At this moment, when a discussion is underway in Brazil concerning the possible lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16 years old, the Argentine artist living in Mexico, Enrique Ježik, opens his first solo show at Galeria Vermelho around the theme of the increasing number of prisons in the state of São Paulo. In the country that currently has the fourth-largest prison population in the world, behind only the USA, China and Russia, the state of São Paulo has Brazil’s highest percentage of jailed black people; out of every 100,000 people of this ethnicity, 595 are in jail. In regard to young people, the numbers are more alarming: out of every 100,000 individuals, 648 of them are in jail. The data of a 2012 study carried out by the National Secretariat for Youth of the Presidency of the Republic, conducted by researcher Jacqueline Sinhoretto, indicates a growth of 74% in Brazil’s prison population over the course of seven years. This evidences how incarceration in Brazil is selective in terms of both age and race, spotlighting what has been referred to as mass incarceration or hyperincarceration.
When he became aware of these data in 2014, Enrique Ježik (born in Argentina in 1961 and a resident of Mexico City for about 20 years) decided to produce a performance for Galeria Vermelho’s VERBO Performance Art Festival, to raise awareness about the massive presence of prison inmates in São Paulo State. In the period spanning from the inception of the work to its presentation at the show’s 2015 edition, the number of prisons leapt from 76 to 81, a 6.6% growth in less than a year.
In the gallery’s Room 1, what we see is precisely the result of this action, entitled 81 Prisões [81 Prisons], presented on July 10, concluding the series of performances of the 11th edition of VERBO. In collaboration with eight former inmates of the São Paulo State prison system, Ježik manipulates a wooden structure installed on the main wall of the exhibition room. After repeatedly perforating an mdf plate mounted on a wooden structure, the artist began to saw off pieces of the plate revealing the stylized map of the state of São Paulo. Following this action, each of the collaborators used a sledgehammer to bang a piece of construction iron rods into the map indicating the location of the 81 prisons in the state, resulting in the mapping of the São Paulo State prison system. The rationality of the Brazilian geopolitical map contrasts with the aggressiveness of the blows given to the iron rods pounded into it. This contrast also forms the basis for the other works in the exhibition.
In Room 2, among other pieces, Ježik is showing works from the series A razão e a força, in which he takes prints of prison maps and juxtaposes them with drywall plaques perforated by fire creating a parity between these two gestures – that of an absolutely rational prison constructions with their geometric shapes and the vestige of the burned out drywall. Another striking aspect of Ježik’s work, is his choice of prison designs based on the Panopticon model, as described by Bentham in the late 18th century, after he “rationally” (in Bentham’s words) studied the prison system at that time.
The model of the circular prison, where a central observer can simultaneously monitor all of the cells, could be adopted in schools and at work to ensure a more efficient operation of the spaces. It was based on this development that Foucault developed his studies on disciplinary devices - devices that allow for progressively more intensive social surveillance and control. Since the 1960s, emerging new communication technologies have allowed for new forms of surveillance, not always perceived in this way by those who use them. The dissemination of the Panopticon model is parallel to the progress of mass incarceration and, as emphasized by Deleuze in the 1990s, has led to the creation of a Society of Control.