in the rushing sound – asylums, flow, games, & don’t give up

Photo credit Asylum Archive by Vukasin Nedeljkovic

Dark nights bring on the desire for an early bed time. An atmospheric river washed over the Pacific Northwest this week. Equivalent to the Mississippi River dumped several times over the region, the deluge of water flooded communities and washed out critical transportation arteries. At one point Vancouver, BC was disconnected from the rest of the continent. Good thing we replaced the roof on our house this past summer.

I’m inspired by my friend Thomas’ occasional post of Cool Internet Stuff to share some of the things I’m reading and listening to – thanks, Thomas! My hope here is to maybe kindle some connections with folks out there and also to help myself maintain a discipline of publishing posts while I develop or dump the several drafts of posts I have in progress. I want to keep at this!

In Ireland former asylums for people with mental health disabilities are now used to house asylum seekers. There’s more than just a hint of irony in this. While in the many ways we’ve broken open the walls of psychiatric hospitals with the help of low-walled pharmaceutical companies and earnest attempts at mental health reform, issues overwhelmingly persist and in addition there are other human rights abuses we’ve pushed to the edges and hidden.

For the Pacific Northwest resident there is much to reflect on in a discussion about the ongoing mental health crises and the history of psychiatric hospitals located in Britain. The discussion about what’s inside and outside and in the halls of institutions a creative exploration of the problem that in a way draws me to think about how we’ve pushed a problem to the street here in North America. Are the halls of the asylums now the streets?

There’s also a striking resemblance between the Irish Mother and Baby Homes scandal with its mass graves and that of the residential schools in North America.

The challenge, as Clair Willis puts it, is not necessarily to go look for the awful things that are hidden with the knowledge of the history of the psychiatric hospitals, but rather to recognize the horror that is in plain sight.

LRB Podcast – The Last Asylums with Clair Wills and Thomas Jones

If a task is too challenging, you get caught up in the stress of it. If the task is not challenging enough, you get bored. The philosopher of flow, Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi taught us that flow occurs in that delicate zone between boredom and anxiety.

I really appreciated he’s work on flow which I cited in my master’s thesis about borders and how we navigate them with mobile devices. But he also studied ideas about success and creativity and found in his survey of people that made breakthrough contributions in science and literature that they were largely not the tortured geniuses of popular imagination, but pretty ordinary people with ordinary lives. What they mostly share in common is control over their time.

I’m reminded of one of the best ways to take control of time with the critique of television that his obituary in The New York Times highlights —

If holding that everyone should have a chance to get the highest quality of experience is an elitist notion, so be it. It is better than resigning oneself to a life of mindless entertainment.

With a name that I may always struggle to pronounce, he will always be to me: the fantastic Dr. Flow.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Father of ‘Flow,’ Dies at 87

Speaking of television – you know that coming of age hit series about an aging Gen X’er that has too much debt, lives with his mom, and just wants to quit life and play games? Yes, Squid Games very much reminds me of the artistic oeuvre of Santiago Sierra in that it highlights the morally outrageous things that people will do for money.

While not more popular than Squid Games, Sierra’s work is far more public in its expression of urgency and desperation. While Squid Games is about desperate people disappearing themselves from life to play children’s games with fatal consequences in a warehouse on an island, Santiago Sierra sets his games on the street and in public venues such as art galleries and public spaces.

Sierra barely pays willing performance participants to be subjected to something that would be to most humiliating and unthinkable. In one work he publicly tattoos a line across the back of four people. He describes it as “Four prostitutes addicted to heroin were hired for the price of a shot of heroin to give their consent to be tattooed.” In his work titled Six People Who Are not Allowed to Be Paid for Sitting in Cardboard Boxes, 2000 he has asylum seekers sit inside boxes all day in a gallery in Germany. In 2008 at the Tate Museum he paid homeless women the price of a night in a hostel to stand in a line and stare at a wall for the day.

I come back to Sierra’s work fairly often, because I think he powerfully frames problems we have in plain sight. We describe our homeless, mental health, and substance use crises that we have on our streets as a symptom of the absence of affordable housing. We don’t need to learn names, because we can pity them as victims and look forward to the day we can call a social worker to assist them somehow. It lends to abstract the individual as victim.

Does Sierra view his subjects though as victims? It is tough to say that he does, when he presses them down harder with the inscribing pen or with isolating containment or against the wall. To question the terms and conditions of their consent, plays down the expression of self-determination and protest. We identify with each other not as victims, but as sharing in common a desire for control.

Netflix’s Squid Games & Santiago Sierra

I may be rickrolling my kids with this one, but I can’t help playing Groove Armada’s Don’t Give Up at any moment – post dinner, post board game, post family movie night, post the night away with a family dance party.

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