Perrotin gallery is pleased to present Tehachapi, a solo exhibition by French artist JR.
In October 2019, JR received permission to work in a maximum-security prison located in Tehachapi, California. Initially, JR went there to meet twenty-eight prisoners and present an idea for a collaborative, artistic project in the central yard. At Tehachapi, the majority of the incarcerated populated has been imprisoned for nearly a decade, with many sentenced to life with no chance of parole. Due to California’s Three Strikes law, a 1990s-era measure, anyone convicted of three felonies were required to serve 25 years to life as long as two of the three crimes were considered serious. Today, nearly half of inmates sentenced under the law are serving for nonviolent crimes.
JR photographed the men, one by one, from above, and they told their story in front of a camera. No specific questions were asked; they had the freedom to tell express themselves candidly. JR also photographed former prisoners and prison staff, collecting a total of forty-eight portraits and stories from the prison system.
Two weeks later, JR returned with his team to paste 338 strips of paper to the ground. Under an autumn sun, in just a few hours, the prison’s incarcer-ated populated worked with guards, former inmates, while members of JR’s studio, equipped with push brooms and wallpaper glue, completed the prison yard collage. The strips of paper were numbered so they could be assembled side by side to form a giant puzzle.
From the prison yard, the final installation image is indiscernible. Yet, from above, it becomes clear — incarcerated people, former inmates, as well as the prison staff, and victims stand shoulder to shoulder. The installation, naturally ephemeral, disappeared in three days under the footsteps of the prison’s incarcerated population.
I have been continually interested in the prison system. After all, prisons are made of so many walls, which have formed the foundation of my practice.
In February 2020, JR returned to the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi to continue doing what he does best — creating powerful, large-scale wall pastings that disappear over time. Inspired by the Tehachapi mountains, which lie just out of view from the central yard of the complex, and working collectively with volunteers composed of the prison’s incarcerated population, JR conjured up a wheat pasted mountain range across the surface of the courtyard’s inner wall. The installation still remains today.
To learn more about the project Tehachapi, you can download the free app for iPhone and for Android: explore the image and listen to all the participant’s stories.
Born in 1983 in Paris, France
Lives and works between Paris, France and New York, New York, USA
JR works at the intersection of photography, street art, filmmaking and social engagement. Over the last two decades he has developed multiple public projects and numerous site-specific interventions in cities all over the world: from buildings in the slums around Paris, to the walls in the Middle East and Africa or the favelas of Brazil. Recent solo exhibitions of his work include The Chronicles of San Francisco at SFMOMA, San Francisco (2019, ongoing), JR: Chronicles at the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn (2019) and Momentum, la mécanique de l’épreuve at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris (2018).
JR is also the director of two full-length documentaries: Women Are Heroes (2011) and, with Agnès Varda, the Academy Award-nominated Faces and Places (2017).