Tasmanian arts organisation Constance Artist-Run-Initiative (ARI) has commissioned four Tasmanian artists (Maria Blackwell, Tess Campbell, Sam Mountford and Dexter Rosengrave) to create a series of new video works in collaboration with four inmates at Hobart’s Risdon Prison, to be presented as part of this year’s Dark Mofo festival. The title of the exhibition, The Pink Palace, uses a common nickname for Risdon Prison (used by the Mercury from the 1960’s and still used by current inmates) which refers to the pink colour of the walls inside the prison.
Occupying the empty Good Year Tyre and Auto Warehouse on the corner of Argyle and Bathurst St, The Pink Palace responds to this year’s Dark Mofo theme of “time”, with works created by artists working with inmates examining the concept of time on the inside. The results include a potato currency, virtual inmates, endurance performance by proxy and a horse named Salvadore.
The exhibition has been facilitated by Constance ARI board members Grace Herbert and Lucy Parakhina, working closely with Risdon Prison Arts Officer Natasha Woods and staff within the Department of Justice.
Lucy Parakhina says “we wanted to commission works that could share parts of the lived experience of people in incarceration, and open up space for the inmates to have an equal creative role in their production.”
Grace Herbert says “the process of the artists and inmates making video works together, in a space where the inmates can’t be identified, the prison can’t be filmed and so much technology is prohibited, became not limiting but quite fascinating from a conceptual and material perspective. Ideas have been developed through whatever means and materials available. The artists began to act as proxy for the inmates, collecting footage outside the prison, representing experiences and emotions through performance or re-enactments.”
Dexter Rosengrave, an artist taking part in The Pink Palace, says “although the project was about common ground, we didn’t expect to find it therapeutic. The interview process to design the work became one of the most valuable parts of the whole experience because it created a space to build trust and intimacy in what is usually a regimented place. Patrick said that visits with me became a reminder to the parts of the outside world that he missed.”
Tess Campbell, another artist, says of working with Michael, an inmate, “our conversations have left a deep impression on me. We had to cross so many boundaries and hurdles to get to some understanding of one another. Prison systems are invisible to broader society and the people inside these systems reflect unique and powerful experiences that reveal so much about all our lives.”
Michael says “interaction with people from the outside world is of paramount importance in maintaining an inmate’s equilibrium and sense of serenity. The bigger the lagging the easier it is to drift away so being involved in this project has helped us maintain the status quo.”