This week’s assignment was to create a model scene in Unity using a specific dataset. The dataset I used was from the website ‘Write A Prisoner,‘ a site that has info and profiles for people in-prisoned in the United States; the key offering being: the ability for people outside of the prison to write letters and create pen pal relationships with people inside prisons

This dataset is of particular interest to me, as the ultimate goal of my work at ITP and otherwise is to help preside over the transformation of the world, such that prisons are unimaginable. The Prison Industrial Complex is a dagger, tearing irrevocably, the soul of humanity. My work seeks no less then the complete abolition of prisons and the carceral state. This dataset also feels particularly urgent to me, as one my closest friends is in prison. A person I grew up with and call brother; we now only get to grow with each other through prison letters. Much of my art and work is with him in mind and heart. Here is a poem I wrote about all of this, and my friend Chris Hollis.

Hollis_poem from Daniel Silber-Baker on Vimeo.

One of the fundamental ways that that the Prison Industrial Complex is able to function, is to criminalize and dehumanize people who are put in prison, through both implicit and explicit measures vis-a-vi the law and its enforcement, as well as through messaging in civil society (that is non government or legal functionings, such as media and culture). The combination of these and other tentacles of the Prison Industrial Complex can be seen in our monolithic national zeitgeist; defined by an unchallenged narrative of an immutable and inextricable link between crime and punishment; organized along racial lines, and systematic dictates of belonging and not belonging.

These tactics are particularly effective (one might imagine ‘effective’ here signaling the genocidal lust articulated in the Third Reich’s desire for ‘effective’ population control), in great part because they are aimed at a population who cannot speak back. People in prison have had their human right, to have agency in the developments of their lives, stripped from them. Their ability to participate in the democratic processes that define citizenship in America, revoked, to greater and lesser extents based on charge and geography. Across the board, the dominant narratives in our country concerning what kinds of worlds are being enacted in prisons, and who the people enacting them are, are told about and not by prisoners.

It was in thinking about how to address this dynamic that I chose to focus the dataset for my Unity scene on the art being created by people in prison. It is art’s ability to be woven from, but not limited to the realities of our world that makes it such a powerful force for our Freedom Dreams. In designing the scene I attempted to create a juxtaposition between the conditions under which the art was produced, and the digital environment in which it was being presented. In choosing a wide open natural environment as the scene for the paintings my hope is to present an irrational co-existence of the natural beauty and sense of being free one gets being amidst nature, with the art created by the people most excluded from the possibility of such freedom.

I am looking for a way to embed the Unity scene right here, but in the mean time you can download and try it for yourself here