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THERE’S A PLACE FOR US

              
AN EMAIL TO THE AUDIENCE, ITS ATTACHMENT AND AFTER;
ON THE OCCASION OF PERE PORTABELLA’S SCREENING             
OF ‘THE SUPPER’ AT BRIXTON PRISON, LONDON              
V–XII–MMXIX

 Winstanley Schtinter 



THE INSTRUCTION/THE DIRECTIONS

To all those who have booked for the event at Brixton Prison—Please read this email in its entirety and very carefully, and confirm that you have received it. If you are receiving this email again it is because you have not confirmed receipt. If you have booked for others  please ensure that they too receive this information. You will need to bring identification in order to enter the prison: a passport or driving license. Without identification you will not be able to enter. You must arrive by 17:30 at the absolute latest in order to be registered; to put all of your personal items into a locker (nothing can be taken in but the clothes you're wearing: no phone, no keys, no NOTHING); to be searched. Late arrivals will not be admitted.

From Brixton Hill turn on to Jebb Avenue and follow the signs for visitors / Clink check-in centre. You will arrive eventually at a white box with bars across its door. Other people may be waiting there.

The organiser will be inside already setting up and there will be no way to contact him. In case of emergency you can contact the organiser’s colleague ******* on ***********, who will check your name against the list of bookings. A separate employee of the prison itself will take your ID and hold it whilst you’re inside. By 18:00 you should be inside and everything will be ready to go... I have been asked to pass on the dress code:

— Hats may not be worn in the prison, with the exception of religious headwear (e.g. Sikh turbans, Jewish Kippah [yarmulkes], Muslim Kufi, the Hijab and Rastafarian hats). These will be subject to searching as per HMP Brixton’s searching policy;

— Gloves and scarves may not be worn. These should be left in the lockers provided in the Security-Check-in-Centre;

— Hooded tops may be worn, but not with the hood up;

— Dresses, skirts and shorts must reach the knee in the standing position; high cut shorts are not permitted;

— Tops must be sufficient to cover the chest, back, the midriff area and must not be transparent. Cleavage must be appropriately covered so as not to cause offence. Athletic singlets (vests) are not permitted;

—Torn or ripped jeans with any holes are not permitted;

— Footwear must be enclosed. Sandals are appropriate, but flip-flops are not permitted;

— Clothing with any logos connected to a sporting team may not be worn by visitors Clothing displaying offensive patterns or logos will not be permitted (such as cannabis leaves, racist logos or offensive language);

— Clothing with electronic devices fitted are not permitted (such as light up Christmas jumpers) as the electric components and the battery pack with these are banned in prisons.

In case of interest you will find attached a personal statement from the organiser which expresses something of their view on the event. You are not permitted to share this with any individual or on any media without the organiser’s prior consent, especially if you are a journalist.


THE ATTACHMENT

‘Success’ of course is always relative, and to impress the inherent doubt of what it means and what it does, in my view the word should always be cordoned off by those grammatical furrows of doubt. The ‘success’ of independently organising a survey of films such as this one depends on striking a balance between institutional prestige (which is how you get the [never enough] funding), and an ingenuity to satisfy the healthy cynicism attached to the former; for yourself and for everyone else; determined to share further and in ‘unusual’ ways, and also not to follow the precedent of pretty much all other current ‘successful’ artist and curator careers today: to simulate innovation, and even danger, but absolutely not actually be or do either. It is not so much about standing out as it is about acting out against the echo chamber of British culture today: all pervasive and entirely fascistic in its advocation of a distinct brand of complicity and competition which defines culture as marketplace; which confuses the terms of monetary and moral success, and that lies to itself and to its consumer about what it is really saying and doing.

You need only look at the lists that are produced at this time of year by our broken media to see how parochial, hateful, and utterly conservative the whole thing is (t’was ever thus, in a sense, but never has it looked so completely de-radicalised; so completely devoid of light breaking through). Dangerously confused too: as this culture sits neatly alongside the broader political nightmare, whilst professing itself—no, worse: identifying itself—an adversary. I once thought that the critic and the commissioner both were conspiring and evil, but ongoing experience of those with power who work within institutions usually abbreviated to three capital characters, suffer with a single and dominant behavioural problem. Idiocy. Proper Fucking Idiocy. Any change volunteered within and by the institution unless it is a total overhaul of the current position—or lack of position—can only be symbolic and so remains void. Decisions that are made—or fail to be made—will impress in time the conclusion of this; of complacency and a casual contempt for the audience. It is a cover up and a scam so complete and so consummate that it is easier to be complicit than it is to risk parroting what can be interpreted as a vague call to arms (like this one!). But it is with a useful naivety; one that falls dizzily from rightfully (but impossibly) pointing the finger everywhere at once, that we find our grounds from which to critique, to show, to make. What ‘Success’ means and what ‘Success’ does are two avenues of understanding that demand a renewed culture of interrogation.

All this naturally preempts an admission of my own failing, or, if not a failing then at least an unravelling of events which lead me to a place of ambiguity; a place you are all invested in and that I wish to make clear in advance of the event. Brixton Prison’s participation in this programme was led entirely by the film by Pere Portabella, El Sopar (The Supper). As you will most likely know, the film takes place on the eve of the execution of Salvador Puig Antich by General Francisco Franco in Spain in 1974, as five former political prisoners gather to prepare food and eat together and compare their experiences of long prison sentences. I contacted several prisons repeatedly and received immediate dismissal or nothing at all. It was only Brixton Prison that responded positively (after A LOT of careful campaign and persuasion). I was referred by the prison to a representative of the Clink charity, which trains prisoners and awards qualifications for reintegration post-sentence. The basic principle is that the education and training the convicted did not access outside they can benefit from whilst serving. This finds its most public facing embodiment in The Clink restaurant on-site at Brixton prison. The screening of Portabella’s film was always planned to happen in a unique internal space with prisoner participation, witnessing together that which cannot be found in London’s cinemas or on streaming services, and certainly not on the channels 1 to 5 of prison televisions. That we now find ourselves in an almost private room adjoining the restaurant… I can only think that this cordoning off reflects the enduring power of Portabella’s film and the extreme emotional and spiritual determination of those in it; examples surely at odds with the corrective programme implemented by prisons.

For years I have attempted to organise what are usually described as ‘alternative’ (liberated!) film events inside British prisons. An attending public was never a consideration or motivation until the opportunity arose in the context of Portabella’s film. But important questions sustain: that we have managed to bring such a motivating and subversive document into a prison is a major coup, but is that enough? Whatever the projection, do we as attendees tacitly endorse the prison system? By entering on the authority of the gatekeepers are we inevitably against those held by them? And what is the motivation of the gatekeepers in allowing us anywhere near the inmates? To go in without any dialogue is a betrayal of what might come out of it, depending on our open individual and collective scrutiny as attendees, in relation to actual exchange with the prisoners. To make clear my position, as clear as I have one: it baffles me to think that anyone can support a system which expects and indeed depends on offences happening, to be punished after the fact. It baffles me that we can overlook the slow assault of the dominant political agenda today; a regime here in Britain perfected so as to appear absolved of its violence; the same authority that exists and exacts punishments, confiscating one man’s relative liberties for hurting another, which in tandem feeds on the sales of instruments made only for murder (elsewhere!). And yet we hardly need cite British arms sales (£14 billion in 2018; 80% to 36 countries considered “not free”) for such extreme contradiction, when we are confronted daily by the perceptible decline of all that cannot be measured, calculated, bought and sold. And as I am baffled by the reality that the system of governance, an idea, and a bloody ugly idea, can condemn a person to serve a prison term, so too am I baffled by the acceptance and often expectation of service. Too many times I have been surprised (disgusted) by some of the better politically, socially, culturally minded people I’ve broken bread with, behaving with contempt or even just disregard towards their server. It is a small victory then that I have managed to make our meal a help-yourself buffet, rather than one which is served. But it is unclear whether any of the prisoners will actually be able to watch the film with us in full—unlikely—and this, though beyond my control, is a profound regret. My decision to go ahead with the screening is based on what interaction attending prisoners might have with the work, but especially with all of you.

The political debate tends to omit or recuperate the struggles and martyrdoms of the feeling men and women who award us our relative liberties today. My hope in screening this film in prison was to reinforce my belief that all prisoners are political prisoners, and that we have to put equivalent effort into removing the actual walls between us, as those that are imagined. Though I hope it is not the case, there may be people who have booked for a ‘theme park’ type of experience. You will not be disappointed. The stinking screw will pat you down and stare you out. But I must make clear that this experience; this ‘service’ was not what I intended to deliver. Whilst prisons exist the Clink is a charity doing good, but prisons are desperate and sad places and however great the film, and however great the company, and however great the food, you will not enjoy yourself.

THE REPORT

A transparent plastic shelter held up by white-painted metal bars stretches along the far end of Jebb Avenue, the shorter-than-it-feels road from which Brixton Prison is entered. The screws stream out for their breaks and line up in the shelter, faces to the wall, reaching up on the highest bar to each retrieve their respective lighters. My guide or guard or chaperone for the journey from the avenue to the inside arrives promptly, pointing me to a heavily fortified white box—still external to the prison walls—which she unlocks to reveal a constellation of signs and posters on prohibited acts and items, and a slim alley lined with lockers. At the far end of the box is a computer monitor and a tube of hand-sanitiser. I am asked for my passport which she checks against the information on the computer submitted in advance for approval by security. My passport is then stowed away for the course of my time inside. All pockets are emptied into a locker.

To help with the carriage of the sound system, media player, projector and screen my guide or guard or chaperone provides one of those two-tier trollies made for dirty dishes at state school or nursing home or prison. We rattle beyond the white box and arrive at a large wooden-coated door, at which she tells me to ‘be still’, presses a button and looks up towards a camera. A short tunnel leads to a second door of thick transparent perspex and a crosshatch of iron bars. ‘Against the wall,’ my guide or guard or chaperone says, as she presses another button beside another door and smacks repeatedly the small, thick panel of glass at its centre. To see through the glass she must stand on her tiptoes, which she cannot do at the same time as bang. Tiptoes, bang, and then ear against the wall for movement within. More banging. Tiptoes. Ear. The door opens to a man who exits towards me without particularly acknowledging either of us, as the lines between performance and boredom blur. He looks at my equipment and then at his list, and then up and down my body, seeming to pause and wince around the naval area. Make, model and serial number is checked keenly against each device. Rather than ask me to do so, he raises my arms into flying position and pats me down thoroughly. He leaves us then in the short tunnel for some minutes before opening the second large door. We cross a concave courtyard as my guide or guard or chaperone points off to the right: ‘G-Wing. Sex offenders. Banned from what you’re about to do. Arsonists and kidnappers too. They can’t come. Murderers fine, actually.’ I respond with an enquiry she ignores. More procedure, more doors. And then a comments book on a lectern next to a toilet. ‘A powerful experience. Delicious’ says Karen of Surrey Quays. ‘Never bettered’ says Philip of Aberdeen. Another door, and finally: the restaurant.

Some tables are already made, complete with Christmas crackers. I follow the curve of the restaurant wall through to a room in which sits only a massive, ancient safe and a wall of sliding doors of frosted glass, a privatising partition but for a clear text in a birthday card typeface of a poem as inspired as birthday card imagination. There are shoes strewn around: a squashed, wafer toy after bovver boots. Uniform. The brand name on the sole of the shoes reads: Ütalitarian, Britain. There are grey sweatshirts quickly folded, a carrier bag of threaded white canvas and a 10 litre container of orange squash. A handful of drawings or paintings line the wall: a bicycle, a rabbit, a private eye. Inmate art. I wonder what commission the charity takes and what commission the prison.

‘Just keep an eye on everything you’ve brought in here, will you? Everything you've brought in you need to leave with at the end of the evening…’ the restaurant manager warns, as I loosen the fastenings around the box holding the screen, and a nearby inmate rubs his hands together at the challenge of erecting. I introduce myself. Darren. ‘It’s the period from December 22 until the beginning of January that’s the hardest. This place shuts down. The prison runs minimally. People have to have their Christmas, don’t they, but the less time I have out of my cell the harder it is. I have a little girl now.’ I ask him how long he’s been in. ‘It was two years before I was allowed to work in here, and I’ve been working in here two, so it's four of nine. Should be out soon.’ It would seem to follow naturally for me to ask what landed him in prison, but it doesn’t and so I don’t. With Darren’s help the screen is up in moments and the projection is simple. More prisoners filter through. ‘What's this then?’ We’re going to screen a film, I tell him. ‘Yeah, no shit—what is the film?’

With an hour to go until the attendees arrive prisoners are flitting around; some preparing, most working out which table to join to eat. Burger and chips. More interest in the film. Darren helps me line up chairs and the prisoners come of their own accord to watch until they’re told not to. Two men walk on a clear day across dense shrubland to the sound of flattened thunder. Cut to three others in the kitchen. One woman. Two loaves of bread. Wine. Lettuce. It is the eve of the execution of Salvador Puig Antich, one of Francoist Spain’s last victims. Puig Antich was an anarchist convicted for the death of a policeman during a shootout. His name then and in some circles still today is synonymous with Catalonia’s battle for self-government. “The idea of this film is an approach to the specific problems of political prisoners. This meeting of ex-political prisoners took place in 1974 in Catalonia.” Bob ‘of Brixton’, he bowes, smiles, offers his hand, and with the finest Spanish intonation nods, ‘killer’. He is one of the elder workers. He takes special note of the film’s title and as he apologises, explaining that ‘there’s pastry to crust’, leaves the room with a flick of hair (he's bald), and a slight return, pointing at the screen, ‘Here, now.’ And out the window: ‘There, here. What year was it filmed?’ 74. ‘And today,’ his immediate retort.

The room is stilled as Portabella's voiceover opens the picture, detailing the sentences and backgrounds of the five diners. Exhalations abound at the strangest point in The Supper in a revolutionary and normal context, as Lola Ferreira, the only female diner, appeals to incorporate the women’s particular experience of the issues in hand: in prison, and often as subsidiary, and is met by a long passage of silence. She continues: “How do you define the situation of a political prisoner? I’m not referring to the easy physical aspects: walls, bars, etc. It is something difficult to explain to others. It is the dislocation situation of the individual. In other words, as soon as you cross the entrance gate you enter a completely different time / space dimension where you can find practically no analogy to your previous experience in life. At that moment the individual undergoes a complete break. A loss of historical proportions. How then do you define that?” Again silence at the table in the film, and then a botched semi-response. But not in Brixton. ‘You can’t define it. There is no analogy. And one day changes you. People act tough like it doesn’t matter to them, but you see it: it takes one day in here to change your mind forever. It takes one day to change what a day even means.’ A tut, and another response: ‘When I look through my cell window I see outside in the same way I would through any other window. When I’m out of here I’m out of here. Eventually I’m gone. Doesn’t matter.’

The restaurant manager orders everyone out. The guests are on their way. A nudge from a man who introduces himself as Ronnie: ‘What’s this, then? I’m the cook. Well, one of. Do you like prosciutto? Had it with pomegranate? That’d be the secret to most great foods: a touch of pomegranate. Well… there’s a bloody fucking slice of the stuff on each of my world famous bruschettas tonight, so go on!’ Darren is the first with a tray of tuna sandwiches. Chicken follows. Then egg and cress. Sausage rolls. Vegetarian rolls. Potato salad. Lettuce. And world famous bruschetta. In the ticket holders come and straight for the plates they go.

In 2018 Portabella added an appendage to The Supper, recognising the consequences of the Catalan Independence referendum of the same year, and the advantage taken of the Spanish Constitution (after Franco) that he himself helped write. According to the resolution of the Council of Ministers, political and judicial measures were taken in light of “Manifest, stubborn and deliberate non-compliance by the highest governmental and parliamentary institutions, involving rebellious, systematic and knowing disobedience, seriously affecting Spain’s general interests.” These measures entail the order for imprisonment of the President of the Generalitat de Catalunya, of the members of parliament in his cabinet, of part of the Parliament bureau, of the presidents of the civic organisations ANC and Òmnium Cultural and the investigation of hundreds of persons. To frame this currently and historically, Oriol Junqueras, Vice President of Catalonia is currently serving thirteen years in prison in Spain for his part in organising the Catalan independence referendum. In 1981, former Lieutenant Colonel of the Guardia Civil under General Franco took tanks to the streets of Madrid, entered the Spanish Parliament and with 150 Guardia Civil and soldiers held congressmen hostage for 22 hours in an attempt to overthrow Spanish democracy. He was sentenced to fifteen years.

At the end of the film a person approaches me to ask if I ‘know who is here’. I don’t. Clara Ponsatí Obiols, councillor of education for Catalonia under Carles Puigdemont; in other words, one of those acknowledged in Portabella’s new appendage. Ponsatí Obiols speaks to the audience and the prisoners.  She faces the charge of sedition for allowing schools to be used as polling stations on the day of the referendum. On November 5th the latest in a long line of retracted European Arrest Warrants was issued demanding her extradition from Scotland back to Spain (the warrant was returned to Spain for clarification: they mixed her up with someone else issued an EAW). A preliminary hearing took place on 14 November; she was bailed and allowed to keep her passport. A specialist in ‘game theory and political economy, with a focus on models of bargaining and voting,’ she will appear in court on December 12 as the people of Britain entitled to vote (not prisoners) visit their local polling stations.

Darren is next and final to speak to the audience. He tells them that he hopes upon release to become a butler. I’d like to lie; to say that the piece of paper I snuck in to the prison to read to the audience in advance of the screening, I had first read to the prisoners, and then thought to cast on to him:









Winstanley Schtinter (the artist formerly known as Stanley, Stan Li, and Satan Li Schtinter) is an artist, filmmaker and writer whose recent and forthcoming works include HOTEL BARDO, which Iain Sinclair has called “the last avant-garde anti-project at the end of time” (see here); NIDDER, a piece Schtinter was commissioned to make by heritage landscape organisations in North Yorkshire (he in turn passed on the commission to a brotherhood of Sufi Islamic musicians: to write and record a concept album about the area in the aftermath of its nuclear obliteration); FUNERAL OF DIANA PRINCESS OF WALES 2.0: the artist’s word-for-word recreation of Princess Diana’s funeral in Salford in 2018, “bound to supplant the 1997 event in the mind of everyone who was there” (Anna Aslanyan); and THE FESTIVAL OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND (Salford, 2019). Schtinter is also the founder of the anti-record-label (anti-everything) PURGE.XXX. He programmes film internationally and acts as ‘keeper of the sacred flame’ at Close-Up Film Centre in London (curating, convening and presenting the monthly ordeal, THE LIBERATED FILM CLUB). He is CE, MD and RD at MUSEO DE LA BOMBA, D.O.D.I.H. (The Directory Of Did It Happen) and P.O.T.P.R.O.H.D.L. (Peasants of The People’s Republic of Hackney Defence League).

Images courtesy of Films 59 (©)
Schtinter’s LIBERATED FILM CLUB curates A WORM’S TAIL VIEW IS OFTEN THE TRUE ONE—the most complete survey of Pere Portabella’s work to date across London (and eventually Cambridge)—from November 2019 until February 2020. See here for the full programme and to book tickets.

Dedicated ‘To Pepa’, Joan Brossa’s ‘Poem/Poema’ was translated from the Catalan by Cameron Griffiths (© 2016) and is excerpted from a sequence of ten poems first published on The Cordite Poetry Review [and selected from Brossa’s 1963 collection, The Tumbler/El Saltamartí]see here.









2019



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Hotel is a magazine for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. The magazine is bi-annual, the online archive is updated periodically.

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2020
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