Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rethinking Prison through Art and Research

Sarah Armstrong is a visiting scholar at the Centre and is working on this project. She will be giving a talk on it at the Centre in January. Sarah is also a contributor to a great blog about this research.  Here is a link to her blog.  

And here is the press release describing an exhibition about this project.

Rethinking Prison through Art and Research

A unique collaboration between art and academia offers new insights into what punishment is and how it works. Glasgow-based artist Jenny Wicks spent nine months working alongside criminologists from the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR), University of Glasgow.

The results will be showcased at HMP Barlinnie and The Briggait Gallery in an installation/exhibition that incorporates film broadcast on surveillance monitors, audio and large format fine art photography.

Wicks gained unprecedented access to prisons across Scotland including HMP Low Moss, Scotland’s newest prison, prior to its opening for ‘business’. Through photographic imagery and audiowork Jenny’s collaborative project discovers and explores some of the hidden parts of punishment. 

Wicks commented, “Much of the work on prisons, what influences our understanding of what they are like, is a kind of gritty realism found in stereotypical pictures of cell doors or exercise yards.”

She continued, “I was interested to see that both myself as an artist and the criminologists who research this stuff wanted to challenge these stock images and show the experience of punishment in a different way.”

A unique aspect of this project was its inclusion not just of prisoners but also prison staff, governors and criminologists in a series of ‘mugshot’ portraits. These were made using traditional photography techniques that required subjects to sit without moving for an extended period. The result are a set of peaceful faces any of which might be of a criminal, a guard or a scientist. Set alongside images of the prison’s interior, the viewer is asked to think about whether this is the place of someone’s sentence, day at the office or research site.

Professor Fergus McNeill, a leading expert on rehabilitation, and one of the mugshot subjects, noted, “So much of how prisons are presented in society make prisoners out to be different from ‘normal’ people. But you can see in these photos a gentleness and even sadness or innocence in them. All of us do harm and all of us can help or heal. I really believe that the effectiveness of criminal justice depends on breaking down the barriers between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Jenny’s art goes some way towards doing this.”

Senior Research Fellow Dr Sarah Armstrong, another criminologist involved in the project, said, “We are limited as researchers in how we communicate. We can write any number of reports and point to statistics about the effectiveness of prison sentences. Jenny’s project transcends paperwork to show vividly how prison can be so many things at once – terrifying, boring, punitive and rehabilitating. This project makes clear how much potential there is for research in looking at things more creatively.”

Wicks said: “As the residency progressed I was constantly struck by the co-existence of the shocking and the ordinary that marks the experience of punishment.

“Suicide watch cells, the back of a prisoner transport van, a storage room holding physical restraint chairs and Zimmer frames mark sites of extreme human experience, and yet at the same time are part of someone’s day at the office. Exploring this dynamic tension was a key aim of the project.”

The project, entitled ‘Working Spaces, Punishing Spaces: The Meaning and Construction of Place through Criminological Research’ was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and Creative Scotland.

After launching at HMP Barlinnie on 7 November the exhibition will travel to a number of other prisons prior to its public show at The Briggait Gallery, Glasgow 27 February – 3 March 2013. An ongoing project blog seeks to involve anyone interested in these issues:


For further information / Use of pictures / Interviews: – 0141 330 7126 – 07837 097 159


Private Showings:       HMP Barlinnie*  7-21 November 2012
        HMP Greenock    early 2013
        HMP Shotts      early 2013
        HMP Low Moss    early 2013

        *Press access can be arranged.

Public Exhibition:      The Briggait (Glasgow)  27 Feb-23 Mar 2013
        Opening Night (all welcome)     1 Mar 2013, 6:30-8:30

The Briggait is located at 141 Bridgegate, Glasgow G1 5HZ. Opening hours are Mon-Fri from 10 am to 6 pm; Saturdays from 12 pm to 6 pm. Admission is free and open to all.



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