Secret Lives Behind Bars

Recently on the outskirts of London, artist Mark Storor produced an installation play called A TENDER SUBJECT. This site specific piece takes place in a prison, and shows intimacy between gay male prisoners. I found it intrigue how displaying “tender” or intimate moments between two gay  men, that was not merely sexual, upended the notion that gay men are hyper sexual and demonstrated the universality of human connection instead.

One man in the audience who participated in the experience, was deeply affected by an image of two men laying next to one another. For him, having just had his family break-up, he didn’t se the two men as being gay. Rather he saw a man laying with himself, struggling trying to figure out where he went wrong. Here a straight man saw himself.

Perhaps the most difficult task in producing this work was convince the prison to all the play to take place on theirs site, prison simply didn’t see the point. Many of the prison staff were completely unaware of who was gay in their system and who was not. Many of them also didn’t think that there could be intimacy between two gay men, because in prison homosexuality is often depicted as aggressive and violent. However in the end the staff was able to see the “person behind the prisoner.”

In terms of the site-specific nature of this work, Jon Savage and I have been working a lot on understanding how space functions. Starting with everything from the abstract, and ending with the most site specific. This theatrical experience really crystalized a great deal for me, in regards to understanding site specific space. The contrast between being confined in prison, and finding freedom of intimate expression is incredible. On the one hand the prison acts a cage to display these intimate acts, and on the other it serves as a private place for lovers to hold each other– which is extremely effective for the story telling.

A Tender Subject really has me thinking as an artist, specifically as an artist, who is interested in race-relations. At its  core the piece is educational and challenges society, but also its simple convention makes the piece accessible.

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