The Innocents (2006/Rev. 2018)
by Allen Otte and John Lane
"I regularly listen to and am moved by stories of wrongful conviction, but it was not until The Innocents performance that I really felt what it must be like to be convicted of and imprisoned for a crime I did not commit. This gripping abstract performance takes you deep into the dark world of a wrongfully convicted prisoner and is one of the most moving performances I have ever witnessed — who knew banging rocks together and tearing up sheets of paper could be so powerful! I didn't know what to expect ahead of the performance, and I certainly didn't expect to be moved to tears. You will be spellbound.” - Clare Gilbert, Executive Director, Georgia Innocents Project
This approximately one-hour dramatic soundscape is comprised of sixteen individual tableaus which endeavor to explore various aspects of the issues surrounding wrongful imprisonment and exoneration in the American criminal justice system: mistaken identity, incarceration, injustice, and resilience. Though we do this from our admittedly privileged perspective, we have available not only the information – both factual and testimonial – but, significantly, we have resources of a time and sound-based art. In performance we have the opportunity to direct and focus not only attention, but more importantly, to engage on an emotional level where experience is more than simply processing facts and figures.
Some of the pieces are meant to be uncomfortable – too long, momentarily chaotic and confusing, difficult to understand. Others are simple and direct. Our idea is to shine a light on this subject—as if through a prism—in hopes that various aspects surrounding it may briefly come into focus for each of us. We offer no answers, but through our work we strive to confront questions.
Art provides a platform for advocacy, affords us an opportunity to raise our voices in the name of something other than ourselves in an eloquent and hopefully memorable way. In the current socio-political landscape where we are confronted with the most egregious examples of the opposite of that, our offering wishes to prove the power of empathic engagement with issues that ultimately touch all of our lives.
HISTORY OF THE PROJECT:
The Innocents was originally conceived by Allen Otte and John Lane as a performance art piece in collaboration with Cincinnati director Michael Burnham and a group of actors from Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Drama Program, which complemented an exhibition of photography by Taryn Simon, The Innocents, at the Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center.
In the year 2000, photographer Taryn Simon traveled across the US photographing and interviewing individuals who had been wrongly convicted and served time for crimes they did not commit. The individuals photographed were exonerated through DNA evidence, some after serving as many as 18 years in prison. In most cases, mistaken identification was the primary cause of the wrongful convictions. Simon photographed the men at sites thathad particular significance to their conviction: the scene of the crime, arrest, or the scene of the alibi. The Innocents, which is the resulting collection of photographs, have been exhibited internationally and featured in numerous publications, including The New York Times Magazine, and Vanity Fair. In these photographs Simon confronts technology's ability to blur truth and fiction. In the cases and subsequent lives of the Innocents, this quality of technology had profound consequences.
The enormity and weight of the images and words of those individuals compelled us to create and to perform...
From the larger performance art piece, which included movement, music, spoken word, and drama, we have distilled music and words into an ever-expanding concert work. Through the use of non-traditional instruments, such as found or street percussion (rocks, pots, pans, trash cans, etc...), African mbiras/kalimbas, and the use of electronics, the music and text illustrate some of the strong and complex emotions brought about by Simon's original work.
It is our sincere hope that our music can bring about a greater understanding and awareness on the issue of wrongful conviction. Music from The Innocents was recently featured on the DVD "In Their Own Words," released through the Innocents Project. The Innocents has been performed in various venues including the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center, University of Georgia (3-day Interdisciplinary Residency with new music ensemble Bent Frequency), Georgia State University, the Center for Civil and Human Rights (Atlanta, Georgia), Innocence Network Conference, University of Washington, Oklahoma City University, the Woodie Guthrie Center, Sam Houston State University, and the Percussive Arts Society International Convention and numerous high schools throughout the US.