Prison is a community of people with a shared experience: They lack a voice, individually and collectively. These are men and women who in one way or another have stumbled off the road, broken the laws of society. Go Sit in Your Cell and the Cell Will Teach You Everything is a project about giving voice to those who have been silenced in the public discourse. The project seeks to break down the invisible mental walls that imprisonment erects between people.
In five Norwegian prisons in 2018–20 and in one Danish women’s prison in 2022, workshops were held with inmates who were allowed to take photographs and write texts in a joint creative process that encouraged reflection. The camera lens, like someone looking in from the outside, stimulated an alternative, introspective gaze, which many of the inmates found liberating: Life could be different. The pictures and texts are contributions to a conversation about identity and self-images, a conversation that concerns not only prisoners but society at large.
Notes posted by wardens on the doors of the seven solitary confinement cells at Ringe State Prison in Denmark. Every time a prisoner leaves solitary confinement, a warden writes a report on the condition of the cell, in the form of a handwritten note. The notes register any marks or damage to the sparsely furnished cells, for which fines are imposed. Despite harsh criticism, solitary confinement cells, where prisoners are isolated up to 23 hours a day, are still widely used in Scandinavia. The Isolation project consists of 39 handwritten notes made in 2015–2016.
For some, solitary confinement offers a break. For others, it is a dead end. Often the last stop on a downward prison cycle. This is also where some people who are condemned to be deported end up, those who fear for their lives once they are deported, and who panic in the final weeks before departure. They end up in solitary confinement because no one knows what else to do with them, and because they fill the cells with their raving angst and incomprehensible curses. But the walls are indifferent. They quietly remind them – those who have already gone too far to have a life, also way beyond their own boundaries – that the possibility of not existing actually exists.
Excerpt from the text No Exit by Kamille Nygård (2017)
Tina Enghoff is a lens-based artist in Copenhagen. She initiates projects that revolve around community engagement, collaboration, and site-specific artistic activism. Over the years, she has received a number of prestigious awards for her photobooks. Kamille Nygård worked for ten years as chaplain in a high-security Danish prison. Today she is a priest on the streets of Trondheim and writes texts based on her special interests: criminology and the rites of modern society.
Go Sit in Your Cell and the Cell Will Teach You Everything is supported by the Clara Lachmann Foundation and the Nordic Culture Point Foundation (+ logo). The TIME/PLACE/ROOM workshops in Norway have been conducted in collaboration with Preus Museum, Horten.