Established in 1962, Grendon’s inmates must accept responsibility for their offence. They then exercise a degree of control over the day-to-day running of their lives, making a commitment to intensive group therapy and democratic decision-making, whilst holding each other to account. Through research and evaluation, evidence has demonstrated that Grendon has delivered lower levels of violence and disruption in prison, whilst reducing levels of reoffending after release.
Clark, an award winning artist with a longstanding interest in incarceration and its effects, has spent three years at Grendon. He has worked with prisoners, prison officers and therapeutic staff, immersed himself in the routines of the communities and taken part in the therapy meetings that are a key element of life on each wing of the prison.
The nature of Clark’s subject matter (previous subjects include Guantanamo Bay, the CIA secret prison program and the detention of terrorism suspects in England on control orders) means his work is shaped by his engagement with issues of censorship, security and control. At Grendon, as in other British prisons, he cannot make images that reveal the identity of the prisoners or details of the security infrastructure.
His response has been to create work that explores ideas of visibility, representation, trauma and self-image. These themes influence how prisoners and the criminal justice system are perceived and discussed by the public, politicians and the media in Britain today. Above all they are central to the experience of the men and staff engaged in the therapeutic process at Grendon.
The artist explains:
“Why we lock people up, how we do it and where we do it offer a profound insight into our society. I have tried to reflect on how criminality and prisons are seen, or not seen, in contemporary Britain while evoking the experience of individuals engaged in the intense psychological panopticon of therapy at Grendon. Through collaboration with the men and staff the work has been shaped or created by these processes and experiences, and by the environment of the prison itself.”
Ikon director, Jonathan Watkins, comments:
“Our residency programme with HMP Grendon was informed by a belief that the arts can be an especially effective way of engaging with offenders who feel alienated from mainstream education and employment, in order to break the vicious circle of offending. The current high level of criminal re-offending signifies that our penal system as a whole is not working. Clark’s longstanding interest in incarceration and its effects means he is exceptionally well placed to understand the complexities of Grendon, the men and the staff who inhabit it – this is reflected in the power and poignancy of the works on display.”
The immersive exhibition at Ikon will combine photography, video and sound with performance and installation and will be accompanied by two publications, an exhibition catalogue and an artist’s book. The exhibition is presented in partnership with HM Prison Grendon and the Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Charitable Trust.
Edmund Clark is an award-winning artist whose work links history, politics and representation, through a combination of photography, film, found material and installation. It has been acquired for national and international collections including the National Portrait Gallery, the Imperial War Museum and the National Media Museum in Britain, the George Eastman House Museum in America, and the Fotomuseum, Winterthur in Switzerland. Awards include an International Center of Photography Infinity Award, the Royal Photographic Society Hood Medal for outstanding photography for public service and the British Journal of Photography International Photography Award. His work has very recently been the subject of a major solo exhibition, Edmund Clark: War of Terror, at the Imperial War Museum, London, from 28 July 2016 to 28 August 2017. Clark is represented by Flowers Gallery.