Transversal Scepters, is a transmedia project that takes legal archives as a point of departure to think about the history and future of the justice system in the United States and the Netherlands.

The law is an invisible design shaping our world. Exploring this invisible architecture, Juliacks is working with different groups in the Netherlands and the United States to research and create artworks that speculate about the future while reflecting on the past and present.

Now – in the Netherlands and the United States

The United States leads the world in the number of imprisoned people by millions. This past September there was a nation-wide prison strike in the USA against inhumane conditions, the removal of human rights and the slave-like labor system.

The antecedents of the US and global Institutional prison systems began in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom at the turn of the 17th century. Juliacks is currently developing a fiction using criminal archives from the 17th century in North Holland as a means to imagine alternative futures. Focusing on the first prison of Haarlem, and its subsequent first prison uprising in 1613, this project looks at the trans-historical parallels of laws, incarceration institutions and their uprisings as well as new technologies, fiction and poetry as a means to imagine alternative futures.

Researching the Contemporary

In the Netherlands, Juliacks is working with the curatorial group, TAAK, and the researcher Femke Kaulingsfrek. They are doing a series of design-imagination workshops at the Zutphen prison in the spring of 2019, which will have its finale as a dinner performance involving the staff, incarcerated people and invites at the prison.

In the United States, Juliacks is collaborating with Gloria Galvez and the art venue NAVEL LA to create a Feast Forum Beyond Prisons : Transversal Scepters – a trans-historical science fiction menu.  This event is a fundraiser, performance art dinner theater and conference focusing on the trans-historical Los Angeles social-political and arts activism with prison reform and abolition.

Both of these events will also become part of a larger film project and resource. More info soon.

The Antecedents

Throughout the various expressions of this project, archival material and site-specific research is used as a zone of ether referencing the beginnings of our present culture in the early modern era.

The cultural heritage of explosive Dutch economy in the early 1600’s and historical landmarks like the Haarlem weigh house (De Waag, KZOD) dating from the sixteenth century, as well as archival material from the early 1600’s and original blueprints of the now demolished tuchthuis (House of Corrections) were combined in an installation that performed as a kind of complete set in the video installation by Juliacks at Haarlemselente 2017. Presented within the installation was a psychogeographic transhistorical film referencing the very first prisoners of the Haarlem and the current systems.

The Tuchthuis

The Tuchthuis is the setting of this story. Built at the end of the 16th century, it was the first institutional incarceration building in Haarlem, and the second in Holland. Coming out of an explosive economy of the early Dutch Republic, the ‘house of corrections,’ was designed after the ideals of the humanist renaissance scholar Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert who published his seminal work ‘Boeventucht’ in 1584 in his hometown Haarlem. This prison was unique as also being a workhouse for the poor. Juliacks explores these archives through the historical figure of one the supposed ‘first prisoners of Haarlem’ called Jan Gilissen (or Jan Jeliszn) who, according to the Haarlem judicial records:

Jan Gillissen was a linen weaver by training, who embarked upon the career of self-appointed preacher, but his religious opinions are not revealed. He was banished three times and didn’t receive a prison sentence until his 4th arrest. In the tuchthuis he behaved quietly for almost two years, but toward the end of 1612, four other prisoners threw the first prison uprising, and Jan Gillissen followed suit-  he decided to work no longer and severely damaged his weaving loom. In January of the next year, when the judges visited the house to determine penalties for the obstinate, he had obtained a knife and stabbed a court servant in the neck. The judges condemned Jan Gillissen to death.” [1]

In the Noord-Holland Regional archives we found that several of Jan’s fellow inmates, Pieter Jacobsz, otherwise called Goeluck, Arijs Janss, Barthelmees Corneliss and Pieter Jacobsz of Delft, were being held responsible to have staged what might be the first ever documented prison uprising taking place during January, 1613, only ten days before Gillissen’s act of revolt.

This archival research trajectory has led us into a history of forced labor and imprisonment as punishment that began in Europe as a corollary of the privatization of early modern prisons through a booming textile industry particularly in Haarlem and Amsterdam, also leading to the first Dutch settlements in North America in 1615.

Situating the narrative at the beginning of the Dutch ‘Golden Age’ Juliacks presented a story prism through film, tapestries, and an immersive installation portraying the intersections of the historical Dutch prison uprising and a large scale historical prison strike during the fall of 2016 in the United States.  Although being part of an entirely different cultural and moral framework, US correction officials are not unlike Dutch seventeenth-century sources, stating that programs are currently “geared towards rehabilitation, preparing those incarcerated with skills they’ll need once they’re released” while prisoners claim to be victims of a failing system of criminal justice and institutionalized slavery, risking their lives by going on strike.[2]

Juliacks began this project working with curator, researcher and project coordinator Suzanne Sanders in association with Haarlemselente with support from Xander Karskens (former curator of contemporary art at De Hallen – Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem,) and Nick Terra, current director at Fons Welters Gallery.

Sanders and Juliacks began this project investigating the first records of the criminal registry in the North Holland Archives. Archivist Hans van Felius deciphered the original manuscript into a typed legible version of Old Dutch. Sanders and Felius then translated the old dutch into modern Dutch, and Sanders translated the modern Dutch to English. Sanders continues to work with Juliacks researching the archives of 17th century laws, economy, recipes and history as the project continues.

The Future – The Supercedents

What is the future of Justice? What is the future of the state? of Humans? of Humanism? of the Environment? When will you find betterness?

The Supercedents, short film. (still)

Email Juliacks for a link to see the short animated film, The Supercedents reflecting on these questions.


Fiction and its layered construction are at the basis of Juliacks’ work, which takes the form of books, films, theatre, performance, installations, paintings and comics.  She creates narratives that unite, divide and perform themselves through the interweaving of mediums, cultures and time. Her stories touch upon social-cultural issues such as the denial of death, the quagmire of naturalization, and the construction of conflict, memory and belief.

The audience interacts with the work on several levels—literal, symbolic, visual, aural—sometimes simultaneously, at times sequentially, referencing not only the contemporary context but also artistic predecessors and archetypal elements. Suzanne Sanders, as art historian and curator/producer assists Juliacks in her curatorial process and provides contextual research and translations of archival resources.

[1] From: The Prison Experience: Disciplinary Institutions and Their Inmates … by prof. Pieter Spierenburg [2]  Read more, for instance at  http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/a-national-strike-against-prison-slavery or see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RjCqn_F9ck

Juliacks – The Antecedentes /Transversal Scepters
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