Wednesday, May 19, 2010

More on Asylums

First, the recommended soundtrack for this post? Max Richter's Waltz with Bashir. A beautiful, haunting business you can listen to selections of here. (Hint: start with "The Haunted Ocean" and let it play through to "Andante/Reflection")

And now the image: you're probably thinking, good grief, woman. Again with the asylums today? What could possibly be your obsession with them? Well, they are great reservoirs of unreliable and forcibly expelled memory, of human micro-histories, of family secrets condemned to die in seclusion. And, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, they are full of energy, energy often unwillingly reliquished and locked in space. Physics and chemistry have to be involved--there must be some unrecognized connection between human metaphysics and physical reality. We just haven't unlocked the nexus between these two worlds yet.

The stain on the concrete above was left by the body of a 54-year old woman named Margaret Schilling in an Ohio asylum called The Ridges, once known as the Athens Lunatic Asylum, which was notorious for its lobotomy procedures. Schilling went missing in December 1978 and was found six weeks later the following January. She was in an abandoned ward of the institution, locked in, nude on the concrete, her clothes neatly folded beside her. As the ward was unheated, her death was ruled to be caused by exposure. The stain on the concrete? Ineffaceable. They've tried to wash it away with mild acids and cleaning chemicals, but it returns. Ghostly? Perhaps. But I think it's more metaphorically ghostly than a clear manifestation of haunting: while the poor woman decomposed, her body experienced a chemical reaction with the concrete and etched the contact points of her shape in place.
A particularly interesting photo shows the wide cooridor of a sanitarium dating back to, would you say, the 19-teens? Perhaps the 1920s. It could be older, since I see fussy Victoriana in the furnishings and what look to be gas fixtures traveling towards the lights above. Patients sit in rockers, not wheelchairs, but they seem only vaguely human. Their caretakers appear with a kind of matter-of-fact confrontational stance. The man in the foreground almost appears to have a burlap sack over his head, even as he is turned away from the viewer. Is he wearing spats over his shoes? Such sartorial swankness. And the figures closest to the windows glow with a supernatural light, like they are dissolving into luminescent immateriality or at least move easily between recognized reality and the spirit world.
Interesting, interesting. For more fascinations, check out filmmaker Zoe Beloff's productions, which also deal with the paranormal, and are, in a word, fascinating.

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