Bus Stop Boutique
When Alden Blyth speaks about his recent two-week trip to Ethiopia, he does so very precisely, as if to say that he's fully aware that it may look like nothing more than spring break for the Harper's set.
"I've been interested in traveling to countries that haven't been influenced by McDonald's or Starbucks. Places that are more culturally pure than here," he says. "No, not pure. Isolated."
Blyth, a local architect who specializes in low-income, inner-city design, shot photographs of the Ethiopians he met in towns, atop mountains and at religious ceremonies for "People of Ethiopia." Being an infrequent photographer, Blyth doesn't dazzle with composition, but with what he brings to the darkroom as a design connoisseur. His eye is drawn to expressive shelter, patterns, stripes and color. Children painted head-to-toe like zebras, headdresses that would give Lady Gaga culture shock, and eclectic holy places situated within deep valleys.
Ethiopia, it turns out, was just the type of culturally heterogeneous muse he was looking for. "The way they build houses and dress and arrange villages there is so specific to their tribes," he says. "Villages just 50 miles apart look completely different from one another."
Because Blyth was so fixated on aesthetics, though, the people in his photographs often look unconnected to the man on the other end of the camera — a fact that gives the show an unreal, twice-removed tenor. This might also have to do with Blyth's abbreviated stay, which prevented him from truly befriending anyone, at least in the traditional sense.
"You get to interact with people only by taking their photographs," he says. Closing reception Fri., May 28, 5:30-8:30 p.m., free, 750 S. Fourth St., 215-627-2357, busstopboutique.com.
Crane Arts Building
What would the Internet look like in actual space and time, removed from its natural, Google-gentrified habitat? The Philly-based design studio GDloft explores this question in their piece for ".matrix," where 6,000 image search results are pinned to the overstimulating walls. The effect is awesomely terrifying, like peering into the pink insides of a hive mind, full of porn and President Obama and canonized celebrities. You won't be proud of what you see, but did you expect to be? Ends May 28, Crane Arts Building, 1400 N. American St., 215-232-3203, cranearts.com.
Institute of Contemporary Art
You may know Maira Kalman from "New Yorkistan," a brazen post-9/11 New Yorker cover mirroring Saul Steinberg's iconic illustration of an Earth reimagined as N.Y.C. "Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World)" (pictured), the first museum survey of Kalman's work, reveals that the artist's oeuvre is just as alternately biting, full of childlike wonder, and obsessed with New York as this famous piece. Fans will be thrilled to see lots of Kalman rarities in the exhibit, too, like photographs, textiles, installation and embroidery. Ends June 6, Institute of Contemporary Art, 118 S. 36th St., 215-898-7108, icaphila.org.