Institutional Memory

Digital Photography by Danielle Fliegel

March 19 – APril 12


Artist’s Statement

The images in this exhibition are selections from a project I’ve undertaken over the past year, with the goal of documenting abandoned buildings. These buildings include former mental institutions, hospitals, churches, theaters, prisons, schools, and homes in New York and Massachusetts. Several of these buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, an official list compiled by the National Parks Service to denote sites worthy of preservation. This designation does not afford the sites protection from natural or political elements, though, and many are left to crumble with time or face imminent demolition.

In this exhibition, I chose to emphasize public spaces to show what happens when we leave behind places that were once meticulously governed and maintained. Once filled with grandeur, the passage of time and the absence of human influence have left these spaces to the mercy of nature. These photos offer a glimpse into the lives of those that lived before us. It is important to document these sites and remember the traditions and shortcomings of history; especially in the case of mental institutions, the abandoned spaces reflect the policies that shaped the lives of the marginal. Thousands of patients endured inhumane treatment in these sites, and in my visits I sought to capture the remnants of the institutional atrocities that were, until very recently, commonplace.

While some of these sites speak to a dark past, modern society continues to progress. In many ways we now recognize the cruelty inherent in our hierarchies. We have learned from many of our past mistakes in the treatment of the mentally ill, the socialized enforcement of religion, and the rigidity of domestic designations. We are not done learning. As a result, I aimed to frame my images with light rather than darkness, focusing on glimpses of exposure, intricate details, and color in eerie yet alluring scenes. A commonality across my photographs is color, often embodied by chipping lead paint, which ironically evokes life from these dead or dying sites. I have endeavored here to contrast the decay of the present to the beauty, and decadence, of the past.

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