Series Description

 
Video Art and Mass Incarceration Part I
Programmed by Zach Vanes | TRT 01:33:46 | 1992–2007

The Deathrow Notebooks
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Annie Goldson & Chris Bratton | 1992 | 13:11 | United States | English | Color

An interview and portrait of Philadelphia radio journalist and author Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been imprisoned since 1983 for a crime he did not commit.

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The Deathrow Notebooks
Video Details
Annie Goldson & Chris Bratton | 1992 | 13:11 | United States | English | Color

An interview and portrait of Philadelphia radio journalist and author Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been imprisoned since 1983 for a crime he did not commit.

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I Thought I Was Seeing Convicts
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Harun Farocki | 2000 | 00:25:00 | Germany | English | Color

A video essay that uses survellience images to deconstrcut the white supremacist policies that led to the killing of a man at Corcoran Prison in California.

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And They Came Into Town on Black and...
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Lawrence Andrews | 1992 | 00:30:00 | United States | English | Color | 4:3

A meditation on the role that media plays in predetermining the guilt of African Americans in the U.S. criminal justice system. Interviews with a police officer, a police sketch artist, a college professor, and a falsely accused man are interwoven throughout the video.

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Space Ghost
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Laurie Jo Reynolds | 2007 | 00:25:35 | United States | English | B&W and Color | 4:3

A video essay that wryly equates space travel with prison time and reflects on the experience communicating with loved ones who are incarcerated.

 

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Following recent tumultuous events, media outlets and commentators have highlighted how the police, for over a hundred years, have been a continual source of racially-biased injustice and oppression; but so far there has been relative silence on the same disastrous principles within the prison system, even as white supremacy has left incarcerated people particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Angela Davis writes, “On the whole, people tend to take prisons for granted. It is difficult to imagine life without them. At the same time, there is a reluctance to face the realities hidden within them, a fear of thinking about what happens inside them.” The Video Art and Mass Incarceration program presents a selection of artist-made videos that face head-on the reality of the United States prison system, and recognize the lives that exist within it.

The program's first section features Annie Goldson & Chris Bratton's Deathrow Notebooks (1992), Harun Farocki’s I Thought I Was Seeing Convicts (2000), Lawrence AndrewsAnd They Came Riding Into Town On Black and Silver Horses (1992), and Laurie Jo ReynoldsSpace Ghost (2007). The four selected videos from the Video Data Bank collection analyze media depictions of incarcerated people, acknowledge the role of video surveillance in racist prison policies, and depict injustices that occur systematically within United States prisons. Most importantly, they model the process of grappling with the reality of the prison system that we so often taken for granted. Instead of seeking tidy answers to social problems, the artists use video to examine our national reluctance to recognize the human rights of incarcerated people.

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The Deathrow Notebooks

Deathrow Notebooks is structured around an interview with Mumia Abu-Jamal, a political prisoner who is on death row in Pennsylvania. Former president of the Association of Black Journalists, Abu-Jamal is a writer and creator of widely-broadcast radio programs who continues to write from prison. He was accused of killing a police officer, and in 1982 was convicted in a trial that contained many irregularities. To date, all of his appeals have failed. Abu-Jamal has been placed in highly punitive conditions; he is denied reading material and visitors because, for religious reasons, he refuses to cut his hair. Abu-Jamal describes his early history in Philadelphia, his work as an information officer with the Black Panthers, his interest and later affiliation with MOVE, and his arrest and imprisonment.

I Thought I was Seeing Convicts

“Images from the maximum-security prison in Corcoran, California. A surveillance camera shows a pie-shaped segment of the concrete yard where the prisoners, dressed in shorts and mostly shirtless, are allowed to spend half-an-hour a day. When one convict attacks another, those not involved lay flat on the ground, arms over their heads. They know that when a fight breaks out, the guard calls out a warning and then fires rubber bullets. If the fight continues, the guard shoots real bullets. The pictures are silent, the trail of gun smoke drifts across the picture. The camera and the gun are right next to each other.”

— Human Rights Projects (Bard College, 2001)

And They Came Riding Into Town on Black and Silver Horses

And They Came Riding Into Town on Black and Silver Horses looks at how media representations shape our perception of violence and violent crime, in effect creating racist stereotypes. Andrews suggests that the evidence against young Black men is gathered not at the scene of the crime, but at the scene of representation. Entrained by the actual story of an individual wrongly jailed for a crime based on "eye-witness" testimony, the video is composed as a series of verses — sometimes poetic, sometimes documentary — with segments using appropriated images and interviews with people connected to the event.

Space Ghost

Space Ghost compares the experiences of astronauts and prisoners, using popular depictions of space travel to illustrate the physical and existential aspects of incarceration: sensory deprivation, the perception of time as chaotic and indistinguishable, the displacement of losing face-to-face contact, and the sense of existing in a different but parallel universe with family and loved ones.

Physical comparisons such as the close living quarters, the intensity of the immediate environment, and sensory deprivation, soon give way to psychological ones: the isolation, the changing sense of time, and the experience of earth as distant, inaccessible, and desirable. The analogy extends to media representations that hold astronauts and prisoners in an inverse relationship: the super citizen vs. the super-predator. Astronauts, ceaselessly publicized, are frozen in time and memory whereas prisoners, anonymous and ignored, age without being remembered.