THE MEANING OF PAIN :: A show of Art and Prisons

Le Sens de la Peine? Simply by its title, this exhibition raises numerous questions. Has pain got a meaning? And of what pain, or punishment, are we talking about? And if it had a meaning, what might it be? And then, of course, “sens” can signify not only meaning, but also direction, just as “peine” can be both suffering and punishment.
Perhaps there’s no meaning. But, if there is one, it cannot be discovered, articulated and argued without thought. It is thought that may sometimes enable us to understand and criticize non-sense, or even the absurdity of certain punishments as well as certain sufferings. Works of art heighten this awareness. They do not offer any precise direction except, perhaps, that of the gaze trained on them, in a rich and productive back and forth between the gaze and thought. Through the intermediary of artists and their visual expression, this exhibition offers visual and intellectual evidence that prison is not just something that happens to other people. It is a problem for all of us.

Create links
As stated by Nicolas Frize, author of a book entitled Le Sens de la Peine, « While prisoners cannot get out of jail, society may enter prisons. »
The deprivation of freedom (too often extended to the deprivation of identity and dignity) must remain exclusively what it is supposed to be, and should not be associated with a rupture from society. This is where artists can intervene: by interacting with the detainees in the prison itself. Through their work, artists can create and cultivate essential links between the society and prisoners, and possibly provide one a possible meaning to the sentence: that of integration in the heart of society, even before the release from jail.

Prisons are also mental
The exhibition speaks not only of prisons made of stones and concrete, of « real » walls. It also tells us about our mental prisons, our physical, bodily, familial, social prisons; about our conventions, our stereotypes, of gender, of social class and position. These prisons we create every day in our brains. This dual approach gives the « Art and Prison » theme its universality: it affects us all actually, in our lives everyday. Prisons are not for the others solely: they are a concern for each of us.

An oxymoron for peace
One of the artists, Abdul Rahman Katanani, a Palestinian from Lebanon, has been invited by the City of Nanterre for one month in order to be able to produce an in situ work. His piece, entitled Forest of Olive Trees, spans the window of the art space in front of the Nelson Mandela place that overlooks Nanterre. The trunks of the trees are in wood, as a symbol for peace; their branches and leaves though are in barbed wire. The barbed wire, at night, in the lights, scintillates as stars. What are the thoughts of the kids – and the adults – who stop in front of it at night?

This exhibition was made possible thanks to the City of Nanterre and the staff of La Terrasse.

With: Céline Cadaureille (France), James Casebere (USA), Nicolas Daubanes (France), mounir fatmi (Morocco), Abdul Rahman Katanani (Palestinian living in Lebanon), Ali Kazma (Turkey), Rachel Labastie (France), Joanna Malinowska (Poland), Maro Michalakakos (Greece), Jean-Michel Pancin (France), Jhafis Quintero (Panama), Frank Smith (France), Laure Tixier (France).

Virginie Stettler
09.02.2016

LE SENS DE LA PEINE
A collective show curated by Barbara Polla

La Terrasse – Espace d’art de Nanterre
Save the date, Thursday May 12, 2016: “Interdisciplinary, theoretical and poetical Meeting on the theme on “Art & Prison”

From February 6 to May 2016
Nanterre, France