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