October 3, 2008 - Nottingham Contemporary - The Impossible Prison
October 3, 2008

The Impossible Prison

Evan Holloway: Capital (2005)

The Impossible Prison
31 October – 14 December

at the Police Station,
Galleries of Justice, Nottingham

www.nottinghamcontemporary.org

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 abandoned police station inspired by Michel Foucault’s thoughts on power, control and surveillance.

The police station, which closed following the 1984 Miner’s Strike, is part of the Galleries of Justice, a crime museum in Nottingham. 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. Foucault described his own approach to history as ‘archaeological’.

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 Nottingham before moving into their own new building next year. Foucault has been an underlying inspiration. With The Impossible Prison his influence becomes explicit.

The exhibition spreads from two nodes: the first thematic, the second historic. The former specifically addresses prison itself (Hunt, Farocki, Zmijewski); the second is represented by three seminal figures (Acconci, Graham, Nauman) of performance, video and Conceptual art in the late 1960s and 1970s, for whom the relationship of camera to body anticipates and implicates the works’ future viewers, far exceeding video’s documentary function.

Foucault, in a communiqué on behalf of Group d’Information sur les Prisons wrote that “prison these days begins long before the prison gates”. He closes Discipline and Punish (1975) with a vision of how the ‘carceral’ disperses throughout society at the onset of the modern epoch. Bodies were forcibly redistributed and segmented in time and space, and minds were moulded through the institutional implementation of new human sciences that made ‘man’ their object. Resistance was minimised and productivity maximised through ‘technologies’ that enabled continuous surveillance.

Foucault himself is represented in the exhibition by key material related to the Group d’Information sur les Prisons (1971-72) that he co-founded and lead. Its purpose was to develop a counter-discourse on French prisons voiced by prisoners themselves. The group consisted of progressive magistrates, lawyers and social workers, ultra gauchists, ex-inmates and prisoners’ families, as well as French intellectuals including Hélène Cixous, Gilles Deleuze, Jean Genet and Jean-Paul Sartre. Elie Kagan’s visceral photographs of one day in the life of GIP, agitating at the Ministry of Justice re-invoke their struggles.

The Impossible Prison, through contributions by artists and the accompanying public programme, evokes the contemporary carceral, on both micro- and geopolitical scales, from the ‘architecture of occupation’ in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (Multiplicity; Weizman), to ubiquitous CCTV 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 the national and transnational diversity of the artists’ lives. Together they come from or live in Palestine, Mumbai, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Beirut, Brussels, Rotterdam, Berlin, Warsaw and Milan.

These and other lines of enquiry will be developed in a cross-disciplinary programme of lectures and workshops by Armand Hatchuel (The Long Detor: Foucault’s History of Desire and Pleasure), 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.

The Impossible Prison is curated by Alex Farquharson, Director of Nottingham Contemporary.

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