The chain-link fence in Thomas Paine Plaza, right across from City Hall, isn’t a leftover barrier from the pope visit. The fence, set up in a 40 x 40-foot maze, is a temporary installation from LA-based artist Sam Durant, created as part of the Mural Arts Program’s month-long art series, Open Source: Engaging Audiences in Public Space.
Each artist involved in Open Source worked with a Philly community to explore a social issue, culminating in site-specific installations like Durant’s “Labyrinth,” which comments on the jumbled maze of the criminal justice system. Banners with relevant messages hang on the fencing; passersby are invited to walk through the maze and contribute their own messages with photos or artwork.
We talked to Durant about the message behind the installation.
How does “Labyrinth” talk about mass incarceration?
It was the result of a yearlong collaboration with a group of prisoners at the Graterford State Prison. That’s where the idea for a labyrinth came from —once you get into the criminal justice system, it’s very difficult to get out. The public component is using the labyrinth structure itself as a gallery space for people to put up their own images, representations, memorials and mementos mass incarceration.
What were the first things hung up on it?
The first were art pieces by the guys in Graterford Prison. There were two paintings. Hopefully this will also be a space for [the prisoners] to show their artwork. But that’s incidental in a sense — it’s a public square.
How does the location contribute to the message?
If you think about Thomas Paine and his role in American history and the things he fought for, the big one was free speech and the right to free expression. There’s a nice symmetry between the space and my work — that it’s a place for public speech. I would hope that Paine would approve. We don’t like all things that people have to say, and that’s part of the struggle of the freedom of speech.
Meet the artist:
Durant will be joined by Timothy Phillips, co-founder of Beyond Conflict; Maria Gaspar, founder and lead artist of “96 Acres”; and and filmmaker Darius Monroe. Open Source curator Pedro Alonzo will moderate the discussion.