Dutch artists Esther Polak and Ivar van Bekkum are visiting Philadelphia for the first time. Instead of using maps to find a good restaurant or learn the history of an old building, the couple from The Netherlands are creating their own subjective map of the city.
Van Bekkum wired himself with a microphone to record his own free-associative memories and emotions while wandering through the Italian Market in South Philadelphia. Polak, his wife, silently provoked his thoughts via hand-written questions on cards, so as not to interrupt the recorded monologue.
All the while, he wore a GPS device to electronically track his movements.
“When we walked along the vegetable market, it’s really like the vegetable market at the house in Amsterdam. It feels really familiar,” said van Bekkum. “I saw small pots of basil. We have a deck here in Philadelphia and I have a garden in Amsterdam. I want plants on my deck. It evokes a stairway to more memories and thoughts.”
Van Bekkum and Polak will spend the next six months collecting impressionistic responses to Philadelphia — the smell of basil, the sound of live chickens for sale in a Ninth Street storefront, the sight of diamond-cut ice cubes melting into tubs of fresh fish — and assembling a network of volunteers to do the same. The end result, “250 Miles Crossing Philadelphia,” will be an animated Google Earth map, with sound, tracing emotional walking routes through Philadelphia.
Or, at least, it might be.
What exactly the artists are going to do for the next six months is unclear, as is the end result.