Changes in official attitudes to mental illness from the 19th century until now are reflected in the architectural history of New Zealand’s psychiatric institutions, in Kathy Dudding’s poetic, emotionally-loaded essay film.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2010
Changes in official attitudes to mental illness are reflected in the architectural history of New Zealand psychiatric institutions in Kathy Dudding’s delicately layered, emotionally loaded essay film. Dudding’s film takes off from an unfinished photographic project undertaken with a partner who didn’t stay around to see it through. Photographs of the abandoned Porirua asylum would, emulating a Japanese tradition, evoke the poignance of impermanence and the passage of human suffering. Keeping faith with the aesthetic, Dudding expands and politicises the project. She incorporates fragments of the public record – archival films, public documents, literature – which signify shifts in fashion and policy culminating in the dismantling of asylum walls and the return of the depressed and tormented to the ‘community’. The polemic that emerges has a tragic cadence. Will our current reliance on the pharmaceutical industry look any less arbitrary or destructive a social construction to future generations than the straitjacket and EST look to us now? — BG