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