Oh Give Me A Home Where the Buffalo Roam
1993 SITE SPECIFIC INSTALLATION: SAN FRANCISCO JAIL #3, SAN BRUNO, CALIFORNIA. WOOD, PAINT, AUDIOTAPES.
In collaboration with inmates of the San Francisco County Jail and Milestones: a recovery center for recently released parolees. A site specific installation of 100 life size painted plywood bison moving across the grounds of the San Francisco County Jail in San Bruno. Along with the visual part of the installation were two audio tapes. One, environmental scale, was a three minute continuous loop sound emerging from speakers within the herd. Filling the area was the sound of a bison stampede, ambient sounds of the jail, i.e., keys jangling, metal doors slamming, TV sets blaring, etc. and the sound of a harmonica playing "Oh Give Me A Home Where The Buffalo Roam." Visitors could stand About 150-200 feet away from the herd and view the herd and hear the tape coming from it. The second tape was more private, more internal. One could pick up a Walkman at the jail gate and listen to interviews with inmates, jail administrators and ambient sounds from the jail while wandering around the installation viewing area in front of the jail.
"When Richard Kamler decided to place one hundred painted buffalo outside of San Francisco Jail #3 in San Bruno he had my blessing. At the time we hosted a real live herd of infirm buffalo who were being penned on the grounds of the jail for their own safety. Richard saw the unmistakable irony, the buffalo being kept at the jail for their own protection along side hundreds of prisoners supposedly being held for our protection.
"Richard’s art asks questions. His piece at the jail forced us to confront the injustices that plague the criminal justice system. Sometime in the not-so-distant past we started euphemistically calling jails and prisons “correctional institutions.” In reality, these facilities do not come close to correcting our society’s ills.
"Is it unusual for a Sheriff to support the efforts of an artist who is a self-described 'prison abolishonist?' Yes it is. But Richard and I have one significant thing in common. We both agree that traditional jails do not work. As San Francisco’s Sheriff since 1980, I have fought to offer alternatives to traditional jails. These alternative programs offer a way out to those caught in the endless loop of crime and punishment.
"The fact is that these men and women are only in jail for a short time. We must think about how this society benefits from locking people away only to turn them back on the streets in worse shape than when they entered. Jails have becomea finishing school for criminals. Richard asks that we think about the places where we warehouse those who break our laws.
"Most of us would rather not think about jails at all, much less the men and women incarcerated there. Richard’s work draws our attention, and forces us to think about the growing numbers behind bars. In today’s atmosphere of 'lock’em up and keep’em there,' Richard’s art, his vision, is needed more than ever.
"Art should be about hope and hope is important to us all, particularly the incarcerated. Every year a higher percentage of our fellow men and women end up behind bars. Every year California spends more on prisons than on colleges. I share Richard’s hope that one day we will see the trend toward more freedom and hope, not less."
- Sheriff Michael Hennessey