At first, everything in this aggressively chipper show is too much. A dozen deflated smiley face mylar balloons bunched together like a blanket hang on one wall; the gallery's bay window houses glittery dinosaur, robot, and hot dog costumes made of cardboard. Elsewhere there are hot-glued candy figures, cardboard dioramas and cardboard trash trucks, a crepe paper curtain. About two thousand peanuts. Glitter. A lot of beans. The show documents and celebrates the friendship between a clown-like character named Soxx (performed by the artist Jenny Drumgoole) and sanitation workers of Philadelphia over the past couple of years.
(Bunch of disclosures here: Platform did a gallery swap with the Philadelphia-based artist-run space Little Berlin, who curated the show. Platform, which is housing the show, is run by my friends Lydia Pettit and Abigail Parrish. A couple members of LB crashed on my couch one night because Lydia, who's also my housemate, offered.)
A construction-paper guide to the works in the show—each section is indicated by a glittery digit on the wall—is located at the first station, along with the inspiration for the whole performance: a how-to craft book called "Make and Do," with examples of the projects all over the gallery, including a character named Peter Peanut, who hangs from strings all over the space. The highfalutin term for these objects would be "artifacts from a performance," and here that feels disingenuous, too serious of a tone—but they do help document Soxx's advocacy for the workers.
On the other side of the crepe paper curtain, videos help us piece together this whole thing. Wearing crayon makeup and clad in a turquoise tulle dress (or wearing a pizza costume made of cardboard), Soxx runs around Philly, talking to and hugging trash collectors and giving them bagged lunches and throwing them surprise parties (called Happy Trash Day; there's a replica of one such set-up in the gallery) and telling them (and us) how much she appreciates them. It's silly and a bit obnoxious, but in between all of that we learn about the sanitation workers' struggles. In one video, Soxx interviews Mr. Tony, who explains that they haven't gotten a raise in five years, though they've fought for it. And they don't get hazard pay for "picking up things that could destroy your life." Learning about all of this prompted Soxx to run for mayor, in 2015, because "it's the mayor that can change that," she said. She raised money, too, by making videos of herself eating pudding or squishing pickles or whispering a script for people, for five dollars each.
Politics is full of pandering clowns, as we know especially from this current presidential campaign season, and then here's someone who looks funny but actually wants to help. It's doubtful that anyone (including Soxx) truly expected a write-in candidate to win an election, but the whole idea seems to be an attempt to make the workers' plight more visible. There are more effective ways to give a platform to workers, sure, but hey: a bunch of sanitation workers in Philly got free pizza from silly people in cardboard costumes. Happy Trash Day, then, is a rupture of the ordinary, a thing that makes the everyday more bearable.
"Make and Do" Jenny Drumgoole, presented by Little Berlin at Platform Gallery through March 27