Happy Hour on the Fringe: Jarrod Markman and Lisa Marie Patzer
Raina Searles: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe, FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premiere presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Raina Searles, Marketing Manager, and today we invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversation with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence. Today, we are joined by Jarrod Markman, executive director of the Da Vinci Art Alliance and creator of Da Vinci Fest Live, which will be showcasing the innovation, diversity, and artistry that makes Philadelphia so vibrant. And we are also joined by Lisa Marie Patzer, a Philadelphia-based artist who is working on one of the exhibits, Philadelphia Forthcoming: The Endless Urban Portrait. Philadelphia Forthcoming examines the histories of Philadelphia’s urban landscape in order to contextualize the contemporary urban experience and envision its possible future. Welcome, Lisa and Jarrod!
Jarrod Markman: Thank you! Thank you for having us!
Lisa Marie Patzer: Yes, thank you so much, Raina. Nice to be here.
Raina: Well, you know, we’re actually recording this at 3PM on a Friday, so one of the closer times to happy hour that we normally get. But, for Happy Hour on the Fringe, what’re we drinking today?
Jarrod: I will start with that I guess, and I’ll probably get into this later, but I’m putting coffee into my veins right now because we were up until about 2:30AM last night installing computer algorithm designed wallpaper, printed on beautiful fabric. So I am drinking coffee today.
Raina: That definitely sounds worthy of some caffeine.
Lisa: Yeah, so I can echo Jarrod there; I’m also drinking coffee, but I’m trying to hydrate at the same time. So I’ve got, next to my mug of coffee, I’ve also got a big mug of water.
Jarrod: Lisa Marie is definitely always like the practical and, like, one on top of it. I’m the one showing up with just caffeine, and in an hour I will need water. But she was more thoughtful so…
Raina: Yeah, I am also having water now, because I ate biscuits and apple sauce this morning for breakfast and feel like I got really dried out. And all of a sudden I was like, “I should probably drink some water because biscuits—though they are delicious—just suck all of that out of you.” Well fantastic! So you know, Jarrod, this is a brand new festival. There was a kind of like pseudo-launch of the festival in 2019, but can you really dive into what Da Vinci Fest Live is for us and what some of the events that we can look forward to are?
Jarrod: Yeah! Definitely! And I think I might actually want to back up, just a little bit, and talk about why Da Vinci Art Alliance is even doing a festival. Just for some quick context, Da Vinci Art Alliance is an 88 year old community visual art organization based in South Philadelphia. We were founded by 9 Italian immigrants during a time when Italian immigrants necessarily weren’t always welcome in academic, artistic, and scientific institutions, so it was always this little club of artistic refuge. And I’ve been with Da Vinci Art Alliance for about 5 years this month, and over the course of 5 years we’ve spent a lot of time really trying to work internally and trying to identify how to best serve our artist members in a city that is really good at serving artists. In a really, like, city full of wonderful art organizations, we wanted to really find out how we best serve our artists and what we offer them. And we learned a lot about artists really wanting to come to us as a way to present their work. We found that the best way that we were able to engage with our artist membership was that we were a platform for them; whether that’s selling art, whether that’s showing art, whether that’s giving them space to have exhibitions, people really came to us to share what they do. And we spent a lot of time really diving into that and sort of professionalizing our operations around that idea and, over the last 18 months, we wanted to take some of the really rich and wonderful things we’ve done for our artist members and find a way to turn that outward, to really provide the same community-building things that we do for our artist members but really for the public at large. We came up with a lot of ways to try and do that, but my background is, as some people might know, I spent 4 years actually working at FringeArts, running a part of the Philly Fringe Festival. And I thought that packaging a new program in a festival format could be an interesting way for an organization who hasn’t really looked outward that much as like an avenue towards building that program. So that’s sort of just a lot of context as to like why we’re doing this; this is sort of about fusing our artist membership and the community at large and really providing both educational and meaningful, artistic experiences for the public. I’ll just talk quickly about like one of my favorite ways that we’re doing that, and I’m also just going to ‘out-Raina’ here, if that’s okay.
Raina: That is okay. I am a little bit of a plant on this episode.
Jarrod: Because Raina is one of the smartest arts-marketing people I know, so 18 months ago I told her, “Raina, I need your help in thinking about this new idea.” So she has been on our steering committee for the last 18 months and has done an extraordinary amount of work to help us think about this. And one of the ways that we honored Raina, and many other people, was through this program we created called Everyday Genius, and Everyday Genius is one of the exhibitions in our festival but it’s more so a tool for us to connect with community leaders, activists, artists, and just everyday people doing amazing things inside of their own communities. And that’s been a really fun way for us to turn the spotlight on just everyday people that really have probably never heard of our organization and really shine the light on what they’re doing creatively inside of their communities, even if it’s not art-related. We featured a lot of people working on the front lines of the pandemic and non-profit organizations and scientists, artists, architects, all the above. And those portraits, which are actually rendered by our robot named Henry, are going to be featured in our virtual gallery exhibition, which you can sort of walk around in like a video game. That will debut on October 22nd at 6:30PM when the rest of the festival debuts. And there’s many components of the festival as we’ll probably dive into different parts, but what you will experience on October 22nd at 6:30PM is a framework of what we call the Da Vinci Derby, which is a derby car race that Raina had a lot of hands in helping us create. But the derby car race is where people of all ages got a 7-inch block of wood, learned to cut it, design it, embellish it. And we’ve hired a professional TV and film producer to sportscast this event, as if you’re watching football from home.
Raina: It’s so exciting!
Jarrod: Yes! And Raina has actually seen all the races.
Raina: I do know the winner.
Jarrod: She signed our NDA. So it’s a really fun celebration of art and engineering and creativity. But the commercials for the derby are all the different programs and exhibitions that you can experience in the festival platform. So there’s 5 different art exhibitions; there’s dozens of art and science activities from some of the leading organizations all around the city; there’s an art market, with work all under $500 available for purchase; there’s a deep dive into the new mural on the side of our building, called Innovation Lights the Way, that we did with Mural Arts; and a lot more stuff like that. So I guess that’s a super big overview of the festival, and I’ve never talked so much in my entire life.
Raina: I see the coffee is working, J.
Jarrod: Really, yeah, Raina knows I don’t tend to talk this much but the coffee is working so…
Raina: No, but I think that’s fantastic and I think there’s so much that I do definitely want to dive more into. I will say that I did get my Everyday Genius portrait in the mail which was really exciting and unexpected. And I’m so excited to keep telling all my friends about this. Obviously I brought it onto the FringeArts podcast because I think that there’s definitely a huge intersect over our audiences. And Da Vinci Art Alliance also will put a number of gallery installations up in the Fringe Festival every year so, this year, we had a number of shows that were like a mix of virtual galleries and also in-person times to view by going to Da Vinci Art Alliance. And yes, I have been heavily involved with the festival; Jarrod roped me from the beginning. I’m super excited because he built this from the ground up and there’s so much to dive into. But I also really want to bring Lisa into the conversation as well. Lisa, can you give us a little bit of your background on how you got involved with the DVAA and kind of what your artistic practice is.
Lisa: Sure, I’d be happy to. Yeah so I was approached by Jarrod—I don’t know, it’s been maybe 2 years from now—to just have a conversation about how, potentially, we could collaborate on an exhibition, and I was invited to submit a proposal for some work that I was kind of thinking about. It was very much of a concept at that time and I hadn’t really fleshed anything out. So the proposal was accepted, and from there it became much, you know, collaborative process where I worked with Jarrod and Bryant and Andrew Hart to find places where the different work in the Philadelphia Forthcoming: The Endless Urban Portrait show would cross-section and weave together an exhibition that had a lot overlapping concepts and ideas. In terms of my own background and my work, I have been working in new media/digital arts since 2001, so like pre-’a lot of digital technology’ and have done a lot of video work, a lot of web-interactive projects. Most recently I’ve been doing large-scale video installations. And, conceptually, I am very much a conceptual artist, so I am interested in how technology has changed throughout history and how new innovation in media kind of changes the way people interact with the public sphere: so everything from issues around privacy rights to the ways people communicate using new technology. And so this seemed like a really good opportunity to, you know, kind of explore some of the ideas of the history of Philadelphia through my work with archival material.
Raina: That’s awesome! And can you talk to us about this exact exhibit, Philadelphia Forthcoming, because, from my understanding it’s going to change, week to week, based on how guest curators decided to rearrange it. So can you talk a little bit about the dynamic nature of this exhibit?
Jarrod: I can maybe just give a quick overview, and then maybe we can take a deeper dive into, like, what work Lisa Marie actually has the show. But the exhibition is probably the largest exhibition we have ever put together; there are over 110 artists directly involved in the creation of the exhibition. I should’ve said artists and architects and technology experts, not just artists. The whole, sort of, idea of this exhibition is the examination of the skills of architects and artists and experts in technology. So there’s 3 components to the exhibition. When you first walk into the show, there are about 70 different, individually made city blocks that are housed on a custom built table, and each block is about a 7-inch box that represents either like a metaphorical idea of a block or a very realistic reinterpretation of a block. Some examples are like someone from our membership did a beautiful painting of Di Bruno Brothers, and that is one of the blocks in our future city together. There’s some really fantastical and elegant sculptural boxes that are pretty abstract that represent whatever you sort of imagine them to be when looking at this cityscape. And then there’s some really beautifully hand-made cemeteries and dog parks, and it’s really just like a lovely collection of artists and architects imagining this collective city together. And then as you go through the gallery, the middle section, which I’ll have Lisa Marie talk a little bit more about because it really directly relates to her work and is sort of a transitional tool from the front end of the gallery to the back end of the gallery. But the middle section of the gallery is a historically reimagined wallpaper that we’ve printed on fabric, and I’ll just leave it at that and have Lisa Marie talk, in a second, about that more. And then at the back of the gallery is Lisa Marie’s full installation, which sort of anchors a lot of how technology reinterprets the city and looks at both history and the future at the same time. So that’s just like a really big big picture overview, and maybe, Lisa Marie, if you can tie us through wallpaper to the back end of the exhibition, does that make sense?
Lisa: Sure sure, yeah I’d be happy to. Yeah, so I was really interested in exploring the history of Philadelphia through domestic archives; so that is everything from an archive of wallpaper samples from 1916 to 1965, which Jarrod is referring to here. Basically I found an archive of wallpaper that I then sourced 600 different samples from, basically creating a small database of wallpaper styles. And so the center of the gallery is really where we wanted to highlight some of the historic materialism that happened in Philadelphia. You know, part of Philadelphia’s history is this kind of manufacturing, both with textiles and paper. So I took these 600 samples of wallpaper and processed them through a machine-learning algorithm, and basically the algorithm is able to extract the style and colors and patterns separate from each individual image and then basically generate completely unique, never existing before patterns. So the wallpaper that was hanging in the center section was actually, as Jarrod said, generated by an algorithm. There’s also a video installation that shows the machine learning algorithm processing; you just see this loop of images and it’s kind of like the machine thinking or learning from the samples. And then, also in the center section, there’s this very large cabinet which was sourced from a row home that was in South Philly, probably very much in line with architecture that you would see in the mid-1960s, and displayed inside this cabinet are different objects that would be very typical to be found in a row home in South Philly in the 60s, and some of these objects have been then recreated using 3D printing. So we’re really kind of like mirroring this idea of like the domestic space and, you know, textiles and manufacturing and creating this kind of antichamber that connects the front gallery with the back gallery. So then in the rear space is where I’m displaying, really, 3 individual lightbox pieces—one is a triptych, so there’s actually 5 lightboxes, but I consider it to be 3 pieces—and they are made from an archive, another example of an archive of 8mm films that were shot by a resident of South Philly in the mid-1960s. I found these films at a consignment store and started to think about this collection of home movies that were shot prior to digital technology, and the images on the films had probably not been seen by many more people than a few family members and how different that is to today when everybody is producing and documenting their domestic activities using digital technology. So I was interested in kind of using this database of 8mm films, as an archivist would, to recreate through collage, using, again, machine-learning and algorithmic technologies to recreate and reimagine the images.
Raina: That’s so awesome! I think one of the big questions that comes to my mind as I’m hearing you talk about this is where are you finding all this material? You know, you mentioned finding the film at a consignment store, but like where are you sourcing 600 different types of old wallpaper? I’m curious if you had started off looking for that specifically or if you just had just, like, come across it and then started to find more, and like where are you finding that?
Lisa: Yeah, so Jarrod actually proposed the idea of creating a wallpaper installation, and I really loved the idea; I thought that it just worked so well with the overall concept of the show. So yeah, I just did a Google search and archive.org is a wonderful resource for public domain content, and turns out that they have fully-scanned, like, rows of wallpaper sample books going back to like the early 1900s, so it was not hard to find. And I think that that’s one of the things I’m really interested in is how digital technology and digital culture, you know, really has so many implications for the transformation of the archive. You know, it’s no longer just like a passive storage space, but it is actually a very dynamic place where we can reorder and reanimate the past.
Raina: Yeah, and I love that because I really thought you were about to say like, “I was at a, you know, home sale of a foreclosure, and it was like a 100 years old and I found this wallpaper, and I was so inspired,” and it’s like, oh yeah, I mean also Google. You know, that’s really like changed the way that we search and that we think about information, that we find information, which is so radically different than what it was even 50 years ago
Lisa: Yeah and even that search function is based on an algorithm that everything has been tagged on with some keyword, or that we can search based on image size or color or even shape of an image. You know so there’s like all of this computer, digital technology is making the archive more accessible.
Raina: Absolutely. And I think, you know, this is such a great example, which I’m sure is why Jarrod brought you in on this, of that kind of intersection of science and art using 3D printing machines and also taking film and merging these things and taking wallpaper that someone designed, but then turning it into something totally new. Like all of that, I think, really touches on this idea of the intersection of art and science. And I know there’s so many different parts of Da Vinci Fest Live that are looking to build on those elements, and so Jarrod, I would love to hear a little bit more from you about this idea of building community through art and, you know, some of the different elements. You mentioned the Da Vinci Derby, which is a really great example of getting some design elements with some technical elements in there, and so could you talk a little bit about that intersection and how you’re hoping to connect with the community more?
Jarrod: Yeah! And I’ll just first say that, yes, we were very attracted to the work the work Lisa Marie does, but there’s a good quote by Steve Jobs that I always just come back to when thinking about this sort of work we’re doing which is just, very simply, “Creativity is just connecting things.” And Lisa Marie is emblematic of that in that she has this work that she does but she’s also open to collaboration in a way that is effective and really useful and willing to make the connections amongst her work and the work of a larger vision. And really that is what we’re trying to do amidst this whole festival, is just connect people, connect communities, connect art and science, and look to find those interconnections of all those things together. One of the, like, physical ways that’s represented in this festival is the new mural that now lives on the side of our building, and that mural, called Innovation Lights the Way, was created by Sammy Kovnat and Maria Roman. It uses the style of collage to sort of weave together traditions within South Philadelphia, communities that live in South Philadelphia, and innovation at the forefront of both art and science. So one of the programs in the festival, the virtual experience of the festival, is like a deep dive into understanding their mural process and the imagery that lives within that. A couple other things I’ll just name, as Raina mentioned, the Da Vinci Derby, a live stream competition for awards in speed and creativity; that is also going to be play-by-play announced by Leslie Gudel, who is a veteran Philadelphia sportscaster, and Bresslergroup product engineer Leroy Sibanda. So, again, even the announcers for that event are pulling from different sectors, different backgrounds, and sort of connecting those worlds here. Let’s see, the biggest and most comprehensive engagement piece of the festival is called The Hive, and of course we pulled that name from looking at the word ‘archive’ and wanted to find a way to make that a little bit more active and engaging and contemporary in a way. So, again, we’re reinventing the archive here, and this is all, of course, our online archive of interactive video, science, and art experiences. And we have things like the Dollar Store Derby from Fun Science Demos, which is a program run by Temple University’s College of Science and Technology, and they show you how to visit a dollar store and grab a bunch of items and make your own derby race at home. We have Insectarium & Butterfly Pavilion showcasing living arthropod collection and insects like scorpions and spiders and different things that sort of look at anatomy through insects. More things for families, like crafting paper lanterns with artist Juan Tang Hon, where you can learn to make a paper lantern at home just using scissors, paper, and glue. We are also excited to further the great success of TrailOff, that they had in the Philadelphia Fringe Fest this year. We are also continuing to boast TrailOff, which really combines art, nature, technology, and storytelling, and really looking at both, like, how the nature interacts with the technology inside of that experience. And then we have a ton of astronomy programming as well; there’s one class you can take where you can learn to look at the night sky as well as sketch the moon’s craters, all in like a socially-distanced setting amongst friends. So there’s a lot of different ways, both virtually and physically, to come together with people through art and science experiences. And, as we were just talking before, this whole exhibition with Lisa Marie Patzer is one of five exhibitions you can experience. If anyone lives in South Philadelphia, we have a really fun, outdoor exhibition at Palumbo Park, right on 8th and Catherine; it’s called Exquisite Copes, sorry, Exquisite Copse. Sorry, I should know how to say our own show. ‘Copse’ is referring to a grouping of trees. So again, it’s about nature coming together to, sort of, hold this art exhibition in its space. So again, I can go on forever. There’s a ton of content. Most of it is available virtually, starting October 22nd, and some exhibitions you can see in-person this Sunday.
Raina: Yeah, I continue to say there’s so much to dive into. I will definitely highlight again for our audiences; TrailOff launched about midway through the Fringe Festival this year, and so the app will be live and running for at least the next year, and we’re excited to kind of see it jump to Da Vinci Fest and be another awesome way for you to interact with that technology and art mixture. Also, just to highlight again, the Everyday Genius program, one of the things that really struck me about that was, you know, there’s so many people who are like lauded as geniuses in the tech world or in the art world and whatnot, and the ability to highlight so many people who may not have nominated themselves but someone really values their insights and thinks that, you know, what they are doing is so valuable to their community or to them personally. I think that’s been such a really awesome program, so I definitely encourage everyone to check out all of the exhibits and Everyday Genius as well. One thing that I would love to also chat a little bit more about, because obviously this festival was supposed to be in person entirely, block party style, open to the public, and you know, packed crowds. And I’d love to just hear from you a little bit more about how that shift happened, you know, when the pandemic hit Philadelphia, and what that process was of thinking about how things needed to be restructured and making the adjustment to what is now Da Vinci Fest Live.
Jarrod: So, yeah, as Raina said, of course we’ve been planning this festival for almost 18-19 months, and the one thing that we didn’t plan for was a global pandemic.
Raina: The one thing.
Jarrod: The one thing we didn’t plan for. And we were very stressed at first, like everyone was in early spring of this past year. And because it was a new festival, it was really a lot more confusing because we didn’t have any ground to shift off of. So not only were we creating this big block party, festival experience, but now we had to reimagine what that was without ever having done what we were originally planning to do. And we spent a lot of time discussing, “Do we just postpone for a year? What’re we actually investing our time and resources into?” I sort of feel ridiculous saying this but we really said, “What would Leonardo Da Vinci do in this moment?” Like, our festival is called Da Vinci Fest. It’s about community, innovation, and reimagining our world and connecting things. Faced with this dilemma, like, what do we do? So, of course we had many conversations we our members and board and funders, and no one had any answers at that time and didn’t give us any direction because no one knew what was happening. But we decided that we could control at that time, and our decision was like, “What do we know we can control in this environment?” And we knew that if we pivoted early enough, we could create an engaging and interesting virtual experience for the public based off of what we were already doing, but that meant that in May, we decided to basically to scrap our whole block party idea and reinvent this as a virtual experience, even before we knew, like, what was really going to happen. We could’ve been opened back up in the summer completely, and we would’ve had this virtual experience that really was going to be tough to sell because virtual stuff is still hard.
Raina: But I will say, I think it’s both hindsight and foresight, because even if things had reopened, there likely wouldn’t have been a vaccine, there likely would’ve been high risk people who don’t want to leave the house. It’s also the kind of thing where it’s like we don’t know where it was going, but the foresight to say this is not going away fast I think was really important.
Jarrod: Yeah I agree with that. And I’m remembering now that, like, actually one of the biggest determining factors for us was we were forced to have a community mural meeting…online. And this was literally as the pandemic was unfolding. We were supposed to meet, as a neighborhood, and talk about designs for our new mural. And we were working with Mural Arts, who also has never dealt with the situation. And what turned out to be a community meeting where, in-person, we may have got like 20-25 people to show up, we had almost 90 people in a Zoom room, talking about the designs. And then because the voting took place online, we had over 900 people vote for what mural they wanted, whereas in-person we might have had 100-150 votes. So we really saw this as a way to connect with audiences even beyond what we imagined at first, and we’ll see how that plays out over the next month, but that was our intuition at that time was there’s an opportunity here. And some smart businessman said something about never wasting, like, a crisis, and I think that’s what we did a little bit.
Raina: Yes, sorry, I think that quote is certainly…I can think of all of the many applications of that quote which is why I chuckle. I think this was definitely one of the more altruistic ones, and I’m glad that Da Vinci Fest took that turn. Yeah, I agree. I think that this has been such a great pivot to see. And I think you guys, only because I was in part of the planning process, I think you guys actually made the pivot, like the commitment that everything’s going to be so digital before, like, we had made that commitment for the Fringe Festival, and I was like, “Oo! Okay! Alright! Things are serious!” And so, you know, that was something that was really great for me to see as well. And so that means that you had the chance, you know, to bring in the professional filming capabilities and to really, like, ‘up the game’ of this, knowing this is what it’s going to be, and so we’re just going to make this the best it possibly can be.
Jarrod: Yeah, so it’s like you have to commit to a direction in order to deepen that. Otherwise, if you’re a little bit in the gray area, it’s really hard to deepen that work, I think.
Raina: Yeah. Well, just as we, you know, start to wrap up, Lisa, I would love to hear from you, particularly from both an artist and archivist perspective, one of the questions we love to ask our artists is about what your highbrow and lowbrow inspirations are? So, you know, whatever it is that you consider to be ‘high art’, ‘high esteem’ kind of inspiration and what you consider to be that trashy thing that you’re just really motivated by. So I would love to hear, in your work, what are the things that really get your gears going?
Lisa: That’s a great question. Yeah, there are so many things that inspire me. Most recently—I’m just going to go with what I most recently saw that was so inspiring—I was able, because of technology actually, during the pandemic, with all of the live webcast, I was able to watch an interview with William Kentridge. He’s a, you know, he lives in South Africa and is an amazing animator, drawer. He does these really large productions with theatre companies. And I’ve been, you know, kind of following his work for a really long time but I’ve never been able to see him speak and, for the first time, he was willing to do a live broadcast from his studio. So not only was I able to see him talk but I was also able to see his studio space, and he showed this amazing piece. I don’t know what the title was but it was like this animation he made about a lot of the racial injustice that’s come to light in the last year, using animation and a book, like a physical, really old, antique book that he painted. He directly painted onto the pages, like an animation. It was just amazing, amazing! So I would consider that the highbrow inspiration. And then, in terms of lowbrow, I am actually really inspired by a lot of street art which, some of it is really well-done and, in some ways, could be considered highbrow, I suppose, these days. Yeah, I just, I really like it when people, artists are willing to move beyond the gallery space and to, you know, put their work into contexts that were not traditionally thought of where we go to see art, which is actually one of the things I love about the Fringe Fest is how, you know, historically, it’s been about breaking down those barriers. So yeah, those are my examples.
Raina: Yeah, no, I love both of those. And Jarrod, how can our listeners support the Da Vinci Art Alliance?
Jarrod: So the best thing you can do is, on October 22nd at 6:30PM, you can join us for our live stream, where you can get a sampling of all the festival programs as well as find out who wins the Da Vinci Derby in speed and creativity competitions. I will also expose Raina one more time and say that she has an entrance into the Da Vinci Derby, so if you are a fan of the marketing for the Fringe Festival, which is brilliant, now you can see how well the Fringe Festival marketing team races a car as well.
Raina: I will say, there is nothing rigged. I feel like I can confidently say I am not the overall winner of the race. I have not swayed anything in my favor. I did complain after seeing the race. I was like, “I feel like, you know, uh…” But no. Yes, you can definitely see me in the derby, or see my car. And I will just give a shoutout, because why not; I have a number of Girl Scouts who are participating in the Da Vinci Derby, so I’m very excited for all of their cars to be racing as well, because they are so creative and there’s so many cars in there that look amazing, whether they win or not
Jarrod: Yes, agreed.
Raina: Awesome. Well, thank you both so much for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe. Make sure to follow FringeArts as well as the Da Vinci Art Alliance on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also download the FringeArts app and find out more about Da Vinci Fest Live and how you can participate by visiting davincifest.org.