quarta-feira, dezembro 19, 2007

Anna Schuleit

In the early 1990s, while still in high school, Anna Schuleit discovered mystery by taking long walks through the deserted grounds of the Northampton State Hospital. This cluster of Victorian buildings — with its iron-bar windows, crumbling red brick, and chest-high grass — touched a deep chord in the young artist.

“I came to my work as a pedestrian,” said Schuleit…

Early on, she was inspired by abandoned institutional spaces like the old mental hospital. Or by public spaces that allowed for solitude and daydreaming.

Another inspiration was literary: Gaston Bachelard, the French philosopher who wrote about the poetics of space and reverie. “As soon as we become motionless, we are elsewhere,” he wrote of daydreaming, an activity that inspires Schuleit and informs all her work…she said she was taken with Bachelard’s idea of “immensities within ourselves.”

A workshop is important to her as an artist, but “so is always a site, a setting, a real location,” said Schuleit, “a place that can be wandered.”

It is there that a person can have “a dialogue with stillness,” she said. “I believe in the imagination. It is a muscle in the body that can carry us anywhere.”

In 1997, Schuleit’s imagination carried her back to Northampton, where she evaded guards to wander for days of walks on the old hospital grounds…On her walks, Shuleit collected chips of lead paint to display in lines of frame-like glass boxes, talked with former workers at the hospital, and studied old pictures and records. She contemplated the “doubling of misfortune” in the decay of the buildings and the decay of memory — and felt a vivid sadness for the 2,700 patients who over the course of a century had lived there…

In November 2000, after three years of struggles over funding and access, Schuleit turned the old space into “Habeas Corpus,” two days of “celebration” (including testimony from former patients) and performance art. She bought 5,000 feet of sound cable, and with the help of 80 volunteers converted the old mental hospital’s main building into a giant amplifier, “to animate all the voids of the architecture.”

At noon on Nov. 18, for 28 minutes 106 loudspeakers bounced the full sounds of Bach’s “Magnificat” into the interiors, and back out the iron grids, broken windows and ruined arches of the building onto the audience of hundreds standing raptly below…

By 2003, she put together “Bloom,” an installation art piece in Boston commissioned to mark the closing of the Massachusetts Mental Health Center’s main building, built in 1912.

As before, she let the space speak to her, asking officials there only for “a week, an office, a key to every door, and a person who knows every story.” In the end, an impression formed over the years inspired her: “I noticed that nobody received any flowers in psychiatry,” said Schuleit, in contrast to hospital stays for heart attacks or broken bones.

So using hospital records, she calculated how many patients had been committed there since 1912, “bringing together all the flowers they had never been given.” The answer: 28,000 potted — not cut — flowers (so they could be given away afterwards). Shipments included 15,000 tulips from Canada, stacked high in an 18-wheeler.

Schuleit transformed hallways into rivers of flowers. The chairs in a waiting room looked like islands in a sea of flowers. An abandoned swimming pool, used to store furniture, was filled with 3,000 blue African violets. Floors in the basement, where the laboratories had been, were carpeted with live turf “that came in rolls, like sushi,” said Schuleit.

“It was a crash course in colors,” she said of “Bloom,” — and for viewers, a font of tears for the departed and the forgotten.

Harvard University Gazette Online

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