Bring Down The Walls looks at the prison industrial complex through the lens of house music and nightlife, proposing the dance floor as a space of personal and collective liberation. The connection between a system that locks the body up and music that sets it free comes from the years in which the artist Phil Collins worked with a group of men incarcerated at Sing Sing, a maximum-security prison in upstate New York. Structured around the formation of an unofficial music band, these collaborative sessions repeatedly turned to a canon of dance music that was a shared formative influence for everyone in the room. House music emerged in the mid-1980s from queer, Black, Latinx communities embattled by oppressive law enforcement policies and the escalation of mass incarceration. Taking the form of a communal space dedicated to the struggle for social justice and prison abolition, Bring Down The Walls reflected a coexistence of two fields of knowledge – one born out of education, advocacy and activism, the other through sharing time, space and energy – imagining new ways in which we could advance the argument against the prison industrial complex.
Phil Collins is a moving-image artist and filmmaker based in Berlin and Wuppertal. He is Professor of Video and Performance at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne. Over the last two decades Collins has gained recognition for ambitious projects which explore the intersections of art, politics and popular culture. Manifesting as films, installations, performative situations and live events, his work foregrounds aspects of lived experience and voices that have often been disregarded or suppressed. Across geographies, ethnicities, languages and social classes, Collins’ approach is guided by a commitment to long-term process and engagement with the local context. Reflecting critical consciousness and disarming immediacy, his works pull into sharp focus the contradictions which shape our relationships with one another.