With roots in rural Sullivan County, home to both Simon’s barn studio and the starting place of the gallery, the exhibition takes a sharp country road turn towards the area’s prisons. This is Simon’s third solo exhibition with Callicoon Fine Arts.
Simon’s artworks often combine recovered artifacts with documentary portraiture. Presaging the exhibition, and on view in the gallery basement, is In and Around the Ohio Pen, a Super-8 film, shot in 1990 and edited in 2014, on a wandering tour of a derelict prison in Columbus, Ohio. On camera is curator and writer Bill Horrigan, and on the soundtrack is the piano of the late filmmaker Chris Marker. In the middle of the film, Horrigan improvs: ‘It’s our future: incarceration.’ Horrigan and Marker’s working relationship has been a theme for Simon in previous exhibitions.
In the gallery, an enormous 1948 horn speaker removed from behind the screen of the Callicoon Cinema, in Callicoon, NY, has been restored to play a 1970s soul and funk radio show. Soul Spectrum now airs on Thursday nights, 10pm to 1:30am, on WJFF, a public radio station in Jeffersonville, NY, not far from Callicoon and approximately two hours North-West of New York City. Liberty Green, the host and creator of the show, includes a segment in the second hour of shout-outs, letters, call-ins and poetry, to and from the inmates of the region’s prisons, their friends and their families. Simon re-mastered a thirty-hour sampler of Soul Spectrum for the exhibition.
Green’s personal archive includes approximately eight thousand letters, all sent to her from a dozen federal and state correctional facilities in the station’s listening area. She never anticipated the audience or the scale of the response, but over the years and through their correspondence, the inmates collaborated on the evolution of Soul Spectrum’s design.
Simon photographed WJFF and Green’s home, showing the environments where the music and the broadcasts come from, in images that are depopulated and intimate. By depicting the sites of the sound, they pose a question of how we show, and sense, what is in fact unseen. That same question can be asked of cultures and economies of mass incarceration, and was never far from Simon and Green’s conversations.