American Prison Perspectives

Forthcoming:

American Prison Perspectives will provide a glimpse into the dry “science” of building maximum security prisons — offering rarely-heard industry insider assessments of the architectural aims behind state of the art confinement facilities. My photography and video of maximum security facilities will be presented on-line, as an exhibition, and as an integral part of a symposium series featuring interest groups on both sides of the debate surrounding solitary confinement.

With American Prison Perspectives, I intend to trigger a dialogue that can demonstrate how prison design and architecture are indicators of political discourse, economic priorities, cultural sentiments, and social insecurities, and how, in turn, these constructed environments also become statements about a society.

Outside of a purely photographic context — this project aims to bring together the perspectives of disciplines that might not otherwise converge, to explicitly connect artistic, social, and architectural issues.

‟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)

Donate to this project here.

Ciphers

The photographic aerial studies in Ciphers  reveal the hidden geometries of sprawl growth that become apparent only when seen from far above the ground. These top-view abstractions show striking parallels between layouts and shapes of otherwise unrelated developments – structures as varied in function as prisons and retirement communities. But all of them clearly demonstrate sprawl as a car dependent phenomenon and as a way of life. These pictures are intended to invoke an era of carefree risk-taking, of “bigger is better,” when investing in home ownership and commercial real estate were still standard practices and neither distance from workplace or city centers nor gasoline prices much mattered in determining the geographic locations of new constructions.

The goal of this work is to connect art with environmental politics and to trigger a discussion about contemporary building trends by looking closely at the ramifications of sprawl – to ask: what is sustainable planning? – particularly at this point in time, when a growing need for new housing is prevalent across the globe.

To further explore these environmental topics within the context of other disciplines, Ciphers was paired with the thoughts of futurist Geoff Manaugh, cultural philosopher Johan Frederik Hartle, urban redevelopment expert Galina Tachieva, and architect Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss.

“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 2010, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

STERLING RIDGE VII / III / VI  Florida 2009, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

UNTITLED X / XII / XI  Arizona 2010, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

UNTITLED VIII / VII / XXI  Arizona 2010, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

UNTITLED VII / VIII / VI  Nevada 2010, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

DEER CREST V / III / II Suburban California 2008, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

UNTITLED XV / XIII / XVII Arizona 2010, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

EDEN PRAIRIE I / II / IV Florida 2009, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

FOREST GLEN III / VI / I California 2008, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

UNTITLED II / X / XI Nevada 2010, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

OUTER HOUSTON II / I / III Texas 2006, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

CONVERSIONS XXIII / XVIII / XVII Suburban California 2008, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

SKYE ISLE I / III / II Florida 2009, cibachrome prints, 20.5 x 25.6 inches each (52 x 65 cm), edition of 4

UNTITLED XII / IV / XII Nevada 2010, 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 2005, 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