Unseen and Unheard Things: Dartmoor Prison Artist residency

 

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Reading in cell, Dartmoor Prison, 2016

Prisoner in a cell at Dartmoor reading from a WWI Conscientious Objector diary. The diaries cannot be taken out of the archive, copies were made for the prisoners to read and record audio from.

Image printed on Japanese washi paper, coated in wax and resin.

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View from a prisoners’ cell over the moors, Dartmoor Prison, 2016

Window view from prison cell. A few of the prisoners have a view onto the moor, the windows are very high in the rooms and I often had to stand on prisoners beds to photograph the window.

Image printed on Japanese washi paper, coated in wax and resin.

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Exercise Yard, Dartmoor Prison, 2016

Photograph of Dartmoor prison exercise yard.

Image printed on Japanese washi paper, coated in wax and resin.

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Home, Dartmoor Prison, 2016

Photograph of a cell at Dartmoor prison. Many of the prisoners try to create a sense of home in their cell, this prisoner has built a plate rack using matchsticks and glue, and a cardboard box to hold cutlery.

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Rose, Dartmoor Prison, 2016

Prisoners were asked to share something they were proud of, this prisoner showed a rose he had carved out of stale bread and then painted.

Image printed on Japanese washi paper, coated in wax and resin.

For the last year, I have been artist-in-residence at Dartmoor Prison. Working with the Prison archive, in particular, WWI Conscientious Objector diaries.

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The title of this project is taken from a Dartmoor Prison diary written by a Conscientious Objector during the Great War.

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Between 1917-1919 Dartmoor Prison housed over 1100 Conscientious Objectors (C.O.s); men who refused to fight in the war upon grounds of conscience. I have been researching letters and diaries written by C.O.s who served time in Dartmoor Prison and sharing these writings with current inmates of Dartmoor Prison. Together with the prisoners and staff at Dartmoor Prison, I have been exploring a cultural history of incarceration, what it means to be excluded and ostracised from society.

When I was first invited to be artist-in-residence at Dartmoor Prison I expected to find the place (and people) aggressive and harsh. Instead I found staff that were welcoming and supportive, and the prisoners who volunteered to work on the project shared a genuine interest in the story of the Conscientious Objectors who were in their cells 100 years ago.

During the project I discovered diaries from WWI Conscientious Objectors. I read these diaries to prisoners, and from those initial readings the prisoners have been able to learn, empathise, and for some, to be proud of those men who were in Dartmoor Prison from 1916-1919.

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While the environment of the prison is harsh with bars, locks, and barbed wire, the support of the staff during this project has been very gratifying. It was an incredible privilege to work with the staff of the prison and museum as well as the rich archive material. And whilst many of the prisoners at first came across as ‘tough’ I found a vulnerability when they spoke about their experience of incarceration through the guise of discussing the diaries and experiences of the Conscientious Objectors 100 years ago. I have tried to share that experience in the work by contrasting the bars and barbed wire with the soft pastels of summer light coming in through the windows. The Dartmoor Prison photographs are printed on Japanese washi paper and then coated in wax and resin to create a translucency which shares my feeling of working in the prison, where some things are clear and understood whereas other things are hidden and obscure.

This project was organised by B-Side Festival in Portland

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Funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund

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