HM Prison Reading



Hm prison Reading opened for the first time to the public so artists and writers could respond to a notorious inmate Oscar Wilde. The prison itself is spilt into three wings (A wing, B wing and c wing) yet each wing had the same eerie and sanitary feel. The prison itself displays systematic structure. This is emphasized by the basic design with the intention to induce self reflection. The basic colour scheme creates an unexposed lifeless atmosphere which is unanticipated due to the amount of living beings that would have been held there.  Despite this, the walls of the cells became the equivalent to a life source. Graffiti was displayed to communicate and rebel against the rudimentary aesthetic and restricted and regimented environment.


Marlene Dumas displays her work at the beginning of the exhibition the A wing. The work itself is challenging and Dumas is well known for confronting difficult topics such as constructions of identity and the unsolidified divisions between private and public and also the divides between the social constructs of gender. Dumas displays Oscar Wilde as a single figure painted with yellow hands. The placement of the hands indicates an idea of restriction, yet the colour yellow presents connotations to the idea of “happiness” with the possible intention being to explore and juxtapose the idea of being incarcerated but free. “Freedom” linking to the idea of wilde being open and honest about his sexuality. However, the painted hands could also indicate the idea of taint. The yellow colouring may have been used to indicate a process of rotting in a restricted space environment where the separated system of the inmates meant he was unable to socialize which in turn led to the idea of happiness and sanity flowing from his body. It may also be the intention Of Dumas to depict that Oscar Wilde was displayed to the public as a tainted and criminal  man and by doing so was  kept and categorized alongside prisoners who had been convicted unthinkable crimes  highlighting the extreme comparisons between his reason for incarceration and other inmates.


Nan Goldins display contrasts from the subtle nature of Dumas. Goldin explores in depth sexuality through the use of obsession and desire. Goldin displays the piece “The boy” where the cell is plastered with photographs of the German actor “Clemens shock.” The piece itself although explicit can be perceived as an appreciation and celebration of the male form. The use of photographs on a wall link to the idea of a teenage obsession, one that some young people will have with bands, celebrities etc stereotypically young females. Each photo although displaying sexual acts doesn’t display a singular focus on genetalia as an aspect.  This Highlights a link to a love of the person rather than a love of the act. Referring to the similarity of display to one of a teenage bedroom Nan Goldin has created a muse to display the awareness of power that his lover held over him fusing with the construction of a teenage love infatuation. Goldin connects this to Wildes lover Bosie and the fixation and fascination that Wilde had for him. The conceptualism behind the piece has an innocence about it yet the graphic nature conflicts with this and in turn exhibits a seduction of danger.



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