At first glance it’s a cozy domestic scene from a grandmotherly living room, but closer inspection of the wallpaper and upholstery reveals barbed wire and images of prisons—in this case of the Adult Correctional Institute in Rhode Island. The door of the circular bird cage echos the shape of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, a late 18th century prison plan that was circular and had a central watchtower. The idea behind Bentham’s plan was prisoners would feel they were always being watched and would begin to self surveil. Bentham’s design impacted the design of schools, hospitals and prisons and it is with us now in the omnipresence of surveillance cameras and in internet surveillance and tracking. The dueling birds in the light shade, the toile wallpaper and chair reveal power structures present in everyday life and suggest that even in domestic space feelings of unease and entrapment are ever-present patterns of behavior.
All images copyright of Elizabeth Duffy, 1998-2023