Philadelphia Emerging Artist Matthew Woolfrey Debuts “The Spectral Oracle” At The PEX Summer Festival

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Enveloped by the woods, an art installation by Matthew Woolfrey, called The Spectral Oracle (made possible by a grant from The Philadelphia Experiment) captivated the attention of festival attendees and transformed them by participation into collaborative artists.

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It was without question the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had, to watch people embrace that concept; I feel connected to each person who contributed there and my new wish is to present the oracle at as many opportunities as possible.

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The second annual PEX Summer Festival was a huge success! People from all facets of life gathered in Darlington, Maryland over Independence Weekend for a celebration of art, music, dance and nature in the spirit of love and freedom hosted by The Philadelphia Experiment.

Enveloped by the woods, an art installation by Matthew Woolfrey, called The Spectral Oracle (made possible by a grant from The Philadelphia Experiment) captivated the attention of festival attendees and transformed them by participation into collaborative artists. Starting near the pathway to the effigy by the lake, the first of five signs in a clearing through the woods toward the piece simply asked viewers to, “free your heart from hatred.” These five signs, lit by motion sensor-activated lights at night and flanked by large colorful satin curtains by day, invoked a serene and contemplative journey toward the heart of the piece. The four succeeding signs read, “free your mind from worries,” “live simply,” “give more,” and “expect less.”

During the day, ten paintings on salvaged windows depicted animal “spirit guides” who served as the mediators between the concept of speaking a prayer or wish to the universe and feeling present and grounded as an integral and important part of our planet. Two reptiles, two insects, two fish, two fowl and two mammals (five on either side of the altar) encouraged thought and introspection on topics such as relationships, community, courage, direction and purpose. Painted on windows, Matt’s concept encouraged a kind of therapy that comes from introspection. More than that, though, the ultimate purpose of the journey—to recognize and then give a voice to our heart’s concerns and wishes—was completed upon approaching the altar itself.

According to the artist, the original intention of the piece was to recreate an experience he’d had as a child walking into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C. with his Aunt and there lighting a candle for a friend of the family who had been ill and suffering for many years. Although he was not raised Catholic, there was a reverence in that moment that he wanted to recreate for participants of any denomination or spiritual persuasion. With that in mind, the oracle is composed of two main parts: a prayer table to kneel at and an altar with twenty-seven lights (twenty-one of them interactive) recreating the concept of a votive altar in a cathedral.

Surrounding the table were seven jars with hand dyed tags as well as a jar with pens and markers. As a participant approached the oracle they were instructed to kneel on a pillow at the prayer table and select a color tag. After writing whatever was in their heart on the tag, they would then attach the message somewhere on the altar. Some people wrote letters to family members who had passed away. Others wrote messages of hope and gratitude. A few wrote messages to release their worries or anxiety. One person even spoke up for Kermit The Frog asking, “Why isn’t it easy [bein’] green?”

After hanging the tag, the newly born collaborative artist was instructed to select the corresponding timer switch controlling three CFL colorful light bulbs in the spectrum atop the oracle and turn it to engage the light for up to thirty minutes signifying that they had given their prayer a voice. On Saturday evening, the tags were collected at dusk and burnt with the effigy, a truly spiritual moment for those who had participated.

According to Matt, he was surprised to find that people continued to use the piece after the burn as that was originally intended to be the climax of the installation. People’s response after the burn, the continued respect for the integrity of the oracle, “humbled” him and served as inspiration to continue showcasing the work for as long as people feel compelled to participate. Matt recalls the highlight of his week: “The first night I finished setting up the sensors for the signage, I walked to the opposite side of the path by the first sign and watched in the early hours of the morning as people heading in one direction stopped abruptly as the sign went off, changed course and then proceeded to interact with the art. It was without question the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had, to watch people embrace that concept; I feel connected to each person who contributed there and my new wish is to present the oracle at as many opportunities as possible.”

Already that wish is coming true. PEX graciously invited The Spectral Oracle to accompany them to Camp Bisco this past weekend, July 15-17, for another festival in upstate New York. Matt hopes to exhibit the work in other places along the east coast by partnering with local charities or community based organizations to present the work. He said that the overwhelming response he received from festival attendees made him realize that his personal spiritual journey depicted in this work is seemingly having a significant impact on those who view and interact with it.

For more information about this piece you can visit the following links:
The Spectral Oracle Group on Facebook (please join!): http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=100604826659718&ref=ts
Artist Matthew Woolfrey: http://www.matthewwoolfrey.com
PEX: http://www.thephiladelphiaexperiment.org
Camp Bisco: http://www.campbisco.net

Matthew Woolfrey is an emerging Philadelphia artist. His trademark is the interactive nature of his work. He is also well known on YouTube where his original songs routinely receive thousands of views. For more information go to http://www.matthewwoolfrey.com.

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