The second a-n Writer Development Programme features eight a-n members from around the UK.

They are: Judith Alder (Eastbourne); Laura Davidson (London); Carrie Foulkes (London); Bob Gelsthorpe (Cardiff); Martin Hamblen (Preston); Rachel Magdeburg (Gateshead); Jessica Ramm (Edinburgh); and Trevor H Smith (Bath).

At time of writing, the programme, which continues until March 2018, has so far involved a series of writing tasks – pitching ideas, writing a comment piece, another short writing task – and the first of three afternoon workshops.

The first workshop, which I led, took place at Spike Island, Bristol on Wednesday 11 October 2017. Seven of the eight participants attended, with Rachel Magdeburg unable to make it due to a last minute flight cancellation from Newcastle.

However, Rachel was there in spirit via Skype and my phone (placed in an empty glass for added amplification – thanks to Bob Gelsthorpe for the tip).

We had a lively, busy afternoon of discussion and tasks which involved interviewing techniques, self-editing, and of course plenty of writing.

The workshop ended with us all visiting Spike Island’s Kim Yong-Ik exhibition as preparation for a follow-up writing task. The participants were asked to write an 800-word article about Kim’s work, referencing the exhibition but also including a direct quote from the artist, a quote about Kim’s work from another source, and also biographical information about the artist.

After a light edit and feedback to the writers, I’ll be posting the pieces on this blog.

Further workshops will take place in November (at Jerwood Space, London) and December (at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham).

More soon…

Participants in the a-n Writer Development Programme at Jerwoood Space, London, 8 November 2017.



In the last of eight reviews stemming from the writer development workshop at Ikon Gallery in December, Trevor H Smith finds many questions left hanging in Edmund Clark’s exhibition, ‘In Place of Hate’.

I am led down a strip-lit corridor, along a concrete footpath, and around the perimeter of an area fenced with barbed-wire. The plain walls and vinyl flooring of the corridors are recognisably institutional, and the building’s exterior is pure function: a 1960s red-brick administrative block. Finally, a sign bids us: ‘Welcome to F Wing’. This is Vanishing Point (2017) by Edmund Clark, a five-screen, portrait-mode video installation filmed at HMP Grendon, Europe’s only wholly therapeutic prison. Clark recently completed a three-year residency at Grendon and has previously worked on projects with asylum seekers, in Guantanamo Bay, and in a Control Order House in the UK.

As you enter the exhibition, ‘In Place of Hate’, a light box display of pressed flowers borders a rectangular area that is the exact dimensions of a cell at Grendon. The work’s title, 1.98m2 (2017) gives factual credence to what seems an unfeasibly small living space: Grendon is a therapeutic centre, but it remains a prison. In a second space, ten low-backed, foam-cushioned chairs are arranged in a circle. Three have become makeshift plinths for monitors showing a group therapy drama class, in which the prisoners perform a Greek tragedy. Two posters, taken from HMP Grendon’s walls, reinforce the theme of tragedian fate. The first, a flow-chart titled ‘Therapeutic Community Model of Change’, sets out solutions to behavioural disorders in language as sterile as the furniture; inmates are encouraged to seek ‘pro-social, non-offending alternatives’ to their violent behaviour. The second poster uses the familiar style of the London tube map to illustrate a life journey. Beginning with the strangely binary ‘born strong’ or ‘born vulnerable’, it shows that life is fated to conclude with either ‘life’ or ‘lifelong personality disorder / suicide’.

The installation My Shadow’s Reflection (2017) brings together images of the pressed flowers from 1.98m2, stills from Vanishing Point, and pinhole camera self-portraits by the prisoners. These are projected onto the inmates’ bedsheets which hang from the gallery ceiling. The self-portraits, taken during workshops that Clark ran as part of his residency, call to mind the spyhole of the prison cell door. Requiring a long exposure, these pictures – taken in the familiar ‘mugshot’ pose – are blurred beyond recognition, so that it is impossible to tell one prisoner from the next. These images are the exhibition’s summary and full stop. The work in the first two galleries is as cold and clinical as the institution; the blurred portraits breathe movement and life into this multi-layered exhibition.

Unsurprisingly, for an exhibition borne out of a residency in a prison, ‘In Place of Hate’ raises some contentious issues. Although there are glimpses of security cameras in Vanishing Point, and the flow charts are designed to keep tabs on the inmates’ emotional progress, there is little attention given to the ethics of surveillance. Watching a drama group run through a performance that is being recorded for the eyes of an audience it will never know is plainly voyeuristic, and the imposition of a resident artist only adds another layer of surveillance. This is a controversial and emotive subject. Grendon’s inmates have committed some of the most heinous acts imaginable including rape, torture, and murder, and yet they are being given the opportunity for an emotional rebirth. Questions also emerge about the degree to which Clark was immersed within the group: did he return home for evenings and weekends? Was he ever entirely alone with an inmate? What is the purpose of this residency? To whom is this exhibition targeted? An artist in residence at an institution such as Grendon treads a fine line between participation and documentation; between art and anthropological survey. Is it enough that the artist has brought the work of this institution to our attention? Clark leaves such questions hanging.

Trevor H. Smith

‘Edmund Clark: In Place of Hate’ continues at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham until 11 March 2018.


For his review of Edmund Clark’s ‘In Place of Hate’, Martin Hamblen is struck by an absence on the inside.

A walk-in, waist-high light box, constructed in the shape of a right angled capital C. On the exposed Perspex surface are pressed plants. The title is a square measurement, the size of a cell. 1.98m2 (all works 2017) is the first work in Edmund Clark’s ‘In Place of Hate’ exhibition. Clark is Ikon’s artist-in-residence (2014-18) at HMP Grendon, which according to the gallery’s exhibition guide is, Europe’s only entirely therapeutic prison.

Five flat-screen digital monitors hang portrait-style on poles displaying first-person ‘shooter-up’ points of view. A camera follows the periphery of a building, adhering to the edge, keeping off the grass. Pixelated patches punctuate the flow of Vanishing Point. Squares and shades of grey censor what you see – “for security purposes”. The room is dark, there are no chairs.

A ten-chair circle includes three with analogue TVs. I sit down to watch Clark’s “response to Aeschylus’s Oresteia”. The chair opposite has the words ‘B Wing Com Room’ written on it in black marker, authenticating the providence. Masked men are queuing up to say sorry, placing their hands on the shoulder of a masked woman. The female facilitator is mask free. Participants could be professional actors but this Greek group therapy is all just an act. The actors are understudies, staff standing in. Guards playing pretend prisoners, performing for the camera, for the art.

On the wall are two framed readymades, lifted from the corridors of the prison. One poster bears the title ‘THERAPEUTIC COMMUNITY MODEL OF CHANGE’. At the top, ‘Anti-Social Offending Behaviour’; at the bottom, ‘Pro-Social Non-Offending Alternatives’. The ‘Personality Development Pathways 2011’ poster is inspired by the map of the London underground but in place of stations are psychological symptoms (positive and negative). A journey begins with the black and white binary, ‘Born vulnerable’ or ‘Born strong’ then progresses along different lines: developmental, border, anti-social, conviction, recovery and other networks. The final destinations are Life, Lifelong Personality Disorder or Suicide.

My Shadow’s Reflection is a room-sized installation. Projectors on plinths project still images onto material hanging from the ceiling. It’s a reprise of 1.98m2 and Vanishing Point. Flat flora, fences, grass verges, walls and concrete architecture create an andante animation. In addition are what appear to be out of focus portraits, reminiscent of Gerhard Richter’s October paintings. The bed-sheet size mug shots are the outcome of six-minute exposures through a pinhole camera; movement softens the subject’s circumference.

In the gallery’s reception and on the second-floor landing are two TVs you could easily ignore, footnotes. On each screen fish are swimming, constantly moving. The title is Fish Tank. These piscine post-it notes remind me of Foucault and the panopticon. Except we see no prisoners; the incarcerated are inconspicuous.

On, it states that HMP Grendon “provides group therapy and structured community living where members are encouraged to have shared responsibility for day to day decision-making and problem solving”. Ikon informs us that Vanishing Point follows “the journeys of prisoners” and includes “the one journey never made by inmates” that of “the entire interior prison perimeter.” Yet if inmates intended to escape, sharing their knowledge, working together as a group, they could fill in the gaps and solve the perimeter puzzle. But they have been referred to Grendon because they have “been off Category A or escape list for at least six months”. This institutional precaution, although reasonable, undermines the trust necessary in therapeutic relationships. Saying we trust you but not to go over there undermines the trust they are trying to give. ‘In Place of Hate’ highlights an absence Grendon’s inmates may have experienced on the outside.

Martin Hamblen

‘Edmund Clark: In Place of Hate’ continues at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham until 11 March 2018.


For her 600-word review following the writer development workshop at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery, Jessica Ramm chose to write about Edmund Clark’s exhibition.

For the exhibition ‘In Place of Hate’, Edmund Clark offers up the culmination of his three-year residency at HMP Grendon, Europe’s only wholly therapeutic prison. Making use of a range of found objects, photography and film, he presents a series of interconnected spaces that retain something of an institutional atmosphere. Grendon’s prisoners have chosen to participate in its democratic therapeutic community and many of Clark’s objects allude to the anxiety and fear they must overcome to break free from repeating victim-perpetrator cycles.

A circle of soft-upholstered chairs occupies the exhibition’s central room lending it an expectant air, as though group therapy is about to begin. Hung on the wall is a tube map displaying coloured lines and corresponding intersections and stations. This must be a wry joke: an escape map for the incarcerated. The functional simplicity of this design is immediately recognisable to anyone who uses London transport, but the routes and stations plotted describe a journey fraught with peril. ‘Personal Development Pathways 2011’ leads to three ultimate destinations: ‘life’, ‘suicide’ or ‘lifelong personality disorder’ via stations such as ‘bullying’, ‘remorselessness’ and ‘alienation.’ The thought of passengers hurtling through these dark tunnels towards salvation or damnation is an uncomfortably literal metaphor for the struggle between free will and fate. Cube monitors perched on two of the chairs display a filmed psychodrama response to Aeschylus’s Oresteia, a Greek Tragedy that deals with themes of revenge and moral responsibility. The film, Oresteia (all works 2017), shows both prisoners and supervising staff as masked actors voicing their parts in a sparsely furnished room at Grendon.

Where the prisoners are depicted through film or photography, their identities have been blurred or pixelated, in line with censorship rules enforced throughout Britain’s prisons. During his residency Clark used a pinhole camera to make a series of portraits of prisoners while they answered questions about their criminal and personal histories. In the installation My Shadow’s Reflection these hazy ghost-like portraits are projected onto pallid green banners made of sheets taken from the prisoners’ beds. The obvious connotation is of nightmares populated by restless phantoms, but it’s less clear to whom these nightmares belong.

Gathered together in the publication that accompanies the exhibition, the written interpretations the prisoners make while reflecting on these self-images are harrowing: stories of childhood trauma and abuse, fear of abandonment and self-loathing. Their images are redacted partly to protect victims from the possibility of a traumatic encounter with an attacker, but their specific acts of transgression have been smudged out along with their features. Their indistinct outlines are too fuzzy to align with vehement labels such as ‘monster’ or ‘murderer’, so often used by tabloid papers. Clark’s images reflect fear of an archetype rather than a single perpetrator, and this is a phantom that can’t be outrun.

Surveying the prisoner’s personal testimonies and personal effects in a gallery context raises ethical questions. It would be easy to adopt an anthropological gaze that could alienate or dehumanise the prisoners further, but since all specific information that might identify them or the nature of their crimes is withheld, there is nothing solid about these ghosts – nowhere for assumptions to lodge or for preconceptions to take hold. Instead, Clark presents a space in which the passage to the act of transgression must be considered, but also the courage and determination of prisoners who are being taken apart and put back together again within Grendon’s therapeutic community.

Jessica Ramm

‘Edmund Clark: In Place of Hate’ continues at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham until 11 March 2018.


A video of ornamental goldfish swimming through feathery weed plays on the screen of a large box TV near the entrance to Edmund Clark’s exhibition, ‘In Place of Hate’. It reminds me of time spent watching goldfish in an aquarium when accompanying an elderly relative on medical appointments. In those hospital waiting rooms, life was on hold, control was relinquished and the outside world seemed remote.

In another institution removed from the wider world, since 2014 Edmund Clark has worked as artist in residence at HMP Grendon, the only entirely therapeutic prison in Europe. I am guilty of preconceptions about the sort of work an artist might make in a prison, anticipating large-scale portraits, clichéd sound effects (clanging doors, rattling keys), images of featureless corridors and the hallmarks of institutionalised living. Some of these are present in Clark’s work, but there’s no sound of keys rattling and the portraits are obscure and unidentifiable.

The unexpected nature of the first exhibit further dismantles my preconceived ideas. White-walled, waist-high light boxes mark out a square in the centre of the room. Lit from within, the glass topped boxes contain hundreds of pressed flowers, leaves and grasses collected from the prison grounds. The specimens are carefully displayed, preserved in a state of stasis, intimate details exposed by the light beneath. A gap in one of the light-box walls permits entry to an inner square. The work is called simply 1.98m2 – the dimensions of that inner space and the same as a Grendon cell. The connotations attached to the flowers – of romance, remembrance, mourning – contrast starkly with the implication of incarceration and the dark histories of prisoners.

In a second piece, Vanishing Point (all works 2017), my premonitions of concrete and corridors are confirmed. The format of this video installation, however, with five portrait screens arranged in a diminishing ‘v’ shape, extends the perspective and facilitates a new experience of the prison environment. Empty narrow spaces seem to rush towards me as the camera follows long lines of corridors, walkways and fences towards blank-faced walls. Some areas are redacted by flickering pixels, intensifying a feeling of claustrophobia and isolation.

Until now I wasn’t aware that a facility like HMP Grendon existed. Inmates of other prisons apply to be transferred there and are required to commit to a continuous process of therapy which aims to make them confront the effects of their behaviour and take responsibility for their criminality. The therapeutic environment becomes apparent in Clark’s two remaining installations, both of which include the physical presence of staff and prisoners, their features either masked or blurred. For Oresteia, a dozen or so chairs are set in a circle as if for group therapy. Three of the chairs feature TV monitors on which the masked characters act out scenes from the Greek tragedy Oresteia. Through this so-called psychodrama, they explore themes of violence, revenge and justice.

In My Shadow’s Reflection, blurry-faced portraits of prisoners are projected onto their bed sheets along with images of the pressed flowers and prison buildings. The portraits, produced using long exposures with pinhole cameras, are distorted and indistinct, reflecting the perplexing ambiguity of prisoners trying to come to terms with crimes which may have been monstrous. The work is thought provoking and emotionally disorienting. The fact that it has also seen the artist nominated for an award celebrating outstanding work with offenders suggests that the true impact of the residency reaches far beyond the gallery walls.

Judith Alder

‘Edmund Clark: In Place of Hate’ continues at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham until 11 March 2018.


Following on from the writer development programme workshop at Ikon Gallery, which was led by Frieze deputy editor Amy Sherlock, Laura Davidson reviews Edmund Clark’s “refreshing utopian” exhibition, ‘In Place of Hate’.

Oscar Wilde pressed flowers he found in the grounds of Reading Gaol to remind him of the pleasures of life beyond the jail walls. The result of a three-year residency at Europe’s only therapeutic prison, HMP Grendon, Edmund Clark’s ‘In Place of Hate’ draws inspiration from Wilde with a waist-high lightbox, the dimensions of a prison cell, scattered with pressed flowers. 1.98㎡ (2017) evokes a meadow where daisies, pansies and dandelions stir on a soft spring breeze; floral accompaniments to an idyll where the salt of the earth frolic. Left supine, these stunted flowers have become specimens, so we may trace the weakness of their veins and pick over their blemishes.

Since the 19th century the mugshot has been associated with criminality and is an enduring feature of modern justice systems. At HMP Grendon photography features as an important tool for rehabilitation, as well as a bureaucratic function to document prisoners. In group therapy, inmates are confronted with photographs of their victims and the scene of the offence. A former prison psychotherapist describes the reaction of inmates when confronted with these images as “unbearable” when “the horror of what they had done is mirrored back to the self”. Clark explores this reconciliation in My Shadow’s Reflection (2017). Grendon’s inmates and staff were asked to pose in front of a pinhole camera as they spoke about their past, present and future identities. The resulting long exposures smudge Grendon’s community into a series of murky auras.

The nebulous portraits offer richer representations than the precision of the traditional mugshot. One inmate remarked that his portrait gave him the appearance of being covered in mud, a layer to be scrubbed off so he could be reintroduced into society as “someone who is trusted”. In a darkened section of the gallery, the portraits are projected onto prison bed sheets next to sharp photographs of flower cuttings taken from Grendon’s grounds. Interpretations change and power dynamics shift; murderer, rapist or abuser cannot be attached to the men’s indistinct features, as they are blurred alongside the prison staff. Aligning prisoners with staff on the draped bed sheets implies anyone has the potential to be on either side of the prison perimeter. The focus afforded the plant cuttings shifts attention away from the pinhole portraits, forcing the prison community to recede. It is a literal interpretation but it is hard not to draw comparisons between these curtailed flowers and the victims of the prisoners’ crimes.

These ghostly shrouds are disrupted by the only brightly-lit space in the exhibition, where chairs from the prison are arranged in a circle for group therapy. On three of the chairs TV monitors play a performance of the Greek tragedy The Oresteia which Clark orchestrated. The play was chosen for its parallels to the psychodramas staged at Grendon in which staff act as perpetrator, onlooker and victim for the men to identify with. A powerful therapeutic aid, psychodrama is used to re-enact scenes from the lives of the inmates, to highlight connections between their histories and their crimes. Often the men identify as victim and perpetrator, a complex chain of identities flattened by a criminal act. Clark’s Oresteia (2017) gives dimensions to these complicated characters by revealing them as individuals struggling to make sense of their lives.

Given the nature of the crimes, the compassion afforded Grendon’s inmates in ‘In Place of Hate’ could be seen as controversial. Yet reoffending rates are significantly lower than a conventional prison because of the commitment to rehabilitation by both prisoners and staff. Through Oresteia, Clark is making the case that unravelling the shadowy side of the psyche is important for the wellbeing of society as a whole. Indeed, there is an assertion flowing through ‘In Place of Hate’ that life inside and outside the cell walls is not the binary Wilde felt when he pressed flowers to hold onto life beyond jail. This proposition is at odds with a culture that believes removing criminals from the context of society is a just atonement for crime. ‘In Place of Hate’ challenges perceptions of criminal justice and is refreshingly utopian in its call for understanding.

Laura Davidson

‘Edmund Clark: In Place of Hate’ continues at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham until 11 March 2018.