Safe-keeping (Custodia) 2014, examines the affective potential of wrapped and unopened bundles of clothes and personal belongings taken from patients on entering the former psychiatric hospital - Santa Maria Della Pietà, in Rome.
These ‘fagotti’ were never reclaimed when the hospital closed in 1999, and they are now on display in the Museo Laboratorio Della Mente on the site of the former hospital. The Museo was established to promote a positive and empathic understanding of mental illness to audiences through innovative, interactive audio-visual installations designed by Studio Azzurro.
"Immediately on entry to the asylum the patient was photographed, registered, and finally made to strip and to put on a uniform and be assigned to a ward, where, probably, he would spend the rest of his life. All that he had with him at the moment he was committed - the state and number of his possessions - was noted in a ledger, and personal effects were wrapped with care in a sheet of wrapping paper, tied with string, labelled and stored away".
"Confinement, and that slow process of dehumanisation generated by the psychiatric institution began thus, with the separation of the person from his books, photos, glasses, shoes and clothes; not only objects but memories too – the remnants of intimacy, the fragments of social identity".
Martelli, P., Museo Laboratorio della Mente
The initial research process involved close observation of the fagotti - most of which were dated from the 1970s - without being able to see the exact contents.
An investigation of the pages of archived ledgers from the nineteenth century revealed names and possessions and the material state of those possessions.
Ledger from 1844
Facsimile fagotti were recreated in the studio and a series of choreographed actions were developed to enact the imagined and repetitious acts the fagotti evoked: tying and untying, caressing, stroking, scratching, compressing, twisting, and turning the parcels over and over.
In Empathic Vision (2005) Jill Bennett identifies affect as a key aspect of the dynamic between artwork and spectator, and identifies that artworks that do not aim to engender a realist interpretation or use representation often engender an affective response which is not reliant on emotional identification with the subject of the artwork. Instead, an affective response arises from ‘direct engagement with sensation as it is registered in the work’ (Bennett 2005: 7).
Bennett, J. (2005) Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art, Stanford (CA): Stanford University Press
It is the possibility of creating an affective environment that Safe-keeping (Custodia) explores through four videos (Breathing, Twisting, Scratching, Turnover/Turnover) installed at the Museo Laboratorio Della Mente from 31 October - 30 November 2014.
Breathing (2014) detail from four channel video installation
Scratching (2014) detail from four channel video installation