ESP proposal

These past few weeks, I've been wrapping my mind around an installlation proposal for the Eastern State Penitentiary. This is a formidable, yet strangely whimsical edifice, at one time Pennsylvania's premier institution of incarceration and "reform," and a world model of prison design, in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia. It now operates as a tourist attraction/historical institution/popular filmmaker-director environment, among other things. They also have an arts program which has become one of the benchmarks for young artists in Philadelphia - which includes the Fleisher Challenges in South Philly - to reach for, and add to their list of accomplishments. And most of their installations are of a high caliber.
Dayton Castleman, a good friend of mine, and facilitator of the resident artists program of which I am part, was awarded an installation opportunity last year:

Anyway, I've recently had a rush of inspiration, and will be proposing an installation dealing with the following issues/ideas (without giving it all away):

-self-reflection, especially of the prisoner, which was encouraged - enforced, really - by the early prison reformers, the Society of Friends (Quaker), to encourage self-reform and penitence (read: penitentiary) and leading eventually to their return to a right and humanistic society. Also involved will be exploration of the questions about whether or not self-reflection is simply that, and no more, or if it has rejuvenative and reformative possibilities; and if the physical cells themselves had any part in this. Look for: mirrors.

-seasonal change/alteration, in its many guises, including change of seasons evidenced by plant growth in the facility (especially since it's maintained as a controlled-ruin); also, change within the prisoner and his/her psyche and will - perhaps even influenced by the more tactile, physical growing, changing things around them - maybe evidenced in the many and almost metamorphic changes that plants go through in a single year. The penitentiary even had an operating greenhouse business for a while. Look for: grasses.

-eyes, pairs of things;"God's eyes;" skylights; pools; etc. Look for: reproduction, in the sense of a model.

Once I get my proposal in, I'll make some scans of the sketches, etc., and let you peruse them at your leisure. And, if I do my homework well enough, you'll be able to experience it in person!

jam –   – (Wednesday, 28 September, 2005)  

This sounds like a really great opportunity! Do you know when the exhibition for which you are applying will start? Can you describe the setting of the installations a bit more, and how you plan to play off of that? I'm imagining old stone walls with "I love Mom" scratched into the surface, and rusty iron bars in every opening...

GIERSCHICK  – (Thursday, 29 September, 2005)  

It is a great opportunity...I'm hoping I can make it happen this year. The exhibition would start in April, when they reopen the prison after the winter months, and would run until they close in the end of November. So, about eight months.
The best way to describe the setting is, I think, a phrase they throw around at the place: "sustained ruin." They don't make any alterations that "improve" the space; only ameliorative maintain its present state. As you might guess, this is kind of fraught with issues of defining what exactly is maintaining and what is improving (isn't sustaining in of itself, an improvement?), but anyway...much of it is crumbling, and chipping away; lots of chips and piles of dust and old furniture, etc., laying around. So, it has eery elements, but also physical abandonment. The main materials you notice outside are the schist walls (about twenty-five feet high) and lots of rotting roofs. Inside the cell blocks, there's lots of dust, plaster, and crumbling walls. So, they warn you that the place is very hard on materials that are not meant to be outside. I hope that gives you a bit of the flavor of the place. My proposal is for a piece to be made outside, on the grounds.

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