Ruins of Time at Asylum
‘Ruins of Time / Asylum’ is part two of the LME ‘Ruins of Time’ series of projects. The title ‘Asylum’ is a deliberately multivalent term, which allows this project to bring together many varied concepts and themes revolving around the idea of shelter and protection combined with or opposed to the ideas of time and ruins.
Historically, definitions of ‘asylum’ focus primarily on one of three ideas; either ‘asylum’ as protection granted by a community to a refugee, as in ‘political asylum’, or to a persecutee, a person in need, even to a criminal, as in ‘church asylum in the Middle Ages’, or an institution offering shelter and medical treatment to the mentally ill, as in being ‘committed to a lunatic asylum’. However, colloquially the word has a broader meaning, referring to a place of general protection or refuge. This last sense is the one intended when naming the London chapel where the project exhibition is taking place. It is fitting that Asylum chapel was built in 1826 by the Licensed Victualers Benevolent Institution for use by the residents of Caroline Gardens, who were retired workers of the alcohol trade – known as ‘decayed members of the trade’. Nowadays this formidable but deliberately rather neglected and dilapidated place is used for all sorts of maverick projects and events; among others, the film “Asylum” was made there for Tate Britain’s 2014 exhibition “Ruin Lust”; the Whitechapel Gallery also used it for the Derek Jarman Film Awards of 2012.
The ideas of time passing, decay, ruin, are all central to the project. During World War II Asylum chapel was bombed, and the roof was completely destroyed. Damage is still evident today, as seen in the smashed stained glass windows. This brings a twist to the idea of asylum as a place of protection and shelter. Lunatic asylums and hospitals were used as killing centres for mentally ill and physically disabled people in Nazi Germany. This is another, much more sinister, distortion of the conventional concept of asylum as protection.
Foucault proposes asylums as key sites of otherness, referring to them as ‘heterotopias of deviation’. This too subverts the classic understanding of asylum and conjures up darker connotations, which engage with some of the many overall concepts of the ‘Ruins of Time’ project.
Links to Asylum: