Monday 15 April 2024

'The Basin': The Cells [Draft 1.0]


All Images: Cumberland Basin, Bristol, February 2023 - April 2024

Spiral ascenders lead to imprisonment [with steel balustrades as seen across the scheme]. We face time within cells of text - entangled within crimes and misdemeanours. The conflicted narratives of our journey are scribbled onto the concrete and degrading polycarbonate of each panelak enclosure within the penal colony. The layered inscriptions are rehearsals for the mechanised operation, but, other than that, there is almost no decoration on the building. Are these the walls of the skull? Our final thoughts rattle around each sounding chamber but are enfolded into the roar of the machines, whose field of validity is situated in a sense between these great functionings and the bodies themselves. What the apparatuses and institutions operate is, in a sense, a micro-physics of power. How long will we remain here, suspended over the dock? Memory waits on remand and encrusts a slate that is never wiped. The evidence accumulates [does the case even progress?] and over-coding is a process without end. We have [with difficulty] gained some clues via calligraphic apertures and interstitial transparencies. Paradoxically, their overlapping left penal justice with innumerable loopholes, and so - the eventual verdict can only be imagined.

Further investigation reveals these to be open cells [unsealed all along]. Indeed, a significant aperture remains open to the pursuing elements, placing us close to ceaseless commerce. Is then the incarceration voluntary? If indeed monastic in nature [and thus scriptural], the prison functions in this as an apparatus of knowledge. Whatever the truth - we may pass through at any point, and define new tactics in order to reach a target that is now more subtle. Many such trajectories have been attempted, although, to date, each has merely led to another cell teetering above its coiled stairway [with steel balustrades as seen across the scheme]. Whilst alternative ramps of egress do exist, our mapping reveals such routes to be far from straightforward. Repeatedly, they double-back, curl into the labyrinth, or taper away to an impasse. It is the apparatus as a whole that produces ‘power' and distributes individuals in this permanent and continuous field where each attempt to escape is met with derision.

We must analyse rather the 'concrete systems of punishment', study them as social phenomena that cannot be accounted for by the juridical structure of society alone, nor by its fundamental ethical choices. We have formed the belief that the cells represent a duality - offering both welcome refuge [or at least - necessary respite] and the restriction of movement [chosen or otherwise]. The accommodation afforded is certainly squalid, and during crisis-events we have observed waves of fetid water being driven through a particular aperture with frightening force. Furthermore, their elevated position means the cells function as little more than blasting chambers when gales blow in. Nonetheless, at such times we remain content to squat there, pressed into the howling walls. Discipline makes possible the operation of a relational power that sustains itself by its own mechanism. So people actually see them - and they go inside and they look and they see how strong or safe they actually feel inside. To brave the conditions outside could be far more terrifying.

Subsequent observations have suggested one more possibility: namely, that the cells might  serve as checkpoints or way-stations on the journey. By their operation, the crowd [a compact mass, a locus of multiple exchanges, individualities merging together, a collective effect] is abolished and replaced by a collection of separated individualities. Stationed as they are upon ramped dual carriageways, each 7m wide, the cells offer an ideal matrix of strategic points from which to capture flow variations on either plane. The prison became a sort of permanent observatory that made it possible to distribute the varieties of vice or weakness, and we have ourselves exploited their potential as framing devices of a parallel and accelerating reality. Furthermore, it is well known that this entire sector may pivot at any time. In such circumstances, the cells afford a position in which the punishment of crime is not the sole element, and we must situate them in their field of operation. Certainly, we must not to overlook the partition of the fourth cell - with its glimpsed switchgear. Regardless of topographical convulsions, it is certain that the disciplinary space is always basically cellular.

The watchtower supervises from above. By the effect of backlighting, one can observe from the tower, standing out precisely against the light, the small captive shadows in the cells of the periphery. Elevated upon a single stilt, the panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and to recognise immediately. The roof slab is slightly Y-shaped which is reflected in the north and south elevations below, which are slightly canted inwards and have mullions between each vertical glazing bay. Exactly who lurks beyond those obscure windows? The more numerous those anonymous and temporary observers are, the greater the risk for the inmate of being surprised and the greater his anxious awareness of being observed. Access is from below the northern viaducts, where the forbidden gate remains ajar - but we have not yet dared to climb the dogleg stair. An entrance door is located at the head of the staircase on the north side [it is aluminium and glazed with a central horizontal transom]. Were we to gain access there, might we encounter ourselves already gazing down from within?

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