For the first time in its history, Reading Prison is open to the public as part of a major project by Artangel.
Artists, performers and writers respond to the work of the prison’s most famous inmate Oscar Wilde, the architecture of the prison and themes of imprisonment and separation.
Reading Prison, formerly known as Reading Gaol, opened in 1844 and was a working prison until 2013. Oscar Wilde was incarcerated there between 1895 and 1897, enduring the Separate System, a harsh penal regime designed to eliminate any contact between prisoners. Wilde’s imprisonment led to his last great works: De Profundis, an extended letter to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas written by Wilde in his prison cell, and The Ballad of Reading Gaol, composed after his release.
New works made in response to the prison’s architecture and history by leading artists including Marlene Dumas, Robert Gober, Nan Goldin, Steve McQueen, Jean-Michel Pancin and Wolfgang Tillmans will be installed in the Victorian prison’s corridors, wings and cells.
Plans and prints relating to The Separate System, late 19th century mug-shots of inmates, and work by Vija Celmins, Rita Donagh, Peter Dreher, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Richard Hamilton, Roni Horn and Doris Salcedo are also exhibited.
Each Sunday in September and October, writers and performers including Neil Bartlett, Ralph Fiennes, Kathryn Hunter, Ragnar Kjartansson, Maxine Peake, Lemn Sissay, Patti Smith, Colm Tóibín and Ben Whishaw will pay homage to Wilde by reading De Profundis in its entirety in the prison chapel.
Writers from around the world - Ai Weiwei, Tahmima Anam, Anne Carson, Joe Dunthorne, Deborah Levy, Danny Morrison, Gillian Slovo, Binyavanga Wainaina and Jeanette Winterson - have composed letters from their own direct or imagined experience of a state-imposed separation from loved ones. Visitors can listen to and read their letters in some of the cells of the prison.