Notes from HMP Grendon
By Dean Kelland, Ikon’s artist in residence at HMP Grendon
“Some cat from Japan meets sports casual!”
Here we all were. The moment we’d been working towards, together, for what seemed like a long time. The performance film, “So The Days Float Through My Eyes” had been in the making since the covid times, I couldn’t quite believe that here in the chapel at Grendon it was finally about to be completed. I distributed the hand-printed David Bowie masks and adjusted the bands that kept them in place for each of our participants. Each mask was a monoprint in blue, each identical (yet unique) and each a simplified one-dimensional ‘flat’ version of the familiar face that we’d all been working with. The masks were numbered, and I logged the names of each recipient against those numbers as agreed with security. “Can we keep these masks after we’ve finished today, you know, as a keepsake to mark what we’ve done?” enquired one of our most enthusiastic members. “I can’t let you keep them I’m afraid. Security were clear on that.” SWiTCH I LOOKED iN THE MiRROR, SO MANY PEOPLE STANDiNG THERE. SWiTCH It was nearly 9pm and I picked up my sketchbook to make a couple of notes following the day at Grendon where we’d been making the final piece of work with the men. As I fumbled through my pencil case looking for my favourite pen a recurring thought struck me. James had seemed tired over the course of the day and whilst this wasn’t unusual for either of us, I was conscious that he hadn’t long returned to work and needed to know he was really OK. I picked up my phone to WhatsApp him. “Just wanted to thank you for all the hard work and effort you’ve put in since returning to Grendon. I really couldn’t have done this without you and the amount of work you get through isn’t lost on me. I am aware that you should still be taking things steadily and if there is anything I can take off your hands to lighten the load then just let me know. We are in danger of doing something special with this project and you have been a massive part of the residency and whatever is achieved. Albion are still shit though! Speak soon, Dean” SWiTCH My eyelids slowly crept open and the surrounding darkness flooded into my blurry confusion. I threw a hand out to my phone and felt the burn in my eyeballs as the screen illuminated to reveal four numbers…04.14 I closed my eyelids again but with no sense that I would lose a grip on my waking. My internal voice posed a question “What are you going to do after Grendon?” The end of the residency was on the horizon, and I had been putting off any thoughts about it all. It was going to be so hard to leave. Grendon had been life-changing for me in so many ways and my head was filled with the same thought, “What are you going to do after Grendon?” I rolled myself out of bed and sat for moment before deciding that I needed a cup of tea. SWiTCH I HEARD NO ECHO, THERE WAS DiSTORTiON EVERYWHERE. SWiTCH Lennie seemed to be trying to attract my attention from his place on the desk. “Are you OK Lennie?” I enquired, “you seem to want to talk?” He blinked at me from within the confines of his framed image. “I was just thinkin’ I know you’ve explained about Elvis as an ideal male figure and how that relates to impostorism and all that. But I was just mullin’ it over like and is he hyper-masculine? I mean, is he an ideal in that way?” I reached for the sketchbook and started to locate the notes that I’d recently made in review of this very question. SWiTCH The work for the catalogue was gathering pace and I was collating images on screen for possible inclusion. As a last thought I threw a couple of files into the mix that were not part of the exhibition but I had been working on at the prison. One was the David Bowie mask and another equivalent image of Elvis in mask form. I quickly dashed off a title for the files of “MASCULiNE BLUEPRiNTS” and pressed send. SWiTCH There is one D Wing community member that I have been keen to get to the workshop for a long time. A tall and physically imposing brummie with a quiet and unassuming manner who has always been interested in what I do but due to other commitments at Grendon has been unable to come and work with me in the MLvM Studio. Despite this, he has always signed up to participate in the film work that I’ve made and will occasionally drop in for a coffee on his break from garden duties and look at the work others are making. Following his valued contribution to the latest David Bowie piece I ventured a solution to the clash he had with his work commitments, and we agreed on a solution to finally get him time to come and participate in workshop sessions. Having spent the afternoon making a start on an etching we stood in front of the dialogue wall together looking at the many stages and developments of the residency work. He pointed at the stills of “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” (the Elvis piece that I’d made in the corridors). He seemed perturbed by the images that captured the figure dancing. “What’s that all about? I don’t get what’s happening in these pictures.” SWiTCH ELViS WAS OFF THE GENDERED SCRiPTS. HE WAS RE-WRiTING THEM, AND HiNTiNG AT DEEPER REALMS OF SEXUALiTY THAN MALE-FEMALE SWiTCH It was warm, muggy and the studio window was propped ajar to welcome in some fresh air. The aroma of a brewing storm was floating into the space. I paused from my labour and spotted a butterfly that had suddenly appeared on the ledge. I seemed to recall from its markings that it was a Red Admiral. I googled for more information, “The Red Admiral is a frequent visitor to gardens throughout the British Isles and one of our most well-known butterflies. This butterfly is unmistakable, with the velvety black wings intersected by striking red bands.” SWiTCH I read to Lennie from the sketchbook initially and then built upon the quote to re-enforce my thinking. “This quote is useful in exploring Elvis as a masculine paradigm, ‘Elvis Presley’s iconic role in mass culture illustrates the apparently bottomless appeal of fantasy images of “true” masculinity. But Elvis’ story also illustrates an accompanying cultural fantasy of masculinity imperiled – ever beset and wounded by powerful social forces bent on emasculation. The discourse on Elvis shows these twin fantasies to be intertwined, celebrating Elvis’ decline into tawdry irrelevance as much as – if not more than – his mythic early mastery. These contradictions demonstrate the tension between what society tells us masculinity ought to be and how men really experience and perform it.’ I think that last line is important, and I’ve always believed that the men at Grendon understood the nuances of Elvis as both “heroic” and a “symbol of hyper-masculinity” as much as an example of the “fragile” and “failed” male figure.” Lennie nodded his head as he pondered a response “That’s clever that then, I mean he appears as success and failure all at once…I like that. I’ve never really met any man who hasn’t failed at some point. I also like that when yer man in the Elvis mask ‘performs’ and dances in yer film he is simultaneously fantasising about being an ideal but in fact is equally showing us how failed he is. I like that…” Lennie looked away for a moment as if considering the impact of our discussion, he then turned his bright eyes to me again. “How did Villa get on in that friendly the other night?” SWiTCH I FOUND MY EGO, I FELT RUBATO STANDiNG THERE. FOUND MY TRANSCENDENCE, iT PLAYED iN MONO-PAiNTED BLUE. YOU WERE THE PiERROT, I WAS THE DARK ROOM. SWiTCH I was grateful for the help and support from our C Wing regular. The request from the guys who had helped me with the David Bowie film to keep the masks as a memento of their efforts had sat with me for some days after filming and I felt sorry that I couldn’t grant their request at the time. I had however resolved to make them a print of the mask image so that they would have something (that they would be allowed to have in their cells) as a memory of the days of work that we’d completed together. I wanted to say thank you to each of them too. With the screen carousel set up we laboured all morning on producing a series of prints that I could distribute accordingly. We talked about the ideas that he was currently developing and rather than artist to prisoner it definitely felt like artist to artist as the conversation flowed. “I’m making some line and wash drawings from those historical arrest cards that I sourced. One young lad who I’m working on at the moment was arrested and whipped for stealing a loaf of bread. I like the layering process involved and think its moving somewhere. I’ll show you later when we’ve got time, be good to get your thoughts.” As each new image came off the print bed we continued to discuss each other’s current work and it struck me that, as his parole neared, it was likely that, should he be released, he would more than likely continue on his path in art. “Oh, did I tell you that I’ve had some more work published?” I shook my head in response as he walked purposefully to his folder of work, “’Ere yer are. It’s ‘ere in this magazine.” It struck me as really something. SWiTCH IMA SHiNE A LiGHT iN YOUR EYES. YOU’LL PROBABLY SHiNE iT BACK ON ME. BUT I WON’T FALL THiS TiME, WiTH GODSPEED I’LL HEED THE SiGNS SWiTCH “The figure is lost in the corridors…maybe he’s searching for who he is, or who he can be, or who he wants to be…those moments where he dances, performs as Elvis, are the moments when he believes that he can be the ideal…he knows ultimately though, as we do as viewers, that he is not Elvis…not the ideal and as such is destined to walk the corridors forever.” We stood in silence for a few moments and then as I noticed tears in his eyes, he spoke to me and to the work we’d been discussing. His voice cracked halfway through as he struggled to complete his sentence. “That’s my journey, right there in that work.” I put a hand on his shoulder and felt a rise of emotion in my own voice, “Cuppa?” I said. SWiTCH Male red admirals are territorial and perch during the afternoon until sunset. Larger territories are optimal and subject to intrusion by other males more frequently than smaller territories. Territories tend to be oval, 8–24 feet long and 13–42 feet wide. Males patrol their territory by flying around the perimeter between 7 and 30 times per hour. On average, territory holders interact with intruders 10 to 15 times per hour SWiTCH I felt really flat…and really tired. I’d raced from a full day at Grendon home, taking a detour through Coventry to avoid roadworks on the M42, had with less than 5 minutes in the house I headed out again to the Bescot Stadium in Walsall to see Aston Villa take on Lazio in a pre-season friendly. Messages were intermittently coming through about deadlines for the exhibition catalogue but I knew I would have to respond when I got home after the game as the signal was slower than a one-winged carrier pigeon inside the ground. I also wanted to just get lost in the game as well, it was a safe space to just put everything to one side for while. I put my arm around my son shortly after Ollie Watkins danced around the statuesque Italian defence to drill in Villa’s first goal. We celebrated together in hushed tones, after all it was only a friendly, but I committed to memory the details of the goal so that I could tell Lennie about it later. SWiTCH Jake adjusted the camera in the space while I busied myself around the dialogue wall. I rearranged some of the images and notes so that they would appear in the background of the photographs that we were making. I climbed inside my orange boiler suit and waked over to Jake with the sketchbook to show him the mock-ups and prep work for the images. I have worked with Jake for a few years now on my performance films and he’s always in tune with the intentions of the work and how I want things to look. It’s easy to explain what you are hoping to produce when you have someone working with you who knows what you want. One of our D Wing regulars and James were discussing the catalogue essay that we’d asked him to write on a table nearby. “Is it OK if I have a look at what you’re doing?” he enquired, “It will help me with the essay I’m writing.” I invited him over and James got up to join us by the camera as well. SWiTCH Bella smiled as I approached and had already processed my order through the till. “Hey George, how are you today?” Putting my bag down to pass her my re-usable cup I responded positively. It was relatively quiet and there was no-one in the queue behind me. “I’ve been meaning to ask George. What is it you do in those books of yours?” SWiTCH Red admirals can live for up to 10 months, but because they do not usually survive British winters it is likely to be shorter. SWiTCH I pressed play on the CD player and waited for the opening bars of “Suspicious Minds” to kick in before adopting an open legged stance and curling my lip in anticipation of the first words. I gave it my best as Jake clicked away. My voice issued a crude approximation of Elvis in his prime and as the lights shone down on my animated frame, I was somewhere in Vegas rather than a Category B prison in Buckinghamshire. I had always resisted the idea of using “Jailhouse Rock” as a guiding anthem for the work, but the song crossed my mind in this moment as I gyrated and revolved my arm frantically in time with the music. My arms and hands now joined my voice in the rawest impersonation I could muster, and Jake clicked away. At the conclusion of the song, I stood back, uncomfortably hot in my double layers. Jake smiled, “I think that might be the one.” Experience though told us both to not stop there and I went on to perform the song another four times before finally deciding that we had enough. My select audience crowded around the backscreen on the camera to view the many images we now had. Everyone agreed that we’d got more than enough to work with. “Was that, OK?” I asked our D Wing community member, “Will it help with what you’re writing?” He smiled at me, “I’m one of only three people to have witnessed what you just did. It was a privilege to see actually. I’ve got what I need.” SWiTCH MY HEART, iT QUiCKENED, I COULD NOT TEAR MYSELF AWAY. BECAME ADDiCTiON, iF YOU SEE DARKNESS, LOOK AWAY. SWiTCH Despite the earliness of the time I decided that I could listen to some music to accompany me as the light outside forced a change in my surrounding and dawn beckoned. As I had done so many times over this residency I selected, to my ears, one of David Bowie’s finest works “Hunky Dory” and sat with my hot tea and sketchbook next to the studio window. SWiTCH Sue Tate’s essay arrived in my inbox and I hesitantly opened the file. I knew that it would be good but I couldn’t help but feel nervous, after all this was the person who’d written extensively on Pauline Boty’s work and it seemed like a dream that my work was now the subject of her writing too. Sue’s chosen title, “Unmasking The Mask”, heightened my anticipation and nervous gaze upon the essay for the first time. SWiTCH The Red Admiral opened and closed its wings a couple of times before fluttering away into the distance. SWiTCH Some of the men that had arrived with uncertainty had fully embraced the performative aspects of the film once we’d got underway. We were on a break and one of the guys from D Wing approached me. “Brilliant this isn’t it?” I nodded as I sipped at my orange juice, “We reported back in the community meeting that this experience of working with you on the film has been entirely positive. Even the lads that were worried about getting involved and wouldn’t normally do this sort of thing spoke up. I said at the meeting that sometimes you have to make yourself vulnerable and put yourself into vulnerable situations in order to learn and make something positive happen…look at ‘em now…” SWiTCH I stood with my tongue pressed against the roof of my mouth (I’m told that this lifts any underhanging fat beneath the chin when having your photograph taken) and trying to suck my belly in at the same time. Artist Lauren Kate stood patiently opposite with her camera pointed towards me as Nova directed, “You need to move your hand slightly upwards and take a little step to your left.” We were at the ‘Capturing The Moment’ exhibition at Tate Modern, a show that I had been drifting in and out of interest with until I saw the Pauline Boty painting in Room 7. Having recently re-engaged with Boty’s ‘studio performance photographs’ I couldn’t resist roping in the help of my companions to try an impromptu piece. We’d already had a couple of failed attempts as I responded awkwardly to the ‘bullfrog’ like appearance of my neck on one shot and then the ‘space-hopper’ like torso that I was sporting in another. Lauren Kate and Nova kept their calm and patiently executed a number of shots until I felt that we had something interesting. I went over the deliberately convoluted titles in my head as we walked away…”Portrait of Dean Kelland with Baggage…”, no, “Portrait of Dean Kelland with Backpack as, and with, Portrait of Derek Marlowe with Unknown Ladies”…no, longer still…“Portrait of Dean Kelland with Backpack as, and with, Portrait of Derek Marlowe with Unknown Ladies by Pauline Boty (1962-3)” by Lauren Kate (2023)…SWiTCH One of the things that I will miss from Grendon is the untethered honesty that many of the men demonstrate. A result of their journey through therapy, their willingness to be open and forthright about themselves and others in their orbit is refreshing, if not sometimes refreshingly brutal. When I look at the world through that filter it can be a tougher place, but then if it is not difficult then is it worth it? As I sat in one of the wing offices with the community member that we had asked to write a catalogue essay, I was about to witness a conversation that I thought epitomised the way in which this form of honesty can play out. As we looked over the draft fragments of text together another community member burst into the room in a state of distress. I’m not going to go into why, that’s private and not my story to tell, but without detailing the specifics it went something like… “Dean, I need your help. I’m in trouble here and I haven’t done anything wrong. You can back me up can’t you? I’m going for parole soon and I can’t have anything negative on my record.” After explaining his predicament, and how I might assist, his agitation continued to escalate steadily. Before I could really say anything to calm him, the other community member in the room took control. “Right, calm down and listen to what I’m about to say. I know exactly why this situation has developed, it’s because you have gone into the wing office with your chest puffed out bragging about something and embellishing what that something is without thinking about the obvious way that can be misconstrued. I know you and I know how you like to inflate certain aspects of your life to make out you have one up on everyone else. You’ve done this with the wrong people…i.e. the officers. What did you expect them to say?” There was a moment in silence before our distressed community member responded. I was surprised by the reflective response as opposed to what could have been a defensive one, “I suppose I do do that, you’re right. Maybe I did it on this occasion too…I can see now you say it out loud how that would have translated to the officers. Yeah, I get it.” I was able to assist with a discussion in the office later that assuaged any uncertainty around the situation but as I drove home that night I kept thinking about the forthright exchange and how rarely have I ever been that honest to someone in a moment of heightened tension. I selected the album by The La’s to accompany my journey home and shuffled to Track 3 “Timeless Melody” (my favourite) because I knew I wanted to sing the lyrics at the top of my voice. I wound down the wind and duetted with Lee Mavers, raising the volume at the crucial line “Even the words they fail me, look what its doing to me. I never say what I want to say”. SWiTCH Should I tell Bella about the prison work? I don’t know, it seemed like if I was George in this place then I had to continue to be someone other than myself in all ways. Before thinking anything through in detail I found myself blurting out a new web of pretence that went far beyond my simply operating under a different name. “I’m a travelling salesman Bella and I really hate my boring job so once or twice a week I come in here and sit with these books. In them, I have invented many different and alternative lives for myself. It’s sad but there it is.” I kept my hand firmly on the book so that she couldn’t inspect any of the contents. I could see that she was slightly puzzled and maybe didn’t know what to say. Her response culminated in a roll of the eyes and “O-kk-ayyy” was all she could muster. “Sorry, that was probably not what you expected” I said. As she moved away, she replied “No, I didn’t expect that, I thought you were going to say that you were an artist or something.” SWiTCH It had been over an hour of uncontrollable shaking, I was hot but freezing and I knew that my body was trying to deal with something out of the ordinary. As I struggled to my feet and made my way towards the toilet I felt unsteady and uncertain. The curdling vomit noises twisted their way through my body and out into the toilet bowl in a mess of yellow and brown textures. I wretched for what I thought was a final time and sat back on my haunches to breath and recover from the exertion. I was off work from Grendon this week so didn’t have to go in. My battered thoughts focused on a scenario whereby I did have to go in and I resolved that as long as I was ok when I woke up I would try to make an effort to get there. Then I thought about cashew nuts. Then I thought about Martin Freeman’s performance in “Fargo”. Then I thought about Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy and tried to quickly rank the albums in order of preference. Then I thought about trying not to wake her. Then I thought about Cindy Sherman’s film stills. Then I felt the oncoming surge of fresh vomit swelling in my throat and threw myself forward to the toilet once more. SWiTCH I always carry my sketchbooks (or at least the latest one) and regularly make notes and observations on the pages, that’s my habit, that’s my thing. There are also periods of intense productivity around the sketchbooks when I get lost in a frenzy of flowing dialogue and as the words and ideas rattle from my pen I wonder if I’m fully conscious or locked into the pages…part of them somehow, letting them guide the content as much as me. The TV had been on all night and she arose from her seat as the end of episode 1, season 2 of “Fargo” closed. I wasn’t really aware of anything outside of the Bowie film images I’d stuck onto the sketchbook pages and their guiding hand in the words I was spilling onto the page around them. “BOWiE BECOMES A HEiGHTENED, EXAGGERATED ENiGMA, A FiGURE WHO SEEMS TO BE ARTiFICiAL OR CONSTRUCTED AND YET WHOSE WORK CONSiSTENTLY ASKS US TO LOOK FOR HiS REAL SELF BEHiND THE MASK” A small noise and the sense of her presence glanced my thoughts but I continued with the pen, “HE WAS THE EMBODiMENT OF POSSiBiLiTY OUTSiDE OF CONVENTiONAL iDENTiTY NORMS.” I looked up from my work and saw that episode 3, season 2 of “Fargo” was coming to a close. A mug with matcha tea sat next to me and I realised that its temperature would have decreased in my ignorance of it. She looked over to see if I was going to drink it. “Sorry.” I said, “Just got to get these thoughts down after making the film…sorry…thank you for my matcha.” I chugged the tepid green fluid down my neck quickly in appreciation. I drifted again in thought if not in pen. Earlier in the day I had been showing the images from the film to one of the men from D Wing and I couldn’t help but pick up my pen one more time to note down something he said to me. “I love the way you kept us in our everyday clothes. It creates tension between the glamour of the mask and the everyday existence we all have…it’s some cat from Japan meets sports casual!”
Art at HMP Grendon is supported by the Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Charitable Trust and HM Prison and Probation Service.