While installing my show in Philadelphia I visited Eastern State Penitentiary, a Quaker prison opened in 1829 and decommissioned in the 1970s. When it was built it was a radical break from the prisons of its time. Its Quaker founders believed that silence, spiritual reflection, hard labor and solitude were the keys to true change within prisoners.
The prison was a popular tourist destination throughout the past two centuries and remains one to this day.
What is remarkable about this historic site is that they invite artists to submit proposals for installations. Installations have varied greatly, some have dealt with criminal issues, some have been responses to the physical space itself or to the history of the prison.
I was fortunate enough to be given a tour by Francis Dolan, the site manager. The space is at once eerily beautiful and chillingly haunting in its decrepitude. I honestly had a hard time finishing the tour.
Below are some snapshots of the prison:
The interior of a cell
A cell with a video installation by Alexa Hoyer, the television screen shows excerpts from seven decades of prison films, challenging the viewer to re-examine their notions of prison life
An abandoned hallway
This piece by William Cromar I found especially chilling. He recreated in authentic detail a cell at Guantanamo Bay. It was a shameful moment as an American to view it- the two five gallon buckets, the paper thin mat on the concrete floor, the lack of running water or privacy...
An installation of suspended shards, that act of decay caught in mid air.
One of my favorites, Linda Brenner's installation of 39 Ghost Cats, referencing the feral cat colony that took refuge in the prison after 1971.
This is the intrepid site manager, Fran Dolan, who generously braved chilly winds to play tour guide and answer my many questions. He is standing in front of a small sunken courtyard which really captivated my imagination. I have been mulling my proposal over in my mind in every spare moment and I can't stop imagining huge piles of porcelain bones on this site....