A memorial project for the Massachusetts Mental Health Center

  • BLOOM - a project for MMHC by Anna Schuleit

    In response to seeing, exploring, and photographing the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, I developed Bloom as a site-specific installation to commemorate the life and history of the building and its people, as well as to mark the transition of MMHC into a new place and architecture. Bloom was an idea for creating a tribute to the historic building of Mass Mental -- that is, an entity of a creative work, guided by the fact that Mass Mental itself is a whole with connected limbs, busy centers, quiet ends, wings, nooks, and crannies, and nonetheless a living, moving whole.

    In November of 2003 thousands of flowers were placed in the old hallways, rooms, and staircases to mark the worn traffic-ways and memories of the site. Each hallway had a different type of flower. Each was a different stretch of color. The axes of the building, its dizzying historic layout, were recognized individually.

    All of the flowers were in bloom at the same time, creating a continuous, unbroken composition of color and scent throughout the building:


    ...so that for four days
    in November of 2003
    the Massachusetts Mental Health Center
    was in bloom

    Before everyone had moved out, a recording of the ambient soundscape of the building was made, which was played during the installation by using the old announcement (PA) system of Mass Mental. Steps in the corridors, doors closing and opening, and passing fragments of conversation were heard at a low volume, bridging the life and commotion of the site with its impending abandonment.

    What led me to the idea for Bloom was a consideration of the two courtyards of MMHC and their thick blankets of ivy, the notion of growth: the reversal - inside/out - of nature into the urban setting of MMHC, when all other psychiatric institutions in Massachusetts are situated in more rural settings with abundant nature at their feet. Another aspect of the architecture of Mass Mental that I find fascinating are the color-less, seemingly endless hallways that run through the building like arteries, guiding our bodies through the space. These hallways are an inspiration for bringing color to their function and their directions of traffic, where no color has been before.

    Bloom is a reflection on the healing symbolism of flowers being given to the sick when they are bedridden and confined to hospital settings, with the astounding, persistent exception of long-term psychiatric patients, who receive few, if any flowers during their hospital stays. Walking through the hallways of an institution, still to this day, one cannot find any flowers in the rooms. Bloom is created in the spirit of offering and transition.


    Bloom encompassed thousands of square feet of historic indoor space that was being left to abandonment. Bloom existed only for four days. Afterwards all the flowers were donated to surrounding hospitals, state institutions, half-way houses, and shelters.

    Anna Schuleit

    Read more and see what it looked like here.


    ARTIST'S BIO: Anna Schuleit is a painter and installation artist whose early work revolved around the social and architectural history of state hospitals. In 2000 she created Habeas Corpus for the Northampton State Hospital, which included a large-scale sound installation in its abandoned historic building, as well as a symposium, a public forum, and three exhibitions in Northampton, MA. She studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design, creative writing at Dartmouth, and has been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute, MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the Banff Centre, and Blue Mountain Center. From 2001 through 2004 she volunteered as visiting artist at Westborough State Hospital, MA, where she initiated a creative book project to preserve the untold stories, drawings, and paintings by long-term residents. In 2006 she was named a MacArthur Fellow. For more information about recent projects and exhibitions visit www.anna-schuleit.com