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Nelson Saiers' "Shortening: Making Irrational Rational" at Alcatraz

A site-specific installation questioning the duration of prison sentences for minor non-violent offenses

by David Graver
on 28 September 2016

Every detail of NYC-based artist Nelson Saiers' current exhibition inside San Francisco's Alcatraz (the famous prison turned National Park) carries depths of meaning. Why would an artist string up football jerseys in the numerical order of Pi inside a former penitentiary? A few reasons. First, inmates often refer to long, double-digit sentences as their football numbers. Second, Pi is an irrational (unending) number. And finally, the clothesline makes reference to the phrase "hung out to dry"—meaning to abandon someone in need. All of this has been staged to address the oftentimes outlandish and unfair sentences passed down to perpetrators of non-violent, drug-related crimes.

The further one analyzes each facet (from the abbreviated Pi sequence to the hemp rope) of "Shortening: Making Irrational Rational," the more the mind digests the artist's intention. That said, the work—colorful and curious—can be appreciated purely for the uncommon aesthetics. In the new video shared above, Saiers outlines his vision. But there isn't anything quite like seeing it in person.

"Shortening: Making Irrational Rational" runs now through 15 January 2017 at Alcatraz. It's open to anyone purchasing a ticket to visit the island.

Images courtesy of Nelson Saiers

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