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Library of Dust Hardcover – September 1, 2008
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About the Author
Photographer David Maisel's work is held in the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, among others.
Top Customer Reviews
I had been struggling to find out whether my distant relative was one of the unclaimed cremains at the Oregon State Hospital (hospital for the "insane" when my relative died there over 50 years ago) when we found this book. We found it to be a rare two dimensional representation of an emotionally charged, complicated historical era. How better could you communicate how embarrassingly insensitive and ineffective our closeting of inconvenient people was for so many years? This book is not accusatory or bitter; it is ethereal, hopeful and maybe just a little sad, but I do not find it in any way depressing. After "Library of Dust" began to have its impact, the state laws that restricted access by the public to information on what had happened to over 3,500 people were changed and I was then able to find out that my relative was indeed still there and both her cremains and limited (though complete) medical records (less than one page per year of institutional care) could be reclaimed by my family.
David Maisel revealed how these cremains had been hidden away and forgotten, like the people they had been, and yet, somehow these canisters and their contents became distinctly individual again and surprisingly beautiful in an eerie way. In the dark with no intervention from the living world, these lost souls evolved. What an amazing visual metaphor for the wonderfully idiosyncratic uniqueness in each of us--even after death. And the book is a stark reminder of society's responsibility to the more challenging members of our community.
I have often thought that the forgotten inmates of these hidden hells needed something like a Holocaust memorial. When I first saw one of the images from the `Library of Dust' in New Scientist, I instantly felt that David Maisel had a given us a huge contribution towards that.
Whatever the strange alchemy that corroded the canisters in this extraordinary way the outcome is hauntingly, strangely, beautiful. Some of them look like weather systems on strange planets or maps of ocean currents: they have a quality that I can only call soul.
As an art psychotherapist I work every day with the capacity of art making to express, contain, transform, and heal suffering and trauma. This individual healing power of art can sometimes work at a social and cultural level too. The Library of Dust helps us to face and remember the collective shame of `the bins', as they were appropriately nicknamed in the UK. The Russian poet Yevtushenko wrote that `That which has not been expressed/ Will be forgotten/That which has been forgotten/Will happen again'. This work, with all its eerie beauty, stands as art: but is also a step towards healing a deep shared cultural wound, and is a medicine against forgetfulness.
Last year, with David Maisel's help, I was privileged to show some of this work in the corridors of a Victorian mental hospital in England which still partly functions caring for patients, but is mainly an administrative headquarters for a mental health service. The hospital corridors seemed an ideal place to contemplate these images and they produced some strong reactions. Fascinatingly the most negative reactions were all from staff who felt that patients should be `protected' in some way from the hidden history of psychiatric treatment. Perhaps there was an element of shame to that. There was no who such response from people who were or had been patients themselves. Below are just two responses from the feedback book: one from an ex patient, and the other from a psychiatrist.
It was so moving. I was a patient in this hospital 6 years ago. It is about remembering the people who have been so sadly forgotten and abandoned. I cannot convey what I feel in words- but I found the exhibition intensely moving and evocative. In the silence of the corridors it spoke deeply to me.
Beautiful, quiet images, strangely affirming. Thank you for your patience and perception and showing `what gets left behind' in this institution.