Eastern State art installation shows glimpse of life behind bars

John McDevitt
May 03, 2018 - 10:37 pm
The historic site in Fairmount is hosting an opening reception for the installation Friday evening, which is free to the public.

John McDevitt | KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — It's not every day that an art installation takes place inside a prison cell.

Unless, of course, you're at Eastern State Penitentiary.

The historic site in Fairmount is hosting an opening reception for the installation Friday evening, which is free to the public.

Images, objects and audio are incorporated into the projects and presented inside the cells or other areas of the prison.

There are three new installations and 10 returning ones.

Among those debuting is an exhibit called "An Electric Kite." It features a FM radio transmission between two cells, which allowed inmates in prisons to secretly talk to one another. A radio is housed in one cell while the transmitter is hidden across the hall in a hollowed out book.

John McDevitt | KYW Newsradio

"Our artists have often shown us the way of talking about complex controversial issues in ways that as an institution we have struggled with for a long time," said Sean Kelley, Eastern State senior vice president and director of interpretation. "Artists have permission to speak in first person. They have permission to draw from their own experiences. They can have a highly personal vision of what this building means to them."

Other installations feature topics like imprisonment when abortion was illegal, long-term solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, and issues facing gay and transgender inmates.

The public can roam around the historic site for free Friday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Refreshments will be served during the reception.