Opening this weekend in Paris, Perrotin is presenting the French artist JR’s exhibition “Tehachapi.” The artist set out in October 2019 to document a raw and real look at the prison system and its inhabitants, collaborating with 48 inmates, staff, victims, and former inmates in the California prison.
The artist chose Tehachapi high-security prison through an online search of satellite images, after a friend approached him with the possibility of access. Selecting the location for the architectural structure of its main yard, JR made his way to the California mountains prepared to offer a platform to those incarcerated, and ready to see what might unfold.
JR interacted with the men one-on-one, photographing each from above, recording their candid stories. He later returned to the prison yard where each participant helped paste together one of JR’s signature disappearing installations. The final drone-captured image features a collage with the faces of the 48 participants, composed of 338 individual pieces of paper and only viewable from one specific vantage point.
While the finished images are certainly poignant, even more moving is the process itself and the surrounding conversations. JR discovered through the project that many of the men had been imprisoned since their teenage years, frequently due to the state’s 1990s-era three-strike rule, and often for non-violent offenses. The creative work yields a rare, important connection between the incarcerated individuals and their families, victims, and the public.
“What happened in that yard—when these men, alongside guards as well as victims, came together collectively for a singular vision — has to be seen,” said JR. “We wanted to share the process and embrace the complexity of human actions and feelings.”
Open through September 26, “Tehachapi” can also be experienced through the JR:murals app, which is free to download.