Library of Dust
August 4, 2008 10:39 PM   Subscribe

Library of Dust depicts individual copper canisters, each containing the cremated remains of patient from a state-run psychiatric hospital. The patients died at the hospital between 1883 (the year the facility opened, when it was called the Oregon State Insane Asylum) and the 1970’s; their bodies have remained unclaimed by their families.
posted by oneirodynia (17 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
posted by arcanecrowbar at 11:14 PM on August 4, 2008

Looks like bronze or stainless might have been a better choice of metals. Or maybe polypropylene.

His next set of photos, Oblivion, gives me the heebida jeebies.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 12:01 AM on August 5, 2008

Copper was cheapest, though.
Good photography.
posted by cmoj at 12:04 AM on August 5, 2008

Wow. Thanks for posting this.
posted by homunculus at 12:22 AM on August 5, 2008

Some images speak of treatments that no longer are practiced in the treatment of the mentally ill. Other pictures, like that of the razor blades strewn across the floor and the pages of a Reader’s Digest Magazine, suggest the depths of pain or desperation these rooms once contained.
Man, does that dude ever hate Reader's Digest.
posted by Shepherd at 2:15 AM on August 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

...their bodies have remained unclaimed by their families.

How does that compare to the people alive today with severe mental illness who remain unclaimed by their families?
posted by fairmettle at 3:40 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

You know, I think when cremation was introduced the idea should have been that it disposes of the corpse completely, instead of the idea being that the ashes, or remains, are still the body and need to be buried or scattered. Too late now.
posted by Phanx at 5:40 AM on August 5, 2008

Those tins look quite small. They must have had a good crembola unless they did it by hand. The earliest reference I can find to equipment is 1959 [paging ColdChef].
"Matter lives on when the body vanishes, even when it has been incinerated to ash by an institutional methodology. Is it possible that some form of spirit lives on as well?"
I think not. Is he saying that the corporeal existence is manifesting itself in the condition of the containers?
He has already answered this: "There are certainly physical and chemical explanations for the ways these canisters have transformed over time."
posted by tellurian at 7:12 AM on August 5, 2008

This is likely not exactly the point the photographer was trying to make, but copper is a gorgeous metal, whether pristine or corroded.
posted by echo target at 7:36 AM on August 5, 2008

This is likely not exactly the point the photographer was trying to make
Hey! David. How's it going. Want to catch up and discuss?
posted by tellurian at 9:24 AM on August 5, 2008

Q: What exactly, was the point you were trying to make?
A: Copper is gorgeous.
Q: How does this relate/combine with the tortured souls that lived in this place?
A: I make nice pictures.
Q: Have you anything more to add?
A: Well actually, now that you mention it, I have a book with haunting images that depict strangely beautiful copper canisters, each containing the cremated remains of individual patients from an Oregon psychiatric hospital who were unclaimed by their families upon their deaths. The canisters are now blooming with colorful secondary minerals as the copper undergoes physical and chemical transformations. Sublimely beautiful, yet disquieting, the enigmatic photographs are meditations on issues of matter and spirit.
Q: Well, with that out of the way, do you have anything more to add?
A: Most of the photographs on this site are available for purchase, in one or more print sizes, in limited editions. Please contact one of David’s galleries for more information on editions, pricing, and availability. Please enjoy your complimentary Pepsi blue on your way out,
posted by tellurian at 9:54 AM on August 5, 2008

Thanks for the post oneirodynia.

Those images are so poignant. Eerie too, disturbing but also beautiful in the way decaying things can be both alluring and a source of contemplation. Those prettily decaying/oxidizing containers of human cremains. I remember seeing these images a while ago and it's nice to see the link here on the blue.

"The remains were unclaimed by families who had long abandoned their sick relatives, when they were alive and after they were dead."

Your post prompted me to find out a little more about the place, Oregon State Mental Asylum, the people who were there and what happened to the place, what may happen to the cremains.

David Maisel, who took the Library of Dust photographs, also created another group, interior images of the Oregon State Mental Asylum, called Asylum, which remind me a bit of the asylum in Girl, Interrupted, Mclean Hospital.

Interestingly, it was the site where One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was filmed. There's an article/interview with Jack Nicholson, talking about the time he spent there filming with a few stills of the interior taken at that time.
posted by nickyskye at 4:13 PM on August 5, 2008

"Craig Williams, a curator at the New York State Museum, drove four hours to visit Willard Psychiatric Center in the spring of 1995. The complex, located 65 miles southwest of Syracuse, was about to shut down after more than 100 years ... a staffer suggested he check out the attic of an abandoned building, and that's when he found 400 suitcases covered by decades of dust and pigeon droppings"

Previously, once & again.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:20 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Whoa Ubu, that first link to What they Left Behind is amazing reading. Thanks for the rich addition to this thread.
posted by nickyskye at 5:01 PM on August 5, 2008

Thanks for the links, nickyskye. I particularly liked the Jack Nicholson article.

All the Lonely People is a Pulitzer prize-winning article from The Oregonian about the asylum and the copper canisters. It's the first of this series about mental health care in Oregon.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:49 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

only trying to keep up with the google-fu. and standing on the shoulders of giants.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:02 PM on August 5, 2008

posted by homunculus at 9:58 AM on August 14, 2008

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