Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Solitary Confinement, a mini art quilt

(Above:  Solitary Confinement, a mini art quilt. 14 3/4" x 11".  Image from an individual cell at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia with hand and machine stitching and trapunto/stuffing. Click on any image to enlarge.)

Steve and I toured Eastern State Penitentiary in February 2014.  At that time, I learned of their annual art installation opportunities.  I applied later that year.  Competition is fierce, and as expected, my application was not among the successful.  That didn't stop me, however, from applying again this year.  Why?  Well ... perhaps some of the descriptive statements in my current application tell the story best!  

(Submitting is a lengthy process with many steps, design drawings, references, and questions regarding installation requirements and how the resulting artwork will impact future visitors.  Applying it not for the faint at heart and I do not expect an acceptance this year either ... but had to try!)

Under "Detailed Project Description", I wrote:

In late February 2014 my husband Steve Dingman and I toured Eastern State Penitentiary and I was forever changed. My blog post included, "I've never seen such a glorious ruin! The layers of peeling paint, the patina of rusted metal, the decay, the feeling of isolation and ghostly presence were overwhelming. I shot pictures until my camera's batteries died." Piles of snow in individual cells appeared as if the only company a prisoner might have had. I was profoundly struck by loneliness, by the very idea of "separate or solitary confinement" and the extreme measures to minimize contact between individuals. From that time onward, a silent cell at Eastern State Penitentiary became my mental image when hearing the word "isolation".

When COVID-19 threw a monkey wrench into busy plans for spring 2020, my two-person custom picture framing shop was deemed "non-essential" and forced to close. All plans were either canceled or postponed indefinitely. Sheltering-in-place shrunk my world, and after several weeks, I started experiencing loneliness in a new, horrible way. The more isolated I felt, the more I remembered the silent cell. Questions regarding protective measures, containment, and solitary confinement haunted my mind. Who is being protected in ICU units? Those inside or outside? How effective are homemade masks? How many people are simply bored? When would an average person go crazy? How can we, as a society, pick and chose who and what to save? Does quarantine work? Will loneliness set us free?

(Above:  Solitary Confinement, reverse ... which includes vintage pieces donated from my stash by Billie Hunkler, Jinny Cherry, and Bonnie Ouellette.)

The submission went on to describe my Quarantine Flags and how I would very much like to "install them using UV-quality 6/6 nylon zip ties to existing architectural features inside any available cell and/or down any corridor and/or in an exterior location. I would install them in a cell or other location in which visitors could snap selfies in this area of isolation. To stand in this enclosure would heighten the feeling of isolation and allow visitors to experience the overwhelming sense of loneliness in ways understood by the modern pandemic."  

There's a lot more in the application ... but this recap is likely more than enough to describe the potential project.  One of these days, I'm going to earn the opportunity to have an installation in such a grand location and with a stipend to pay for it all! 

 (Above:  Donation of vintage beading from Bonnie Ouellette.)

Anyway, while writing this submission back in May, I visited Spoonflower and ordered a piece of fabric on which one of my photos from 2014 was printed.  It's been my evening stitching for about a week.  I ordered several more images ... more dead birds, the last mini art quilt featuring creepy dolls, and a second image from Eastern State Penitentiary.  

For the reverse of this piece, I used a shadow-work embroidered doily with the letter B (mostly covered) donated by Jinny Cherry, a piece of crochet from Billie Hunkler, and an antique beaded applique from Bonnie Ouellette.  Frequently, I can't remember who donated what ... but this time I knew!  If you've ever donated to my stash ... THANK YOU!


Ann Scott said...

Such an interesting post, as usual, makes one think. I always enjoy and am usually surprised by the backs of your work. The antique beaded pieces are so cool.

Bookhandler said...

I visited this place a few years ago and took many photos. It inspires so much thought, and there are photo-worthy places everywhere. Glad to see you made this piece. Hope I become motivated too.