Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP).
This is a proposal for an installation at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA. Installations are chosen by a panel, and are on site for at least one season. We'll fill in the details as we go - a bit of history, the current state of the Penitentiary, and our experience in preparing a proposal, funding the art, and - hopefully - installing the finished project on site.

Key Dates:
Deadline for proposals - 13 June 2012.
Notification of acceptance - 28 September 2012.
Installation - 13 March 2013.
Removal - 28 December 2013.*

* Artists may petition for an additional season

10 Nov 2012
It took a while to post, but this is the final entry for this project. The letter below pretty much says it all. Pam has a idea for the 2014 cycle, and we will develop that. Meanwhile, Exquisite Fource is working on a mural for Cherry Street in West Reading, PA.


Dear Michael:

I regret that your proposal for an installation at Eastern State Penitentiary has not been accepted for the 2013 season. From 101 proposals, we have chosen just three potential new projects. The competition was was very steep.

I hope you will keep Eastern State in mind as you continue your career. We plan to accept proposals annually for many years to come. Perhaps a new project will speak to you in the coming years.

Our guidelines for the 2014 proposals will be published in October or early November. They will be posted on our website.
I wish I was writing with better news. I know these proposals are a lot of work.

Sincerely yours,

Sean Kelley
Senior Vice President, Director of Public Programming and P.R.
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site

[This email has been formatted for compatibility with our wiki.]

Eastern State Penitentiary was opened in 1829 to reform prisoners through isolation, contemplation and labor. It closed in 1971, and is currently a preserved ruin. See their site for a more detailed history.

Michael Dennis had sketched out a proposal for the ESP 2012 season, but put it aside for the summer internship that led to the creation of Exquisite Fource. The Fource then worked on Vanity Fare for most of the winter of 2011-2012. Looking for their next project, the Fource dusted off the ESP proposal.

28 May 2012

Pam Roule, Michael Dennis and Mike Miller attended an artist orientation at ESP. This is a "highly recommended" step of the process;
it introduces the artist to the space, history of the prison, and the mission of the organization that operates it. It was something like a death march. There is 10 acres of space inside the walls, and we traversed it once with a guide, and again with an audio tour. Our hosts suggested we also take a guided tour, but that would have made for a very long day. Needless to say, the staff was thorough and professional. A lot of information was thrown our way.


MD: Since this is my turn to lead the group on a project, let me offer my impression of the Penitentiary. It is as ominous as you would wish for a prison. But like any man-made object, it has a human scale. And that is the first thing our proposal should address - putting a human presence back in the buildings. I don't think the photos on the walls can convey how the structure was inhabited; for that we need people in the space. Now living in a collapsing building is problematic, but we can send in an effigy.

What is also apparent is that this building imprinted itself on its occupants. That was part of the original design, to make the prisoner think "inward and upward" but there are unintended consequences of isolating humans who are by nature social. Standing in that space, I could see this building erasing humanity and claiming the prisoner as its own. This is the second thesis of the installation - to make the figures more like the structure and less like people.

Thus is born the central idea of the proposed installation: that life-size figures inhabit the Penitentiary, and that these figures are constructed out of materials similar to the building. We resisted the notion of making them historic individuals. As prisoners and prison merge, identity blurs and disappears.

4 June 2012
With less than a week to polish the application, we met and divided the work load.
Some of the possible locations, besides the cells themselves:
Photos from the tour

8 June 12
Figure 1 to be built of fabric ticking, located in a cell:
In the beginning, the only book allowed in the cell was the Bible.

Figure 2 to be made of topiary - located on the baseball diamond:
The "Pennsylvania System" fell from favor, and Eastern State became a modern prison where the convicts mingled and spent less time in their cells. Outdoor recreation areas were created, including the baseball diamond and basketball court.

9 June 2012
Funny how artists think along similar lines. Here are Anna's ideas for the site:
Anna says that the baseball field needs two figures - you can't play baseball by yourself.

This image was adopted, but Mike redrafted it to indicate a figure made out of glass.

And Pam's:
The window suggests someone left behind and forgotten, but who?

This tier of the cells was reserved for women. It is full of charming architectural details, which the hooded prisoners never saw - the decoration was for visitors. Pam wants these figures made of hardware.

So we merged similar ideas and proceeded to finish the application. We'll share that document as soon as Michael figures out how to enable file sharing through the wiki. Meanwhile, the final images. Each figure is made of a material inspired by its location.

Mattress ticking in a cell.

upholstery foam in a cell.

Hardware in the gallery.

Broken Glass outside the window.

Topiary on the diamond.

Now we wait - notifications are in September.

Meanwhile, Pam gave us the core for another project. We'll reveal that elsewhere.

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