Our Architecture Did This To Us...

Neo-Romanticism was partly created by Philadelphia’s architecture. What this means, in practice, is that all of us, especially Abby and I, were subconsciously attuned to the architectural level of Philadelphia as a city, and had spaces in our brains geared to create art out of processes of absorption, both by osmosis and in our conscious appreciation of what in Philadelphia architecture is sublime. As to Neo-Romanticism being, in a generalized way, about the spectral, the haunting/haunted, or the apparitional— Philadelphia architecture, from City Hall to the PMA to (even) the Liberty Place Towers and the PSFS Building in Center City, not to mention the houses and row-homes in West Philly and Fayette Street in Conshohocken, all have a sense of being channeled from an ethereal place, where elaborate maze-like structures wind into unexpected corners and something (a specter, an apparition) is always hiding in the maze of the buildings which you did not notice before. Neo-Romanticism channels and refines the same energies, as imposed on us by the architecture, which also has to do, as Neo-Romanticism does, with multiple meanings and complexity. As a work of architecture, what Philadelphia City Hall (or PMA, or Fayette Street) means can never be pinpointed simply or briefly. Complications in architectural exegesis lead to other complications, issues create and develop other issues, and the whole process Neo-Romanticism channels is an infinite string of tangents, beginning with the work of art out of the architecture. The tangents, which express these multiple meanings, can also be thought of as specters or apparitions. The development of perceptive powers, in these Philadelphia contexts, also require an acknowledgement of the omnipresence of phenomenology as an issue— what is inside and outside of our minds, and what is the nature of raw consciousness itself. Philadelphia architecture, and Neo-Romanticism, do not give perceptive viewers the option of closing interpretive vistas with simplicity and singularity that much.

Because our work was in many ways channeled from a city’s architecture, which can signify (among other things) a past, or the past, Neo-Romanticism’s relation to temporality, and how aesthetic pasts may impinge upon the present, is a complex tangent as usual. Because English Romanticism and French Neo-Classicism loom large for us, complicating the summons to action from Philadelphia’s varied, often baroque architecture, as we have created our body of work, we have worked out of weird temporality, or kinds of “time warps” (leading, it must be said, to some Rocky Horror-ish reactions to our work), which make the past an apparitional issue which creates tangents out of us and our endeavors. The phenomenological reaction to temporality— how our consciousness registers time passing, or not passing— is thus steeped in a Solid World sense that engagement with the aesthetic creates universes and dimensions in which new kinds of temporality may be experienced; and this sense, of odd time dimensions, is right there in the Philly streets (and in Conshohocken), as receptive psyches are imposed on by buildings which still emanate their own levels of consciousness, of being-in-the-world. The meaning of space, and a sense of phenomenological engagement which registers that space inside and outside of the mind offer opportunities for mirroring or “mirrored” situations to develop, makes it so that Neo-Romanticism has many levels of richness built into it from being hewn out of something already Solid. Do cities with the best architecture often produce the best art? Whatever brain space we worked out of, with Romanticism and Neo-Classicism bargaining a deal with architectural Philadelphia, and also with a good amount of general engagement with recent developments in the art-world (and I include under the “art” aegis literature as well), we began a process of creating for whatever audience was there the spectral, apparitional world which was demanded of us, and with inhering all the multiple meanings and tangential significations possible. That, I will assert, was always what was waiting to develop as serious art in Philadelphia, if it bothered to happen, which it now has. If some audiences used to singularity are wondering why we, as the Neo-Romantics, are so defiantly multiple all the time, now you know the reason: our architecture did this to us. An artist who is not susceptible to be imposed on by the sublime, when and where it exists, is not an artist. Architectural Philadelphia has been looking for apt conduits for a hundred years to answer its siren call, and we just happened to be there. The larger question remains: once other cities and art-worlds have stepped into the maze, grasped the spectral and the apparitional, gleaned the right multiple meanings, what will the world then bother to make of us, and us of them?