postcard #34. Pop-Up

Koestler Trust Pop-Up Art Sale
Wormwood Scrubs, London, UK
July 2016

Last Saturday, I visited the Koestler Trust Pop-Up art sale at their offices at Wormwood Scrubs. The art on sale covered 4 floors of the small building located just inside the front gates of the prison (but outside the main entrance to the prison grounds). Artworks ranged from £10 to £300 and there were numerous NFS items on show as well.

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As well as images displayed on the walls, there were crafts on shelves and it was also possible to rummage through poster racks. This was quite different to the polished displays of the Koestler’s annual awards exhibition held at Southbank and the general feel was that of a local craft fair or even a school fête or parents evening. This sense was enhanced by the friendly but incredibly middle-class staff and volunteers welcoming us to the sale and manning the refreshments stall in the small garden area. The other visitors I encountered seemed to work in the arts making me wonder who else spends their Saturday lunchtime at a pop-up art sale at Wormwood Scrubs and why. I picked up a leaflet which contained an invitation to ‘name’ an award and this made me think about whether having an award named after oneself amounted to anything other than condescending narcissism. In the toilet there was a series of tiles which included statements from inmates and detainees about the impact art had had on them while in detention/prison. I expected to feel a certain amount of voyeuristic guilt especially when faced with a lot of mediocre art only some of which could have been cynically enjoyed as kitsch but was not prepared for just how infantilising it all was.

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Further down the road and part of the prison architecture is the Wormwood Scrubs Visitor Centre. I wondered how many people who use the centre also visited the Koestler Trust, how many family members and friends of inmates are aware of its existence and aims and how many people travelled down or up from elsewhere especially to see and buy artwork by those they know in prison.

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