Shadow Spaces from the Art | Crime Archive

Shadow Spaces from the Art | Crime Archive:  Creativity, Culture, and Criminality
Featuring The Prison Art Project:  Works by Prisoners in the Books for Prisoners Program
and Interrogating Dump Sites:  Photographs by Stephen Chalmers
Love Library, San Diego State University
March 1 - May 31, 2014

Curatorial Statements

Shadow Spaces from The Art|Crime Archive is a series of exhibits and events designed to engage SDSU students and the extended campus community in an ongoing dialog about culture and criminality. Coordinated by the ACA co-directors Brian Goeltzenleuchter and Paul Kaplan, this series will include two art exhibition and a panel discussion, all open to the public and staged in Donor Hall, SDSU Library. Bring your smart phone with a QR reading device to interact with the exhibition. 


The Prison Art Project:  Works by Prisoners in the Books for Prisoners Program
The Prison Art Project features works created by inmates from prisons throughout the United States. As sociologist Erving Goffman argued, prisons are total institutions, designed to manipulate and mold inhabitants through extreme regulation and standardization. Creating art in prison, then, can be a way to reclaim pieces of that identity, or create one anew; it can be a way to “kill time” in a place where time must be “done”; it can be a way to exert agency and challenge the status quo, urging the audience to reconsider assumptions about the artist. The majority of the featured works are a cross-section of the art donated directly by the inmate artists to Books for Prisoners, a student organization at the University of California, San Diego, which provided each of these individuals with free reading material. The artists, many of whom are indigent and have not received formal art training, are housed in prisons of various security levels, from minimum security to death row. 

The exhibition is organized along the following questions: How does the institutional setting inform the exploration of creativity? How might the institutional environment affect the choices of iconography used in these works? How does the knowledge that the artist is incarcerated change our understanding of each piece? Are these images protesting the prison system, or reflecting it? Is the art an escape? 

Interrogating Dump Sites:  Photographs by Stephen Chalmers
Photographer Stephen Chalmers gained recognition with his photographs of ‘dump sites’—wild spaces where infamous serial killers disposed of their victims.  Using GPS technology, the artist precisely located these spaces years after they had been crime scenes.  He then used advanced photo techniques to render images that are beautiful and still – a decidedly different look from most cinematic and forensic depictions of murder. Criminology thus wonders:  is it the ‘crime’ of these images that makes them ‘art?’  Is there something controversial about the artist taking possession of these spaces and using their terrifying history for aesthetic value?  Is Chalmers simply making more technically proficient the long established criminological practice of documenting spaces of death? Or could something more self-aware be taking place? Is the artist commenting on the role the photographic image plays in fictional and nonfictional representations of murder? Chalmers refers to these images as “visual dead ends,” suggesting that they neither satisfy our desire for murder-as-spectacle nor fulfill our hope in photography-as-forensic-evidence. Titled with only the names and ages of the victims, these photographs ask viewers to contemplate how they consume the photographic image of murder.

-Brian Goeltzenleuchter, Laura Pecenco, Paul Kaplan

About The Art | Crime Archive
The Art | Crime Archive (ACA) is a mobile art space, teaching and performance center, and web-based platform ( devoted to the study of the spaces where art and crime overlap. The ACA is currently a part of SDSU’s Institute for Public and Urban Affairs (IPUA), and is organized by a criminologist (Paul Kaplan), an artist (Brian Goeltzenleuchter), and a computer engineer (Dan Salmonsen). The ACA investigates ‘criminal art’ and ‘creative crime’. The ACA’s mission is to catalyze a global discussion on culture, deviance and crime. Like crime, art can be disruptive and deviant, but also seductive and pleasurable. Like art, crime can be frightening and dangerous, but also commodified and consumed. A core distinction is that art’s dangers are often celebrated while crime’s dangers are condemned; this is partly because crime that harms is conflated with crime that offends but does not harm.  These contexts often overlap or drift between categories. It is in this shadow space that we wish to engage the SDSU campus community.

Exhibitor’s Biographies
Laura Pecenco is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of California, San Diego.  Her dissertation research involves analyzing prisoner made art.  Laura currently works with prisoners at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in Otay Mesa.  Pecenco would work with SDSU criminal justice and art students to curate an exhibition Prisoner Art on campus. A central goal of this exhibition is to generate an awareness of the pervasive myths of prison life – much of which has been perpetuated through popular entertainment – and offer another, more complex model of what it means to live behind bars. 

Stephen Chalmers is Professor of Photography at Youngstown State University. He has contributed to five books and has exhibited in group and solo exhibitions internationally. Chalmers’ photography appears in major institutional collections, including the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Light Work, Polaroid, and the Getty Research Institute.