“There is no residency like this”, said a Swedish performance artist. “You don’t have to be social!”
Art Prison was 45 minutes drive from Helsinki in a ramshackle summer camp by the lake. There were six bare rooms renamed as “cells” with a table, a chair, a pillow, a blanket, a jerrycan of water and a mattress on the floor. Plus electricity and heating.
27 prisoners during two weeks time, each staying in for 1-7 days.
In a world of plenty and no time to concentrate my four days in Art Prison was just what I needed.
Or, perhaps, what we all need.
According to the feedback I got from the other prisoners (writers, students, researchers, artists) I wasn’t the only one enjoying my time in the cell because I could forget everyday concerns like scheduling, cooking and communication. Many prisoners said they were more productive than ever. Some needed to sleep in first, but then… there was nothing else to do than the deed one was sentenced for. In my case it was writing. The rules and the prison guards were there to help me, to make sure that there were no other distractions than the ones I had asked for in my trial. I had one five minute phone call a day, an hour in a restricted outdoor area or work service once a day, and one hour in sauna every evening. Sauna was the only place where the prisoners were allowed to talk with one another (but it wasn’t mandatory). Otherwise I kept writing in my cell. I had no idea of the time because my mobile phone was locked away and even the time display on my lap top was swithed off. The food was carried at my door step four times a day. The guards came to call me for work service (carrying logs to sauna, washing dishes) and other things and then took me back afterwards. I could pop in to the loo when ever I needed but no detours or dwadling allowed. And it was all wonderful. A game I wanted to play, and performative. The guards were expressionless but not threatening, very punctual. A rare smile from them was like a performance. It also felt like art how they took care that every evening in sauna you could meet prisoners you hadn’t met before. And one day, a lonely strawberry on my lunch plate was a spectacle – because otherwise the food was very plain.
“…I don’t mind being involved in a performance. Performances are a bit like the rides in amusement parks. They look and sound ferocious but they are completely safe, thoroughly thought of and calculated. Pieces of art, in other words…” (my translation from Author and Translator Antti Nylen‘s blog post from the prison.)
Afterwards one of the organisers from Reality Research Centre, colleague Eero-Tapio Vuori, told me that there were three kinds of prisoners: 1.) the ones with a task at hand, 2.) those who were in a turning point in their lives and needed a retreat to think, 3.) those who were researching the concepts of freedom and/or confinement. Vuori also revealed that from now on Art Prison is meant to be an annual residency program taking place every June.
I highly recommend Art Prison to anyone in need of peace and quiet around one’s next big thing.
Thank you, Art Prison team, great concept, great job!