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2018 Artist Installations

Eastern State Penitentiary Announces Three New Artist Installations for 2018 Season

March 27, 2018

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site will host three new and 10 returning artist installations in 2018. The projects were chosen for their ability to address Eastern State’s primary themes—including perspectives on the contemporary American criminal justice system and the penitentiary’s fascinating past—with a memorable, thought-provoking approach.

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site has commissioned site-specific artist installations since 1995. To date, more than 100 artists have created work for the penitentiary.

Artist installations are included with standard admission. Regular daytime programs, including “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour, guided Hands-On History tours, and history exhibits, are also included with admission. Tickets are available online at, or at the door subject to availability.

To celebrate a new season of artist installations, Eastern State Penitentiary will host an opening reception on Friday, May 4 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. This event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments served.

New Installations for 2018 Season (Opening May 4):

Rachel Livedalen: Doris Jean
The artist will apply removable vinyl lettering and images on the glass panes of Eastern State’s greenhouse. The vinyl imagery will be comprised of newspaper articles and photographs from the high-profile case of heiress Doris Jean Ostreicher, whose illegal abortion and subsequent death led to the imprisonment of Milton Schwartz at Eastern State in the 1950s.

Provisional Island: An Electric Kite
The artist collective Provisional Island will install a handmade radio transmitter in one cell that will transmit to portable radios in the cell directly opposite. The broadcast will comprise of fragments culled from radio broadcasts and historic radio shows created in prisons and internment camps, and will highlight the role of radio in subverting and transcending prison walls.

Solitary Watch with Jean Casella, Jeanine Oleson and Laurie Jo Reynolds: Photo Requests from Solitary
This project invites men and women held in long-term solitary confinement in U.S. prisons to request a photograph of anything at all, real or imagined, and then finds an artist to make that image. The Eastern State exhibit will feature an astonishing range of new requests from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, inviting visitors to fulfill requests by uploading their photos to a new project website, which will then be sent to people in isolation, and displayed for the public to see.

Returning Installations:

Greg Cowper: Specimen
This evolving collection of insects trapped within the walls of the penitentiary is displayed in a Cabinet of Curiosities, assembled from old prison doors, hardware, and the traditional method for amateur collections, cigar boxes. Cowper’s work is inspired by an article written by an entomologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences after a summer 1889 visit to Eastern State. This visit included a chance encounter with an inmate who collected several rare species of moths and butterflies from his narrow, high-walled exercise yard.

William Cromar: GTMO
This cell is a recreation of a cell from Camp X-Ray, the now-abandoned holding cells 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. By placing the Guantanamo Bay cell inside an Eastern State Penitentiary cell, Cromar illustrates “nearly polar-opposite means used to find a nearly equivalent end.”

Michelle Handelman: Beware the Lily Law
This video projection uses the 1969 Stonewall Riots as a starting point to address issues facing gay and transgender inmates. Visitors watching from inside the cell see three actors portraying inmates (projected on the wall), enacting the process of transforming their genders while sharing their characters’ stories of development, sexuality, and eventual imprisonment. Handelman developed these monologues based on the experiences of real men and women.

Tyler Held: Identity Control
Reflecting on the idea that a man is “too easily reduced to an object” when institutionalized, artist Tyler Held uses a car, stripped inside a cell, as a metaphor for relinquished individuality.

Jesse Krimes: Apokaluptein16389067:II
The piece reflects the artist’s personal experience while incarcerated in federal prison, where he created a 39-panel surreal landscape on bed sheets and mailed each piece home. His installation at Eastern State modifies this massive image to cover the interior walls of an abandoned cell.

Jared Scott Owens: Sepulture
The artist pulls from his personal experience to create a symbolic burial of an individual once incarcerated. A life-size wooden coffin in the style of a formal Egyptian burial occupies a cell at Eastern State. The coffin is covered in hieroglyphs, and the inmate’s belongings, also rendered in wood, are meant to keep the inmate’s soul satisfied throughout his stay in the afterlife. Visitors to the historic site experience this installation as if attending a funeral, coming to pay their respects to the symbolic loss of this inmate’s life.

Jess Perlitz: Chorus

The artist asked incarcerated men and women from throughout the United States, “If you could sing one song, and have that song heard, what would it be?” Her recordings are played inside a cell at Eastern State. In the resulting “choir,” these haunting voices are layered, escalating, colliding, and eventually grow overwhelming.

Erik Ruin and Gelsey Bell: Hakim’s Tale
This video and audio installation features formerly incarcerated activist Hakim Ali. The installation projects an animation of a paper-cut portrait of Ali, which is gradually obscured by strips of torn paper that are then slowly removed, symbolizing his loss of self and eventual regaining of it. In the accompanying audio, Ali recounts his experience of solitary confinement, and the spiritual and psychological crisis and resilience that came with it.

Cindy Stockton Moore: Other Absences
These translucent portraits depict murder victims whose perpetrators served time at Eastern State Penitentiary in the 20th century. The work hangs inside a cell, as a reminder of those impacted by violent acts and a reflection of how crime and punishment extend beyond prison walls.

Piotr Szyhalski and Richard Shelton: Unconquerable Soul
This installation combines an overhead drone video with poetic audio recorded by prisoners. The footage is captured by a drone-operated camera that ascends from the skylight of a cell out into the atmosphere, using mirrors to transform a single cell into a multitude of cells across time and place. The accompanying audio is a chorus of individual voices reciting poems that were written in prison cells about the individual complexities as well as shared universalities of the prison experience.

Artist installations are made possible in part by revenue from Eastern State’s Halloween fundraiser, Terror Behind the Walls.

Eastern State also receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.


2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner