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Artist uses VR to recreate prison experience through the Welsh language

25 Apr 2024 4 minute read
Bocs model image. Credit: WMC and Brad Caleb Lee

An immersive virtual reality installation aims to recreate the experience of using the Welsh language in the contemporary prison system.

The experimental ‘Virtual Reality’ experience opens as curated installation space at the Wales Millenium Centre on Thursday, designed to recreate sounds captured in Parc Prison in Bridgend and investigate the Welsh Language’s relationship with ‘crime and punishment’ in a sonic way.

CARCHARDAI, by John Rea, is an immersive soundworld created at the Bocs space in the Wales Millennium Centre.

The curated installation space includes a soundworld involving original immersive surround-sound recordings, alongside original photography of the interior of Parc Prison Bridgend.

The installation, wish is a collaboration with Supercharger Blown Collective, will also include a virtual experience, via a VR headset, that adds a second tier to the soundscape, within an originally designed ’imaginary prisonscape’, which will include recordings, and original interviews with prisoners, and official ideas about the language, noise, and a historical perspective on the unique punishments in Wales.

Describing the experience, artist John Meirion Rea said: “CARCHARDAI is an immersive, sound-led journey that will inform, and give a sense of how it can feel to be inside which is both a fascinating and forbidding environment.

“My research has led to a discovery of how Cymraeg’s relationship with ‘crime and punishment’ has changed over the Centuries; from the violence of the mock courts and ritual humiliations of Y Ceffyl Pren, to the realities of the present day.

“I’ve investigated how sound is used, and experienced within prisons more generally, and the effect this has as a means of control, and how this has an effect on the everyday existence of those ‘inside’.”


Despite initially having the goal of investigating Cymraeg’s relationship with the contemporary prison system, it was the sounds, the noise, of being inside that really fascinated John, who’s attempted to reveal a soundworld that is unknown to most of us.


He said: “Noise, or rather those who have power over it, as opposed to those who endure it, suggests a system of control, and I found it interesting that the more privileged prisoners are housed in wings that are far quieter than the ‘mains’ wings where the general population live, which I found to be an interesting coincidence!

“It could be for purely architectural reasons, of course, but I suspect it is part of the ‘privilege’ system: silence is ‘earnt’ it seems to me.

“I have learnt a lot about how hard the staff work in order to offer opportunities to those inside, such as William Muir and Bethan Chemberlain, and how forbidding an environment it can often be.

“I have also learnt, within the specific remit of this project, is that the language’s relationship with the system is a complex one, there are both positives, and negatives that have arisen during the creation of CARCHARDAI.”


To create CARCHARDAI, John made numerous visits to Parc Prison in Bridgend, interviewing both staff and prisoners, and being blown away by the relentlessness of the constant cacophony, has aimed to capture them, using special immersive microphones that capture in surround-sound, it is these recordings that inform much of the texture of the experience of CARCHARDAI.

Carchardai Installation

John also hopes to showcase VRs ability to be a new creative medium in Wales.

“I hope that CARCHARDAI works on an artistic level, and as an immersive experience, and that it is powerful and illuminating, and shows how VR can be a powerful creative medium for ideas.

“I also hope to have drawn the curtain aside slightly to allow certain issues to become visible, and perhaps be considered by those who see the work in progress.

“Language is important in general, especially Cymraeg; and it’s use within the prison system is critical for maintaining identity for those who find themselves inside.”

This ‘work in progress’ outcome will be available to view in the Bocs space in the Wales Millennium Centre, from Thursday, April 25 to Sunday the 28 from 12pm to 4pm.

Newly opened in 2022, Bocs is specially designed for 360-degree films and projections as well as XR experiences, including augmented reality, mixed reality and virtual reality.

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