Supermax: Structures of Confinement and Rationales of Punishment


Forthcoming:

Exploring the rationales behind the building of maximum security prisons, “Supermax” offers rarely-heard industry insider assessments of the architectural aims behind these facilities and presents an otherwise not available opportunity to examine these places from directly above.

“Supermax” is conceived as a video exhibition accompanied by a discussion forum that will address the future role of prison architecture and respond to the growing impasse facing the corrections praxis today.

‟The design of supermax prisons assumes that prisoners’ disposition is to act violently, an assumption that is reflected in each and every design detail. It is a (…) design, which aims to pre-empt administratively defined dangerousness. The architectural design not only reflects the discourse of dangerousness, but also realizes it.”

Sharon Shalev, SUPERMAX: Controlling Risk Through Solitary Confinement (Devon, UK: Willan Publishing, 2009)

“Supermax” is in its launch phase. Please support the development of this critical work with your tax-exempt donation through our fiscal sponsor, the New York Foundation of the Arts, thereby directly increasing the number of prison locations that can be covered with this vital production to help bring about practical reform concepts.

UNTITLED XV Arizona

UNTITLED XVIII / XIX / XVII Arizona

Ciphers


Ciphers
aims to examine the ramifications of building trends and growth machines that systematically generate more car-dependent, low-density developments.

Viewed from above, such patterns of suburban land-use readily disclose their disruptive spatial logic. The images capitalize on and extend the fundamental estrangement that comes from aerial photography, here recorded at steep angles, often nearly straight down. It is through a “sprawl encounter” with these land-use details that these perspectives can attain abstraction, become typological, glyphic — and provoke unease, leaving viewers with the sense of having seen the writing on the wall.

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UNTITLED XXXI Arizona

Complementing the widespread belief in the possibility of catastrophe climate change, my photographs also offer concrete insights as they trace the evidence of an energy-inefficient, urbanized existence. They challenge our comfort in the normal by jarring us loose from deeply held beliefs — the assumption that growth is unlimited and always beneficial — though most American planners have simply been following the path of least resistance, channeled in the postwar years by national legislation. Relying on maps, they drew subdivisions that ignored the laws of nature — rather than drawing a connection between the built environment, building practices, and climate change. Thomas Pynchon describes such sites as “less an identifiable city than a grouping of concepts – census tracts, special purpose bond-issue districts, shopping nuclei, all overlaid with access roads to their own freeway”.

By documenting structures of prosperity in a technically highly-developed society, I set out to provide a telling glimpse of the present impasse of finding habitation for everyone on the planet while also preserving it – and to inspire a yearning for an ecological symbiosis between nature, society, and the built form.

“Christoph Gielen’s uncommon views of infrastructure from above call into question predominant development practices. By showing a monoculture that lacks integration between residential, commercial and public places, he is asking for a more intelligent use of urban space.”

Robert Hammond
Co-Founder and Executive Director
The High Line, New York

UNTITLED I / III / IV Arizona, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

STERLING RIDGE VII / III / VI  Florida, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

UNTITLED X / XII / XI  Arizona, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

UNTITLED VIII / VII / XXI  Arizona, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

UNTITLED VII / VIII / VI  Nevada, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

DEER CREST V / III / II Suburban California, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4


UNTITLED XIII / XVII / XIV Arizona, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

EDEN PRAIRIE I / II / IV Florida, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

FOREST GLEN III / VI / I California, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

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STERLING RIDGE II Florida, cibachrome print, 20.5 x 25.6 inches (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

UNTITLED II / X / XI Nevada, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

OUTER HOUSTON II / I / III Texas, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

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CONVERSIONS XVII Suburban California, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

SKYE ISLE I / III / II Florida, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

UNTITLED XII / IV / XII Nevada, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

FORMER EAST SECTOR AND PERIPHERAL BERLIN III / V / VI Germany, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

A video installation compiled from footage shot from a helicopter over California’s fire-prone regions was made in collaboration with Planet Earth cinematographer Michael Kelem.

Ciphers 2010, video stills