Carceral Aesthetics

Nicole R. Fleetwood and Rachel Kushner in Artforum:

WE CAN ALL AGREE NOW that American prisons are a malignant feature of contemporary life, broadening inequalities, destroying families, worsening racial disparities, and facilitating widespread state-sanctioned premature death, to name just a few of the most obvious iniquities. But inside these prisons, people do find imaginative ways to survive. The institutional culture of incarceration has spawned individual and communal acts of inspired genius—acts credited entirely to people, and not to the prisons where they are forced to live—modalities of making and ways of surviving that involve types of creativity unique to communities held captive. To do time in prison is to become an expert at doing time in prison, to develop specific skills and levels of knowledge that can only be acquired heuristically rather than gleaned, learned, read about. Experientially, prison alters sensory life: sight—drab and reduced colors and textures; sound—loud and invasive; human touch—not part of the ideological plan for “rehabilitation”; taste—very little aside from salt; smell—at least here in California, the smell of prisons up and down the state derives from a single overpowering cleaning solution used in every facility of the entire massive system and called, I kid you not, Cell Block 64.

more here.