Reading Prison: Reflection

Oscar Wilde said “All the world is a stage but the play is badly cast”. We took this to mean that one’s lives are all playing a part in the story of the world, but that their role is already set out; their fates already scripted. Our piece comments on this by using a puppet to anonymously represent everyone, being controlled by someone or something else, and in a bird-cage prison. Perhaps the role each person plays out keeps them in their own prison of their daily routine, their immediate surroundings.

The cage isolated in space is an exaggeration of the separation that the prisoners in Reading Prison. They could not make eye contact with other prisoners, never mind speak to them. We made the puppet a hood like the hoods that the prisoners at Reading Prison once wore. The cage, once painted black, appeared quite gothic. Although from a different era to the Victorian prison itself, both appeared very ominous. With the play-connoting spotlights on either side, the light coming through the bars is reminiscent of the bars over the windows in the prison cells.


The bird cage is a found domestic object, like Robert Gober often uses in his pieces, although ours wasn’t handmade, only edited. The bird-cage might lead the viewer to expect to see a natural, colourful, free creature. The lack of nature that they are presented with contrasts their expectation. The cage connotes nature, but does not hold any, unlike Robert Gober.

Other artists mentioned at our crit include Louise Bourgeois, Mark Dion’s Library for the studious Birds of the Massachusetts and Joseph Cornell’s boxes as well as Baroque films and Sia’s music video for Elastic Hearts.

It was also pointed out that the stage lighting is of another scale to the cage, and therefore it as is if they are from another world, and making it obvious that we are viewing the performance as a spectacle. The bright lights, like stage lights, prevent the man from seeing out of the cage, although we can look in.

It was suggested that the puppet hand could have worn a glove to seem more realistic. This was a point that we wouldn’t have thought of, but that could have improved the piece, although I enjoyed the aesthetic that the current look of the hand has. We discussed the intrigue the hand as a puppet gave, and whether the puppet is actually controlling the hand.

The hand above the cage is detached from anything else, and is attached a few inches above the cage, so that it floats in the air. I think that this makes the puppet master extra mysterious, but the floating hand also is very aesthetically pleasing. We eventually decided to paint the hand black in order to make it obvious that it was not like the puppet but was a puppet master, rather.


Reading Prison: Execution

The completion of our hanging piece took a few group meetings, (Me, Fiona Jones and Blaize Lynch). After each individual piece eventually arrived, we spray painted the hand and cage black, for mystery, harmony, and to distinguish the hand from being a puppet, as it was supposed to represent the puppet master. We also made a hood for the puppet using hessian.

We then met to put everything together. The base of the man was separated and used to attach the hand to the cage, which we attached with glue and then we had to wait for it to dry. We then threaded string through the holes that we had previously drilled through the fingers and hands and feet and put it all together. Balancing it evenly when hanging it from the ceiling was tricky.

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We didn’t manage to get the dark room, but we did hire some spotlights from the equipment store to give the dramatic effect of a play. These were placed on plinths on either side, and were effective. The finished piece can be seen below.

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Reading Prison: Plan

All the world is a stage but the play is badly cast.‘ – Oscar Wilde. In groups we will be making a piece in response to this quote, and to our trip to the prison here; Reading Gaol, which was open as an art exhibition. Most of the work centred around the history of the prison, which was the most moving part in my opinion. I have written an article about the exhibition and the prison for the university newspaper, the Spark. Please read it below, or on once it is published.


I also played around with the photos I took using Photoshop. The results are below.

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My first brainstorm around Wilde’s quote led to the idea that people’s fates are already scripted, and out of our control. Perhaps prisoners themselves can’t control the fact that they end up in prison. As if we are puppets being controlled by a puppet master. This led to a couple of ideas; one involving puppets, and a performance about struggling to perform a play while separated.

At our meeting we decided to go with the puppets idea, and came up with a plan. The puppet will be anonymous drawing figure on the stage, inside of a bird cage that will act as the prison. The one figure will be wearing a hood like the prisoners in Reading Gaol wore as part of the separate system.

When we think about the exhibition of the cage we will also be considering keeping it separate, hanging in space, and lit by stage lights. Our first step is waiting for the essentially ‘found’ objects.

Below is our plan.

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