Panopticon. The Architecture and Theatre of the Prison

Panopticon. The Architecture and Theatre of the Prison

Zachęta—National Gallery of Art

July 7, 2005

Panopticon: The Architecture and Theatre of the Prison
28 June - 28 August 2005

Harun Farocki, Mona Hatoum, Rem Koolhaas, Jaroslaw Kozakiewicz, Langlands & Bell, Behrouz Mehri, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Markus Schinwald, Artur Zmijewski

curator Hanna Wroblewska

Zacheta National Gallery of Art
pl. Malachowskiego 3
00-916 Warsaw, Poland
tel. ( 48 22) 827 69 13
rzecznik [​at​]

The prison in Arnhem, from the OMA archives, 1978. collection of Netherland Architecture Institute, Rotterdam.

The Panopticon Benthams architectural figure evoked in the title has today become a metaphor relating not only to prison architecture but also, and perhaps foremost, to the society of surveillance. Devised as a kind of building by Samuel Bentham and then developed and popularized by his more famous brother Jeremy, the Panopticon was intended as an architecture of complete control, a trustworthy and necessary element of resocialization.

Michel Foucault wrote, We know the principle on which it was based: at the periphery, an annular building; at the centre, a tower; this tower is pierced with wide windows that open onto the inner side of the ring; the peripheric building is divided into cells, each of which extends the whole width of the building; they have two windows, one on the inside, corresponding to the windows of the tower; the other, on the outside, allows the light to cross the cell from one end to the other. All that is needed, then, is to place a supervisor in a central tower and to shut up in each cell a madman, a patient, a condemned man, a worker or a schoolboy. By the effect of backlighting, one can observe from the tower, standing out precisely against the light, the small captive shadows in the cells of the periphery. They are like so many cages, so many small theatres, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible () Visibility is a trap (M. Foucault, Discipline and Punishment, translated by Alan Sheridan).

Today, architectural systems of surveillance have been replaced by electronic ones that are just as effective beyond the confines of four walls as they are within. The prison has been stripped of architectural substance and has become a frame in which a drama plays out. A drama of tragedy and human passions, of guilt and punishment. A drama in which we would like to see a metaphor of the reigning system of social equilibrium and order. The prison is a theme for screenplays, but it is also a setting whose visuals and emotional undertones lure artists and viewers alike.

The exhibition is realized with the financial support of the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Warsaw.
sponsors of the gallery: Netia, Lidex, Peri official carrier: PLL LOT media patronage: Gazeta Wyborcza, Polskie Radio, Polityka, TVP, The Warsaw Voice,, EMPiK, Warsaw insider

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Zachęta—National Gallery of Art
July 7, 2005

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