[NetBehaviour] The Library of Dust.

marc marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Mon Sep 11 15:59:53 CEST 2006

The Library of Dust.

What happens to our bodies when we die? Inside a dusty room in a 
decaying outbuilding on the grounds of a state-run psychiatric hospital 
are simple pine shelves lined three-deep with thousands of copper 
canisters. The canisters hold the cremated remains of mental patients 
who died at the hospital from1883 (the year the hospital was opened, 
when it was known as the Oregon State Insane Asylum) to the 1970’s, and 
whose bodies remained unclaimed by their families. The copper canisters 
have a handmade quality; they are at turns burnished or dull; corrosion 
blooms wildly from the seams of many of the cans. Numbers are stamped 
into each lid; the lowest number is 01, and the highest is 5,118.

The intensely hued colors of the blooming minerals, the etching of the 
surface of the copper, the denting of the metal, and in some cases, the 
vestiges of paper labels with the names of the dead, all combine to 
individuate the canisters, and to imbue each with a remarkable 
singularity. Simultaneously, the etching, the mineral blooms and the 
deformations of the canisters evoke the celestial- the Northern Lights, 
the moons of some alien planet, or constellations in the night sky. 
Heavenly bodies are referenced in the surface of these containers of the 
dead and the forgotten. Surely there are physical and chemical reasons 
for the ways these canisters have transformed over time; but perhaps 
there are other interpretations which offer a more open-ended sense of 
what it means to live and to die in a secret place, forgotten or 
abandoned by one's family. Matter lives on even when the body vanishes, 
even when it has been destroyed by an institutionalized methodology of 
incinerating the body to ash and categorizing it by a number stamped 
into the lid of the ashes' metal housing. Does some form of spirit live 
on as well?


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