Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site welcomes Guggenheim Fellow Judith Schaechter’s ambitious new work, The Battle of Carnival and Lent, to its 2012 artist installation program. These 17 stained glass windows are inspired by the prison’s dark history and installed in historic skylights throughout Cellblocks 8, 11, and 14 for the duration of the 2012 season.
The Battle of Carnival and Lent responds to the penitentiary’s narrow skylights and arched windows. The imagery, which Ms. Schaechter describes as “addressing in a non-religious way the psychological border territory between ‘spiritual aspiration’ and human suffering,” is evocative of theology but secular in purpose.
The figures depicted are literally confined by the unnaturally tall and skinny apertures of the window frames – squished, cropped, straining, and reaching – as a representation of the types of incarceration that are basic to the human experience. Ms. Schaechter balances them with more traditional, cathedral-esque stained glass windows, based very loosely on the design of 13th century European cathedral windows (e.g. Chartres). Her intention is to draw an association between the prison’s original purpose – to provide an environment conducive to self-reflection and, ultimately, penance – and the harsh realities of solitary confinement.