March 18 - April 8, 2014
In his University Galleries’ debut, artist Billy McGuinness has been invited to install two series of photographs that investigate the penal system in Illinois. His exhibition, entitled Illinois Corrections, is held in conjunction with performances of The Exonerated, a play about wrongful prison convictions presented by the School of Theatre and Dance. As part of the collaboration, McGuinness will contribute to a panel discussion on Illinois prisons following the first performance of the play on Friday, March 21.
Illinois Corrections illustrates the architecture of Illinois justice cellblock by cellblock, pixel by pixel. McGuinness’s first series of photographs, from which the exhibition garners its title, lines the walls of the gallery in a Rothkoesque patchwork. Earth tones transected by white and gray lines set-up a Minimalist aesthetic of beauty where painterly fields of color are configured in geometric balance. Repeated forms recur throughout the work, giving a semblance of order through abstraction. From a distance, the images appear to be aerial snapshots of partially developed agricultural lands; however, closer inspection reveals that each image is a high-resolution composite, with every line tracing the boundaries of guilt. People dot the landscape. The recurring “X”s are inmate cellblocks and the repeated lines that delineate the space are razor wire-capped walls. Gleaned from the panoptic eye of Google Maps, each of the 13 works depicts a different Illinois Department of Corrections’ facility.
Inmate Locator: 13,000 at the Cook County Jail is situated on a pedestal in the gallery’s center, blockading free movement within the space. Graphite lines drawn across the pedestal’s surface create a grid, which is interspersed with photographic portraits of Cook County Jail inmates. Selected from the sheriff’s website, each portrait depicts an inmate with whom McGuiness has communicated to receive permission to share their images with the public; the remaining blank squares represent the permissions yet to be received. Although considerable personal information is presented through the website, many of the inmates wait on the threshold of justice, having been charged with a crime, not convicted. McGuinness has selected this phenomenon as an entrance point to discuss an organization that he views as hungry for more members.
McGuinness describes his work as “grounded in the human experience...where ephemerality collides with the hunger for something permanent.” Traces of coffee from the cups in a soup kitchen, bits of rusty metal, metadata downloads, and his own body contribute to the diversity of his practice. Complemented by his selection of media, McGuinness presents a conceptual depth that consecrates simplicity with an overt politicality. An MFA candidate in Studio Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the artist received his BA in Film and Television from the University of California (Los Angeles). He is an active contributor to the arts in Chicago, including participation in the performance collaborative, Collective Cleaners, who use hand-woven rags to clean public and private spaces in a consciousness campaign to “perform our shared responsibility.”
Illinois Corrections is part of a cross-campus collaboration between the School of Theatre and Dance, the Department of Criminal Justice Sciences, and University Galleries. This effort aligns McGuinness’s exhibition with the play The Exonerated, and a community discussion of criminal justice issues in Illinois. Running concurrently with McGuinness’s exhibition, The Exonerated presents a theatrical retelling of stories from wrongfully convicted death row survivors. Following a special performance of the play on Friday, March 21, at the Center for the Performing Arts, McGuinness will join Dr. Dawn Beichner and Sherrin Fitzer in a panel discussion of issues inspired by the play’s themes. Moderated by Will Daddario, Assistant Professor of Theatre Studies, the panel discussion will bring together the expertise of these individuals and their experiences with prisons in Illinois. The conversation will begin immediately following the 7:30 pm performance.
Dr. Dawn Beichner is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Sciences, Women’s and Gender Studies faculty affiliate, and co-director of Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies. Her current research focuses upon family reunification and societal re-entry for women following incarceration. Sherrin Fitzer, who has been teaching incarcerated prisoners since 1991, is the Women and Family Administrator at Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln. She received the distinguished Liberty Bell Award in 2013 for her work with incarcerated women.
Directed by Cyndee Brown, Associate Professor of Theatre, and written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, The Exonerated is constructed from interviews, letters, transcripts, case files, and public records that detail the lives of six individuals mistakenly sent to death row but eventually exonerated for their crimes. In addition to the special performance on March 21, regularly scheduled performances of The Exonerated will take place in Centennial West 207 on March 27 – 29 and April 1 – 5 at 7:30 p.m. A matinee performance will take place on April 5 at 2:00 p.m.
Tickets for the play are $10 and may be purchased at the College of Fine Arts Box Office located in the Center for the Performing Arts, by calling 309-438-2535, or online at www.ticketmaster.com.
Tuesday, March 18
5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
Center for the Performing Arts
Friday, March 21
Panel discussion to follow
Centennial West 207
March 27 - 29
April 1 - 5
Centennial West 207