Earlier today a duo of guerilla artists sent out invitations to a renegade art installation titled Regard, to be showcased by lights tonight at 3801 Lancaster Ave., the former site of the now-infamous clinic run by alleged baby serial murder and drug trafficker Kermit Gosnell.
It’s been almost nine months since a Philadelphia grand jury concluded that the number of people who died while in Gosnell’s care in this building is “literally incalculable.”
The installation, a skyward bouquet of dozen white steel-framed kites bolted to the third-story rooftop, is accompanied by a 30-foot-long banner that hangs down in front of the building. The banner lists the definition of the installation’s title.
PW sat down with the two artists, who we’ll call Jack and Jane because of their wish to remain anonymous. “It places regard where none was paid,” they said.
The renegade installation is timed to piggyback on tonight’s official launch of “Look! on Lancaster Avenue,” a public art project that commissioned 13 artists to create site-specific work for the windows of vacant buildings between 34th and 41st streets.
Amidst all the activity going on to refurbish facades up and down Lancaster Avenue, no one noticed the pair going up and down to the rooftop on ladders in broad daylight. During final installation on Thursday, almost every type of authority drove by without so much as a glance: cop cars, bike cops, university vans, utility companies.
“What we realized after being up on the roof for eight hours [yesterday] is that no one really looked at us,” says Jack, 29. “That’s really analogous to what happened in the building, because nobody was really watching or inspecting. They … turned a blind eye.”
The artists say art at the Gosnell site should reflect, rather than ignore, what happened within those walls—with or without permission.
“We tried to figure out whether or not we were going to get permission for [the art],” says Jane, 33. “We quickly figured out there was not going to be any legal route.”
It was sunny yesterday afternoon when the artists approached 3801 Lancaster Ave., stacked a ladder against the wall, climbed onto the roof, and straightened the steel spines of the 11 kites so they look like they are exploding into the air.
Three stories below the artists, the waiting room is visible in spots of the street-level window where the vertical blinds are twisted and bent. Dead cacti plants line the window sill. Above the waiting room desk, a broken clock hangs, stopped at 10:23. Boxes of alcohol pads remain stacked on the counter. Empty chairs line the wall where, for more than a decade, women and girls sat unaware of what they were going to encounter in the examining rooms.
According to the grand jury report, Gosnell and his staff would push corroded instruments caked in dried blood and disease into their bodies, spreading venereal disease and perforating organs. During illegal second- and third-trimester abortions, they were knocked out with sedatives and administered medicine that forces the uterus to expel its contents.
The grand jury alleges that Gosnell and some of his associates routinely killed babies “delivered” this way by cutting their spinal cords with scissors.
Gosnell has been charged with the murder of seven anonymous babies and of 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar, who died on the table during an abortion.
“It’s important to honor people were murdered in this place,” says Jane. “I think it’s time to … take a moment to say we honor you. We see you.”
The artists say they wrote a mission statement to try to prevent their work from being co-opted by the anti-choice movement.
“I hope people come away from the work with the understanding that this piece was conceived with an eye toward compassion, rather than judgment,” says Jane.
Some excerpts of the mission statement:
“The shame and condemnation preventing fair-minded discourse in the wake of the Gosnell murders are the same operative forces that allowed the Women’s Medical Society to hide in broad daylight for decades. No one wants to look wide-eyed upon a scene of human atrocity; it is easier to buckle down beneath the blanket statement of well-established political conviction, however well-intentioned, in pursuit of something to control.”
“To equate the actions of Kermit Gosnell with legal abortion is political hyperbole with the distinct agenda to further restrict a woman’s access to care, and namely, the availability of basic health care to women in poverty who have very few options to allow them to take responsibility for their reproductive health. To turn a blind eye to this situation because terms like “baby murderer” have been adopted by one end of the political spectrum is to avert your eyes from the truth of what happened here, despite decades of red flags no one bothered to investigate.”
“Gosnell became a millionaire with blood on his hands by taking advantage of the desperate. Now, we have a choice. We could choose to move forward with compassion, rather than judgment. We could choose to understand that there are women walking around this neighborhood with stories trailing behind them. We could honor, rather than condemn.”
Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia physician charged with murdering babies for decades, worked uninterrupted in a wide-open darkness of institutional failure. And a year-long investigation reveals how he got away with it for so long.
A timeline of events in the case against Dr. Kermit Gosnell.
A few days after Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s request to be represented by a city-funded public defender was denied by Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes—after all, it’s estimated Gosnell earned $1.8 million a year and owns almost 20 properties—he showed up to his preliminary arraignment yesterday afternoon flanked by big-wig attorney Jack McMahon.