Cults, Caves and Moldy Skeletons:
The Site-Specific Art of Hidden Philly

July 2, 2013 | Tod Seelie

In 1914, the fraternal society Knights of Pythias would meet in Philadelphia’s Hathorne Hall. After being left vacant for many years, it was recently taken over by the New York artist collective Rabid Hands for the Hidden City Festival. Its mysterious fraternal past inspired a building-wide art installation based heavily on the imagined history of another secret society. Knights of Pythagoras is part sculpture, part immersive experience, part fiction — illustrated by cult leader portraits, peeling walls, rooms filled with mysterious totems, and strange light that defines the space. If you are a tenacious explorer you might discover the remnants of past rituals hidden in a dark room with glitter, lots of glitter. Glitter gets everywhere.

If you venture across the city to the banks of the Delaware River, you might encounter truly creepy skeletons comprised of sticks and mold lurking in the long-forgotten bunkers of the High Battery, which dates to the 1870s. Artists Ben Neiditz and Zach Webber scavenged from years of washed-up wood and refuse on the river bank for their woodland-squatters meets mysterious-happenings installations. Meanwhile, at Camp Little Hope’s Bibotorium you can examine three different approaches to the purpose of a boat, including filtering and serving drinks inside the Fairmouth Water Works. Not far away the grand Germantown Town Hall opens it’s rusty doors to the public, providing a place for meetings about the future of the neighborhood and allowing long views of its impressive rotunda.

The idea of this same festival happening in New York is mildly laughable, the sheer amount of money and connections required would quickly turn it into a fool’s folly. In Philadelphia however, it just requires the persistence that leads to permission. Which is not to say that cool events don’t happen in off-limits spaces in New York, but the amount of ingenuity, secrecy and risk required is not for the faint of heart.

(Photos: Tod Seelie/ANIMALNewYork)