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Artist Richard Kamler is demonstrating his opposition to the death penalty with his interactive exhibit now on display at the Walker Education Center. Kamler says the exhibit is designed to make people think about how they feel about capital punishment. Photo by Richard Nira/The Huntsville Item.

Conversation spawns art: Artist draws from personal views in interactive exhibit

By Michelle C. Lyons/The Huntsville Item

It's not hard for California artist Richard Kamler to pinpoint what made him decide to create an interactive piece "speaking" out against the death penalty - it was a conversation with the mother of a death row prisoner - a man who also happens to be Kamler's friend.

"We were sitting in the waiting room (to visit my friend) and she was telling me that it was 37 years ago that she was in a waiting room, waiting for her son to be born," Kamler explained. "She said she couldn't help but think about how 37 years later, she's in a waiting room again, but this time its waiting for her son to be murdered by the state."

Kamler's work, "The Waiting Room: An Interactive Installation of Images, Sounds & Concerned Citizens," currently is on display in Huntsville's Walker Education Center. It is an interactive exhibit of images and sounds addressing the death penalty as a personal and emotional matter.

"The Waiting Room" is built to the exact specifications of the death row visiting room at San Quentin Prison and it includes the sounds of time passing in the form of a ticking clock. The sound of time is periodically layered with the sound of a human heart beating until it suddenly stops.

Across the walls of the exhibit are the rules of behavior for visitors and inmates - everything from "Anyone proceeding beyond this point implies their permission to a search of their person, property or vehicle," to "No button-down dresses or shirts. No sleeveless tops or dresses."

There also is an enlarged schedule of events for the final two days of a former Huntsville inmate, Clydell Coleman - a schedule featuring items such as when Coleman ate, slept and visited with clergy during his final hours. Coleman was executed May 5, 1999.

Also featured are cast-iron cafeteria-style trays featuring some inmates' last meals. Most either are empty to represent the inmates who refused their last meal or include only a few sparse items such as carrots or eggs.

At the same time, four video screens broadcast testimonies from death row prisoners, their families and the families of their murder victims.

"There's a lot going on," Kamler said of the exhibit. "People expect to come in and see a piece here and a piece here but there's a lot going on.

"I really want people to see what it's really like," Kamler continued. "I want people to question why we have the death penalty and then perhaps rethink (the punishments) for these people who have committed ... these crimes."

This is the first time Kamler has shown the exhibit and he says it's obvious why he chose to launch it in Huntsville.

"It was because of Huntsville being the capitol of capital executions," he said, adding that when the exhibit leaves Huntsville Feb. 26, it will go to other points in Texas for the next six months.

"The state is in the business of killing people and they should not be in that business."

Also, there is a "social sculpture" portion to the exhibit, Kamler said.

A community conversation on the death penalty is scheduled at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Walker Education Center.

Among what will be featured that day will be poetry from young Texans concerned about the death penalty, a performance by San Francisco dancer Joya Cory and debate of questions of justice and democracy with a panel including Joyce Ann Brown of Mothers for the Advancement of Social Systems; Renny Cushing of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, Walker County Criminal District Attorney David P. Weeks, Sissy Farenthold and Buzz Alexander.

A reception is scheduled following the discussion.

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SHSU Media Contact:Frank Krystyniak
January 10, 2000
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