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Who tells what to whom and how: The Prison Memory Archive

In All posts, Research Articles by Jess Linington

Cahal McLaughlin, director of the the participatory storytelling project Prison Memory Archive, has recently published a paper addressing the issues of co-creation and co-ownership of documentary material within participatory projects. He also goes into some detail around the use of interactivity in the project:

Our intention is to encourage users not to rush to judgment with their inevitable, and understandable, prior holding of moral or political viewpoints. We hope that users get to know a little of the person before deducting what position they might have held in the prison and their response to that. Since there has been a narrow public discourse around the conflict, e.g. prisoners as ‘terrorists’, our aim is to avoid these limited interpretations as much as possible in order that all stories are heard and not just those which the user feels most comfortable with. 

The paper is part of a new online journal that launched this week. The first issue of p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e includes fundamental –even intimate– reflections to pragmatic and legal concerns within the field of art research through a number of papers and reviews.

Who tells what to whom and how: The Prison Memory Archive (abstract)

This essay will consider the recording and exhibition of stories from a conflicted past in a contested present; who gets to tell what stories to whom and under what conditions? I will use the case study of the online Prisons Memory Archive (PMA) – a collection of filmed interviews at the locations of the Maze and Long Kesh Prison, which held male prisoners, and Armagh Gaol, which held female prisoners. Both operated during the period of political violence during the last third of the 20th century in the North of Ireland (www.prisonsmemoryarchive.com). As Director of the PMA, I was involved from research through production to exhibition.

Read full paper

The Prison Memory Archive

Drawing on the oral-history tradition of life-storytelling, with its open ended approach as opposed to leading questions, the PMA attempts to minimise the levels of mediation between participant and filmmaker and viewer. Participants were brought back to the empty sites of the Maze and Long Kesh Prison and Armagh Gaol, where a fifteen minute briefing before the recording discussed the process and what issues they wished to cover. A single camera operator, using a handheld camera and a radio microphone, followed participants as they walked and talked around the site. The sites’ architecture and artefacts influenced the participants’ structuring of remembering and helped trigger their memories according to what they encountered. 

Prisons Memory Archive – Maze Long Kesh Promo from Cahal McLaughlin on Vimeo.