Take Me To A Place Outside.

This project is a phenomenological enquiry into the experience of imprisonment. Drawing on anthropologically informed theories of perception and imagination this film explores the relationship between the real and the unreal, the physical and the imagined, and the in- and the outside as rendered through the experience of everyday life in prison.

The very subjective accounts argue against objectifying representations of the experience of imprisonment as often supported by public as well as academic discourses. My main objective for this project was therefore to convey a sense of imprisonment as something that happens to individuals justifiably so or not.

The project was conducted over a period of three months as part of a weekly Drama workshop inside HM Styal Prison – one of fourteen women’s prisons in the UK.

Based on the methods of Applied Theatre (Boal 1995, Thompson 1998, Balfour 2004) and the collaborative use of photography, sound and video the project aims to create a dialogue with eight women inmates about the ways they inhabit the prison space.

Bringing visuality and aurality as dimensions of a sensory world to the forefront, the women were encouraged to re-create and perform places, situations and emotions related to their past, present and (possible) future. Imagining these places (often associated with familiarity or safety), and reenacting them, I intended to explore perceived absences and presences as experienced in a prison context.

The terms inside/outside are often understood in their actual physicality, suggesting contained spaces that are separated by defined boundaries. In their simultaneity the two cognitive processes of displacement from the outside and emplacement to the inside blur this separation, making them both become part of the prisoners overall experience of reality. This of course is shaped by the notion of temporality involving different dimensions of ‘doing time’.

According to some, imagination is central to the construction of reality and is shaped by both memory and ones bodily experience of the world. (Howes 1991, 2005, Feld and Basso 1996, Casey 1996, Crapanzano 2004,) In a prison context the act of imagining often constitutes alternative spaces for escaping/confronting prison reality. Taking these thoughts into consideration, this project has focused on different aspects of experiencing prison made perceptible through the act of imagining.

Theoretical and methodological reflections on the creative process and dialogue, the projects possibilities and limitations and other findings have been brought together as a film and exhibition (2009 Victoria Baths/Manchester), both of which are embedded in a dissertation accessible through the University of Manchester Library.

  • Martha-Cecilia Dietrich
  • 2009