Artist’s Notebook: Lincoln Correctional Facility Prisoners, Kate Levitt, Miles Pflanz

August 4, 2014 | Marina Galperina

ANIMAL’s feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their original “idea sketch” next to a finished artwork or project. This week, we’re excited to premiere the trailer for “Pig Movie” by sound artist Kate Levitt and video artist Miles Pflanz. The film was written by the prisoners of the Lincoln Correctional Facility. 

In spring of 2014, we were guests at Lincoln Correctional Facility, a minimum security prison in Manhattan located across the street from Central Park. From the outside, only a fenced off roof hints that low level offenders are imprisoned there.

Lincoln Correctional Facility (Photo: Miles Phlanz)

Inside, there is a diverse array of men from various backgrounds, some first time offenders, others with a lifetime of experience in and out of various prisons. We discuss experimental art and media with a group of about fifty of these men, screening our own videos and music to them in a room reserved for alcohol and drug counseling.

Miles Phlanz and Kate Silver

We discuss some of the ways prisoners express themselves. A young prisoner kicks his cell door every night. If guards come to stop him, he attacks them. We ask, what are you attempting to communicate and to whom? He replies that he is not trying to communicate anything to anyone. It is an instinctual response — all he can do to protest the extreme deprivation of his liberty. An older prisoner reports innumerable destroyed television sets in prison rec rooms. We ask, why destroy a window to the world? He says, there is no desire to close a window to the world, only the desire to be a part of the world.

Pig mask sketch by Perry Hohlstein

Prisoners’ movements are strictly regimented. They are denied not only public life, but any shred of autonomy. The nightmare of claustrophobia is their breathing existence. Virtual reality treatments are shown to relieve effects of claustrophobia. Imagining a similar therapeutic effect using video art, we suggest that they come up with images they’d like to see. They do not want to view anything in particular. They’d rather make a video that presents their own conditions to an otherwise indifferent or ignorant audience. They want to share with the world what they share with each other – experiences of frustration, immobility, claustrophobia. In the course of writing a video, they reduce these experiences to concrete images – the repetition of handcuffs clicking, doors opening and closing, stillness while the rest of the world is in motion, daydreams of release. From these images and gestures, the prisoners form a basic narrative about two people in a train who are subjected to repetitive handcuffing by pig masked police. They escape this and enjoy simple liberties – changing clothes, traveling freely, enjoying public spaces, and being able to read what they’d like.

Pig Movie (2014) still

Adjua Greaves and James Moore play the prisoners. Sigrid Lauren from Fluct does a motorcycle stunt. RVL, Nick Brujos, and Tiny Leg play the three little pigs.

Sigrid Lauren’s stunt

While shooting on the train one man told us he had always hated pigs, that he believed police were pigs since he was a child. Another man observing the shoot was reminded of a time when interracial marriages were illegal. He imagined the lengths lovers must’ve gone to continue their criminalized romances. The resulting footage is surreal and slapstick, evocative of the grim humor we noticed the prisoners shared.

Pig Movie (2014) stills

The prison industrial complex is a siege on human dignity. Attacking the prison system necessitates action against the scarcity that leads people to commit crimes and action against racist police, policymakers, and the profiteers of the War on Drugs. It also requires the realization of alternative processes of rehabilitation that do not deprive human beings of their freedom. In short, the reorganization of the prison industrial complex requires the reorganization of the totality of our society.

Pig Movie (2014) still

Here you will find a teaser for the short film scripted by the prisoners of Lincoln Correctional Facility. It the takes the form of a music video and was premiered at 2014’s noise gathering Burning Fleshtival.


Previous Artist’s Notebook selects:

Artist’s Notebook: Kim Laughton
Artist’s Notebook: Labanna Babalon
Artist’s Notebook: Am Schmidt
Artist’s Notebook: Rhett Jones
Artist’s Notebook: Brenna Murphy
Artist’s Notebook: Genevieve Belleveau
Artist’s Notebook: Saoirse Wall
Artist’s Notebook: Addie Wagenknecht
Artist’s Notebook: Don Hertzfeldt