Doing Time

Doing Time is a 9:24min film developed in collaboration with four teenage boys in Reiby Juvenile Detention Centre. It was shot inside the detention centre and explores the assumption that we all experience time in the same way by presenting a series of discontinuous and dreamlike sequences that highlight the subjective and relative nature of time. Doing Time was created as part of a four-month residency at Reiby Juvenile Detention Centre and was first exhibited as part of an installation The Boys Home, with photo documentation of the residency, for the exhibition The List, Campbeltown Arts Centre.

Film by Zanny Begg
Concept developed in collaboration with A____, J____, C____ and P____
Camera: Josh Heath
Audio: Jon Hunter
Music: Kate Carr and Pedro Butler from Us Mob
Colourist: Yanni Kroenberg

Exhibited: The List, Campbelltown Arts Centre, August 2014, shortlisted for The Blake Prize, UNSW Galleries, 2014, screened Antenna Documentary Film Festival, 2015.
Collections: Campbelltown Arts Centre (one of an edition of 10).

“A collaborative project between the artist and four teenage boys incarcerated in Reiby Juvenile Justice Centre situated near the banks of the Georges River in Airds, like Claymore one of the poorest and most disadvantaged suburbs in the region, Begg’s installation of photographs, drawings and a video work, Doing time, grew from the artist’s four-month residency that allowed her extraordinary access to the boys and demanded an equally extraordinary sense of responsibility in representing their experiences to an outside world. This meant that Begg was understandably careful not to reveal the names or faces of her subjects, which was at least in part overcome by an emphasis on capturing their voices in intimate confessionals, tempered by a troubling sense of the inevitability of their situation. To hear a teenager matter-of-factly declare, “I’m doing my debt to society” in a tone that evacuated any notion of self-pity was at once admirable and dispiriting, the latter sentiment bolstered by one’s own lament for the manifest inequities and failures of society to steward our young people far from a place such as Reiby. Invited to design their own hats, jackets and hoodies under the artist’s steam, the boys devised an assortment of warrior shields that appropriated brand logos such as Adidas, Nike, Versace and Ralph Lauren Polo in individualised coats of arms that signalled pride in their cultural heritage, such as a blazing ‘Koori Brothers 2014’ stretched across the back of a boy pacing the barbed wire perimeter of Reiby’s yard. What this artistic exercise might have meant to these boys is hard to decipher from the removed vantage point of the gallery goer, but we might surmise that it would be a trifling gesture on our part to underestimate the deeper reverberations of its collaborative heart” – “Inventory management: the list”, by Pedro de Almeida, Broadsheet,43.4, 2014.

Radio Interview for The Wire: Indigenous Children’s Experiences in Prison, September 19, 2017

Excerpt from Doing Time Catalogue Essay:

Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real, Tupac Shakur.

I spent four months (March –August 2014) visiting Reiby Juvenile Detention Centre, working with 14-15 year old boys in a series of workshops and projects that led to the filming of Doing Time. Doing Time is an exploration of the experience of time through the eyes of four young people who have been forced to prematurely confront its gravity.

One of the hardest things to grasp about time is its fluidity. Everyday experiences convince us that we all experience time in the same way – four months for me, it seems logical, should be the same duration as four months for one of the boys inside Reiby, even if experienced very differently. Yet when you zoom out on a cosmic scale the universal conception of time evaporates. As Brian Greene explains if your “hanging out near the edge of a black hole, an hours passage on your watch will be monumentally longer on mine.” [1]

Prison is often described as a “black hole”. It’s an apt metaphor; prison is a mysterious and hidden place where little light of public scrutiny shines. Yet the way this metaphor is used misses the powerful density of black holes and their role in shaping everything around us. Some of us may never go inside a prison, but if prisoners are in a “black hole” prisons shape everything about the world outside. These kids may be “locked away” from public view yet none of us can resist the gravitational pull of what Angela Davis calls “the prison industrial complex”.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare the national rate of Aboriginal juvenile incarceration is 31 times that of non-Indigenous young people. Once inside Reiby it was devastating to see that all the boys I worked with were Aboriginal with the one exception being a boy from Tonga. Most of the boys described jail as a stabilising factor in their lives, somewhere they actually got to go to school, be fed, have a place to sleep. Yet all were emphatic that “you don’t want to be here”, it was a place of loneliness, isolation and fear. As one boy explained “you always have to watch your back in here”.

Doing Time has two parts. One part is a reality sequence where the boys provide glimpses of their daily rituals, and another part is a dream sequence where the boys experiment with alternate ways of experiencing this reality. The two parts overlap, filmed in the same small courtyard the boys spend their days in. The gaps between reality and dreams is small, but in this tiny gap lies a power of possibility, as Tupac Shakur once said; “reality is wrong, dreams are for real”.

[1] Brian Greene, The Hidden Reality, Penguin Books, London: 2011, p66.