The Trial is a 4 channel synced video and audio visual art installation on the history of healthcare and human rights in the Irish criminal justice system. Directed and produced by visual artist Sinead McCann, The Trial is a collaborative artwork made with men from the Bridge Project, Dublin, who have lived prison experiences, and draws from historical research by UCD historians, Catherine Cox and Fiachra Byrne. It is part of a larger Wellcome Trust funded project ‘Prisoners, Medical Care and Entitlement to Health in England and Ireland, 1850-2000’.
For twenty minutes, three characters – Tommy, Charlie, Neilí – tell real-life stories of those who were held and worked in Irish penal institutions during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The thematic focus is on experiences of solitary confinement, dealing with separation from family when in prison, mental and physical wellbeing in prison and childhood experiences of detention in St Patrick’s Institution, Dublin.
The development of The Trial involved the design of a process that enabled the men from the Bridge Project to engage with UCD academic research on healthcare in prison, past and present. The script for The Trial was developed through a series of creative workshops which centered on carefully selected historic research and the men’s own health in prison experience.
During this process, two case studies from the 1880s, focusing on the stories of John Burns and John Burke, resonated strongly with the men and these were developed into mini scripts. Using role play, actors Tommy O’Neill and Neilí Conroy performed these scripts in a series of ‘theatrical enquires’ led by the men from the Bridge Project over several workshops. Their engagement with the historic research during the workshops sparked discussions on the relationship, and differences, between the historic cases and their own experience.
During the process, the men authored monologues about their own experience of healthcare in Irish prison in the late twentieth century and their responses to the historic research. In the installation, these monologues are presented alongside the historic examples. Together present a story of experiences of healthcare in prison over time.
The script of The Trial also incorporates responses from professionals working in the criminal justice field in Ireland to the monologues. These include representatives from the Irish Prison Service, a prison chaplain, an addiction counsellor, two ex-governors, and a representative from the Irish Penal Reform Trust.
The art installation makes explicit use of the site of the Old Courtroom at Kilmainham Gaol Museum to physically and poetically reference a trial situation. The Trial offers multiple perspectives on the long history of healthcare in prison from people who have been held and have worked in Irish penal institutions. It invites visitors to reflect on individual experiences across history and on the human right to health.
Directed & produced by Visual Artist Sinead McCann / Script Writer Sarah Meaney / Video production Sixbetween
Twenty-three people were involved in the production of The Trial visual art installation. Therefore, the views and opinions expressed are personal and disparate. These do not represent a collective consensus or the views of the affiliated organisations.