By Michæl Welch
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Additional info for Escape to prison : penal tourism and the pull of punishment
In its exhibition, a poster quotes Charles Duff ’s book A Handbook on Hanging (1828): “To achieve such a hanging, the rope had to be the right length. Mr Berry, an English hangman in the 1880s, worked out a table calculating the length of the rope required according to the weight of the person to be hanged. ” A hospital senior warder wrote in 1918 regarding the hanging of Arthur Oldring: “Death was absolutely instantaneous. ” The book The Particulars of Execution, replete with sketches (and later photographs) of fractured vertebrae, demonstrates the role PENAL TOURISM • 17 of science in modernizing hangings.
In the next stage of curatorial evolution, as Casey (2003) observes, the contemporary museum shifted its course from legislating meaning through its objects toward interpreting that meaning. The museum became less an authoritative “temple” and more of a “forum” that invites multiple voices and perspectives (Cameron, 1972). Nevertheless, the role of curators and their use of the screen to filter information remain a key force in creating a museum effect: “Rather than having objects speak for themselves, museum professionals interpret cultural significance for visitors by structuring art and artifacts around easily identifiable chronologies, geographies, formal themes, and narratives” (Casey, 2003: 6; Ernst, 2000).
At Eastern State Penitentiary, curators clearly move beyond the authoritarian “temple” in an attempt to incorporate other viewpoints on the historical use of prisons and their contemporary transformations. An entire wing of the penitentiary is devoted to contemporary artworks that throw critical light on imprisonment. In one exhibit, a prison cell is revamped as a (post)modern cage in which a sleeping mat, a bath towel, and shower shoes are surrounded by a chain-link fence. Without having to refer to the storyboard, visitors recognize it as a replica of the holding cells at Guantanamo Bay.