May 01, 2008
Opening Reception for Artist Installations on Friday, May 9
Philadelphia, PA (May 1, 2008) – Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site welcomes new artists to its growing art installation program and continues to feature many of the visitors’ favorite installations. Eastern State Penitentiary began hosting art installations in 1995, with a groundbreaking show called “Prison Sentences: The Prison as Site/The Prison as Subject.” The historic site has continued to partner with artists to enrich the visitor experience ever since. Artists are chosen primarily for their ability to address Eastern State’s primary themes - including issues of crime and justice, architectural history, and the site’s fascinating past – with a memorable, thought-provoking approach.
The 2008 Art Installations include the following artists:
Johanna Inman and Anna Norton: Living Space (New for 2008)
This installation features a series of five videos of time-lapse photographs featuring the subtle changes of light and weather that occur at Eastern State Penitentiary. The locations chosen for the videos represent areas and architectural features common to the site, each with distinctive characteristics created by the structure itself as well as the effects of time. The artists have placed the videos inside of the cells to create an intimate and contemplative viewing. Johanna Inman says, “Ultimately, the images show ESP as a dynamic, active, and living space.”
The videos, captured between fall 2007 and spring 2008, reveal aspects of the space that are often neglected or hidden from the naked eye. The compressed intervals of time in the work reveal a simultaneous process of both growth and decay. “It is these continual changes that give life and breath to this place,” says Anna Norton.
Linda Brenner: Ghost Cats
Linda Brenner’s sculptures represent the colony of cats that took up residence on the prison grounds after the closing of the penitentiary in 1971. For 28 years, Dan McCloud came to the prison three times a week to care for and feed his family of 30 to 40 “jailhouse cats.” In 1993, the cats were trapped and neutered and returned to their home at Eastern State. The population dwindled and eventually died out. Dan himself died in 2002. Brenner’s white castings, modeled to reflect the physical body type of the animals from the original colony, represent the “ghosts” of his cats and were created in Dan McCloud’s memory. Alert visitors can find them scattered throughout the public areas of the prison.
Dayton Castleman: The End of the Tunnel
The End of the Tunnel consists of hundreds of feet of two-inch steel pipe tracing paths in and around Eastern State’s original seven cellblocks like giant red lines representing imagined escape routes. The pipes eventually emerge adjacent to Cellblock 4 and scale the penitentiary’s 30-foot high perimeter wall. These suggested “escape routes” draw the gaze momentarily toward the openings, conduits, patches of earth, and ultimately, the world beyond the walls that may have been the icons of hope for the inmates who desired freedom above all else.
William Cromar: GTMO
This cell is a recreation of a cell from Camp X-Ray, the now abandoned holding cell in the United States Federal Detention Center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Department of Defense replaced the Camp X-Ray cells with newer holding cells, called Camp Delta, in 2002. As of March 2006, the United States holds more than 235 “enemy combatants” at the newer Guantanamo Bay facility. Most are accused of associating with the Taliban or Al-Qaida.
By placing the Guantanamo Bay cell inside an Eastern State cell, William Cromar illustrates “nearly polar-opposite means used to find a nearly equivalent end.” Where the Eastern State cell is massive, opaque, and stone, the small Guantanamo Bay cell is virtually transparent, reflecting a different attitude toward the prisoner and different expectations of the architecture.
Michael Grothusen: midway of another day
Located in the courtyard outside Cellblock 1, midway of another day addresses the slow, almost still, passing of time which was experienced by many inmates. With little else to do, Michael Grothusen believes that the inmates became very aware of the details of their surroundings, including watching the movement of sunlight and shadows. The sculpture functions as a combination clock and calendar. The primary element of work is a large concave hemisphere. Throughout the day the rim of the hemisphere will cast a crescent shaped shadow on the interior of the bowl. At various times throughout the summer, Grothusen will return to the Penitentiary to mark the precise location of the shadow and label it with the date and time.
This installation is funded in part by project completion grants from the Pennsylvania State Council on the Arts and The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through Pew Fellowships in the Arts.
Susan Hagen: Recollection Tableaux
Susan Hagen has created a series of historical dioramas for Cellblock 7 consisting of 10 scenes from Eastern State’s history. The subjects include, “Man in a Mask,” “Holiday Decorating,” “The Prison Band,” and “The Hole.” The figures stand about 11 inches tall and are displayed on simple pedestals inside the cells. Each scene is nearly monochromatic and is lit with theatrical lighting, presenting a striking contrast with the debris and clutter of the abandoned prison cell. Hagen explained, “Through this work, I hope to offer a glimpse of the emotional experiences and mundane routines of daily life within the walls of this prison – and to find a shared humanity with the people who resided here.”
Alexa Hoyer: I Always Wanted to Go to Paris, France
When visiting historic sites such as Eastern State, one easily recognizes the visual landscape so often depicted in popular movies, as well as imagining the personal and private narratives dramatically rendered on screen. The prison film genre tends to glorify, romanticize or even trivialize the harsh realities of prison life. Typically, after numerous heartbreaking struggles, the story inevitably ends with goodness prevailing over evil and the release of the wrongly convicted.
This installation challenges the idealized notion of prison life. Three televisions are placed in three different locations at the Eastern State Penitentiary: a prisoner’s cell, a hallway, and a shower room. On each television, excerpts from over seven decades of prison film history are screened. The excerpts are chosen to relate specifically to the setting in which the television is placed. The title of the piece is a quote taken from one of the film excerpts. This yearning for another place and situation realized through cinema alludes to a sense of hopelessness and a desire of escape.
Matthew and Jonathan Stemler: Juxtaposition
Located in Cellblock 11, Juxtaposition divides Cell 34 horizontally creating a compressed lower area and an opened upper area. A grid at the ceiling supports a display of suspended plaster pieces along a single plain. Ground mica schist poured onto the floor softens the step and enhances the texture of the space, while a bench provides a vantage point in which to view and consider the overall effect of the piece. This installation constructs a situation of juxtaposition parallel to the one in which the building evokes. It merges Eastern State’s historical realities with its current physical dynamics.
Judith Taylor: my glass house
This project replaces the missing windowpanes of the front face of the penitentiary greenhouse with black and white, glass-plate photographs. The photographs in these windows are specimens of the natural habitat found with the walls of Eastern State. All of the images are photograms, a technique of camera-less imagery that dates back to the very beginnings of photography. Using this process, the photographer sets an object directly onto the prepared light-sensitive surface, and exposes it to light. The title my glass house is a reference to the sense of belonging Judith Taylor hopes an inmate might have felt upon being given time in this greenhouse garden.
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site
Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world’s first true “penitentiary,” a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of convicts. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America’s most notorious criminals, including bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al Capone.
Tours today include the cellblocks, solitary punishment cells, Al Capone’s Cell, and Death Row. A critically-acclaimed series of artists’ installations is free with admission. Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is located at 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue, just five blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Admission is $12 for adults and $8 for students, seniors, and children ages 7-12 (children under the age of 7 cannot be admitted to the site). The Penitentiary is open every day, year round. From April 1 to November 30, admission includes the “Voices of Eastern State” audio tour narrated by actor Steve Buscemi. Also included in admission are special guided tours on the subjects of daily life, escapes, prison uprisings, and artifacts. For more information and schedules, please call (215) 236-3300 or visit www.easternstate.org