Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison

One of last month's Nice Days Out was a bit different... I visited a prison!

Well, an art exhibition in a prison to be precise.

HM Prison Reading closed in 2013 but is currently open to the public (for the first time ever) for a very special art exhibition. Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison sees artists, writers and performers respond to the story of Oscar Wilde, Reading Prison's most famous inmate.

I've passed Reading Prison so many times over the years, I couldn't resist the opportunity to see inside the building.

The space has changed a lot, of course, since the Victorian building opened as Reading Gaol in the mid 1800s. The mix of the Victorian architecture and the more modern fixtures and fittings is a very interesting one, and there are still lots of traces of the everyday life of the prisoners here - notices pasted on walls, graffiti in the cells. 


Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in cell C.3.3. He wrote De Profundis here, and after his release he went on to write The Ballad of Reading Gaol - a poem which he published under his cell number instead of his name.

This is how cell C.3.3 looks today:

During the exhibition, there have been readings of De Profundis in the prison chapel - from a stage the same size as Oscar Wilde's cell, and in front of the cell's original door. 


There's all kinds of different art and pieces of writing dotted throughout the building, in the corridors and in the cells. Paintings, video art, installations, letters ... all sorts of interesting stuff responding to the space, to Oscar Wilde's life and to themes of imprisonment.

I especially liked Waterfall by Robert Gober (a jacket hanging on the wall with a rather surreal and magical waterfall inside/behind it)....

... and these paintings of a glass of water by Peter Dreher (who has painted the same single glass of water on the same table repeatedly, over several decades).

It was also fascinating to read about the history of the building (and the ghastly Victorian separate system) and to see photos of some of the discharged prisoners.

There's no photo of Oscar Wilde, as they only photographed prisoners who were thought likely to re-offend. I wonder what all these people were imprisoned for?

This is an exhibition unlike any other.

Architecture and history and art and literature... plus the raw emotion of standing in one of those tiny cells and imagining living there day after day. It's a lot to take in!


Inside runs until 30th October - click here for more info and to book tickets. UPDATE: the exhibition has now been extended to December 4th!

P.S. As this is normally a family-friendly blog, I ought to mention that there are some adult / NSFW artworks in this exhibition so bear that in mind if you want to find out more :)


bairozan said...

A prison, really? Must have been even more interesting than the art pieces. I have always wondered what it is like to spend time in a cell, too. A very interesting post, Laura!

Bugs and Fishes said...

So unusual and so interesting! Glad you enjoyed reading about it :) There were definitely lots of people visiting who were mostly interested in the building - I went with my dad who had zero interest in the art and was just there for the history but actually by the end he'd seen several artworks that he really liked.

Unknown said...

I so enjoy your blog! I am not sure which parts I love the most...the tutorials or reading about your "Days Out". Sitting here in the gorgeous Bitterroot Valley in Montana USA, it is hard for me to imagine the age of some of the places that you show us. I would love to travel to England someday, however until then, your blog makes me a happy armchair traveler. :)

Bugs and Fishes said...

Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Kee, it really made me smile! It is so nice thinking about people around the world reading my blog, and especially great to hear from people who enjoy the crafty stuff AND my travel posts as I was a bit worried about mixing the two together when I first started blogging about my Nice Days Out :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great profile in Reading prison. I am in London and would not have found it otherwise thanks also for the heads up about adult content. My daughter is ten ��

Bugs and Fishes said...

Really glad to hear my post (and the content warning) were helpful! I hope you'll enjoy the exhibition if you're able to visit :)