me, I actually think about that to this day. Sometimes I want to do more to the fabric, but then I think back to what she said. The fabric alone can have its own emotive quality.”

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