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.