|Exterior shot of Reading Prison c. Marcus J Leith Courtesy of Artangel
With my partner in crime forever a lover of all things abandoned, derelict or simply spacial, I’m forever on the hunt for anywhere that may spark that little bit of excitement in his eyes, even if the very same thing does leave me feeling a little anxious and sweaty (eek, I’m a wuss)! Cue ‘best girlfriend ever’ alert when I spotted that Reading prison, with Reading being my old teenage place of residence, was opening its doors to the public for the first time since its closure in November 2013.
Thankfully it won’t be all ghouls and ghosts of any former inhabitants on this occasion, but instead an immersive interaction with artists, writers and poets who have responded to famed inmate Oscar Wilde’s time in the jail between 1895-1897, for homosexual offences, sigh. Wilde’s time in this Victorian prison was not a happy one and while trapped in solitary confinement it was here that he wrote some of his most devastating works such as De Profundis, an extended letter to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas and on release The Ballad of Reading Gaol which was based on memory of an execution that took place in the prison while he was serving his sentence.
|Marlene Dumas, Jean Genet. Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison. Photo by Marcus J Leith courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery & Artangel
Designed by George Gilbert Scott in 1844, the prison itself is the first installation with its long gallery of cells and its unique structure – based on the Pentonville structure, it was one of the first modern day prisons to prioritise reforming prisoners rather than simply locking them up. Graffiti from inmates adorns the walls with cheeky phrases and retrospective illustrations of their time inside. I constantly wonder of the talent that lies in these cells and simply just weren’t given the right attention at the right time, what do you think?
The remainder of the exhibition includes paintings, sculpture, photographs, videos and writing from the likes of Steve McQueen, Ai Weiwei and Richard Hamilton – some of my most favourite and inspiring artists all under one roof. Housed in cells, along corridors and within the former prison chapel, the works are all a completely unique response to ‘a thousand lifeless lives’ and I’m more than intrigued to see how my own visit will play out this weekend. Keep posted on my Instagram and Twitter for coverage and let’s all ignore the fact that the Patti Smith reading of De Profundis is completely sold out.
HM Reading Prison, Forbury Road, Reading, Berkshire RG1 3HY (Trains from Paddington on a very regular basis)
Exhibition runs until Sun 4th December. Weds – Thurs: 11am – 7pm, Fri – Sat: 11am – 8pm, Sun: 11am – 5pm. Book tickets here.
Further info via: www.artangel.org.uk/project/inside/