Appearing like alien inscriptions burned into city streets, they just seemed to arrive out of nowhere, in the still of the night. The images are cryptic—they could be designs for astral exploration or tools to cure conditions we can only imagine. These coded hieroglyphics seem as if they’ve been very intentionally left for only the most sentient of earth’s creatures who may be able to comprehend their true meanings.
When last we encountered the House of Hades, six years ago, it was in the form of a series of similar artworks that could be fairly described as tributes or homage to Toynbee Tiles. [Newcomers to this topic: click those links for background.] The pieces used the same graphic language as the Toynbee originals: big block letters with clear—if bizarre—messaging that reads like paranoid prophesy of dystopia.
One man vs. American media in society, reads a tile; Media must be reduced to ash, another. One even goes as far as to name its inspiration: The resurrection of Toynbee’s idea in society.
Those pieces, all including the date 2012 were installed on and around Blvd. of the Allies, Downtown, in 2017. A cursory look around the Internet shows The House of Hades deploying similar pieces in a raft of American cities: Philadelphia, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Richmond, to name a few.
Unless your author is slipping—and that is entirely likely—The House of Hades left Pittsburgh’s streets alone for the next five years.
Starting in the summer of 2022, though, new Toybee-like tiles began appearing throughout the city—Bloomfield, Oakland, Lawrenceville, and especially Downtown. These new cut-up mosaic street pieces are in the same medium as House of Hades’ 2017 deployment, but with an entirely different visual style. We don’t know these are from the same person or people—heck, we don’t know anything about these folks!—but the correlation and HOH attribution suggest our old friend is back in town.
I don’t know what you did with your pandemic, but it feels like The House of Hades spent the last couple years working on a brand new bag. These pieces avoid any scorn of American media by abandoning text entirely (aside each tile’s HOH inscription). Instead, the tiles are more pure art: constructivist assemblages of colored blocks and metric lines, maze-like interlocking shapes and jumbled forms like tall stacks of books on a shaky table. They may be read as floor plans to space housing or profile views of history, mid-excavation. Rorschach-like, one can probably read just about anything into these designs depending on where the mind is inclined to wander.
And wander it shall as we stare deeply into these fascinating artifacts and dream of the next contact from beyond.
Special thanks to Orbit reader Ivan Russell for his tips on a couple of the Downtown tiles.