Serving Time

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For the exhibit Prison Sentences: The Prison as Site, The Prison as Subject, at The Historic Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, PA

Materials & Dimensions:
cell debris, plaster, paint, bluestone, gold leaf, flour, moss, ailanthus sapling, mosquito netting, iron oxide, wood & plastic (for skylight covers)
Three adjacent cells; each cell 7'4" wide x 11'7" long, arched ceilings 10'6" h to 15'4" high

The site was in the oldest cellblock in the Eastern State Penitentiary, in three adjacent cells. The prison was in a state of advanced deterioration at the time of the exhibition.

I cleaned each cell of the debris from collapsed wall surfaces and cleaned and painted the skylights white. The back wall of each cell was re-plastered except for the traces left from a former ventilation aperture and a door to an individual exercise yard, both of which had been permanently sealed when additions were made to the prison. The middle cell's walls were completely restored. A bluestone threshold was made for each cell, with a different phrase engraved on each stone: the left was "Doing Time", the center "Marking Time", and the right "Making Time". I veiled the entrances for "Doing Time" and "Making Time" on the inside so that the interiors could be viewed, but not entered.

Each cell corresponded to a structure left out of the classic old plan of the prison: the greenhouse, the chapel, and the bakery. I engraved this plan on the back wall of the right hand cell, through the white plaster top coat to the grey coat beneath. Every Sunday morning, I visited and tended the cells. A description of each cell is below:

The "correspondences" of the cells to the greenhouse, chapel, and bakery were indirect and associative. In the case of the greenhouse, plantings under controlled circumstances versus what happens when they get out and--as in ESP--dismantle the architecture that would enclose. The chapel in the sense of idealistic aspirations that go askew in this reality, but also in the sense of the marking of time and light that maintain hope. Also, the marking on the wall was inspired by a name that a prisoner had written above the door of his cell (in a different cell block) in gothic black letter where it was evident to him always but invisible to his guards. The "in time" was written in iron oxide stain since rust is one of the indicators of the erosion of the structure in the passing of time. The phrase applies to eventualities of both freedom and dissolution. In the case of the bakery, all things made fresh decay eventually and thus the action must be repeated indefinitely. Thus we are both bound and nourished by making.