In the summer of 2018, I was honoured to have spent a very hot and inspiring afternoon with Alison Cornyn, an interdisciplinary artist whose work often focuses on the criminal justice system. On the back balcony of her Brooklyn home with construction whirring, hammers going, and sweat beading down our foreheads, we covered a lot of ground that could have gone on for kilometers on end. Perhaps the banging of the neighbors gave us a beat to wander off on all tangents surrounding the topics of incarceration, social justice, art, and expression.
"The name of the project came about because for so many of the girls were deemed “incorrigible”, this one woman Lyla in particular - her offence was being “incorrigible”. I remember I photographed Ella Fitzgerald's intake record for Nina Bernstein who wrote for The (NY) Times (and who is the person who found that Ella had been at that institution). Ella's offence was being "ungovernable, and will not obey the just and lawful commands of her mother - adjudged delinquent.”
"Language is so important to this project and the language of how a young woman is deemed something. Even the term incorrigible sounded so old fashioned to me I didn't think it was used anymore and then I looked up just to double check: “unable to be reformed or corrected”. Research has shown that 70 percent of those (incarcerated) girls (in New York) are marked today still as incorrigible. And I had wanted to have young women be involved when the exhibition was up at the Bronson House and almost stand in for the women who are no longer with us but whose stories need to be shared."
"These are the words that the girls came up with that they found or that were used to define them, (by others): wild, unruly, defiant, wayward, delinquent, disobedient, incorrigible, ungovernable.
And then these are the words that they used to define themselves and these other girls who they were researching: free, proud, strong, survivor, imaginative, determined courageous and free spirited."
In the end, our audio recording lasted hours. Anastasia Artemeva transcribed the interview and published it on Prison Space. To read the whole interview in English, please click here. Read in Russian click here.
If you were wondering, according to Merriam-Webster dictoniary:
in·cor·ri·gi·ble | \ (ˌ)in-ˈkȯr-ə-jə-bəl, -ˈkär-\
Definition of incorrigible: incapable of being corrected or amended: such as
a(1) : not reformable : depraved
(2) : delinquent
b : not manageable : unruly
c : unalterable, inveterate
Prison Outside #2 is a cross-disciplinary discussion on artistic projects in and around prison. It takes place on November 21st-23rd in Helsinki and will present speakers from Finland, Russia, Ireland, Canada, USA, and Belgium. The program in PUBLICS and MAA-tila will include presentations, round table discussions, film screenings, and workshops. Free Translation, an exhibition of artistic and literary works on imprisonment will be launched during the conference. We will discuss artistic practices in prison, and their effect on rehabilitation, understanding the histories of incarceration, and encouraging communication between people of different walks of life.
Artists, researchers, teachers, students, ex-convicts are very welcome to join the discussion. This event will be held in English, Finnish and Russian languages. Full program coming soon!
Arlene Tucker is an artist and educator currently based in Helsinki, Finland.