Castle of Innocence

Joel Jimenez

2019 - 2021

San José, Costa Rica

Castle of Innocence delves into the imaginative space of the Children's Museum of Costa Rica and its cultural heritage as the former Central Prison to examine the power dynamics present in the control of narratives and perception of history.

By working with archive material from the prison period, staged reproductions of the prison's cells, and symbolic objects and environments from the Children's Museum, the project questions the historical use of photography as a document of truth, the role of memory in the reconstruction of identities, and the influence of the past in our relationship with reality.

The project uses a nonlinear narrative to confront the imprints of trauma and violence from the building's past as a prison with the illusory environments from the museum's current context. This strategy creates a new space for interpretation in which apparent reoccurrences and contradictions arise, the boundaries between reality and fiction start to dissolve, and a renewed sense of place-identity surfaces.

The imagery that constitutes the series develops an ominous atmosphere associated with the secrecy of information and the creation of myths; various leitmotifs are used, such as the repetition of artifacts related to the examination of knowledge or the analysis of gestures within the archive material through image juxtaposition and intervention.

The study of the Children's Museum provides ground for a reflection on the passivity of our gaze towards images, the relevance of imagination in our understanding of reality, and the liminal space between protection and control in our current post-truth era.

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  • n.d. In the early 20th century, minors that were caught stealing in the streets (often called "rats") were sent to the Central Prison. They had to live with the older prisoners, and also work in the duties assigned to them, such as agriculture.

  • Inoperative vintage solar system interactive installation.

  • Reproduction of a prison cell with an original mural painted by inmates recovered from the walls of the former prison.

  • LARGE: Circa 1949. Edgar Cardona, Minister of Defence and former soldier, hands the control of the prison over to the police forces as part of the demilitarization process after the abolishment of the military in Costa Rica in 1948.

    CENTER: Circa 1974. President Daniel Oduber interacts with an inmate in a visit made by public officials to inspect the living conditions of the prisoners at the Central Penitentiary in San Jose, Costa Rica. The visit received wide media coverage.

  • A vintage book (titled "When They Bury You, I Will Step on Your Grave") placed on the stained bed of a prison cell reproduction.

  • Authentic stamp table used by pre-colonial indigenous cultures from Costa Rica located in the Indigenous heritage section of the Children's Museum.

  • n.d. Public officials oversee the building model of the prison transformation into the Children's Museum.

  • Submarine periscope replica showing an animation of the Children's Museum of Costa Rica on an island.

  • Large scale model of a human's mouth inside.

  • Reproduction of a serpent venom research laboratory located in the Science education section of the museum.

  • Detail of a landfill reproduction.

  • Detail of a fire simulation room located in the Safety education section of the museum.

  • Dead fake rat placed on a reproduction of a prison cell.

  • Reproduction of an ant farm.

  • Circa 1974. Inmates and public officials pose for a photograph in a visit made to inspect the living conditions of the prisoners at the Central Penitentiary in San Jose, Costa Rica. The visit received wide media coverage.

  • Reproduction of a prison cell bed allegedly used for sexual encounters.

  • Detail of an animal habitat reproduction.

  • 1979. President Rodrigo Carazo performs a symbolic detonation to signal the closure of the Central Penitentiary.

  • Vintage television replica reproducing news coverage from a severe fire that savaged the Central Penitentiary of Costa Rica in 1979.

  • LARGE: 1990. Children from an upper-class private school at a tree planting activity in the vicinity of the abandoned building of the Central Penitentiary.

    LEFT: 1975. An inmate carries a dead rat across the prison yard; allegedly some prisoners ate these rodents due to the lack of food resources.