This wallpaper was adapted from a fragment of a19th century toile pattern that I found on Ebay. I replaced the buildings in the original with images of Howard Prison, now known as the Adult Correctional Institution in Cranston, RI. Barbed wire festoons, barred windows and weapons were also drawn into the original pattern. Howard Prison was built in the 19th century, a period of prison reform and expansion, as well as a period of expanding material wealth for the growing middle class. Wallpaper was a sign of this wealth, and it was used extensively in home decoration. Toile and other panoramic papers gave viewers a sense of an expansive tranquility. This altered toile highlights the cost of that tranquility, pointing to our current culture of incarceration and referencing the philosopher Jeremy Benthem’s idea of the panopticon as a surveillance device, an all-seeing eye that instills behavior control through paranoia.
Photo Courtesy the RISD Museum
All images copyright of Elizabeth Duffy, 1998-2020