​ai weiwei and patti smith part of artangel project at prison oscar wilde was sent to for being gay

The major new site-specific project will bring a group of the best artists and writers in the world to Reading Prison, where Wilde was incarcerated during the 1890s.

by Charlotte Gush
21 July 2016, 10:50am

Artangel have announced a major new project at Reading Prison later this year, bringing a heavyweight list of international artists and writers to the site where Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in the 1890s for being gay.

Ai Weiwei -- whose experience of solitary confinement is depicted in S.A.C.R.E.D, his installation of six 3D scenes from his 81 day imprisonment, which was shown at his Royal Academy of Arts show last year -- will write a 'prison letter' for the project, mirroring Wilde's famous letter to his lover, De Profundis ('out of the depths' - of misery, despair). Others writing prison letters include Anne Carson, Deborah Levy, Binyavanga Wainaina, Tahmima Anam and Jeanette Winterson.

Each Sunday in September and October, writers and performers will recite De Profundis in its entirety at the prison. Readers include Patti Smith, Lemn Sissay, Neil Bartlett, Ralph Fiennes, Ragnar Kjartansson, Maxine Peake, Colm Tóibín and Ben Whishaw.

A number of high profile artists are making new works for the project, including the painter Marlene Dumas, who had a Tate Modern retrospective last year, the American sculptor Robert Gober, photographer Nan Goldin, film director and artist Steve McQueen, who will create an installation across a couple of cells, and the German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans.

Reading Prison. Photography Morley von Sternberg

Co-Directors of Artangel, James Lingwood and Michael Morris, say, "We are excited to be opening up Reading Prison with such a remarkable range of artists, writers and performers responding to the imposing Victorian architecture and the continuing resonance of De Profundis, written by Wilde in his cell as Prisoner C.3.3".

"Inside - Artists and Writers in Reading Prison will offer the public an opportunity to reflect, in a particularly powerful place, on the implications for the individual when separated from society by the state," the directors continue, explaining that the project is part of the first phase of Reading International, an Arts Council England project led by the University of Reading.

Inside - Artists and Writers in Reading Prison by Artangel runs 4 September - 30 October 2016.


Text Charlotte Gush
Main image: Oscar and Bosie, British Library Archive, Oscar Wilde Collection Items © The British Library Board, Add.81783A,f.19

Ai Weiwei
Patti Smith
oscar wilde
wolfgang tillmans
anne carson
nan goldin
jeanette winterson
Reading Prison