The Shot Lock

The Shot Lock is a series of new works that explore aspects of the story of The Maze/Long Kesh Prison.  This work plays with light and colour to capture the sense of history and memory and the transformation of the empty site.

The prison, like many prisons in Ireland, is steeped in the history of Irish British politics and has acquired a legendary status not just at home but around the world.  This exhibition goes beyond the ‘legend’ to explore a sense of the place and its emptiness.  Many of the artworks have a resonance that is relevant to societies anywhere. 

For example, apply the theme of isolated prisoners ingeniously overcoming communication barriers with that of the wider world where many unseen psychological barriers that are generated by political and religious beliefs, prevent communication between communities and individuals. 

1.  An Bfhuar Tu?

One of the many ways that protesting prisoners would maintain communication between blocks; at night a prisoner would ‘gullder’ out the window and into the darkness while those in another block would maintain absolute silence to hear the ‘sceal’ (news).  

2.  ‘Leg of Mutton’.  Fling The Button

Prisoners had many ingenious forms of by-passing the searches and a system designed to isolate them.  ‘Leg of Mutton’ was the slang term for the means of smuggling information under the door and across the wing.  

3.  A Knife and Button

Prisoners would pull thread from their blankets, make a length of string and tie it to a button.  The button was then flicked under the door across the wing where it would entangle with a similar line flicked from the other side.  The thread would then be pulled across bringing messages from one side to the other.   

4.  The Dowser

These items symbolised intense search activity of prison staff and the inherent threat that this often involved. 

5.  ‘An Rang’

A prisoner down the wing with Gaelic shouted the Irish lessons out and ‘students’ would write the lessons on the wall with the smuggled lead of a pencil. 

6.  Water Bottle

During the protest, or solitary confinement, it was the only and highly important source of water. 

7.  Empty Card Holder

Outside every cell was a card holder that contained the name, sentence, DOB and other details of the prisoner(s).  In many ways, for me, this image symbolises the now empty prison.    

8.  Emergency Button

These emergency buttons were located inside every strategic part of the H blocks and all around the prison perimeter; designed to be ‘hit by the screws’ to raise the alarm.  During the escape of 1983 they were among the first things to be ‘secured’ by escaping prisoners. 

9.  The Comm.            On yellow

Cigarette papers were stuck together to make writing paper and inscribed with tiny script using smuggled biros.  The letters were wrapped tightly in cling film and smuggled out. 

10.  Obscura

The banality of the physical environment was everywhere – almost everything was sterile and functional and watched. 

11.  Aerial View

An aerial view of a plastic poe (pot), a view that prisoners would have contemplated several times a day and night – portrayed here with a view of the waxing moon on the base, another view that was regularly observed.  

12.  Centre Spot

The centre spot for kick-off in the exercise yard; football was always played in the prison often with balls made from a lump of mattress foam stuffed into an old sock.   

13.  Tension Wire and Goal Keeper

I have vivid personal memories of walking the yard with grey sky, grey corrugated iron fence and even the tarmac appeared grey, with the only colour being the ability of the human spirit to carry on with craic, sports and life.  

14.  The Shot Lock

The lock image sums up the idea of confinement in a cell but the shot lock here is a symbol of freedom and the closed prison.  It is prison practice to shoot (or set) all the bolts on the door locks (so that the doors cannot be closed) when a prison is unmanned.  

15. ‘An train’

Prisoners would smuggle mass leaflets back to their cells and use them for many things; one important function of the mass leaflet was to make a ‘train’; a stiff piece of paper that could be pushed through the gap between the wall and the heating pipe into the next cell.  The leaflet would contain smuggled messages, and tobacco etc. 

16.  A Perimeter Tower

One of the security towers that surrounded the interior phases of the prison  

17.  Lookout post

In later years tension wire was strung across the entire prison to prevent helicopter escapes, blocking even the sky from clear view. 

18.  ‘The Mexican’

These ‘street’ lights surrounded the perimeter of each block and looked over the fence into the yards and the blocks.  They were nick named ‘Mexican Hats’ by some prisoners. 

19.  A Cold Floor

During the Blanket Protest prisoners who were naked in cold empty cells would often stand on the Bible to keep their feet warm. 

20.   A Long Walk

Going for a walk.  It was common during the protest for prisoners to lean the mattress against the wall and go for a ‘long walk’ up and down the cell.

21.  The Legend

Limited edition print – created from a Maze Prison security map, hand prints and keys.  This print illustrates how the place is physically corroding away.  The hand prints printed over the security map represent community and family and how these primary influences can blot out the memory of a place.  The key being a symbol of freedom also represents the ability to unlock our own prisons and to move forward into the future.

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11th May - 1st June 2008

John Hewitt, Donegall Street, Belfast

© 2008 Raymond Watson.  Images on this website (including both the photography and subject of an image) are the property of Raymond Watson.  Images are provided only to enhance your visit to this website and unauthorised reproduction, saving, copying, redistribution or otherwise is expressly prohibited.

Raymond Watson, Conway,  Mill Conway, Street Belfast BT13 2DE