Utpust/ Breathing out is a multimedia, process and participant-based art project created in collaboration with a group of inmates at Ullersmo prison. For 1.5 years we have explored creative processes through text and photography. The photos are made without the use of a camera, directly in the darkroom using breath, ash, light-sensitive paper and light. The texts are made in a writing workshop led by priest Elisabeth Thorsen. An essential part of the project’s intention has been to use creative exploration to create meetings with and between the inmates that could provide experiences of concentration, openness, understanding and freedom.
The material will end up in a permanent installation in the prison. A selection will first tour exhibition spaces outside the prison, from fall 2021.
The material created is imprints of personal stories, yet universal and recognizable, qualities that can reduce distance and invite to conversations, dialogues and reflections. The project is not about justifying actions. It’s about human encounters.
ABOUT THE WORK IN PRISON
Note from the darkroom 24.11.2019
We talked during the preparations; while we cut the paper in the dark and attached it under the enlarger. We talked about when he wanted me to turn on the light and the timer. That he had thought of a word or something he wanted to express with his breath against the ashes. Then something happens, maybe it has to do with the tall, full-sized body that suddenly was lying flat on the dirty floor? Maybe it was the way he held his head, and the gentleness he was breathing on to the ashes? There are five of us in the room. I don’t know if the others feel the same way as I do, but I think so. It feels like the rest of us are holding our breaths. We share a moment that feels so intimate, tender and fragile. NN has no thoughts for the group in the room. He is deeply concentrated and absorbed in what he is doing. The moment is broken when he says: Now, you can turn on the light.
The work with the approximately 30 inmates has resulted in a number of texts and more than 100 photographs. All the photos were made without the use of a camera in the temporary darkroom I set up in the basement of the prison. By breathing against ash placed on light-sensitive paper, the ash spreads over the paper. Exhalation comes as a result of a mental preparation formed by thoughts, feelings or words. Some participants included objects they found in the room or tore shapes from their notebooks and left it on the picture surface. In the largest pictures, a body, a hand, an arm could be present. The light seals the imprint and the image is developed in a normal black and white procedure. We worked in three formats: 25 x 35cm, 50 x 60 cm and 110 x 160-180cm. Working in the dark, with only red light as a source, creates a special atmosphere and tranquility. The development in the baths where the motif gradually emerges, is joyful and exciting. Working in this way does not require any prior knowledge, it is learned through the process of doing and experimenting.
In the writing workshop, led by Elisabeth Thorsen, everyone participated on an equal terms including Elisabeth and me. Through metaphors, association and automatic writing, we explored different possibilities for expressing ourselves in words. Short writing sequences were followed by reading the texts out load and conversations.
Both workshops have been characterized by openness, trust and focus.
Prison in Norway shall also be rehabilitative. Denial of freedom is the punishment. One of the inmates I met said: “Prison takes much more than my freedom. It takes who I am. My identity is lost. All sides of you are affected by the punishment, but not all sides of you are bad. » He described that when he worked in the darkroom, he suddenly recognized himself and he realized how hard his shield of protection had become. He wondered how it would have developed if no one scratched it.
For many years, Norway has been criticized for its extensive use of solitary confinement for mental ill and prisoners in custody.
Outbreath does not take a position, does not provide answers, but wants to form an entrance to conversations, reflections and debates. In my art as a whole, I am concerned with precisely the unique position of art as an entrance to dialogue, understanding and relationship building. How art can inspire us to be attentive and engaged, challenge and reduce the distance between us.
EXHIBITION IN THE TRINITY CHURCH SEPTEMBER 2021
The Trinity Church is located at Hammersborg in Oslo, the nearest neighbors are the Government Quarter and the Oslo courthouse. When it was built in 1848, the intention was for it to tower over the landscape. It was designed by architect Alexis de Chateauneuf and shaped like a neo-Gothic central church with an octagonal dome that towers 30 meters above the floor surface. The church can accommodate 1,200 people. The decoration is made by the leading artists of the time, with an altarpiece painted by Adolf Tidemand, the Baptist Angel by Juluis Middeltun, the stained glass windows by Frøydis Haarvardsholm, and the chandelier by Emanuel Vigeland.
DEVELOPING THE WORK FOR EXHIBITION
When I stand in the Trinity Church, in the monumental space under the dome, I also experience an intimacy, that the room almost embraces me. The work we have done in prison has been characterized by trust, openness and presence. I hope to bring these qualities with me into how the works will be displayed in the church room. It requires care to create an exhibition here that is in dialogue with and safeguards the strong qualities of this room and at the same time lifts the theme of the photos. I think «the book as form» is interesting to explore; it creates references to both the church and life stories.
I will share from the process in coming posts.
COMMUNICATION THROUGH MOVEMENT
Two inmates, one of whom is a dancer, will in collaboration with two external choreographers / mentors, Hege Gabrielsen and Øyvind Jørgensen, create a dance performance in two versions for the exhibition; a short version as an introduction to conversations and debate and a longer independent work.
It is interesting to investigate how the physical language of dance can complement the visual and textual expressions, become an addition, or contrast these. The physical presence of the body has also been an essential part of the creation of the photographs, with traces of both breath and body on the photographic papers. The dancers will use methods from rhythm dance (Gabrielsen) and Japanese butoh dance (Jørgensen) when exploring a expressions.
The performance will also include edited sound, incorporating recordings of the inmates’ texts – read by themselves.
The project is supported by Biledkunstnernes Vederlagsfond, Ullensaker Municipal Ullersmo prison.