Eastern State Penitentiary
The Cathedral Project
SUMMARY - The Cathedral Project will use fine art photography to explore the religious and spiritual aspects of Eastern State Penitentiary from a standpoint of architecture, form, design and inmate art. The exhibition will be comprised of 20 black and white matted and framed prints to be installed in the South Corridor. The installation will include background music and text.
PROJECT CONCEPT – Eastern State Penitentiary embodied Quaker ideals about the nature of man and the redemptive powers of solitary reflection and penitence. The Founders of Eastern State believed that solitary confinement would heal the soul and allow time and opportunity to reflect on a life of crime and to repent of past sins, transitioning the individual from sinner to saint. Within the "house of repentance," it was believed that prisoners would be able to reform themselves through solitude, work and penance. Practice and architecture reinforced the requirement to "die to self" an inherent requirement for transformation.
Metaphorically, Eastern’s cells are sepulchers – "burial vaults or receptacles for sacred relics – an altar." Indeed the Quaker philosophy at the foundation of the Pennsylvania Plan was for the prisoner to be reborn, free of past sin. Each cell was designed with a skylight that served as the "Eye of God" an ever-present altar offering the promise of redemption and salvation. As observed by Charles Dickens, the isolation imposed by the Pennsylvania Plan created an underground where the lives of the inmates were invisible to the rest of society. Benjamin Rush envisioned that "The inhabitants of our villages and townships counting the years until the reformation of the condemned. After that, I behold them running to meet him on the day of his deliverance. – His friends and family bathe his cheeks with tears of joy; and the universal shout of the neighborhood is, This our brother was lost, and is found – was dead and is alive." 1
The Cathedral Project will explore these compelling themes of redemption and transformation through fine art photography, using the camera to look at and provide insight into the design, symbols, architecture and inmate art that reflects and reinforces these powerful concepts. In the end instead of the prisoners becoming "Christ Like" they were crucified on crosses of solitude, depression and mental illness.
INSTALLATION – The Cathedral Project would consist of approximately 20 fine art black and white silver gelatin prints. The prints would be large with an image size of 16"x20" matted to 24"x28" and framed. The matted prints will be sandwiched between two panes of glass with the edges sealed to protect the work from moisture. The prints will be installed in black anodized aluminum frames impervious to moisture. The installation will have background text supporting the theme of the project. Music will be incorporated into the exhibit using a CD player and speakers. The music will present classical coral performances to include Agnus Dei, Kyrie, Ave Verum Corpus, Ave Maria, Lux Aeterna, Totus Tuus, In Paradisum, Miseriere mei and Deus. This music selection will support the identity of Eastern State Penitentiary as "Cathedral". The installation would be in the South Corridor. The large skylights provide excellent light and no artificial lighting will be required. Prints will be hung on wires from the ledge that extends the entire length of the hall. Brackets will be fabricated to attach the hanging wires to the ledge. There will be no damage or modification to the walls or ledge. The CD player will be installed in one of the side rooms currently equipped with electricity and the speaker wire will be run along the ledge.
SUPPORT – At the discretion of the museum in support of the museum’s Mission:
The artist will provide the museum with a full set of signed, numbered and matted, archivally processed prints in a museum storage box. The artist will give the museum the right to use images for educational and promotional activities: however the artist will retain full copyright to the work.
The artist will provide a web-based version of the Cathedral Project that could be incorporated in or linked to the museum’s web site.
ARTIST – The artist has photographed mental retardation institutions in the United States including Pennhurst, Polk and Selinsgrove State Centers as well as orphanages and psychiatric hospitals in Russia, China, Romania and Moldova.
The artist has also completed a documentary photographing children that live in the underground of Bucharest Romania, a powerful parallel to the symbolic underground and invisibility of the inmates of Eastern State Penitentiary. The artist is also conducting a major project photographing classic memorial art from around the world including Paris, Milan, Rome and Moscow. This project explores man’s struggle with mortality and transcendence through the conscious and unconscious content of classic memorial sculpture. The Sepulcher theme of the Cathedral project is an extension of the memorial art project. This work can be viewed on the artist’s web site Northstar Gallery at: http://northstargallery.com/
Rush, An Enquiry into the Effects of Public Punishments, 13
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