Steve Weinik

A series of murals asks rail commuters to "think about this space that they hurtle through every day."

Murals are often specifically designed to stop busy city residents in their tracks, forcing them to pause and, for a change, really take in their surroundings. Spread out along five miles of rail corridor, the latest project from the City of Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program, by Berlin-based artist Katharina Grosse, is intended to do just the opposite.

Over the past two weeks, Grosse has used bright colors to transform seven sites between downtown's 30th Street Station and North Philadelphia Station. Using the train as a central vehicle, psychylustro is meant to be seen in motion.

This stretch of track into downtown sees 34,000 riders every day, including travelers heading to and from New York on Amtrak plus commuters on two lines of SEPTA Regional Rail and one New Jersey Transit line with service to Atlantic City.* The installation, curator Liz Thomas says, is intended "an experience that asks people to think about this space that they hurtle through every day." The moving trains allowed Grosse to play with a wider number of variables: the viewer's perspective will change based on which direction they're traveling, how fast the train is going, and which track the train is using. The goal, Thomas says, is to create "a beautiful disruption into a daily routine."

The view from inside a moving train.

The installation also asks travelers to think more critically about the history of this stretch of Philadelphia, which includes sections of downtown and huge swathes of formerly industrial neighborhoods. The sites include the sides of an occupied office building, an old railroad trestle, and an abandoned warehouse, which once housed a textile factory but now has trees growing up through its collapsed roof. The brilliant colors -- vibrant whites and oranges on that warehouse side -- draw attention to these contrasting pieces of Philadelphia's past.

Grosse and her team will finish the final installation at the end of this week. Over the next few nights, they'll put the final touches on a stretch of dangerous track where it's only safe to work during the brief hours of post-midnight lull when no trains rush past. Once installation is complete, viewers will be able to get more information on the project through special cards placed in Amtrak seats and a dial-in line that will give more information about what they're seeing.

A train moves past the side of the warehouse.

Over the next months and years, what they're seeing will almost certainly change. Grosse and her team, which included two German assistants and six Pennsylvania artists who have worked with Mural Arts before, used indoor paint without any sealants to protect them from the elements. The hot pink will disappear first, washing off the dirt and trees on which it's painted, while the bright orange could linger much longer on the old textile warehouse.

This peeling, fading paint will offer just another way, Thomas says, that viewers will be able to reflect even further on the changing nature of the neighborhoods along Philadelphia's rail lines. The sights you see out the train window might seem monotonous, but there's real variety there: nature and buildings, land owned by the railway and private property, blocks on the rebound and ones in disrepair. Not all sites they had originally wanted worked out, and the sites they have used will continue to change, as will the way visitors and neighbors react. "The beautiful thing about working in public is that you’re working in public," says Thomas. Psychylustro's ethos, then, drives home that "you can’t control the world."

Below, see more of the process and installations:

\

All images by Steve Weinik for the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

*Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the New Jersey Transit line serves Trenton. It serves Atlantic City.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Equity

    The Life and Death of an American Tent City

    Over a period of seven months, a vast temporary facility built to hold migrant children emerged in the Texas border town of Tornillo. And now, it’s almost gone.

  2. An archived Geocities family homepage showing a green cottage against a background of fall leaves.
    Life

    How Geocities Created the Internet’s First Suburbs

    In the 1990s, AOL and Netscape got Americans onto the web, but it was Geocities—with its suburban-style “neighborhoods”—that made them feel at home.

  3. A man carrying a young boy on his shoulders amid the fall foliage of New York's Central Park.
    Life

    Which U.S. Cities Have the Most Families With Kids?

    Spoiler alert: It’s simply not the case that families with kids have disappeared from urban America.

  4. Life

    The ‘Marie Kondo Effect’ Comes at a Weird Time for Thrift Stores

    Netflix’s hit show has everyone tidying up, but that's not the only reason second-hand stores are being flooded with donations.

  5. A photo of a DART light rail train in Dallas, Texas.
    Transportation

    What Cities Are Getting Wrong About Public Transportation

    Cities could get more people walking, biking, and riding transit, according to a new report, if they just know where to look for improvement.