Philadelphia

The Atlas of Tomorrow

We tell ourselves strange stories. Stories like I am not good enough or I will never be understood. We hear these words in the private chatter, the idiot hum in our heads. This voice is a village crowded with heroes and cowards, a chorus of teachers, dreamers, and thieves fighting for our attention and telling us we who are. But sometimes we catch a glimpse of who we might become. Perhaps it’s a rogue thought in the shower or a shiver of déjà vu on the sidewalk, but for a moment our mental weather clears and the world makes some kind of sense.

They call this synchronicity, when our insides meet the outside in a meaningful way. You might call it gut sense or intuition, but you know when it happens. It’s encoded in the hairs on your neck, the flutter in your nerves, and it’s been within you all along, a deep prehistoric knowledge that occasionally breaks to the surface before disappearing beneath the next wave of chatter.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Photo by Belinda Kanpetch

Conceived by Candy Chang, The Atlas of Tomorrow is an interactive mural in Philadelphia that invites passersby to consider a dilemma in their lives, spin the dial, and consult a fable inspired by the I Ching, the ancient Chinese text that examines the inevitability of change. James A. Reeves wrote sixty-four short stories that blend the lessons of the I Ching with classic archetypes that highlight the different personalities we carry within us. The result is a collection of dispatches from ‘the town in our head’ that introduces a surreal world of endless winters, murderous sunflowers, and rotting cars to describe familiar anxieties and passions. By reflecting upon these archetypes, we might gain new perspective on the role we play in our relationships with others, as well as our relationship with ourselves.

A collaboration with the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services, and Broad Street Ministry, the Atlas of Tomorrow “taps into the spiritual and encourages pedestrians to take a philosophical pause, as each fable’s archetypes highlight our common humanity.” (Public Art Review) The project was featured in the exhibition By the People: Designing a Better America at Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, 2016-2017.

Artwork by Candy Chang. Stories by James A. Reeves. Philadelphia, 2016. Located on South Street one block east of Broad Street. 34′ w x 32′ h. Acrylic, polytab fabric, aluminum, stainless steel, high-density polyethylene.

Interactive dial design and fabrication by New American Public Art. Project management by Dave Kyu, Laure Biron, Evan Thornburg, and Jessica Lewis-Turner. Installation assistance by James Shuster, James Burns, Kien Nguyen, and Adam Alli.