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Inmates get a chance to peek at the night sky

If you walk along the Hooglandse Kerkgracht in the coming months, you will see a metal box completely out of tune with rest of the landscape. It seems to have come from 'elsewhere'. The box is the results of a collaboration between the Old Observatory and incarcerated minors.

An uncomfortable sensation of "otherness". That is what visual artist Robert Glas wishes to convey with this installation called: "We send gold coated mirrors a million miles from here to study star formation and still incarcerate minors”. It is currently on display in this year's edition of Beelden in Leiden. The work of art was co-created with support of the Leiden Old Observatory, in an experience that blends art, science and social consciousness.

Moving away from the cities

Glas' idea was to take a telescope to the Forensisch Centrum Teylingereind, in Sassenheim, and observe the night sky with their inmates. ‘One aspect observatories and detention centres have in common is that, over the past centuries, they moved further and further away from cities,’ says Glas.

One-to-one observation sessions

After five months of negotiations the activity could finally take place this April in collaboration with the Old Observatory. Astronomer Carmen Turner led the activity. She helped operating the telescope, explained what was visible in the night sky and engaged with the inmates personally, as they each had one-to-one observation sessions.

An experience like no other

‘I felt they were all amazed and really liked the experience,’ Turner says. It was her first time in such a setting, and she enjoyed the sessions herself as well. ‘I didn't know what to expect at first, but in the end, they were quite interesting.’

Dimmed lights cause strong restrictions

The project had to happen under a set of strong restrictions. ‘Because we were in a detention facility, we could only get the image of what the telescope was capturing, nothing else,’ Glas says, ‘And there were a lot of security measures for each inmate entering and leaving. Especially, because we had asked for dimmed lights so observing the night sky would be easier.’

Everyday kids

‘In the end, I realized that these are kids that you see in the street every day. They did something wrong and ended up there. The whole experience made me think a lot about privilege,’ Glas concludes.

The result of the experience is at Beelden in Leiden. The exhibition is currently on display and ends on 7 August. For more information, check out: https://www.beeldeninleiden.nl/index.html 

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