Uherské Hradiště Prison Residency

Uherské Hradiště Prison Residency

As part of my MA I was offered the opportunity to work on a one week residency in Uherské Hradiště Prison. This trip was not for everyone, but with my keen interest in Urban Exploring and flagrant disregard for health and safety I knew it was for me!

I decided in advance that I would document the trip photographically whilst there, which was wise as we were really busy non-stop, these are my reflections after the trip.

The first night we were staying in Brno at the 10-Z bunker, this former WWII highly classified fallout bunker was opened up as a hostel with all the original contents inside it; metal beds, sleeping bags, canisters and metal boxes, old motor bikes, new paper holders, typewriters, switch boards…

Part of the vision was to create an exhibition open to the public with guided tours and art and video installations were a part of this. The pieces were fascinating and made from old TV sets and ephemera they almost seamlessly merged with the contents of the bunker, making a sensory experience of the strangest kind, like stepping back in time, right down to the fake identity card you are given when you sign-in.

It was an amazing place to stay and at midnight they turned the air noisy fans off, leaving you to drift off to sleep wondering what might happen if the air ran out…

Our second day we explored the city of Brno’s art galleries and were lucky enough to arrive during the annual design expo; Bienále Grafického Designu 2016, a series of art and design exhibitions were taking place in multiple galleries in the city, and as students we were given a pass to visit them all.

Gallery spaces were taken up with a selection of graphic design in Czech and English, and I was interested to see the layout and curation of the exhibition as much as the work, an award was given to well know poster designer Zdeněk Ziegler:

Born in 1932 in Prague. Graphic artist, typographer and designer. Studied at the Architecture Faculty of Czech Technical University in Prague, Created two hundred-four film posters over the years 1963-1989.Award winnig film posters: 1964 Honourable mention Typomundus in Montreal (For Eyes Only); 1965 Silver Medal in Colombo (And the Fifth Horseman Is Fear); 1976 Gold Hugo at the IFF in Chicago (Electra Glyde in Blue); 1977 Honourable mention of the Hollywood Reporter ( Dersu Uzala-); 1982 Silver Plaqutte at the IFF in Chicago (Green Eyes); 1983 Bronze Hugo at the IFF in Chicago (A Shot in the Back).


I was most interested in the technique they had used to colour print onto the raw MDF of the exhibition stands in one hall, using small boxes to display the work of different designers, which could be seen in a grid formation from above.

The first day in the prison it’s cold, dark, dank, there is no electricity, many of the windows are broken or open, its five degrees outside but feels colder inside. As we start moving about we stir up years of dust which gathers on your chest and makes you wheeze.

We had one day to collate data and materials for the work we were going to produce off-site and one day to come back and exhibit it. Which this in mind I had pre-planned and bought a polaroid camera with me, and a selection of mug shot faux ‘boards’ printed on A4, with each of the teams names on it. My first job was to test the Polaroid camera (not used since the 1990’s) and then get the team into areas to shoot.

The camera didn’t seem to work at first, but after about ten minutes the first test shot started appear, I think the cold was affecting the processing time it was under five degrees in the prison. Once I established it was working I started to take the team to different areas and do the shots. Gradually they started to prove. Some of the guys on team decided that they didn’t want their photo taken, this was a blow to me as the prison would have been mostly men to my knowledge, and the conscientious objectors on my team were the men, so I had a selection of shots with mainly women, albeit with them looking mean! Luckily I had prepared a ‘John Doe’ and ‘Jane Doe’ sheet to ask some of the students to get involved, so I decided to ask more boys to balance it out.

I continued with my DSLR to record the space as I would an Urbex, I was captivated by the peeling paint, hand painted wallpaper, electrical boxes and bones of the building on show. A tour of the outside space also bough home the human element, a balcony beneath the chapel, where it is believed people were executed. The courtyard is green and overgrown and looked over by the working part of the art school, but I felt I needed to take a moment to consider those that had lost their lives there.

Later on when students from the school arrived I asked some and they were happy to take part, I still hadn’t used all my polaroid film so I asked the teacher to ask some other students for volunteers, some boys agreed and I took them into the chapel, but when I showed one the fake mugshot sign he objected and said he wouldn’t do it, his friend tried to persuade him, but he said he didn’t agree with it in broken English. I immediately told him not to worry and that no one was under pressure to take part, and was aware of the immediacy of the deaths that took place here only one or two generations ago, and that many local people had relatives imprisoned or killed here.

Having laid all my Polaroid’s outside to cure, I had also bought a small snappy camera with video on and recorded some sound clips for possible use later. I also collected some abandoned stamps and paper work that were piled up on the floor in one of the rooms.

I wanted to gather as much data and information as I could in the time I had, as we had this one opportunity to work in the building.


In the afternoon we were taken to our studio space which was upstairs in the 3D building an art deco style building two streets away from the main building of the art school. We were given a tour of the sculpture room, by the French teacher there, and he showed us how they learn to carve traditional methods such decorative items as lions heads, using a contraption that measures the points on the stone, that you then transfer onto your piece and chip away at to make the two pieces match perfectly, it was a really interesting introduction to how these things were done, and one of the few schools to still teach these traditional skills.

We then had a ceramic/clay throwing workshop where we all had a chance to throw pots.

At this point we were realising that our schedule was very full and we were only going to have two afternoons free to produce the work we were exhibiting in the prison, which for me was a bit of a shock as I knew I had to manufacture the lighting system with 40 lights to attach and no guarantee it would work, at this point I was glad I had done the Polaroid project!

We were welcomed into the print workshop of the art school, and for me this was my first experience of dry point etching. I had my camera with me along with the printed material I had gathered on the site, and wanted to combine a photo and stamps/imagery from the paper work. I drew out the design, but then realised the writing would be reversed if I didn’t reverse the design first so had to trace it out back to front and then etch it into the plastic. We were guided in how to prepare the plates, using multiple coloured inks, and the technical support team were very kind, and gave us some shots of the local tipple to celebrate the completion of our workshop.

During the afternoon it was all systems go on setting myself up a studio space, we had a shared area, and a locked room for coats, with beds around the edge, as the main room was very full with every one, I decided to convert the coat room into my area, I asked some staff downstairs to carry a desk up for me, found an extension lead for my glue gun, then set about unravelling and releasing the optic fibres into bundles and taping them together with masking tape to prevent them re-tangling. After spending the whole afternoon doing this repetitive task I had 40 bundles ready to attach.

Our mulita-media workshop was in the technology department in the main school building, we were hoping to do image mapping but were told that it was not possible in the time available so we ended up using some freeware that interprets sound and wireframes to free-style some work projected on the wall. It was fun to work with a new group of Czech students, but I was getting anxious about the amount of time I had left to create the work for the show.

This afternoon in the studio was pressured to get the whole work finished, I sat and glued 40 transparent tubes to the optic fibres, pressed them onto the lights, and then on completion covered the light elements with black tape. By the end of the afternoon I lifted the piece onto two desks and laid it out in sections as to where would be each part of the body. I started to glue a head shape with the hot glue gun. We broke for dinner and I invited some of the team in to look at the piece in the dark on our return, at this point I had two options, to stay up all night and work the piece into a readily identifiable human form (without a model to work on) or as suggested by the team to let go of the outcome and as they said the piece was identifiable as a human form because of the proportions and the head formation, to leave it as an abstract form. I was having a real internal battle about this as I love to get work to a stage of completion that I have envisaged, but on this occasion I had been travelling and to many workshops and was quite frankly knackered and knew that pulling an all-nighter would pretty much mean I was out of action after the show with tiredness.

So I made what for me was a ground breaking decision to go with the work in its current form.

Morning of the exhibition – its pouring down with rain, cold and we are not sure what is happening, our contact arrives late with the key and we have to carry the work from the studios to the prison, some people with paper work arrange a lift, but we can’t all fit in it. At this point I am very thankful I made the decision I did, not to glue it all into a solid form, as the piece can be folded up gently and pushed into a large bin bag for transportation. We split bags between us all and move the work into the prison.

When I arrive I am damp and hot, and really enjoying the opportunity to work in the space, everyone splits off and chooses a space they like to work in, which works well as we are distributed across the floors. I already cased the joint for the darkest spot to put my work, and found an area of corridor outside the chapel and near the entrance to the cells, where there were no windows and without electricity it was pitch black. I started by setting up a small table with my cameras, tape, scissors and equipment, hung my coat in an anterior room and with my phone torch on the table started to un-tape the work in the dark and dusty hall way. After about 15 mins I started to feel really cold and realised three tapes on 40 strands takes a long time to peel off, one of my team came by and suggested I moved the piece into the anterior room for light just while I untapped it, which I did, put on some music and got to work.

The time went really quickly I had it in place, wasn’t sure if I was happy it looked as human as it had on the table but before I knew it it was almost time to break, so I had to hurriedly put the polaroid’s up in the hallway, along with the cover from the Polaroid film with the title ‘Behind Closed Doors’ which I had discovered while in the accommodation and suggested to everyone to use as the name for the show, after some consternation we did go with it as a name but it was fairly low key.  We stopped for a quick lunch (and to warm up) and back in to welcome the viewers for the private view at 2.00pm, at that point we had no idea who (if any) was coming, we needn’t have worried.

Everyone who we had worked with in the week came by to see our work, along with the headmaster of the school. The head gave a speech along without team leader Laura, and then they came to look around, I spoke to the head through a translator about my piece, how it was inspired by the work of Anthony Gormley, how it represented a trace of the people who had been here before, and how I had chosen the site in the hallway a transitional space, rather than a cell… he commented that it was ‘a very good choice of location,’ (if you can imagine a pitch black hallway, with about 2mm covering of dust on the floors, with light at the end of the corridors at either side with prison doors and gates you’re on your way there.) Some of my group commented that it was a positive work in the sense that it was a light in the darkness, and had a feeling of hope.

During the PV I had volunteered to take photos for the record of the trip, as one of the only ones with a working DSLR it made sense, so I ran about and documented everyone’s work as quickly and thoroughly as I could, however the person with the key wanted to lock up, Laura said was I ready to go there and then and I said no I had to document the work and this was the only time I could do it,  and to give me 15  minutes to record the work, so that was all I had to record and take down. Before I knew it it was all done, over.

As a bit of a treat to end the week we were taken by coach to visit a glass making factory. It was very cold and grey for the whole trip, but we got to see some of the Czech countryside on the trip so it was quite enjoyable after working between our accommodations the school/prison and the studios all week. Our guide was a retired glass blower and he took us on a tour of all the processes, which was very interesting, wooden glass moulds, powdered glass, the glass blowing area with men in shorts wearing only traditional leather slippers and socks on their feet, the cooling machine that takes the glass from hundreds of centigrade to a temperature where it won’t break at room temperature.

Then the ready-made glass that comes in from Russia to be processed, waxed and etched by rows of machines with points cutting patterns in the wax, brushed with squirrel tails, the acid baths and the packing areas. Pushing glasses into our bags and pockets as we worked our way through the last rooms we were herded through the shop and then back onto the coach to return and pack our stuff from the studios.

We had arranged a team dinner that evening to celebrate the exhibition in a local restaurant recommended by Zdena our guide, so we all went out and chatted about what we had done that week, the Czech guides said they were surprised by how much work we had produced in just that week, and the quality of the work.