CHÂTEAU D'IF

An exhibition inspired by The Count of Monte-Cristo transforms the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall into a haunting underworld

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Some like-minded St Martins students have taken over the already fairly creepy basement of Shoreditch Town Hall and transformed it into an immersive art experience that muses upon the damaging mental effects of years spent in solitary confinement. Taking Alexandre Dumas's classic novel The Count Of Monte-Cristo as their shared point of reference (which tells the story of the an innocent man's 14-year imprisonment), all of the artists involved riff on the theme of isolation in site-specific works that are challenging and emotionally convincing. We stepped into the darkness with curators and participating artists Dina Varpahovsky and Ute Schleicher to talk about the politics of loneliness...

Dazed Digital: Where did the idea come from for the show?
Dina Varpahovsky:
We started thinking about what we could do in this venue, because it's quite unique, interesting and challenging. Then we thought it would be perfect to do something that involved a book. The Count Of Monte-Cristo seemed perfect because the whole idea of prison and solitary confinement works really well in this venue.

DD: Is there a very political aspect to the show?
DV:
We left it quite open for the artists because we thought that some people would want to draw political parallels, but we also thought that some might want to pick up on more internal emotions and feelings about what is it actually like to be in solitary confinement. 
Ute Schleicher: There are so many other things in things in the book – love, revenge, despair, lies, secrets. We thought you could spin off with a lot of ideas from the central theme. The book was a frame, without being too narrow.

DD: What made you choose the specific pieces in the exhibition?
DV:
Well, we wanted all of the artists to make new work specifically for this exhibition, so when they were submitting their pieces we were already working with this venue in mind, and it was actually quite easy to choose. We had a lot of trust because we knew most of the people – it makes it a lot easier if you know the people that are taking part because you kind of know what you are in for.

DD: It's an amazing space...
DV:
There is a room for every taste in here and the brutal flourescent lighting gives it a really institutional feel. Some people have actually found it quite scary! I think the darkness is great. It meant we could have projections.
US: It worked out really well, because we could give a lot of different kinds of artists a chance to be together in one show, which would be very different if you just had a white space.

DD: I think whats interesting about the whole exhibition space is that it puts in the position of the protagonist...
DV:
I think I did exactly what you are talking about in one of my pieces. My work was less political and more about him and how he is losing his memory – he was in prison when he was nineteen and he was not educated, so he didn’t have a lot of stuff to dwell upon, being alone in these dungeons. I was thinking about how the last bits of his memory would slip away, with just flashes of odd things or rooms he would remember.
US: My work is more political. I was in Berlin over the summer and I went to the Stasi prison in Hohenschönhausen and spoke to ex-prisoners. I thought that would be a really good connection. Because lots of people were wrongly imprisoned for trying to leave East Germany, and that's a big thing this year because it's the 20 year anniversary of the wall coming down. The song you can hear me singing is a traditional German song sung by people that long for freedom... basically it says that the words themselves are free.

The exhibition is on this weekend at Shoreditch Town Hall. Entry is free
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