San Francisco's favorite island prison is once agin the site of a ground-breaking artwork exhibit. Former New York City financial executive turned artist Nelson Saiers has brought his installation entitled, "Shortening: Making Irrational Rational" to the one-time prison and popular tourist destination of Alcatraz.
Saiers exhibit consists of hundreds of football jerseys, the (incredibly long) number Pi, and an intricate collection of hidden connections and references meant to challenge the status quo of irrationality of long prison sentences. His use of football jerseys is a nod to the prison term of "football numbers," which equates long sentences with the typically high numbers assigned to football players. The art project began as a small nine-jersey show in a Lower East Side gallery, but the response Saiers received paired with President Obama's attention to the issue of excessive sentencing inspired the artist to think beyond the walls of a gallery.
Saiers recounts to Time Out San Francisco thinking, "maybe I should try to make the scope of this project much bigger," when considering where to show his football jersey installation next. "The obvious place to house something like this would be an American prison."
So Saiers, a former hedge fund manager with a PhD in mathematics, called up Alcatraz and pitched them himself. Over the course of 13 to 14 months, the artist worked with Alcatraz State Park to create an art installation unlike any other seen in San Francisco. Merging the use of "football numbers" and football jerseys, Saiers incorporates complex and clever mathematical clues throughout the exhibit.
"When you’re an artist you use the tools that you have in front of you," Saiers explained. "And I’m pretty good at math."
For example, Robert Stroud, the famous Bird Man of Alcatraz’s inmate number is 594. "So if you add up all the jerseys that have a bird as a mascot, it adds up to 594," said Saiers.
Saiers installation isn't located inside the main prison building. "Shortening" takes place in the New Industries Building on the island, located right where visitors disembark from the ferry boat. The New Industries Building just happens to be the location of the former prison's laundry, a connection that Saiers finds particularly apt for his jersey-based exhibit.
"I thought it was a particularly good venue for the exhibition," remarked Saiers. "It’s a huge space. It’s massive. You couldn’t have a better space for the actual exhibitions. It’s tremendous."
"Shortening" opens Tuesday, July 26th and shows on Alcatraz through January 15. Anyone who's purchased a ticket to our Alcatraz is welcome and encouraged to explore Saiers' installation.