Oresteia (3-channel video with sound, 74:20, 2017) is a film made possible by the collaboration of the psychodrama staff of HMP Grendon showing an episode related to psychodrama (one of the main creative therapies in the prison in which the men revisit events from their past under guidance) where prisoners respond to characters from Aeschylus’s three part tragedy The Oresteia. The characters (Agamemnon, Clytaemnestra, Iphigenia, Orestes and the Chorus) are played by members of the psychodrama staff. The prisoners identify with the characters as perpetrators, victims or witnesses or more than one of these in a process of catharsis, central to the role of Greek tragedy. All the characters are masked; for the necessary anonymity of the men and as part of the customary presentation of dramatic personae in Greek drama for the staff. The interaction between the participants combines accepted representations of violence in high art and the unheard narratives of serving prisoners stigmatised for their crimes and stereotyped as being amongst the lowest status people in society. The film is shown on three monitors placed on a circle of the blue chairs seen in the film; the same chairs and configuration that the men and staff use during group therapy.
Oresteia was produced for In Place of Hate, an exhibition of work made by Edmund Clark over three years as artist in residence in HMP Grendon, Europe’s only wholly therapeutic prison, specialising in the rehabilitation of violent and sexually violent offenders. Men apply to be sent to Grendon from within mainstream prisons to undergo an intense process of group therapy and self-revelation. Living in communities of about 35 they share and attempt to understand their criminal narratives and personal histories, often of abuse, addiction and disorder. They have roles of responsibility in the community and must hold each other’s behaviour to account every waking hour when they are out of their cells. This work has been shaped by the men, staff and the intense therapeutic processes and experiences at Grendon; and by the environment of the prison. It explores notions of visibility, transformation, trauma and self-image in the context the reductive binary of good and evil that characterises discourse about criminal justice.