The Impossible Prison @ Nottingham Contemporary

The Impossible Prison is an eerie exhibition created as part of the Nottingham Contemporary’s ‘Histories of the Present’ series. The art is displayed in the cells of the prison and is based around the ideas of Michel Foucault, who set up the Prison Information Group in the 1970s which aimed to give prisoners a voice. Foucault was also very interested in the architecture of prison and how more aesthetic ceils could create a more tranquil ambience. His ideas on how prisons should be run was the inspiration for the sixteen artists featured in this exhibition.

The art on display ranges from films and sculpture to watercolours and deals with the idea of prison: on the physical space and the idea of surveillance cameras and war encasing and consuming people. This sense of confinement runs through the display. Artelier Van Lieshout’s Dormitory of cartoon like figures in what looks like wooden coffins stacked on top of each other, conveys the mass confinement of dehumanised bodies. Harun Farocki also addresses this sense of detention by focusing on a ‘life missed’ – on what goes on outside of the prison while the people inside sit and watch life go by. Other artists focus more on how the prisoners deal with life in a cell; Vito Acconci deals with insanity and endurance in his films which are also designed to create an unnerving atmosphere.

This exhibition, apart from making me anxious and hesitant also made me almost svmpathise with prisoners. You forget about their crimes and instead witness the insanity and utter boredom they face when confined in these gloomy oppressing prison cells. It also made me see art in a new light; this exhibition shows how a space can completely change an art work and give it new meaning. I would thoroughly reccommend going to see this exhibition – although it is slightly unnerving it shows a contemporary spin on art. 

Katie Balcombe

ArtsArts Reviews

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