Friday, April 1, 2016

"9102000" at Artists Space

In 1831, Alexander de Tocqueville wrote of an emerging approach to prisons in America committed to the idea of “reformation,” which attempted to make criminals better people and reintegrate them into society. Reformation prisons ended with Nixon and the present prison paradigm was canonized under Reagan’s “War on Drugs.” This shift haunts Cameron Rowland’s “9102000” at Artists Space.

Splayed throughout a white room are the industrial artifacts of prison labor in the new paradigm: an office desk, court benches, manhole rings, lashes. Presented as individual objects, each was manufactured by subcontracted prison labor, with workers paid between $0.10-1.47 per hour, while private industries and consumers profit the rest. A prisoner, through their labor, is a part of each object, telling the story of a people we never see. The title is Rowland’s customer number for purchasing the items, his mark of participation in the system.

The objects force the viewer to confront a central problem of prisons: prisons were once envisioned as a place of reformation, where prisoners became better members of society upon  release, but how are the imprisoned supposed to re-enter society with only a suit on their backs? How can the imprisoned produce so many goods, but see none of the profits? Rowland’s answer is uncomfortable: prison is a new slavery, where America can extract free labor from black men.


  1. Until the beginning of the second paragraph I couldn’t figure out what show you were writing about (not considering the title, where you mentioned it). Maybe you should describe it in the first paragraph after using De Tocqueville’s ideas. I think that the second paragraph has some repetitions, the word ”object” is used 3 times. You said in a brief sentence that the prison system changed with Nixon and later with Reagan. How did it happen? What changed? You have to inform your reader. In the third paragraph you say that prisons are places to reform people who were convicted for breaking the law, but they are also places where people are punished. I think the questions you raise sound a little naïve given the complexity of how the penal system works with the reproduction of societal patterns. The exhibition portrays a modern form of slavery, but I think that before criticizing the correctional structure of the US it is addressing the way society tends to replicate the exploitation of minorities in all institutional levels.

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