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The Impossible Prison

24/11/2008

At the end of October I went to the opening of the Impossible Prison, an exhibition curated by Alex Farquharson,  Director of Nottingham Contemporary. The exhibition is located within the Galleries of Justice Police Station, Nottingham, an atmospheric and provocative space in its own right.

16 international artists become ‘inmates’ in the Impossible Prison, inspired by Discipline and Punish, by Michel Foucault. The exhibition explores power, control and surveillance, increasingly a part of all our lives. The exhibition is free and runs until the 14th of December and comes highly recommended!

Those of you who scrutinise this blog regularly may recall a short piece I wrote about Mona Hatoum’s “Wheelchair” sculpture, a photo of which was used for the front cover of Tom Shakespeare’s book “Disability Rights and Wrongs”.  If you are interested in seeing Hatoum’s work first hand the Impossible Prison is a must. Her 1993 piece “Incommunicado” is exhibited in one of the Impossible Prison’s claustrophobic cells.  As with “Wheelchair” – this work attends to the institutional furniture of the hospital and home. To paraphrase the Tate (where an image of the sculpture can also be viewed):

“Incommunicado” is a bare steel sculpture made of an infant’s cot. The springs have been replaced by tautly stretched, fine cheese wire. The cold, hard, metal form of the cot has been honed down to its most bare and chilling structure. The potentially lethal wires anticipate acute pain. “Incommunicado” is a place where speech is no longer possible, a reminder of an infant’s inability to articulate its needs by any means other than a scream. It is also a metaphor for the plight of many political prisoners who are incarcerated and tortured in places where their voices cannot be heard. Here a relationship of ‘parent’ state to citizen-‘child’ is presented as cruel and abusive rather than warm and loving, murderous rather than nurturing.

I found this work and many others within the Impossible Prison very powerful. And, given the current turmoil surrounding the forthcoming extradition of Gary McKinnon to the United States, this exhibition will have strong resonance for some within Disability Studies.

A series of free Talks and Seminars have also been organised in conjunction with the exhibition.

  • Today (Monday 24th November 6 – 8 pm) Ken Starkey delivers the third talk in the series organised by Nottingham Contemporary – ‘Stranger in a Strange Land: Michel Foucault in the Business School’.
  • On Monday 3rd December, 6pm – 8pm, Eyal Weizman will talk about ‘The Architecture of Occupation in Israel.Palistine’.  Both talks will be given at Biocity, Nottingham.
  • Finally, Erwin James will talk about ‘Prison Today’ on Monday 8th of December at the Galleries of Justice themselves.

To book a place and to find out more about these events go to: www.nottinghamcontemporary.org.

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