HM Prison Reading opens for the first time to the public as artists, writers, and performers respond to its most notorious inmate: Oscar Wilde. Wilde’s time in jail was devastating, the work produced in result enduring. Incarcerated in solitary confinement he wrote De Profundis, an extended letter to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas; on release he produced his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
At this resonant site, the penal regime Wilde suffered is explored through archives, leading through to the installation of new works by artists such as Nan Goldin, Marlene Dumas, and Steve McQueen in the previously inaccessible – or inescapable – cells and corridors.
In some cells, visitors will find letters on the theme of state-enforced separation from around the world by writers including Binyavanga Wainaina, Ai Weiwei, and Anne Carson. Each Sunday throughout the exhibition, Wilde’s harrowing and heartfelt De Profundis will be performed live in the former prison chapel by readers including Patti Smith, Colm Tóibín, and Ben Whishaw. Award-winning actress Fiona Shaw will give a live reading of Wilde’s final work The Ballad of Reading Gaol from inside the prison on 4 December.
This exhibition brings together that which Wilde's final works so eloquently delineated: the pain of separation, the excruciatingly slow passage of time, betrayal, redemption, and love.