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.

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)

UNTITLED XV Arizona

UNTITLED XVIII / XIX / XVII Arizona

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.

UNTITLED XXXI Arizona

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 topics, Ciphers was paired with essays by futurist Geoff Manaugh, cultural philosopher Johan Frederik Hartle, urban redevelopment expert Galina Tachieva, architect Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss, as well as environmentalists Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris of The Canary Project.

“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

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

CONVERSIONS XXIII / XVIII / 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