Chamber - Proposal
I. The piece is a replica of an Eastern State Penitentiary cell rendered in acrylic mirror. It’s shape echoes the iconic cell’s sloped, vaulted ceiling. It consists of 4 walls, a doorway, ceiling and skylights. It is raised off the ground to allow drainage and light. The interior is lined with acrylic mirror, screwed onto the frame. The back of the mirror is exposed. A thinner grade is used on the ceiling to easily achieve the arch of the vault. The construction is simple and merely structural.
Chamber was born from Eastern State Penitentiary's revolutionary approach that expected inmates to reflect upon themselves. To foster a conversation on identity, the piece extends that invitation to visitors. It encourages physical interaction as well as social media engagement. Through simple instructions* posted at the entrance, visitors are asked to say something about themselves that reflects their identity. White wax pencils are provided to allow them to write and draw directly onto the acrylic mirror. It is also suggested that they post any photographs they take using a specific hashtag (#chamberKG).
In the age of selfies the work collectively ponders self portraits. As a biographical writer, bodybuilder and artist, I am drawn to self as subject matter. My work addresses identity, specifically the effects of life changing events on self perception. Given the opportunity, will visitors choose to offer a profound insight into themselves or would it be a projection of their desires?
The work asks other questions: As a prison cell is at once private and public, what is the quality of self reflection in that dual environment? Does it retain the depth, direction and honesty of a hermit’s? What are the effects on self reflection when it is done in the public sphere? Can catharsis be institutionally driven? What is the value of self exploration? Is it a self indulgent practice or does it enhance the community? If it is valuable to the community, how should it be supported and encouraged? When is making oneself vulnerable an act of prostration, when is it cleansing? I believe the answers may lie in a chorus of answers. It is my hope that the overlapping marks form a white band around the room, similar to the arm of the Milky Way.
The social media aspect takes the piece beyond the walls. By encouraging visitors to use a specific hashtag, collections could be curated. I would be interested in assembling online groups by whatever categories emerge; poignant, comical, confessional ect.
Additional programming could also include former prisoners or others discussing transformation through self examination.
II. Chamber grew from the honorable notion that inmates must reflect on their wrong doings and by extension, their whole selves. Implementing such a daring program was revolutionary. At the time it was believed that extracting punishment would somehow fortify the broader community. The focus moved from punishment to restoration.
The change in policy speaks to a turning point in our understanding of the individual. It sees identity as a malleable state, not a fixed purgatory. It is a shift in beliefs from crimes being acts of inherent sin to seeing them as the outcome of circumstance. Eastern State Penitentiary stands as a monument to community taking responsibility to nurture all of its members. In a contradictory sense, these massive walls speak to the rise of the individual.
III. In very contemporary language, Chamber illustrates the groundbreaking belief the prison was founded on. By highlighting the history, it contextualizes the past while offering insight into the philosophical construct of Self in the 21st century.
I also hope it will be a source of inspiration. In preparing samples of what may be written, I had given a few friends the instructions, a mirror and the wax pencil. I was surprised and enriched by their candor. I suspect many visitors will take the opportunity to say something truly meaningful about themselves. Reading these statements can be educational and revealing. When laid bare, we are given the chance to see ourselves in others. The instructions are written to provoke thoughtful responses. I hope visitors take to heart the task of self examination and make it a lifelong practice.
IV. The piece may be challenged by inappropriate or offensive comments. Also, depending on visitor engagement, the reachable areas could become crowded with words and drawings. If any of these things happen, I would like to discuss, photograph and wipe clean if needed. The wax pencil is easily removed with a moist microfiber cloth.
With the Wax Pencils please write something that reflects your identity onto the mirror. It can be a
profound statement, a confession, a rebel yell, a proclamation or anything that is meaningful to your self perception. Is it something you know about yourself, or something you want others to believe? What would revealing it mean? Would making it real be transformative, freeing, devastating.
Is it selfie worthy? If so, please post with the hashtag #chamberKG. Kindly return the pencils.