In 1950, not long after his final stretch in prison, Jean Genet directed his only film Un Chant d’Amour [A Song of Love]. The film depicts the erotic relationship between two gay prisoners in adjacent cells. The iconic photogrpaher Nan Goldin revisits Genet’s classic film as part of an ensemble of works shown inside Reading Jail, a group exhibition based on Oscar Wilde's poem about incarceration, exploring obsession and desire.
In Goldin’s section of the exhibition, visitors must peer through a peephole to glimpse the scenes of passion projected inside, like the voyeuristic warder in Genet’s film.
Goldin shows sequences from an early hand-tinted film of Salomé, one of Oscar Wilde’s greatest plays, which received its premiere in Paris whilst he was in Reading Gaol.
Goldin bypasses the court politics of the play to reveal her own fascination with Salomé’s dance – and her famous revenge against the saint who condemns her sexuality in the name of religion.
Two more videos feature a young boy in Kiev talking about the dangers of being gay there today, and a 91-year old man convicted of the same offence as Wilde.
The most personal of Goldin’s works is called The Boy. A cell is plastered with photographs of the German actor Clemens Schick, a muse to Goldin for over two decades and as aware of the power of his alluring beauty as Bosie had been of his hold over Wilde.
Goldin’s work is part of Inside – Artists and Writers in Reading Prison, a major new project by London-based production company Artangel, which, for the first time in its history, opens Reading Prison to the public.
The exhibition runs from Sunday 4 September to 30 October 2016. Leading artists, performers and writers have responded to the work of the prison’s most famous inmate Oscar Wilde, the architecture of the prison and themes of imprisonment and separation.
The Victorian prison’s corridors, wings and cells are transformed with new work by leading contemporary artists. Along with Goldin, Reading Prison will play host to work by Marlene Dumas, Robert Gober, Nan Goldin, Roni Horn, Steve McQueen and Wolfgang Tillmans.
Displayed in the prison chapel is the original wooden door to Oscar Wilde’s cell, forming part of a new work by Jean-Michel Pancin. Pancin has cast a concrete plinth to exactly the same dimensions as one of the cells in the prison. At one edge of the plinth stands the door, borrowed from the collection of the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham.
Reading Prison, formerly known as Reading Gaol, opened in 1844 and was a working prison until 2013. Oscar Wilde was incarcerated there between 1895 and 1897, enduring the Separate System, a harsh penal regime designed to eliminate any contact between prisoners.
Wilde’s imprisonment led to his last great works: De Profundis, an extended letter to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas – written by Wilde in his prison cell – and The Ballad of Reading Gaol, composed after his release.
Plans and prints relating to the Separate System, late 19th century prison photographs, and work by Vija Celmins, Rita Donagh, Peter Dreher, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Richard Hamilton, Roni Horn and Doris Salcedo will also be exhibited.
Each Sunday in September and October, writers and performers including Neil Bartlett, Ralph Fiennes, Kathryn Hunter, Ragnar Kjartansson, Maxine Peake, Lemn Sissay, Patti Smith, Colm Tóibín and Ben Whishaw pay homage to Wilde by reading De Profundis in its entirety in the prison chapel.
Writers from around the world – Ai Weiwei, Tahmima Anam, Anne Carson, Joe Dunthorne, Deborah Levy, Danny Morrison, Gillian Slovo, Binyavanga Wainaina and Jeanette Winterson – have composed letters from their own direct or imagined experience of a state-imposed separation from loved ones. Visitors are able to listen to and read these letters in some of the cells of the prison.
James Lingwood and Michael Morris, Co-Directors of Artangel, said: “We are excited to be opening up Reading Prison with such a remarkable range of artists, writers and performers responding to the imposing Victorian architecture and the continuing resonance of Oscar Wilde’s prison writing. Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison will offer the public an opportunity to reflect, in a particularly powerful place, on the implications for the individual when separated from society by the state.”
More information is available here.