Conceptual Cluster 02: Ecologies of Practice

by janekozmin

Bastøy Stills A

Escape Through Bastøy  

Arne Kvernvik Nilsen, Bastoy’s governor and a practicing psychotherapist, describes it as the world’s first human-ecological prison — a place where inmates learn to take responsibility for their actions by caring for the environment. 

Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of Bastøy prison is the process of self election to the community of inmates. It forms access to the three central pillars of the ideology of its operational mandate; Humanity, Responsibility and Respect. Here in the moment of application, it is proposed, that a transformation happens that one takes responsibility for ones subjectivity, moving from a condition of either/or; that either you are a prisoner or you are free, to a condition that you become a free prisoner, actively engaged in the process of dwelling as a prisoner, practicing the art of prisonership; where the production of the subject is encouraged, albeit in the reduced noise of a utopian island. It is suggested by its Governor that the island which is acknowledged to be a potent physical experience, it’s free beaches, trees, sea air, its breathing physical/invisible ecology, it’s village like architecture, complete with church, houses, barn, workshops, greenhouses and treel lined access routes is only part of the binding structure of the society of inmates and officers. There is also a social contract taken out by those who are free to return home to their families after a days work; to practice humanity towards those who have murdered, raped, stolen: practitioners of criminality. That all parts of the relational practiced between the population is about cultivating an ecology.

Here a middle is formed, while all institutions in Norway operate through law and regulation it is proposed that this place has an added definition that it operates under the principles of a Human Ecological Philosophy. Inmates participate in growing food, tending to the landscape, fixing its physical technologies, roads, bikes, houses, green houses, boats and developing, through participation, its social technologies. Success in tending to the gardens that provide food to the canteen and feed the population becomes an intricate part of becoming. It is proposed that Social, Mental and Environmental ecologies collapse onto and within each other, the production of the subject becomes a tangible and survey-able experience by those who witness an internal change. It is here that the Governor discusses the emergence of Respect, first for oneself and from this point outwards to the society and its unfolding habitat. The compression of the island as a world is key; its social technology is tangible and by turning back the clock of the peripheral nature of the society of the And, infrastructures associated to the production of space are partially revealed or at least brought into view.

Bastøy, is, however, made buoyant through the existence of a state whose economy, and culture is dependent on finite energy sources, and the marketisation of matter which leads to the profiting of extraction. Human Ecological Philosophy is sponsored through this unsustainable and ever accelerating revolution of capitalism. While the islands ability to be a prison is framed by the difficulty of swimming off it, we should not forget that the earth is also a difficult place to escape. The importance of such experiments and the very nature of heterotopia is that there is space created to imagine an alternative, or at least discuss possibilities and ideas of an alternative. The beauty of this Utopian movement is that it found a place to start, by merging psychoanalytical practices with the productive capacity of capsular civilization, but it is still a Utopia and as such cannot regenerate itself?

Is this one of the most violent acts that a state can place onto a society?  That its culture is held back from representing itself through the production of a unique material culture? Instead production of a material culture on the island is frozen or at least folded between the image of a traditional Norwegian Village and the habitat secured by advanced social technologies. Is this what is meant by the Norwegian governments principle that punishment is to be practiced only by taking a persons freedom? Or can we project that through the process of rehabilitation and adoption of Human Ecological practices it is the former inmates that will be in a position to free society from its ecological practices? This might only be achievable if we take the first step and nominate to be free prisoners of the earth?

1 Time Magazine Sentenced to Serving the Good Life in Norway, William Lee Adams / Bastoy, Halden and Oslo Monday, July 12, 2010