“unchain the lunatics”
“unchain the lunatics” is a fictional text about confinement and asylums written after site-visits to St John’s Hospital at Howden in Livingston and the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.
“The orphan in all of us can be detected by a curious old piece of scientific enquiry known as The Wild Beast Test. This was developed at the very end of the eighteenth century in a southern part of Scotland at an institution by the sea. The waves were sometimes the most colourful part of the scenery in that little port. The thinking behind the test is not recorded and can only be guessed at. Patients were to sit, facing out to sea, every day for one hour in the morning and one in the evening, at dawn and at dusk, watching the waves. Each one would reach a point where they began to spot creatures, or wild beasts, in the waves. The staff would ignore this and after some more time had elapsed the patients would become frantic and it was at this time, when the patient was absolutely certain of their sighting that two items of information would be recorded. One was the nature of the wild beast, and the other was the amount of time the patient had taken to arrive at this mental state. These varying amounts of time were found to be most curiously connected with the varying amounts of parenting the patient had been accustomed to. A great difference was found between those whose parents had doted on them from day one and never left their sides and those who had been thrust into an orphanage or foster home. It is quite easy to imagine which group found the wild beasts sooner.”
I hope the writing reflects my experience of researching for the project, while in the hospitals (St John’s at Howden and The Royal Edinburgh) and outside, talking with people, working with functionsuite artists, looking on the internet, reading bits of books. I have been questioning the sometimes literal definitions of collaboration. Thinking of it as a process which can be both lengthy and brief. The collaborative process has undergone many disjointed periods of involvement and attempted working methods, for example an email writing group, which eventually dissolved. I wanted to include the people who said no and have taken this opportunity to pursue the idea of collaboration with oneself (a notion much talked about with Neil Chapman, an artist I’ve worked with on and off for several years) including the voices that get stuck in your head after a conversation with someone else, whether that is a casual encounter or an arranged interview with a specialist in the field. The only person who did want to enter into correspondence was Dominic O Donnell, a patient at The Royal Edinburgh and we have exchanged a few letters with the help of Anne Elliot at Functionsuite. Throughout the text I have used short phrases from the Mental Health History Timeline which are not specifically referenced. I am indebted to the Andrew Roberts’ work. Mental Health History Timeline Middlesex University, 1981.
St John’s at Howden Hospital in Livingston and the Royal Edinburgh Hospital
Research conversations and writing
Extraordinary Everyday, explorations in collaborative art in healthcare
“Ladies Art Group”
notes written up – to be scanned