‘Welcome to this architecture of remorse. Here you will never stop climbing, one heavy step at a time, your feet no longer yours. See how the levels go up and up. See what an illusion sky is, behind the barred windows. See these broken ladders to the moon…’ Extract by Rosie Jackson in response to Piranesi’s ‘Imaginary Prisons’ and Fiona Campbell’s work for B-Wing.

 

B-Wing is an Arts Council funded project set in the unique spaces of B-Wing, Shepton Mallet Prison.  Site-responsive artworks, poetry and performances will transform the space, reflecting its history, and confronting political and environmental issues. Somerset based artists and co-curators Luminara Star and Fiona Campbell are working alongside 6 other South West artists and writers for an exhibition and special events during Somerset Art Weeks Festival, 21 September-6 October 2019.

 

Phil Gibby, Area Director, South West, Arts Council England, said:

We are pleased to support B-Wing through our National Lottery Project Grant fund to deliver a programme of site-responsive artworks in the spaces of B Wing, Shepton Prison.  Working with the community and non-arts organisations, this project helps to achieve our mission to make arts and culture more accessible to more people.  This is a wonderful addition to the Silver anniversary of Somerset Art Weeks and will showcase a rich variety of work coming out of the region, as well as reflecting the unique history and politics of the prison.’

 

The project is engaging the local community through workshops, talks, readings and exciting one-off special events.  Local Whitstone School, home education and adult groups have taken part in workshops creating collaborative artworks to form part of the exhibition.

 

B-Wing is full of history and memory, both of individuals, the town of Shepton and of the British penal system… these physical features will be amplified by imagination’ says B-Wing artist Lou Baker.

 

Shepton Mallet Prison is infamous, yet remains hidden behind 75ft high walls, inaccessible to the public until recently.  The oldest working prison in UK until closure in 2013, it now stands vacant. B-Wing’s evocative spaces, full of dark histories, summon powerful responses. Light through windows and bars casts dramatic shadows; strong acoustics conjure imaginings of its past. For visitors it will be an immersive, poignant experience. There will be a sense of wonder and curiosity as each person makes their own way through the labyrinth of cells and corridors, discovering unpredictable interventions in astonishing deserted spaces.  Appealing to different interests, B-Wing will provoke thought and debate around art.

 

‘We are offering contemporary art with alternative narratives in a very charged, dramatic venue.  While responding to site, the artworks retain artistic integrity.  The opportunity for members of the public to visit Shepton prison before it changes hands, and see our exhibition will be a truly unique cultural experience.  I am creating part of my large-scale sculptural installations in B Wing during a residency there in August, so summer visitors to the prison can see the work in progress. says co-curator/artist Fiona Campbell.

 

B-Wing is delighted to announce that their Special Events Day on 28 September will be opened by John McCarthy, world-renowned writer and broadcaster, with a brief introduction talk.  John McCarthy has intimate knowledge of captivity.  For five years he was held hostage in Lebanon during a long and vicious civil war.  For much of that time he was beaten, tortured and held in solitary confinement.  Often he was threatened with summary execution. The Special Events Day continues with activities: poetry reading, performance, artist talk and ‘Join-in-the-Conversation’ to bring the work to life and invite discussion.

 

On National Poetry Day (3 October), award-winning writer Rosie Jackson, based in Frome, will lead a poetry performance ‘18 poets in B-wing’ with powerful female poets from across the South West.

 

The exhibition includes participatory activities such as wearable sculptures created by Lou Baker; Alice Maddicott is creating a portrait of atmosphere through a companion piece of text art.  A sacred cleaning to release negative energy will be performed by Luminara Star.  Scott Sandford’s immersive work will reflect the architecture – grids, verticals, light/shadow, disrupting perceptions.  Sound will permeate some cells alongside text and imagery by Geoff Dunlop, evoking personal experiences of incarceration; Lucy Large’s paper installation will captivate.

 

In some works, artists have collaborated.  ‘What’s exciting to me about this project is seeing how ideas from our different disciplines evolve, connect and, at times, converge. We’re not just exploring the prison as a penal institution, but as a space which can prompt all kinds of reflection and creative practice. I’m particularly interested in the idea of the cell as a spiritual enclosure – historically, this had particular meaning for religious recluses and hermits’ says Rosie Jackson.

 

B-Wing is supported by Lottery funding from Arts Council England, Somerset Community Foundation, Somerset Skills and Learning, Shepton Town Council, Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Cranmore Parish Council, MJW Architects, private donations and strong partnerships with Shepton Mallet Prison/Jailhouse Tours, Somerset Art Works and Ian Keys.  ‘The Jailhouse Tour team are delighted to have several artists planning and working on a one off exhibition aptly named B Wing at Shepton Mallet Prison… The exhibition will be yet another compelling reason for people to visit Shepton Mallet Prison during the 2 weeks. We are thrilled that we can support such an unusual opportunity’ says Charlie Lawson, manager of Shepton Mallet Prison.

 

B-Wing would like to express our thanks and gratitude to our partners and sponsors’, says co-curator Luminara Star.

 

B-Wing will be held in Shepton Mallet Prison open daily, 10-5 during Somerset Art Weeks Festival, 21 Sept–6 Oct. Visitors locally and from further afield will have the opportunity to explore the prison and the B-Wing event at reduced rates. Entrance fee: adults £10, children free.   For further information about special events and free workshops visit: www.b-wing.weebly.com  @bwing2019 (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook).

 

Published on August 6, 2019 // Sarah Adey