The Angola Museum at the Louisiana State Penitentiary (1) dons larger-than-life photographs of the lethal injection room and agricultural work fields printed as wallpaper. A theatrical set of a solitary confinement cell sits behind green steel bars, placing you as a guard. Permitted there are no funerals to be held on the ground, a horse drawn hearse awaits its next lap in the center. The museum which claims to “preserve the long and storied history of crime, punishment, rehabilitation, criminal justice, and reform in Louisiana” sits in a double-wide trailer which once was the St. Francisville, Louisiana Bank of Commerce. Tourism and the “historic site” serve a cultural consciousness disavowing universal implication. “Historic site” designates itself as a place exempt from multiplicity or continuation, thus creating a false sense of completed story. How does “site” and “sight” operate in an unseen yet highly imagined landscape? (2) Perhaps more pressing, what about when the landscape seen is not imagined?
The early instinct for discipline and control was spectacle. Then, as Foucault described, disciplinary control took a turn towards the un-spectacular/hidden, or self-spectacularized. I believe the current mechanism of punishment could be characterized by a doubling; rather than existing as a seeable or unseeable entity, subjugation functions dually and as a concretely imaginable entity. Parallelly, there is a literal doubling in the responsibilities of the people who operate the carceral institutions in which they also operate museological institutions. (3)
The carceral is a system whose function is dependent on the unseeable-ness of its proceedings. In place of the witnessing (4) of the prison’s inner body, the prison museum and the prison film (5) emerge, seemingly as a surrogate for our eyes. Strangely though, our eyes can see the skin of the prison, and we can feel its “capillaries”. These surrogate bodies are not created for us in our incapacity, rather the museum and the film is created to push us away from the fateful questioning of the power and domination that rely on the absence of the seen. (6)
On my first visit to the Angola Museum, I thought ‘museum time’ failed. If the temporality of the ‘museum’ is characterized as one of ‘past’, and the temporality of the ‘prison’ is characterized as one of ‘present/future’; is there a temporality distinct to the ‘prison museum’? The act of characterization has a temporality of the ‘freeze’, so is there any temporal difference at all? The Angola Museum seemed different because it was the first time I not only saw a vacuum, (7) but also heard a vacuum in the exhibition space. A man (8) who came to be identified as Morris (9) was repairing, cleaning, and brewing coffee for the director who was leading me on a brief tour. When I asked, the director revealed to me that Morris is classified as a Class A Trusty, granting him the privilege to perform his state-mandated labor in the museum rather than out on the fields.
a. Hue Shift Hear Say
text; artist book.
unlicensed Alamy stock image, non-archival pigment print behind non-uv protective plexiglass, concrete screws, humming.
21 non-archival pigment prints behind an archival pigment print behind plexiglass.
d. Alveolus #1 (Fool Proof Sob Story)
oil diffuser, ‘Gutz N Glory’ hot sauce, glands, power grid.
e. Alveolus #2 (The Invisible Part)
prison issue television, tampering, single channel video, steganographically hidden audio file, security camera, media player, microsd chip, power grid.
f. Docile (Labyrinth Organ)
betta fish named Minotaur, water, aquarium, library, light, power grid.
g. Transversal (Democrats For Slavery)
h. -ficial (Johnny Handsome, 95min, 1989)
i. -ficial (Dead Man Walking, 122min, 1995)
j. -ficial (Out Of Sight, 123min, 1998)
k. -ficial (Monster’s Ball, 113min, 2001)
c-stand, plastic sorghum.
l. -ficial (Hate Crime, 90min, 2017)
c-stand, plastic sorghum
Thank you endlessly to: Adriana Amelia, Ágnes Berecz, Avra Spector, Bruce Kleski, Cristóbal Lehyt, Daniel Rampulla, Elias Dills, Ethan Kramer, Fia Backström, Jade Flint, Jesus De La Cruz, Kit Nichols, Leyla Ba, Lucy Raven, Mandi Sanchez, Max Cowen, Morris, my parents, Penelope Stryjewski, Ricci Amitrano, Roxy Jamin, Ryan Serrano-Hall, Zaid Arshad, and any unnamed but imbedded,
all install documentation images by Jack Ramsdell