Rites of Asylum:  Code 44

Main installation room...everything in the room with the exception of the lights came from Dammasch State Hospital.  The snaky pieces coming out of the bed are made of Dammasch curtains. 

Main installation room...everything in the room with the exception of the lights came from Dammasch State Hospital.  The snaky pieces coming out of the bed are made of Dammasch curtains. 

In October of 2005 I gained access to the now defunct complex of buildings formerly known as "Dammasch State Hospital."  Like its sister institution, Oregon State Hospital, where "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest" was filmed, Dammasch was a psychiatric hospital, and from 1961 through 1995, was the site of various experimental approaches to mental health that included electroshock therapy, drug intervention and seclusion in 5-point restraints. 

Although complaints against Dammasch were numerous, and date back to the 60's, documented facts about the place are few because all public records post-1969 have been shredded.  In 2002 the Governor of Oregon tendered a public apology to the survivors of Dammasch (and of similar institutions for the "mentally ill") for the state's policies regarding the practice of eugenics.

The images in this body of work are traces of sorts, like footprints left behind by the impact of tumultuous human interaction:  a fist print in a metal door, an inverted clock dangling from its electrical cord, doors riddled with bullet holes.  Each of these images tells its own story and functions in its way as symbol and metaphor.  Additionally, in light of the fact that that Surgeon General's list of "Major Diagnostic Classes of Mental Disorders" still includes (for example) alcoholic and queer/bi/trans people, the images contained in this portfolio may also be seen as documents of the effects of the psychiatric model's attempt at cultural sculpting.

The show, "Rites of Asylum" consists of a larger, outside room with 3' x 2' B&W prints, and a smaller room in which I built an installation.  The title of the installation is "Code 44."  I got the name from a former psychiatric aide who explained that "Code 44" is institutional slanguage designating an escaped patient.  The small size of the room is meant to trigger a sense of solitary confinement and everything in the room with the exception of the lights, came from the old hospital.

The handwritten, folded papers on the wall are pages written by a Dammasch resident -somebody known as Reverend Bob.  The pages contain drawings and statements about redemption and were accordioned then doubled over and wedged into the slats of a radiator.  Finding them was like stumbling into a gold mine.   

The handwritten, folded papers on the wall are pages written by a Dammasch resident -somebody known as Reverend Bob.  The pages contain drawings and statements about redemption and were accordioned then doubled over and wedged into the slats of a radiator.  Finding them was like stumbling into a gold mine.