Warden/Prisoner

2015
Video Installation and Architectural Study




This project is a vehicle for me to parse through my obsession in building prisons.


Manuscript
The earliest configuration of my prison design appears in the graphic novel I created throughout my high school years. It was meant to be an underground facility that detained teenagers for indefinite amounts of time. Teenagers in this facility would have to partake of a brainwashing competition and a painful physical remodification process. The winners would eventually be released from the sub-terrain, back to the society. In the graphic novel, a small group of inmates try to escape.



I avidly spent quite a substantial amount of time on the architectural drawing of both the prison and the escape route. I wrote out the profiles of every character, object and buildings, in as detailed a fashion as possible. In this manner the plot would naturally take shapes when the characters encountered one another.

Inspirations
The form of the prison might remind viewers of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon model. But such a reference was unknown to me at the time the drawing was made. The building was in fact partially inspired by the campus of my high school. The campus building itself was an architectural attempt at postmodernism in 1980s China. It was made to resemble the shape of a ship because the site used to be located by a shoreline. However, not long after the building was finished, a larger landfill project managed to turn that part of the water into land. Hence, nobody had the opportunity to pretend to sail anywhere.
Panopticon Panopticon




Also occupying the media sphere of my high school days was the phenomenon of the Internet Addiction Rehabilitation Center. In these centers were teens, sent by their parents for playing Internet games compulsively, or simply for being insubordinate. The “rehabilitation” sessions were paid for by the families, who were guaranteed that their children would be reeducated and remolded. Patients were forbidden to leave at will. The treatments usually involved electro-therapy  and heavy physical labor. Some patients reportedly died during their enrollment.



The Second Rendition
In the configuration for the video installation, I reconstructed part of the prison design in CAD software and 3D-printed it in plaster.  It was exhibited on April 20, 2015 in the BFA Fine Arts building at SVA. The installation was set up in an isolated room. People were allowed to come in only one at a time to look at the video loop.  Additionally, the digital models in this configuration also featured combination toilets in each cell.

There are total of 11 plaster models made. Each model is approximately 8”length x 4” height x 6.5”width.

These printed components were featured in a collaborative exhibition between the School of Visual Arts and Brno University of Technology, Czech Republic


In video footage, the plaster models seem to take on a special effect.



I began to play with the way light moved. The models were cast into different silhouettes from diverging angles. It seemed as though the models did not become architectural until they were mediated through the lens of the camera.

In a one-on-one setting the viewer could inspect the open-ended prison, while also projecting their personal sense of scale in relation to the model. Hence, they were simultaneously the warden and the prisoner of that space.



Installation shot