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A Holy Experiment


Through November 2, 1997

Image: Beth B (American). A Holy Experiment, 1995-96. Wooden structure, video cameras and monitor, VCR, recorded message and CD player, wooden door with motion detector, tungsten lights, devotional stands with candles and incense, 123 x 204 x 107". Photo by Dan Smith, UNC at Greensboro.


Beth B's A Holy Experiment challenges the effectiveness of prisons like Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, which isolated criminals in the hope of achieving their redemption. In fact, history now shows that many prisoners were more often driven insane by the lack of human contact.

The installation consists of two prison cells. Visitors entering the larger "imprisonment" cell, are "locked in" for a brief period, during which they hear recorded voices ranging from religious instruction and exhortation to irrational rantings. Videotapes record the visitors' reactions, which are simultaneously displayed on a monitor available for viewing in the smaller cell. Accompanying the exhibition are photographic panels presenting images of past and present prison construction and a monitor with selected videotapes by the artist. Austere in its construction, the piece creates a shrine-like space, a monument, perhaps, to the prisoners who experienced the isolation treatment.

Beth B, a New York City-based video, film, and installation artist, has established an international reputation for her work, which examines a wide range of social and cultural issues. The artist will be present at screenings during this year's Virginia Film Festival, whose theme, "Caged," explores representations of imprisonment and freedom, both real and metaphoric.

The exhibition has been supported in part by Arts Enhancement Funds from the Office of the Provost, University of Virginia.


Exhibition Lecture
Beth B and the Art of Video Installation by Richard Herskowitz, Director, Virginia Film Festival
Thursday, September 25, 5:30 pm, Campbell Hall 153

Presentation by Beth B
Saturday, November 1, 4:00 pm, Campbell Hall 153


Images and Text Copyright, 1997
The Rector and Visitors of the
University of Virginia, Charlottesville
Bayly Art Museum
University of Virginia
Rugby Road
Charlottesville, Virginia 22903