For an outsider, the prison building functions as a warning or a reassurance. The prisoner himself does not have a face. His body exists outside the public sphere, it refers to an economy of illegality. His voice is inaudible. He is reduced to legal matter, entangled in the network of governmental penal policy carried by a disciplining, punishing society. Within the prison walls, there is only space for silent, obedient bodies: "docile bodies", as Michel Foucault has it.
I Screamed and I Screamed and I Screamed challenges the silent body and hence current mechanisms of control and normalization both inside and outside the detention centre. The sterile anonymity of the prison wall is perturbed by the voices of the prison inhabitants. In the centre stands a singular, affected body, a screaming body.
"Dear prison directors," I said to the three prison directors in Mechelen, "can I organize a screaming concert in your jailhouse?" I wanted to design a score, together with the prisoners, a score they would scream, each from their own cells, in all three wings of the building. It would make the prison vibrate and the bells of the chapel pale. On set days, at set hours, a collective muezzin of punished men.
This is how my lecture-performance started on 23 August 2013, screamed outside the wall of the jailhouse of Mechelen (BE), attended by neighbours, one of the prison directors, some of the prison staff, an international art biennial audience – and later by the police. The prisoners were in their cells at that time, but they knew we were there. Screaming out loud during twenty minutes, I described the entire process my collaborators and me had gone through, from the moment the initial idea of a screaming choir inside the prison was confronted with the reality of the prison's daily routines, politics and administration.
After my screamed lecture, still at the prison wall, we listened to a collection of screams of different prisoners.
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The video and sound installation I Screamed and I Screamed and I Screamed consists of an eight hour long video recording of a prison wall seen from the outside: a high brick wall changing from light to darkness while the sun travels from east to west; dry grass in slight movement; an airplane's contrail high in the sky, hardly noticeable; rare sounds from the neighbouring houses.
Facing this projection of the prison wall, the spectator can, via headphones, listen to a fifteen minutes long score of different screams donated by about twenty prisoners of the jail of Mechelen.