Doing Time | Depth of Surface
January 28–March 17, 2012 at Moore College of Art & Design
Exhibition explores urban archeology and past lives of historic Holmesburg Prison
Curated by José Roca
Moore College of Art & Design
th Street and The Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Philagrafika has commissioned Spanish artists Patricia Gómez Villaescusa and María Jesús González Fernández to create Doing Time | Depth of Surface, an exhibition exploring the architecture and stories of Philadelphia’s historic Holmesburg Prison.
Gómez and González have created large-format monoprints capturing drawings, markings and graffiti left by former inmates on the walls of the prison, which operated from 1896–1995. The exhibition gives a voice to the guards, employees and inmates who lived in the Northeast Philadelphia prison. The exhibition will feature a surveillance-style video installation along with an audio installation, still photographs from the residency and the resulting prints—two full cell sized prints measuring roughly 20 x 60 feet and 150 smaller pieces—which serve as a physical printed archive of the prison cells and the lives of the prisoners who lived in them.
The first phase of the project began with an extensive residency, during which the artists conducted research and onsite documentation of the project. The artists visited Holmesburg Prison where they utilized a unique method of monoprinting to transfer the history of the deteriorating prison’s walls into prints, salvaging the outer surfaces of the prison cells.
Gómez and González work in a collaborative process grounded in an artistic practice similar to mural conservation. Utilizing a modified version of a conservation technique known as strappo, they work primarily to preserve the surfaces of buildings—the veritable “skin of architecture”—by detaching a wall’s surface layers. Using a layer of fabric and glue they remove the surface, in its entirety, in a process much like ripping a bandage off of skin. In fact strappo, an Italian word, means to rip or tear. This process allows the artists to extract a tangible record of the site in its current state, preserving the expressions of identity, memory, apathy and desire of its former residents.
The exhibition explores new trends in contemporary art and printmaking, pushing the boundaries of what constitutes “print.” Philagrafika will also host related public programs, document and expand the project through its website and publish an exhibition catalogue.
Gómez and González have explained their process saying, “The origin of our practice was an unexpected imprint when a piece of canvas detached from a wall. Instinctively, we thought of this as an act of printmaking, but with the intervention of different instruments and elements than we were using at the time. The matrix in our work became the walls; their surface (with several overlapping layers of paint, history and marks) is imprinted by time and vital experiences.” Doing Time | Depth of Surface is Gómez and González’s first exhibition in the U.S. The exhibition will be the fourth collaboration of this nature for the artists. Previous works include two installations of abandoned prisons, from 2008–2009, including Valencia’s Modelo Prison, and a prison in Palma shown in 2011 at the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró in Mallorca, Spain.
Exhibition curator José Roca first came across the work of Gómez and González while conducting research for Philagrafika 2010: The Graphic Unconscious, for which he served as Artistic Director, and felt that the complexities of their practice merited a significant project on its own. “Philagrafika is interested in looking at how print manifests itself in contemporary art,” says Roca. “There is truth to the common adage ‘if walls could talk’ in the sense of being the silent witnesses of what happens over time, which is physically and metaphorically imprinted in them.”
With a mission to promote and sustain printmaking as a vital and valued art form, Philagrafika continues to build upon and reinforce the themes of innovation and collaboration that were first explored in the organization’s 2010 festival. The commission of Gómez and González also continues support of international artists in interpreting Philadelphia’s history.
For more information about the exhibition and public programs visit www.philagrafika.org.