Apparitions (work in progress)
Abandoned and decaying in cardboard boxes, a collection of thousands of glass plate negatives of portraits of patients were found in decommissioned Victorian and Edwardian mental asylums on the outskirts of London in the 1990s. The portraits were taken by asylum officials as visual records of the incarcerated patients, now out of sight and long forgotten. They were eventually salvaged and housed in a local archive.
Apparitions is a work in progress inspired by this amazing collection. It comprises mainly of cyanotype prints created by overlaying vegetal artefacts onto copies of the portraits. The natural materials are foraged from an abandoned cemetery near the former asylums, where thousands of the patients were buried in unmarked graves, whose bodies merged with the soil and the vegetal growth above. I am also working on an installation comprising a large number of smaller photographic prints created from selected glass plate negatives – to reflect the volume and demographics of those who have been treated in the asylums.
Although mental asylums no longer exist in the UK, the stigma and other issues around mental illness persist. By revisiting the spectre of psychiatric treatments in the past, the work aims to act as a catalyst for generating conversations around present-day attitudes towards mental illness. This is especially urgent as recent statistics reveal that one in four people in the UK experience mental health issues each year, and the prevalence of depression had almost doubled during the pandemic.
Apparitions is supported by King’s Artists, a residency at King’s College London, in collaboration with Dr Alana Harris, Head of Department of Liberal Arts: