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.


At the third writer workshop led by Frieze deputy editor Amy Sherlock, the participants were asked to file a 600-word of one of the two current exhibitions at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham.

This is Carrie Foulkes’ review Edmund Clark’s ‘In Place of Hate’.

In this haunting exhibition, Edmund Clark continues his ongoing investigation into the world of incarceration and its effects via a multidisciplinary presentation of new work spanning photography, moving image and installation. Drawing on Clark’s three years as an artist-in-residence at HMP Grendon, Europe’s only fully therapeutic prison community, it directly and profoundly engages with its topic while demonstrating an impressive creative range.

In Oresteia (all works 2017) a circle of chairs is arranged in a small ring echoing a group therapy discussion. Three of the chairs are occupied by television sets showing documentation of a psychodrama session. Members of staff perform the characters of Aeschylus’s Oresteia and the inmates, all masked, respond to the play’s themes of power, control, betrayal, innocence, revenge and murder in the context of their own narratives. The masks serve the dual purpose of concealing the identities of the men, as per Ministry of Justice requirements, while also remaining true to the spirit of Greek tragedy.

Two diagrams borrowed from the prison, ‘Personality Development Pathways’ and ‘Therapeutic Community Model of Change’, are also displayed in this room. The former diagram portrays a limited world of predictable pathways through life, evoking the confining warren of both personal trauma and prison architecture. However, the diagram and the exhibition as a whole suggest that while life may leave its scars, there are opportunities to change direction. This is what the Grendon regime hopes to achieve with the men incarcerated there, and the artworks on view provide a compelling insight into the process.

Vanishing Point, a video installation comprising five screens in a darkened room, traces the claustrophobic limits of the prison – its perimeter and narrow inner hallways. This concern with physical demarcations is also apparent in 1.98m2 – a powerful installation consisting of a waist-high lightbox sculpture. This hollow square with an entrance corresponds to the floor plan of a Grendon cell and when I step inside the piece I feel an embodied sense of the prisoners’ confinement. Pressed flowers and leaves from the prison grounds are displayed between sheets of Perspex on the lightbox, making visible their flaws and imperfections. I can’t help but think that the prison environment itself must be like a lightbox, in which the privacy of an unexamined inner life is unthinkable.

The pressed flowers from this first room reappear as images in the final installation, My Shadow’s Reflection, alternating with pictures of prison architecture and pinhole camera photographs of the inmates projected on to green prison-issue bedsheets. Clark’s use of pinhole camera photography enabled him to engage the prisoners as participants in the making of their own image. The portraits were made in a group context, with each man responding to questions from Clark and other inmates during the course of a six-minute exposure, resulting in blurry, ghostlike images.

These nebulous headshots suggest individuals in the process of evolution. The lack of identifying detail protects the anonymity of inmates, ostensibly for their own wellbeing. But this facelessness could also be viewed as dehumanizing. These contrasting readings – anonymity as liberation or oppression – are evident in the men’s vastly varying responses to their own portraits, as documented in the exhibition catalogue: “There is nothing in this photograph to identify me as a prisoner. I’d like them to see the essence, the spirit, the warm energy inside me”; “It’s someone who is stripped of their identity and lost in the cogs of the system.”

‘In Place of Hate’ raises uncomfortable questions about representation, voyeurism and power, but any disquiet is alleviated by Clark’s sensitivity and openness to the men’s own interpretations – the inmates’ voices in the catalogue return agency to the artist’s subjects and provide a well-judged counterbalance to this memorable body of work.

Carrie Foulkes

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


While all the other writers chose to review the Edmund Clark exhibition at Ikon Gallery, Rachel Magdeburg decided to focus her 600-word piece on an exhibition of works by the 19th century convict artist Thomas Bock.

This is her review.

Thomas Bock was living not far from where Ikon gallery now stands when he was found guilty of the crime that would see him transported to a British penal settlement. He had tried to force his impregnated mistress into miscarrying by consuming poison; mother and child survived and in 1823 Bock was sentenced to 14 years transportation. Bock (c.1793-1855) had previously demonstrated artistic competency, so upon arrival in Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) his servitude was first in commercial design and then portrait commissions for free settlers.

The rationale for this exhibition at a contemporary art gallery emerges within the context of Ikon’s complementary show, ‘In Place of Hate’, by artist Edmund Clark. Both exhibitions focus on the role of the artist within a juridical system. Clark is artist-in-residence at HMP Grendon, Buckinghamshire; Bock convicted felon.

The museum-style Bock exhibition is brimming with modestly sized, identically framed, drawings and watercolours. A handful of Degas-esque nudes of Bock’s second wife openly permit the viewer to indulge in her solid form and his dexterous dabs of white pencil-highlights elicit lifelike hips and bottoms. These skilful observations are conventional in subject matter, but beguile in their virtuosity and mimicry of glowing skin. Also included are colour-tinted daguerreotypes, a logical progression for Bock in his quest for verisimilitude.

The gallery includes sketchbooks enshrined in vitrines. Open pages reveal, initially, un-remarkable pencil sketches of a man’s head, tilted backwards, presumed asleep. The title, ‘Alexander Pearce Executed for Murder July 19th 1824’, signals their drama. These are post-mortem recordings of a hanged man. Pearce was a thief, transported to a notorious penal station, escaping twice and surviving both times on human flesh. They were commissioned by a colonial surgeon to reveal the corpse’s psychology. However, Bock’s journalistic stilled-life observations record the cannibal unsensationally. Another restrained but emotionally charged memento mori is of Edwin, Bock’s deceased son.

Inside another case, beneath a light-shielding cloak, is a full-length vulnerable watercolour of a child, wearing a vivid Western-style red dress, posed obediently, school-photograph style. Ikon’s gallery assistant nicknamed this exquisitely painted face, the ‘Mona Lisa of Tasmania’. The enigmatic expression belongs to seven-year-old Aborigine Mithina, ‘adopted’ in 1842 by wealthy colonialists who commissioned Bock’s painting. Mithina’s governors left the colony, abandoning her to a wretched fate. This tragic interference epitomises how British settlers imposed themselves and their customs upon native populations.

On the gallery’s surrounding walls is Bock’s terrific portrait series of Aborigines, commissioned by George Augustus Robinson in 1831-35, who instrumented their exile and ‘resettlement’, betraying the indigenous people ultimately to prison-style conditions and persecution. In one painting, the deeply furrowed brow of Manalakina (Mannalargenna) looks directly at the artist, therefore us. His multiple neck jewellery, deftly braided hair coated in red ochre and smoking bush-fire stick is ethnographically revealing. Other realistically modelled Aborigines wear kangaroo furs and clasp spears. However, these were never intended as works of art, and you wonder what the sitters would think about being gawped at in a post-colonial UK contemporary gallery.

Thomas Bock didn’t portray Aborigines as exotic, or unlawful, but empathetically as proud and healthy individuals with names, characteristics and accessories. Bock was a criminal, forced to relocate, so how could he pass judgement? By showing this exhibition in the UK at a time of great anxiety over migration, prison capacities and uncertainties over identity and borders, this exhibition of drawings made almost 200-years ago in a colonised land, has a contemporary resonance to match its historical significance.

Rachel Magdeburg

‘Thomas Bock’ continues at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham until 11 March 2018.