Now that global communication also means global control, that disciplinary methods are applied to the community in the name of the “war of terror”, that the sharing born out of the Internet and social networks has dismantled our privacy, the word prison takes on very new meanings.
26 artists and over 50 works present prison as a metaphor for the contemporary world and the contemporary world as a metaphor for prison: technological, hyperconnected, shared and increasingly controlled
The exponential development of digital technologies, the advent of the social networks and the use of Big Data have progressively and inexorably changed our society and we are witnessing the collapse of the philosophies of social and urban sharing and the establishment of a new regime that in the name of security is stripping us, with our consent, of every intimate and personal space.
Behind the walls
The prison has entered the iconography of contemporary art from many different angles: social, political, existential, and symbolic. From behind its walls, art has presented the first-hand experience of artists like Gülsün Karamustafa, incarcerated in Turkey in the 1970s, or more recently, Zhang Yue, imprisoned in China. While such works primarily tend to chronicle daily life, in other cases artists have taken a historical outlook, focusing on emblematic examples like the prison of Santo Stefano, one of the first applications of the Panopticon model (in the piece by Rossella Biscotti) or the figure of American activist Angela Davis, who fought to abolish prison (in Elisabetta Benassi’s); for Chen Chieh-Jen, the prison becomes a reflection on the history of his country, springing from personal memories of his childhood in Taiwan. The political subtext of defending human rights becomes explicit in the action of Berna Reale, who brings the light of the Olympic torch into Brazilian penitentiaries. Harun Farocki focuses on the visual mechanisms that govern the space of detention, employing the surveillance cameras of a maximum security prison in Corcoran, California to explore the complex web linking power, technology, and the gaze. Gianfranco Baruchello, on the other hand, explores the dimension of time, through interviews with inmates from the Italian prisons of Rebibbia and Civitavecchia. A similar temps mort turns up in the work of Mohamed Bourouissa, based on a secret collaboration with a prisoner via cell phone. This realism is contrasted with a lyrical transfiguration of the penal universe in the paintings of Shen Ruijun, or the metaphorical aspects explored by H. H. Lim, who evokes the mental cage of self-surveillance in which each of us is imprisoned. The same kind of open-ended meaning can be found in the neon signs of Claire Fontaine, which conjure up disciplinary spaces that unfold into other dimensions.