Toynbee Idea

By Dan McCormick

This past Friday I went to an art show/film screening at Gallery 309 in Old City.  The film was a documentary called Resurrect Dead, about the Toynbee Tiles in Philadelphia and other cities around the eastern United States, and it was accompanied by a showing of visual art from one of the documentarians, Justin Duerr.  It was really great!

The Toynbee Tiles are embedded into the streets of Philadelphia, and many other cities, showing this message (or a variant of it): “Toynbee Idea – In Kubrick’s 2001 – Resurrect Dead – On Planet Jupiter.”  These tiles first started appearing in the early 80s in Philadelphia, and they showed up in Boston, Washington D.C., New York, Baltimore, and some cities farther west, as well as a few scattered cities in South America.  New tiles appear occasionally.  Nobody is certain who made them, or continues to make them.  The message seems to reference the work of British historian Arnold Toynbee and the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick.

Resurrect Dead shows three men, including Duerr, who attempt to trace the history of the tiles back to the original “tiler.”  The investigation takes them from the files of old newspapers to a street in South Philadelphia to a short-wave radio convention.  The team eventually settles on a hypothesis, but decides to stop the investigation short of seeking out their suspect.  It was really cool to watch the investigation unfold, and the story has a lot of really human elements to it—obsession, empathy, and a search for knowledge.

Duerr and the film’s director John Foy held a brief Q&A session afterwards, and they talked about how much time and effort went into the film, as well as their own theories about what the “tiler” intended the tiles to mean.  Plus, Duerr’s artwork was very cool.  It was a mixture of large, detailed marker drawings and an extended poetic narrative written in bits overtop the images.  Pretty heady stuff.

And yes, the semester is wrapping up quickly for me!  I have only two weeks left at my internship, and soon I will have to finish up and turn in my final portfolio, demonstrating what I’ve learned at work and in class.  I will be busy!

Oh, also, the fountain is LOVE Park is up and running!  Hooray, spring is here!

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About The Philadelphia Center

The Philadelphia Center offers undergraduate students the opportunity to thrive through experiential education with PHL:EXP, the Philly Off-Campus Experience. Each term we help students secure professional, accredited internships and independent housing throughout the vibrant and diverse city of Philadelphia. Students explore career paths through real-world applications and rigorous, seminar-style courses. We provide our students with the opportunity to gain independence while learning in a safe and supportive environment. Our students leave Philadelphia with a strong sense of their abilities, social and professional aspirations, and a plan for their future.

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