This project, proudly supported by The Ontario Arts Council, seeks to use an item from the past to talk about present and future times.
What I am doing is building a 1700s Tranquilizer Chair to bring light to mental health issues and Ontario’s adoption of a zero-restraint policy in hospitals.
This project is ongoing and will be displayed in places in Northern Ontario and hopefully more in the future.
Past Project (still ongoing)
In Mourning, a title that seems so fitting for all those that have passed on and went through so much inside our mental institutions or “insane asylums” as they were called in the 1800s in Upper Canada.
Before we get to describing the work and the purpose of this work, I would like to acknowledge the generous support of the Ontario Arts Council through the Northern Arts Grant and the supply grant for the deaf and disabled, which made this possible.
There are 88 pieces in this project along with a catalogue. Descriptions of the work go like this:
I thought it prudent to start the catalogue off with a listing of names of all those “interned” as they called it back in the 1800s in the five mental institutions in Upper Canada, Malden, Toronto, Kingston, London and Hamilton Asylums. The reason for this is because I want people to remember or not lose sight of how many people among us suffer from mental illness and suffered the poor sorts of therapy that were thrust upon them at that time. These institutions were picked because all of the “inmates” have now passed on and I am not breaching the privacy of them and their families. But we are talking about mourning, so I thought, lets start with those we lost and honour their memory.
As we get to the work, 88 pieces were done. This was to symbolize the eternal spirit that we share with them and myself and how their resonance, like the 88 keys on a piano, stays with us and helps me cope personally with my own therapy, being grateful I am living in a time when there are much more proactive methods of therapy and better forms of medication or procedures which help to keep me going, instead of continually being locked up or thrown in prison as was the case in the 1800s for those suffering from mental illness.
The pieces are done on rag paper with oil paint that has been thinned with linseed oil. The process is such that the thinned out black oil paint is sucked into a syringe and squirted on the paper. This keeps with my work process as I like to keep the work simple as possible and let the simple acts involved in it to resonate to larger qualities.
What happens with these pieces is when the work starts to dry the oil bleeds across the paper like a halo around the blackness, symbolic of the spirit of these people that lives on. The linseed oil in fact ‘grows’ over years while it dries and the halo becomes much more pronounced as the viewer will see with some pieces that were done at the beginning of this exercise.
Each piece is 11”x15” and the very nature of using the syringe and doing the pieces started off and finished to be quite therapeutic for me and fun as I felt as though I was giving life back to these people. Also each piece is as individual as those people they represent.
I would like to exhibit the 88 pieces in their entirety to help others grieve and think about this vast issue that is always going to be before us, of mental illness.
Also I must point out that these works will not be sold for obvious exploitative reasons as I don’t want to exploit the grief or therapy that these pieces may possess. They may at some point be donated in their entirety to some public place that seems suitable.
The massive list of names and information was found with the help of the Ontario and Upper Canada Genealogy and History organization.