Sequences and scenes of transposition of an unshareable experience. A semiotically released prison

By: Pierluigi Basso Fossali and Julien Thiburce


Volume: 06
Issue: 01:2020
ISSN: 2459-2943
DOI: 10.18680/hss.2020.0003
Pages: 39-67
Lic.: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
experience design
intersemiotic translation
cultural translation



As part of the international and traveling exhibition Prison, coproduced by the International Red Cross Museum (Geneva, Switzerland), the Musée des Confluences (Lyon, France), and the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum (Dresden, Germany), a discourse on prison environment in Western societies questions public opinion about an existential space that is mostly discussed in fictional form. With a view both to inform and affect the audience, a narrative framework is woven by a diversity of mediations that nonetheless tries to escape the double reductionist fate to which prison space is subjected: ‘spectral’ trivialization (tacit invisibility) or spectacular mythification (smug ostentation). This paper deals with the (un)shareable dimension of the prison experience. One key question addressed is how to build, preserve, or restore the bridges between prisons’ inner life and the external social environment surrounding them. Adopting a pragmatic perspective, we will examine how this exhibition achieves, semiotically, releasing prisons, and prisoners from their incarceration and their mediatic banishment. Video recordings of interactions during guided tours allow us to examine how the experiences of prison life are transposed into exhibitions, the exhibitions into the guides’ discourses, the institutional discourses into public enjoyment, public enjoyment into scientific appropriation.


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