Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison

Posted by in Art Exhibitions

 

Introduction

On Saturday October 8th, 2016, I ventured into Reading via train to visit, Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison. I am tutoring two girls who are studying GCSE Art and to which I shared this experience along with one of the girl’s Mother. It was the girls first time to visit an art exhibition. The girls were instructed to bring their sketchbooks, which they had to use throughout their journey and during their walk through the exhibition space. I had them stop and draw certain aspects of the exhibition. However, this blog is more about my experience then the girls as it would be unjust to speculate and write about their thoughts.
 
The Exhibition 

img_1665I was extremely excited to be going to this exhibition because I am fascinated with the history and present state of prison space and the individuals who pass through this type of institution. On the day, I was debating whether or not to bring my SLR camera, because photographs are prohibited in most visual art establishments. My decision was not to bring my camera. However, upon entering the exhibition, I did ask if photography was allowed, secretly, I was hoping at least to capture certain outside areas of the prison with my phone. To my surprise, all visitors were allowed to take photographs of the work within all areas of the prison and they seemed to encourage this activity. Cell phone in hand, I snapped away during my stay.

I could not wait to embrace the experience of my peers’ work, whom I have studied and admired from afar, especially, within an institution that triggers inspiration for my own work. I found the institution to be an artwork in itself. It performed for its audience, I could feel the impact of the space and it’s sounds, echoing its history. The residue left behind from its previous occupants. Their marks alongside the artists’ marks; both embracing each other’s existence. My sense of smell, hearing and vision were engaged. The work exhibited; touched my own perception of space and the relationship between my outer and inner sense of ‘self’. I could feel the impact of containment.
Each artwork had their own relationship with the space. For example, Doris Salcedo’s work creates a space for remembrance and mourning which comes from the long conflict in Colombia. Yet, placed within the context of prison space, it relates to the individuals’ personal life stories of conflict and what had brought them to live in a space of punishable containment with others. This relates to who have historically stayed within this prison and most recently upon its closure in 2013. Could this then be shared amongst others, who have found themselves displaced within other penal institutions? What and how does this impact have on their family members and victims?
The work exhibited puts responsibility back onto the viewer that allows the viewer to question their own personal belief system and attitude towards individuals who have found themselves experiencing life in prison. What has brought the audience to the exhibition in the first place? Curiosity? A chance to see what a prison looks like? What would it feel like to be locked up in a confined space? Or was it the artwork and the artists? Was it the celebrity readers? Did the fact that Oscar Wilde was once an inmate, bring people to the prison?

Conclusion

It took approximately two hours to explore the exhibition. When I came out of the space I felt a sense of freedom from the intensity that I experienced and the impact it had on my intellect. The sense of freedom is positive, I enjoyed my experience, and the personal relationship I had with the work. I liked the way I was thinking, the exhibition and prison space brought a sense of excitement and freshness to my thoughts that has inspired my ideas towards my own art work. In hindsight, it left me thinking of the work by Sigmund Freud dealing with the concept of the Uncanny. If the exhibition existed for longer and life situation allowed the chance to revisit, would I visit again? YES!