TONITE: Remain In The Light

The Battle Of Carnival And Lent by JUDITH SCHAECHTER

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 will be installed in historic skylights throughout Cellblocks 8, 11, and 14 until November 30the. 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. Ms. Schaechter’s past work has almost entirely been installed in museums and galleries as panels over lightboxes. The Battle of Carnival and Lent is unique for both its response to a specific environment as well as for its use of full-spectrum light to illuminate the windows. Ms. Schaechter is often asked which architectural setting she sees as ideal for her work, and her response is always the same…Eastern State Penitentiary. Explains Ms. Schaechter, “ESP is precious to me. It’s my hometown. It’s my place.” The installation marks Judith Schaechter’s return to Philadelphia after more than ten years exhibiting nationally and internationally. She will celebrate the completion of this project with an opening reception tonight at Eastern State Penitentiary from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. MORE

RELATED: Judith Schaechter is a world renowned stained glass artist who has resided here in Philadelphia since graduating from Rhode Island School Of Design in 1983. (It was there that she met acclaimed novelist Rick Moody, then a student at nearby Brown, and the two attempted to be boyfriend/girlfriend, but eventually settled into a friendship that has lasted all these years.) Her work retrieves the lost art of stained glass-making from the dustbin of the Middle Ages — where it largely served as a decorative form pressed into the service of replicating religious iconography — and pushes it through a post-punk filter shot through with sex and death and romance and violence to create something deeply personal, inscrutably modern, and ineffably beautiful. If David Lynch was medieval monk prone to ecstatic visions, presumably after days of fasting and self-flagellation (which were the psychedelic drugs of their day) — well, it would all look a lot like Schaechter’s art. Small wonder her works sell for upwards of $80,000 in the New York gallery scene, and have found a permanent home in The Metropolitan Museum Of Art in New York, the Smithsonian, the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: REMAIN IN THE LIGHT: A Q&A With Post-Punk Stained Glass Sorceress Judith Schaechter