[artinfo] Zacheta National Gallery of Art presents: Panopticon. The Architecture and Theatre of the Prison

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Fri Jul 8 05:30:06 CEST 2005

The Architecture and Theatre of the Prison

Harun Farocki, Mona Hatoum, Rem Koolhaas, 
Jaroslaw Kozakiewicz, Langlands & Bell, Behrouz 
Mehri, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Markus 
Schinwald, Artur Zmijewski

28th June – 28th August 2005
curator Hanna Wroblewska

Zacheta National Gallery of Art
pl. Malachowskiego 3
00-916 Warsaw, Poland
tel. (+ 48 22) 827 69 13

rzecznik at zacheta.art.pl

The Panopticon – Bentham’s architectural figure 
evoked in the title – has today become a metaphor 
relating not only to prison architecture but 
also, and perhaps foremost, to the society of 
surveillance. Devised as a kind of building by 
Samuel Bentham and then developed and popularized 
by his more famous brother Jeremy, the Panopticon 
was intended as an architecture of complete 
control, a trustworthy and necessary element of 

Michel Foucault wrote, “We know the principle on 
which it was based: at the periphery, an annular 
building; at the centre, a tower; this tower is 
pierced with wide windows that open onto the 
inner side of the ring; the peripheric building 
is divided into cells, each of which extends the 
whole width of the building; they have two 
windows, one on the inside, corresponding to the 
windows of the tower; the other, on the outside, 
allows the light to cross the cell from one end 
to the other. All that is needed, then, is to 
place a supervisor in a central tower and to shut 
up in each cell a madman, a patient, a condemned 
man, a worker or a schoolboy. By the effect of 
backlighting, one can observe from the tower, 
standing out precisely against the light, the 
small captive shadows in the cells of the 
periphery. They are like so many cages, so many 
small theatres, in which each actor is alone, 
perfectly individualized and constantly visible 
) Visibility is a trap" (M. Foucault, Di 
scipline and Punishment, translated by Alan 

Today, architectural systems of surveillance have 
been replaced by electronic ones that are just as 
effective beyond the confines of four walls as 
they are within. The prison has been stripped of 
architectural substance and has become a frame in 
which a drama plays out. A drama of tragedy and 
human passions, of guilt and punishment. A drama 
in which we would like to see a metaphor of the 
reigning system of social equilibrium and order. 
The prison is a theme for screenplays, but it is 
also a setting whose visuals and emotional 
undertones lure artists and viewers alike.

The exhibition is realized with the financial 
support of the Royal Netherlands Embassy in 

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