Performers, writers and artists including Ralph Fiennes, Ai Weiwei and Patti Smith are collaborating on a new cultural programme exploring the harrowing imprisonment of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde.
The Artangel’s new exhibition ‘Inside – Artists, Writers and Readers’ will see the doors of HM Prison Reading opened to members of the public for the first time ever. It brings together archival works and new artistic installations to investigate Wilde’s devastating solitary confinement and its impact on his writing.
Wilde served two years in the Victorian prison between 1895 and 1897 for ‘committing acts of gross indecency with male persons’. He suffered a harsh penal regime known as the Separate System in which he was kept completely isolated from other inmates. During that time he wrote an extended letter to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas called ‘De Profundis’. It is considered to be “one of the greatest, and the longest, ever written” love letters according to Wilde’s biographer Richard Ellmann. The playwright penned ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ upon his release from prison.
Visitors to the exhibition will hear live performances of ‘De Profundis’ read by Patti Smith, Colm Tóibín, and Ben Whishaw in the prison chapel. In some of the prison cells, they will find letters exploring the theme of state-enforced separation by writers including Binyavanga Wainaina, Ai Weiwei, and Anne Carson. New paintings by Marlene Dumas and sculptures by Robert Gober will also feature.
Artangel is a charitable organisation funded by trusts, foundations, individual patrons and Arts Council England. Directed by Michael Morris and James Lingwood it has been producing works of ‘extraordinary art in unexpected places’ since 1991. According to Morris and Lingwood, the Inside exhibition “will offer the public an opportunity to reflect, in a particularly powerful place, on the implications for the individual when separated from society by the state”.
‘Inside – Artists, Writers and Readers’ takes place at Reading Prison between 4 September and 30 October 2016 as part of Reading’s Year of Culture.