Edmund Clark: In a Place of Hate / Reviewed by Hazel Simcox / 06.02.18
Not every prison is the same. Grendon Prison has an alternative approach to making the system a beneficial situation for the inmates; Grendon is Europe’s only entirely therapeutic prison. It is this prison that is at the heart of Edmund Clark’s most recent body of work, ‘In a Place of Hate’, created during his time as Ikon’s artist-in-residence. This body of work was developed over a four year period, concluding in a publication and exhibition. Presented across four rooms, the series accumulates in an immersive presentation that pushes the boundaries of photographic practice.
Photography remains at the core of Clark’s practice, yet the first room contains no photographs. A light-box instillation has been built in the dimensions of an inmate’s cell. On the light-box are dried flowers, grown by the inmates as part of their therapy. By bypassing the camera lens, the objects themselves provide an immediate connection to the location. The flowers show life growing and flourishing inside this limited environment – are they metaphorical? Clark has left many opportunities throughout for open-ended reflections.
In the adjacent alcove the contemplative, calm experience is continued. A five screen video instillation takes a journey around the prison boundaries. Redaction of information is a blunt reminder of the sensitive nature of the subject being handled. Repetition across the screens quickly becomes tedious and mundane replicating the confined nature of the environment inhabited.
Clark explores the inmates’ search for an individual identity whilst incarcerated inside a restricted system. This paradox is presented through video footage showing a psychodrama re-enactment of the Greek Myth, Aeschylus’s Oresteia. The inmates wear masks to hide their identity for legal reasons, yet are participating in a task aimed at enabling them to reflect on themselves. The display method is immersive, breaking boundaries between the prison and the gallery walls. The space both replicates and mimics the drama studio layout; in doing so transporting the viewer to their world, their space.
There is no one story that can tell the experience of a criminal in the justice system. Clark does not show just one version, but gives a sensitive insight into the methods used to support the criminals. The final room is a space of reflection and contemplation. It is Clark’s use of photography that concludes the journey. Photographs of the flowers are projected in rotation with still-images of the prison boundaries, however it is an entirely new element that elevates the narrative; six-minute pin-hole images of inmates and staff, taken during an interview process, complete the triptych presentation. The movement in the portraits distorts the identity whilst humanising the individuals.
Clark has created a cultural journey, inside the walls of a British prison. Addressing a culture hidden from the public, usually only saved for entertainment purposes centralised on judgement, such as TV dramas and Louis Theroux documentaries. Without aiming to understand, dramatize or judge, Clark enables the viewer to gain an informed insight into the therapeutic system, and ultimately allows the viewer time to reflect on human behaviour and the nature of society’s restrictions.
– reviewed by Hazel Simcox
‘Edmund Clark: In a Place of Hate’ continues at IKON, Birmingham until 11 March 2018.
Ikon Gallery, 1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace, Birmingham, B1 2HS