24 channel audio, 24 speakers, 2009-ongoing
Commissioned for the chapel of the Separate Prison at Port Arthur in Tasmania
Built in the 1850s, the Separate Prison at Port Arthur was a new kind of prison architecture that delivered a regime of separation, solitude, and silence.
Incorporating the modernising designs of Enlightenment thinkers, the extreme isolation of prisoners in individuals cells was meant to provide monastic, self-reflective conditions, away from the bad influences of fellow convicts. From today's perspective, we struggle to comprehend this as a regime designed with good intentions, aimed at silence and strict separation fostering a way to self improvement.
Each week, convicts were hooded for the short journey to the chapel until they reached their individually partitioned stalls. Once in position, the hoods were removed and, unable to view their fellow inmates, the convicts took part in the chapel service. This was their only opportunity to raise their voices.
Rewards of Silence presents a congregation of ragged male voices singing hymns in unison, with each individual voice emerging from an individual stall. The voices are untrained, with varying abilities to hold a tune: some sing sweetly, others roughly. As we move about and listen, we hear signs of age, youthfulness, physical effort, and resentment.
Here in the chapel, the mingling of voices around the rigid structure of physical separation takes on a chilling dimension.
Special thanks to the singers from the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir who modified their usual pristine singing style for this project
Stanley McGeagh, Michael Cahill
Jo Lyngcoln, conservation manager
Julia Clark, curator
Dr Peter Emmett, consulting curator
Tonkin Zulaikha Greer, architects
Gold Award, Interpretation Australia 2011 National Awards for Excellence
Credit for image #4:
E.W. Searle, The Chapel, Model Prison, Port Arthur, 1911-1915, used with permission, National Library of Australia