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.


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