Langlands & Bell : »Millbank Penitentiary«, 1994
by Kara Chatten
Langlands & Bellís exploration of the institution exposes architecture for the tool it is. Buildings such as seats of political power, the headquarters of major corporations, prisons, and indeed museums, are revealed to hold a multitude of purposes, spectacles, and realities. The nature of the physical, architectural form, is laid cold, as an aesthetic structure within which the most tangible human actions take place.
The work here is Millbank Penitentiary . This building [a prison] existed on the site of what is now Tate Britain in London. Langlands & Bell comment that while the two institutions may be by their primary nature very different, similar practices and interactions, occur within them.
The attractive symmetric, form of the building arose from the needs of the masters to apply control both physically and mentally. The six prison blocks permitted the gaolers to split apart by type and danger the various inmates within the building. One can clearly understand the need to separate men from women, and the violent from the passive. However, from a purely practical standpoint, it is also clear that this stratification is also driven by the desire of the controlling power to reduce the mental and physical effort required to subjugate and restrict the actions of the prisoners.
A large part of this workís beauty lies in its subtle crossovers: the flower like formality of the punitive plan and the journey from Old World penal institution to modern day art gallery. The role of the Tate, and indeed the great majority of these national institutions is arguably to manipulate and control art. The works are split up in much the same way as the Millbank prisoners, categorised, and treated differently in each section. Visitors are in effect processed through the galleries. They are at least sub-conciously, directed to follow prescribed routes, receiving experiences in a method subject to the curatorís intentions. The final irony is the high level of social constraint imposed. In order to maintain control certain rules are applied. Throughout the galleries the visitors route is monitored. The whole visit is surveyed.
This work breaks down and reconstructs the basis under which we view art, our buildings, and our surroundings, and reveals the »many layered« ways in which they prompt the way we live, think, and interact.
[Excerpted from: The Gallery Uncovered, MA Gallery Studies Exhibition,
Catalogue, pub. Univ. Essex. UK.]