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Miguel Antonio Horn. Photographed by Samantha Laub for AL DÍA News. 
Miguel Antonio Horn. Photographed by Samantha Laub for AL DÍA News. 

ContraFuerte: Conceiving an Urban Sculpture

Miguel Antonio Horn, local artist with Colombian and Venezuelan roots, will be installing an innovative and contemporary sculpture interposed in the bridge…

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Twenty feet above the highly-concentrated tourist foot traffic and hustle bustle of the daily passerby are burly bronzed Atlantean men, welded knee-to-elbow to work shoulder-to-shoulder, keeping their bridge from thudding to the ground below forevermore… Or, at least beginning sometime in 2018.

This is the imagining of ContraFuerte in its pending physical culmination. Miguel Antonio Horn’s forthcoming sculpture for the “Percent for Art Program”, Philadelphia’s groundbreaking commitment to the public arts by obligating developers on the City’s land to dedicate one percent of the construction budget to commissioning and funding original pieces, will be architecturally innovative and historically significant.

Horn, of Colombian and Venezuelan descent, and with professional ties to contemporary Latin American art movements, joins Phillyrican artist Pepón Osorio as the second Latino to have a permanent public art installment in Philadelphia.

The last commissioned permanent public work for a Latino (Osorio’s I have a story to tell you… at Congreso de Latinos Unidos), was completed in 2003.

Although campaigns such as Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Monument Lab have provided a setting for publicly accessible displays of artwork created by Latinos with the purpose of inciting community dialogue- specifically by Michelle Angela Ortiz and Tania Bruguera -there have traditionally been few opportunities available for Latinos to erect sculptures or produce murals that mark the urban landscape and ingrain Philadelphia’s diverse visage in perpetuity.

Tokyo, London, Singapore, and Barcelona may be the cities that always come to mind when discussing hubs of burgeoning bohemian lifestyle and established artistic talent, but Philadelphia is unrivaled in its collection of impressive public art, with most having a civic or social significance that transcends aesthetic pleasure. To join the repertoire of creatives that have contributed to the city’s art history, which includes the celebrated Frederic Remington, Paul Manship, Leonard Baskin, Alexander Stirling Calder, Isaiah Zagar, and even Auguste Rodin, is prestigious in both the national and global art communities.

It’s an incredible tradition to be a part of. I am so honored. When I first got the commission, I was ecstatic. I have a picture of my daughter next to this piece, just standing, so I think it’ll be nice to have a narrative of my time here in Philadelphia and my legacy, which I can share with her, Horn considers.

ContraFuerte may have been a work-in-progress that began in 2015, and only just officially received the “okay” from The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority this September, but the iterations that will lead to the finalized result have existed and have been produced far before ContraFuerte became a cogent concept. Horn, since his time studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) and since working as an apprentice under the wing of accomplished Mexican visual artist Javier Marín in the borough of Roma in Mexico City for several years, has been fascinated with the human figure and the ways in which it is presented. Tired of the Western notion of how the human should be painted or molded, Horn has worked towards challenging the norm. One of the ways that he achieves this “reconfiguration” of the human form is by implementing technology in his sculpting methodology.

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ContraFuerte was heavily influenced and reliant on digital systems of data collection and scanning. Horn states that combining traditional processes of sculpting, welding, and bronze casting along with modern technology has enhanced his artwork by allowing him to work to scale, and to make pieces that are “convincingly fitting” for their setting:

With all of these roboticized processes, as an artist, you have to find a middle ground. Artists are doing this throughout the whole world, as so many programs with artificial intelligence are jeopardizing the role of the person in daily context. I mean, there are programs that can original screenplays, music, and even drive cars! I’m trying to find a place to fit back into our world, but also in the digital camp, but I’m still trying to figure it out, and putting that forward. 

Horn’s colossal sculpture, with human figures up to nine feet in length, will coincidentally be situated above the city’s epicenters of cultural exchange: Reading Terminal Market and the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which are situated at the crossroads between Chinatown and Center City.

ContraFuerte will be erected sometime in 2018, but the digital scannings, drawings, and maquettes related to the project, are for viewing and for sale at RACSO Gallery on East Passyunk until December 10th 2017.

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