The Wheels on the Bus

Mary Mehelic, Crane Arts, Philadelphia, PA

January-March 2016


On a cold night in February, I found myself walking down Thompson Street in a corduroy dress with sequined sleeves.  I had donated an artwork to a charity auction for Inliquid, and I walked with my sister to attend the benefit with a comp ticket saved in my phone, to see the art and to talk with strangers and friends.  On my way inside the Crane Building, I saw something that was basically the last thing I ever would have expected to see in front of such a place.  Is that a Donald Trump bus?  Parked outside of an art exhibit in Philly, of all places?

The disbelief lasted until I saw a slogan on the side of the bus that read ‘make fruit punch great again,’ and in that moment I realized a) this is an art project and b) using a Donald Trump bus as material in said art project is absolute genius.  The project is the result of a collaboration of artists called t.Rutt that utilize the bus in subversive projects, offering a political commentary that is especially relevant in the chaos of the presidential election.  The piece perfectly captures the various tensions at play in such a turbulent political display, and the opposing feelings you experience while watching a debate or reading an article about whatever crazy thing that happened that week.  At times the projects embrace humor, and maybe part of you wants to laugh at the Trump bus, but then another part of you recognizes that the campaign really isn’t funny, at exactly the same time.

Mary Mihelic is one of the participating artists in the Trump travelling project, and Mihelic’s work was also featured in a show of drawings and installation on display inside Crane Arts during the same three-month period.  Mihelic’s drawing exhibition, entitled 53 Running Girls, features a series of large scale drawings on paper that are tacked directly onto the wall.  The pieces almost function like posters due to this presentation, lacking frames entirely except for a few scraps of black paper that hang from the wall precariously, and in moments fall completely to the floor.  The drawings feature gestural representations of figures in motion, represented in colored lines in a variety of media, surrounding fading bits of images and fragments of words.

Are the girls running to something, or from something?  It is hard to tell at first glance.  Before reading any of the contextual information that accompanied the pieces I dearly wanted the running to be an expression of freedom, a story ending in empowerment, though the subject matter at play is far more sobering.  The show is covered with notes, some handwritten on lined paper torn from a notebook, informing the viewer that the running girls depicted here ran to escape a kidnapping at their school in Nigeria, and they are still missing two years later.  The pieces depicting them are not portraits—you can’t see any of the faces, their speed is too great, and the background surrounding the gestural figures is absent of suggestions of landscape or architecture.

It was an emotive show, heavy in subject matter, but offering important reflections.  The notebook motif recurs throughout 53 Running Girls, reminiscent of school supplies but also as a means for documenting.  This project seeks to freeze a moment in time, to prevent you from maneuvering away from these stories with the click of a mouse or a swipe on a smart phone screen.  Yet ultimately both installations are transient, on the move and designed to be that way, hurtling towards a future that is unknown and unstable.