Phrenology investigates the perception of space though writings created by incarcerated women, presented visually through a variety of platforms. Six women (Rosemary Thompson, Sherain Bryant, Miriam Lopez, Connie Leung, Renee Mckinney and Ashanti Booker) participated in a 2007 writing workshop that I taught at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, to investigate their relationship to space and memory through writing. Initially women related only to spaces from their past, then slowly grew to acknowledge their present surroundings and the possibility for future changes of environs. To accompany their texts, I chose to photograph spaces that would serve as visual analogies to the writings, to provide the women with outside access to the world that was otherwise denied to them.
The project takes three forms, to explore different spatial dimensions, to underscore the unreliability of media archives, and the problematic of recording space from memory.
- The photographs from each space were composited into fragmented, two dimensional, cubist style panorama, overlaid with typography of each woman’s writing.
- The photographs were stitched together in panoramas to simulate three dimensions in an immersive web site, where spaces interconnect with one another through text composited into the environments.
- The fourth dimension of time is invoked in a 12 minute single channel video version, with the camera floating through the different environments, sequenced chronologically according to the age of the persona in the text. The images are accompanied by a voice over of the women reading their work, complemented by an experimental sound track composed by Paul Geluso
Phrenology was a Victorian pseudo-science of the brain, which claimed to map one’s personality according to the topography of their skull. If the psyche could be charted physically, then its alteration after a period of emotional stress could also be seen as the erosion of a physical landscape.
The project was supported by a 2007 harvestworks.org residency and 2007 rhizome.org commission.