Vito Acconci, Shaina Anand, Atelier Van Lieshout, Angela Bulloch, Chris Evans, Harun Farocki, Dan Graham, Group d’Information sur les Prisons, Mona Hatoum, Thomas Hirschhorn, Evan Holloway, Ashley Hunt, Elie Kagan, Multiplicity, Bruce Nauman, Tatiana Trouvé, Artur Zmijewski Sixteen international artists become “inmates” in The Impossible Prison, an exhibition in an atmospheric abandoned police station. Inspired by Discipline and Punish, the extraordinarily influential book by the philosopher Michel Foucault, the exhibition explores power, control and surveillance, increasingly a part of all our lives.
The police station, which closed following the 1984 Miners Strike, is part of the Galleries of Justice, Nottingham’s national crime museum. Built into the cliff that runs through the city, it houses Her Majesty’s Prison Service collection. With five subterranean floors of cells, courts and dungeons that date from 1375, it is a literal archaeology of punishment that echoes Foucault’s own historical and “archaeological” approach.
The Impossible Prison is the final instalment of Histories of the Present, Nottingham Contemporary’s year-long programme of exhibitions and events in historical sites in and around our home city before moving into our new building in 2009. Foucault has been an underlying inspiration. With The Impossible Prison his influence becomes explicit.
Some artists specifically address prison itself (Hunt, Farocki, Zmijewski). In addition three legendary figures of Conceptual art in the late 1960s and 1970s (Acconci, Graham, Nauman) explore the relationship of the camera to the body.
Foucault, in a communiqué on behalf of Group d’Information sur les Prisons wrote “prison these days begins long before the prison gates”. He closes Discipline and Punish (1975) with a vision of a society where bodies were forcibly redistributed and minds were moulded. Resistance was minimised and productivity maximised through new surveillance techniques.
The Impossible Prison evokes the contemporary ‘carceral’, as Foucault called it, on both micro- and geopolitical scales - from the ‘architecture of occupation’ in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (Multiplicity; Weizman), to the ubiquitous CCTV cameras on our city streets (Anand); from the exercise of disciplinary techniques in the modern office (Hatchuel and Starkey), to the privatization and expansion of America’s ‘prison industrial complex’ (Hunt) whose population has reached a staggering two million. The range of concerns reflects artists who come from or live in Palestine, Mumbai, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Beirut, Brussels, Rotterdam, Berlin, Warsaw and Milan.
The themes were developed in a cross-disciplinary programme of lectures and workshops by Ashley Hunt, Lisa LeFeuvre, David Macey (The Lives of Michel Foucault), Jonathan Rée, Ken Starkey (Foucault, Management and Organisation Theory), Eyal Weizman (A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture), and Erwin James (A Life Inside: A Prisoner’s Notebook). A Reader brings together texts by Foucault, Deleuze, Macey, Hirschhorn, Farocki, LeFeuvre, Daniel Defert and Alessandro Petti.
For a copy of The Impossible prison: A Foucault Reader, published by Nottingham Contemporary to coincide with the exhibition email: firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and address.
A series of talks and seminars were organised to explore the ideas and issues raised in the exhibition.
Curated by Alex Farquharson, Director of Nottingham Contemporary
Venue: The Police Station, Galleries of Justice, Nottingham