Visiting Artist Lecture: Christopher Pain

Christopher Pain, photographer of the current exhibit “Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals,” presented a lecture on his collection of work last Thursday night at the Kennedy Museum. While walking into the lecture, which was appropriately held in a disconnected theater originally built for the patients of the Ridges, I was filled with an eerie stillness that was instigated by the distant sounds of the Marching 110’s Halloween scores.

The vivid colors and breathless portrayal of a life that has since passed, were my key excitements in attending Pain’s on site lecture. Therefore, I was a bit disappointed when much of his lecture was reserved for the history of the asylums, instead of his artistic process.  The history I soon learned however, was one of the biggest contributions to the initial birth of his six year project.  By learning the intricate floor plans and organized system of sustainable living comprising each asylum, Pain was able to grasp what aspects should be photographed in order to preserve the images in their correct historic context.

(posted from the artist’s website)

The entire lecture was not completely composed of history as Pain did provide details of other inspirations for his large-scale photographs.  I was enthralled specifically by his personal feelings towards the emotional impressions of each asylum he visited.  Many view these historic buildings with limited association, often connecting them to “nightmare, squalor, and abused,” explained Pain.  Through his selected photographs he hopes to shed a positive light on the structures that once were a haven to many in grave mental states. This is explained in more detail in Pain’s project statement that reads,

“Few Americans, however, realize these institutions were once monuments of civic pride, built with noble intentions by leading architects and physicians, who envisioned the asylums as places of refuge, therapy, and healing.”

Pain understands the past of asylums as few others in our current society do.  His final statements within the lecture reflected a call to action as he showed the audience his strong feelings towards the preservation of the buildings that once were meccas for thriving civilian life.

Note: Although Pain’s perspective on the asylums contrasted those of an eerie or unnatural feel, his lecture still seemed to inspire anticipation for the haunting instincts that give one joy in feelings of fright around the Halloween season.  If your desiring a little of the same spirit, come see the third annual Hallowpalooza this Wednesday at 7:30 in Templeton Blackburn Memorial Auditorium.


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